Tag Archives: Hodder & Stoughton

The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010”. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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The Other Hand – Chris Cleave

This definitely wasn’t in my bag of books to read on the train this weekend but after finishing ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ I didn’t fancy any of the three I had in my bag and as I didn’t do much reading over the weekend I came back on Sunday night and couldn’t decide what to read next. Now near in mind I am reading Ulysses along in the background, you might understand why big heavy tomes aren’t ideal to read along side that. So in the end I decided to follow the latest reading trend on the tubes, which thankfully seems to be less and less Twilight Saga novels, Chris Cleave’s ‘The Other Hand’. 

Now the blurb on this book has always puzzled me. “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this story. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again — the story starts there… Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” Which not only makes you puzzled when you pick it up (though is also quite clever PR), but now makes it a nightmare for me to review. But here goes… 

The story is told from the alternating aspects of two wonderfully written female characters. One is Little Bee, who I think is a brilliant creation and could read books and books told through her eyes, the book also has the title ‘Little Bee’ in other countries. The other woman is Sarah. Through their eyes we look at sometimes shocking, sometimes saddening and sometimes incredibly funny times whwre both their lives meet. Through both of them we watch humans doing what humans do best, making mistakes, enduring hardship and building and breaking relationships through two polar opposite opinions. That is all I can say about the plot. 

If you are thinking ‘well that sounds a little dull” I promise you that its not. There is a great plot in there I just don’t want to be one of the reviewers, I am sure there have been some out there in the ether, who give the story away as I don’t think it would work if you knew more. I will say that it’s rare a book can shock me, this one managed. It’s rare a book can move me to tears, this one managed. It’s also rare a book makes me laugh out loud on public transport, this one managed. Which all in all is incredibly well done I think if one book manages all of those in less than 400 pages. In fact I think I had moved through these emotions by page 80 and continued from there on afterwards. I won’t dumb it down I thought it was brilliant. 

I will agree with a few critics on one thing not that its prose is badly written or that it’s ‘just good’ as I don’t agree with either of those statements. I do agree that whoever thought that including a letter to the ‘Dear Reader’ from the Editor at the publishing house was a very bad move. It was so patronizing and cheesy it almost stopped me from reading the book. The fact that the editor compared it to ‘Schindlers Ark’ was ridiculous as you just can’t. Then the fact that she went on to compare it to ‘Cloud Atlas’ (which I hated) and therefore compare that with ‘Schindlers Ark’ was not only incorrect but very misleading and alienating if you didn’t like either of those books. That really, really bothered me. The blurb was mysterious enough and the hype has been just about enough without a saccharine lecture added for good measure. 

Other than that it was a great read, I would recommend everyone give it ago. Don’t expect a book that will change your life, it might make you look at things differently though. You’ll enjoy yourself either way. If you have read the book do let me know just don’t give the ending away in comments for anyone who hasn’t please, thank you.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Chris Cleave, Hodder & Stoughton, Review

After The Fire – Karen Campbell

I do love a good crime book, I haven’t always in fact I think it’s a fairly recent thing bar my teenage obsession with Sherlock Holmes. A while back on this blog, after reading the first Scarpetta book by Patricia Cornwell, I mentioned that I would love to know of any other great thriller/crime series that you thought I should give a go. I have already tried and loved Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Stella Duffy and of course the proper old school favourites like Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Now I think that I have found a new author in this genre… Although technically Karen Campbell found me, and my blog, and asked very nicely if I would read her second novel After The Fire. She did also mention that, one of my favourite authors, Kate Atkinson had “really enjoyed the book” (Kate actually said “I loved this book”) and that, plus Karen’s lovely email, was the deal done.

After The Fire is all about recently convicted police officer Jamie Worth who, not long after having qualified as a firearms officer, shoots and kills a young girl who appears to have no gun on her. The press and indeed the police force are looking for blood and blame and soon enough Jamie is imprisoned for murder. What follows is not just a gripping and twisting tale of what happened that night and why, it is also a tale of how the people involved come to terms with what has gone on.

