Tag Archives: John Murray Publishers

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin

I have to say just from the cover I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. It looked like it might be a bit ‘chick-lit’ not that there is anything wrong with that by the way, just that it isn’t really my general cup of tea. I was actually sent this book ages and ages ago buy the lovely people at John Murray and despite a phone call raving about it from one of their delightful team I was still suspicious. It went to the bottom of the TBR I am ashamed to admit. However it has been this weeks Richard and Judy choice and as I am doing the challenge I picked it up, dusted it off and tried it out. I absolutely loved it.

Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born just before midnight on December the 31st 1899; however she doesn’t actually take her first breath until one minute past twelve taking her first breath in the first minute of the twentieth century. Instantly you know that Lilly isn’t going to be your typical child and as a baby with her extremely vocal lungs she proves her point further. Things don’t start well for Lilly as within months her mother, a cabaret singer, is killed under scandalous circumstances. We then follow Lilly as she goes through her childhood as an orphan to becoming a major German movie star.

Now if your like me that final line would have made you think ‘chick-lit’ however with the background being Berlin and the timescale of the novel being from the start of the 1900’s until the mid 1940’s what you as the reader witness is war torn Germany… twice. Lilly is a wonderful set of eyes through this period as she has no real political streak, her only actual desire is to survive and through this you are given an insight (very realistically) into what life might have been like through such a horrific period in history for the general/poor public of Berlin. That isn’t the only historical facts that Colin focuses on, there is also the heyday of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hollywood and its golden era. How she manages to make all this work is quite a feat but it does.

Lilly is a wonderful character. She rightly steals the show… well book as she is witty, manipulative, wily, funny, naughty, kind and incredibly strong. Though she goes through endless turmoil she doesn’t wallow in self pity, well only occasionally, and instead she fights resolutely and carries one. Naturally she is flawed and makes several mistakes along the way but all in all you can’t help to admire her and like her, maybe a little less towards the end, but I don’t want to give anything away.

If Lilly isn’t enough I have to praise the characters that come and go, and come back. Eva is a wonderful character though in the end completely dislikeable you want to read more and more about her, especially the more conniving and bitter she gets. Hanne however almost steals the whole story from Lilly; she is a wonderful character a fighter like Lilly only much harder and much darker with a real self destructive streak. In fact it’s the women all in all that shine and take the main roles in this novel. Though not in the forefront of the novel the men are all there and very complete characters, in fact sometimes Colin does a wonderful trick of having a character say one line and then following it with what happened to that one small character in the rest of his life in the next single sentence.

It was in fact this quality that made me think of great authors like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elisabeth Braddon etc. In fact in many ways some of this novel reminded me of books like Moll Flanders or Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the fact that every character no matter how small has their part to play and their story to tell no matter how big or minor their role was in the general tale. The only other two authors I can think of that do that now are Sarah Waters and Jane Harris and if you like any of their work then you are sure to absolutely love this.

As you can tell overall this for me was an absolutely marvellous book. The setting richly painted like the make up on many of the wonderful characters faces. I simply cannot find a fault with this book and think its one that many, many people will be getting copies of for birthdays and one that I can’t wait to re-read and take it in all over again…Though with my TBR that may not be for some time.

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Filed under Beatrice Colin, Books of 2009, John Murray Publishers, Review, Richard and Judy

Oscar Wilde & The Candlelight Murders – Gyles Brandreth

The lovely people at John Murray sent me the second in Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde Mysteries Series I thought really it was about time that I read the first. I cannot read series in random order; I don’t know why I just can’t it seems wrong somehow. The premise for the Oscar Wilde Mysteries is that Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle became very close friends, along with Wordsworth’s grandson Robert Sherard who is Oscar’s sidekick become involved in a mystery after meeting and set out to solve it.

I have wanted to read this for a while, Arthur Conan Doyle is one of my favourite authors of all time and I like a good mystery. I also wanted to see how it compared to the brilliant ‘Arthur & George’ which I have recently noticed have lost my copy of, not that the two books are in the same market but I like the idea of writers in fiction and Oscar Wilde as a leading man could be an interesting read.

One thing I will say for Gyles Brandreth is he knows the 1880’s and has clearly researched Oscar Wilde and the areas of London he frequented. Occasionally this does border on too much as Oscar and Robert in all seem to spend as much time eating and drinking as they do trying to solve the mystery which is fine once or twice but after a few hundred pages I was wishing for slightly less prose and more plot.

The book starts as Oscar finds the body of a young man named Billy dead in a house of questionable repute; the young escort has been murdered. Having cared for Billy ‘as a brother’ he decides to take it upon himself to find out who murdered Billy and why, even when Detective Aidan Fraser of Scotland Yard shows no sign of interest after the body goes missing. What follows is a hunt for the killer told by Sherard as he notes Oscar’s detective skills, very Holmes and Watson indeed.

I did on the whole enjoy the book though I did find it lacked the punch it promised on the blurb, I need to do a blog on blurbs, as you are told a series of murders unravel after the first. In actual fact the next murder doesn’t happen for about 200 pages after trips to Paris and the seaside and of course some meals. This isn’t boring, you just want more action, and I found I was putting the book down and not rushing back to it but enjoying it when I did pick it up. Not the quick read I expected. Once the action picks up I couldn’t put it down even though I had guessed the killer very early on.

I did overall enjoy the book and it looks to be a promising series, I think that the second will hopefully win me over when I read it in a few weeks. Give this one a go and persevere this took me a fair few days. That’s my advice with this first in the series, keep at it and it will pay off dividends. 4/5.

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Filed under Gyles Brandreth, John Murray Publishers, Review

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

I think I have just read one of my favourite books of the year. I could have devoured this book in 24 hours partly because its not the longest book but also because it’s a book you simply don’t want to put down, I was restrained as I wanted to savour the whole story and live with it for as long as possible. That for me is the sign of a fantastic book.

The novel is told by Matilda a young woman (she starts the novel aged 14) who lives on the island of Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1991 when it is amidst war. Her school has been closed for quite some time due to the fleeing of several members of the village. One day her mother (a fabulous but difficult character) announces she is going back to school, the only white man in the village ‘Pop Eye’ or ‘Mr Watts’ is opening up lessons once more. What follows is a wonderful tale of a young girl, her life questions and the relationship she has with ‘Pip’ (who though imaginary becomes a friend in a confusing world) the main character from Great Expectations the book which Mr Watts teaches them from reading a chapter aloud a day.

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece and is perfect for any booklover (like myself showing the importance of reading aloud, reading and books in general. One of my favourite lines in the book has to be ‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’ It unquestionably deserved to be on the Man Booker Shortlist as well as the Richard & Judy Book Group

Lloyd Jones writes in such a way that you almost cannot put the book down, the book flows wonderfully through the joys of the children learning ‘Mr. Dickens’ to the harsh realities of war, including a scene which was horrific yet told in a very matter-of fact way and moved me to tears, now a book has not done that to me in a long time.

This is simply a book for book lovers.

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Filed under Books of 2008, John Murray Publishers, Lloyd Jones, Man Booker, Review, Richard and Judy