Jamie himself is a policeman in prison, which I don’t think is a perspective that I have read in a novel before, and this was an incredibly interesting storyline for me. Not only seeing how prisons run and the state of them but how someone who might have put some of his cell mates in jail deals with them when he is in there too. At the same time Jamie is coming to terms with his own guilt about what happened to the young girl Sarah and what will happen to his family and all the people he loves in the world outside the prison. Outside the prison we see how Jamie’s wife, who herself was once a cop until she had children, comes to terms with what her husband has done. Though she believes he did what he thought was best she still has to deal with the fact that her husband has killed a girl the same age as their daughter. It doesn’t help when Anna, the woman Jamie had an affair with, appears on the scene wanting to help Jamie and his family. This all makes for an engrossing domestic dynamic alongside the thrilling plot of what happened the night of the shooting.

I loved Karen Campbell’s writing style. It’s punchy, fast paced and most importantly real. I don’t know if this comes from the fact that Campbell was herself a police officer before she started writing which might have something to do with how direct the book is. There is, in what is a very dark book, some real wit (I laughed a fair few times) though which really reminded me of Kate Atkinson in her Broadie books and yet at the same time you really feel for all the characters even if they aren’t people you would like one bit in the real world. Most importantly for me though was that I could believe it all (this goes for all genre’s of books from crime to sci-fi and all in between) all the voices are real nothing is done simply for effect. There is also the history between the characters also makes for great ‘domestic drama’ as well as reading about a man living on his nerves and trying to stay alive in prison.

I only have one very small gripe with this book and that is that in reading After The Fire before reading Karen’s debut novel The Twilight Time I have inadvertently broken one of my cardinal rules… always read a series in the right order. The Twilight Time is technically a prequel to After The Fire and features some of the same characters. The fact that this book was so good, and stood firmly so well all by itself, has made all rule breaking forgiven. I do kind of wish that I had read The Twilight Time first as though at no point whatsoever do you feel you should know the characters back stories and also their history relating to one another you wish that you did know it all first. Though now of course I am incredibly excited about finding it out when I manage to get my mitts on The Twilight Time which I will be doing very, very soon.

Now this is a real cliché but I am going to say it anyway… it would be a crime not to read this book. I dont rave about books that often but this is one I will be I promise! I hope there will be more in this series as I was hooked from start to finish. Campbell is definitely an author to watch out for and I am very excited as she is doing an interview with me for the blog tomorrow, so make sure you pop by then!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Hodder & Stoughton, Karen Campbell, Review

December – Elizabeth H Winthrop

…And so onto the penultimate of the Richard and Judy Reads 2009. I knew very little about December or its author Elizabeth H Winthrop before this book was placed on the list and when the lovely people at Sceptre sent me a copy. I looked and saw that it has received slightly mediocre reviews on Amazon and in some ways I can see why and in others I can’t.

December tells the tale of a winter and in particular the lead up to Christmas Day for the Carter family. Husband and wife Wilson and Ruth are concerned with their daughter Isabelle who has not spoken for over nine months. There seems to be no reason as to why Isabelle has put herself under a self imposed silence that they can see. They have tried many different psychiatrists who have been unable to work out what is wrong and now Isabelle’s school are thinking of letting her go.

It is interesting for the reader to see this from all three parties’ sides. Winthrop looks into the minds of all three and how they each cope very differently with the situation and really gets into each of these peoples heads without melodrama which could have been quite easily done. The pressure put on the marriage and how it affects Wilson and Ruth is an interesting subject as they both have moments of denial, anger and unbound love about the whole situation. The voice I didn’t feel I quite got as much as I would have liked was Isabelle herself which was slightly frustrating as the story does in essence evolve around her.

I agree whole heartedly with two comments made by Farmlanebooks One was that it is a ‘gentle’ novel and that is an absolutely spot on word for this novel. This is a very delicately written novel that doesn’t pull out all the stops to dramatise or go over the top. The writing takes you a long without it ever being a page turner. That style leads me to another review that said it was in some ways very ‘like Anne Tyler’ and that is also spot on. In fact after reading Breathing Lessons and Anne’s writing about family issues earlier this year I was reminded of it again with this book. Winthrop looks at real life and writes about real people and situations and maybe that is why some people have found this a slightly underwhelming read.

I didn’t personally find it underwhelming, I actually quite enjoyed it without being blown away. In fact overall I would say it was an ‘enjoyable gentle’ read, even though really very little happens I still wanted to know more. For those who love a book with a punch and want to get lost in a great tale this is possibly not for you. Those of you who like books that looks into families and how they deal with things, observations of people and how they behave or just love Anne Tyler like I do then you will enjoy this I would imagine.

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Hurting Distance – Sophie Hannah

I first found out about Sophie Hannah thanks to Novel Insights who bought her book of short stories The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets which we both read separately and couldn’t stop talking to each other about. We then found out that not only was Sophie a poet but she also wrote crime fiction. Now I can’t speak for Novel Insights (bar I know that she secretly loves Tess Gerritsen novels like I do) but I do like a good crime novel. I like the cosy Marple crimes, the detective series crimes and also the literary crimes by the likes of my favourite author Kate Atkinson (well she is one of my favourite authors). Sophie Hannah falls in to a mixture of all of these, well maybe not the cosy crime so much with subjects like babies being swapped in Little Face, the excellent first novel in the series though they can be read as stand alone novels.

The subject of Hurting Distance is rape, not an easy subject for any author. But then isn’t the whole point of fiction to deal with the good and the bad? At the start of the novel we are shown an email, written by N.J a victim of rape, on the Speak Out and Survive website telling not of her story of rape but of her dislike for people who have been raped speaking out and attention seeking and how she is jealous of the other people on the site with their ‘demanding boyfriends’. Instantly I felt like this could be awkward territory a rape victim who both disliked and was jealous of other rape victims, could Hannah deal with this unusual look at rape in a delicate way and yet make a hard hitting crime story out of it? The answer was of course yes.

N.J it turns out, in the next chapter so I am not spoiling anything, is Naomi Jenkins a sundial maker. From the outside she is a professional successful young business woman deep down she harbours a terrible secret from her past. Every Thursday night like clockwork Naomi meets her married lover Robert Haworth at the Traveltel they check into the same room, number eleven and spend the same amount of hours together and have done so for over a year. One day Robert doesn’t turn up, in fact it appears he has vanished. Naomi reports it to the police but they think she has simply dumped him and ignore her. After going to his house and seeing something so shocking it both scares her and blanks her memory Naomi is sure something dreadful has happened and realises if she wants the police to find him she will have to convince them that he is a dangerous criminal.

I found Naomi an incredibly complex character. She goes through several different character traits in the book from powerful professional, victim, obsessive lover, jealous lover, calculating liar to vengeful woman. Hannah has created a very unlikely sort of anti-hero, how can I put that better? Though I didn’t really like Naomi or her ethics I couldn’t stop reading her and I also could see why she did what she did even though really it wasn’t right. Puzzled? Read the book and you won’t be.

Amongst the incredibly tight and twist laden story Hannah also continues the story of Detectives Charlie and Simon as Charlie is still fawning over Simon even after he rejected her advances at a party and after the last infatuation he had with the victim of Little Face in the previous novel. So amongst the already complex plotting is another one that adds its own tensions and complexities and you get to know them and their colleagues further.

I had wondered if Hannah would be able to better Little Face as it was just so good. With Hurting Distance she has bettered it (though that doesn’t take anything away from its predecessor) and come up with an incredibly complex plot and some incredibly complex characters. There is suspense and a lot of twists without it being over complicated and though I cottoned on to one of links before it was announced I would never have guessed the four or more twists that then followed on. Superb! 5/5

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Ghost Hunters – Yvette Fielding & Ciaran O’Keefe

Now I am sure people would think that I should be reading a book like this closer to Halloween, however I am actually going ghost hunting at Peterborough Museum tomorrow. Therefore I thought that brushing up on my ghost hunting knowledge (which is limited) I thought it was time to read this book. Ghost Hunters is written by Most Haunted’s Yvette Fielding and Ciaran O’Keeffe so you know that the information you are soaking up is coming from a good source, they have now done well over 100 ghost hunts themselves. Plus I admit it I am a huge fan of the show.

The book itself is set in two parts, the first looks at the theories behind ghosts. This looks at famous ghost stories and discusses the many theories behind them; such as are they faked are they real and why. Chapters look both at the types of ghosts that have been reported from poltergeists to your friendly helpful ghost who means no harm, other chapters look at evidence (photos etc) and the tools used to capture proof of ghosts meaning you know an EMF Reader from a Scrying Mirror.

The second part of the book is documentation of several new ghost hunts that Yvette and Ciaran go on that haven’t been on most haunted looking at witness statements and the methods they used to try and find out what was going on in these haunted locations leaving you to take the evidence they find and make of it what you will.

The style is very basic making it easy for anyone who is fresh to ghost hunting able to dip in and out and not feel alienated by long scientific words. I also liked the ‘chatty’ style that they both used so you actually felt you were alongside them on the journey of ghost hunting. Also at no point are you pressurised to believe or not to believe as Ciaran as a doctor of Parapsychology doesn’t believe and Yvette does.

All in all I really enjoyed this and found it incredibly insightful and have picked up some great tips for tomorrow. If you aren’t a believer of the paranormal or just think Most Haunted is a pile of rubbish this isn’t for you. If you are open minded or you believe in ghosts and love Most Haunted (like I do) then this is the perfect book for you.

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In The Woods – Tana French

I have had this on my to read pile a while. I originally wanted the hardback (which is very rare for me as for some reason hardbacks make my hands ache) but it was one of those ones with the coloured edges of the pages and would just look wonderful on a bookshelf. However the ‘tight’ me refused to pay silly hardback prices. So finally after noticing that Sophie Hannah recommends it as a ‘near perfect read’ on the back and re-reading the blurb that sounded fascinating and gripping I went for it.

The story centres around Detective Rob Ryan who twenty years ago was Adam Ryan, a boy who went into the woods near their estate and Adam was the only one they found, with no memory backed against a tree with some else’s blood filling his shoes. Ryan after being sent away to England has changed his name and has come back and has worked his way up to the Murder Squad. His first big case, with best friend and co-worker Cassie Maddox, happens to be a girl who is found on the outskirts of the very wood that haunts him now, could the two cases be connected?

I can’t answer that because I don’t want to give anything away for those poor souls of you who do take this book on. I hate to slate a book, I honestly do but I haven’t felt this let down in a long time. Tana French starts ‘In The Woods’ wonderfully and for the first hundred pages of the book I was hooked. It then felt like someone else had taken over, what was an intriguing and mysterious book became stilted. The book centred on Cassie and Ryan’s relationship and how ‘everyone felt excluded by them’ including their partner, oh and including the reader. It was like it was trying to be a romance or some clever cliché which then gets broken and you’re supposed to care.

Not only that, but bar a very creepy scene where noises are heard in and around the woods, the woods are barely mentioned which defeats the whole idea behind the book – without giving anything away. It’s hard not to when the ending is so disappointing it’s untrue. It felt like it lost its momentum, mystery and soul. Also a small point that really bugged me, the use of people listening to the Scissors Sisters and other bands randomly dates the book even though it’s modern but also sort of detracts you from the story, I can’t explain it exactly so I hope you know what I mean.

Sadly I was let down by this book and a little by Sophie Hannah’s recommendation, but I wont hold that against her. I have seen some people loved it on Amazon and others hated it. Maybe it’s a bit like Murder Marmite. I think the cover (though this isnt the one on the copy I had) is absolutely brilliant though, very creep. Do they have book cover awards?

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