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The Book Lover's Boudoir

For people who dig books and like to read honest reviews…

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters REVIEW

Crocodile on the SandbankCrocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Published by C & R Crime
Ebook
Published 1 September 2011 (first published 1975)
290 pages
Digital library book

Author website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

Amelia Peabody is Elizabeth Peters’ most brilliant and best-loved creation, a thoroughly Victorian feminist who takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her shocking men’s pants and no-nonsense attitude!

In this first adventure, our headstrong heroine decides to use her substantial inheritance to see the world. On her travels, she rescues a gentlewoman in distress – Evelyn Barton-Forbes – and the two become friends. The two companions continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and the redoubtable Radcliffe Emerson, an outspoken archaeologist, who doesn’t need women to help him solve mysteries — at least that’s what he thinks!

OPENING

WHEN I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome – (I am informed, by the self-appointed Critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words so indeed imply which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing).

WHAT I THOUGHT  

Crocodile on the Sandbank didn’t do anything for me. I really wanted to like it. I like Egypt and Egyptian mythology and murder mysteries – this book contains all three but I didn’t have a good time reading it. I found it incredibly boring most of the time. The book dragged on for pages and pages and chapters and I prayed for it to end. I’ve read a lot of positive reviews who liked the humour in the book. I couldn’t find much though I tried hard. I found the so-called humour to be cheesy at the best times and cringe-worthy during the worst moments. Crocodile on the Sandbank is a cosy murder mystery I guess – but it just wasn’t my thing. This is my first book by the author but I wouldn’t read any more. I really wanted to like this book but I just found it cringe-worthy and tedious. I wouldn’t recommend this book.  

RATING

1 STAR

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg REVIEW

Magic Bitter, Magic SweetMagic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by 47North
Ebook
Published 28 June 2016
306 pages
Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

Author website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

EXTRACT 

I craft influential cake.

WHAT I THOUGHT 

I really, really loved Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. I wasn’t expecting much – the title is sort of cheesy and the cover isn’t the best. I was completely blown away. The book is a lot fluffier than I usually read but it’s good to raise my head out of the blood and guts and dead bodies for a while and smell the lavender cake baking. Maire has amnesia for most of the book. I know this plot line has been done a million times but I never get tired of it. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet tugged my old heart-strings and I fell like a big sappy love-puppy. This is my first time reading this author and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s something gorgeous about her prose. I got sucked into Maire’s world. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is the kind of book you read without having a clue what’s going on and where the story will read. I personally love those kinds of books. I despise predictability. If I know from fairy early on what garden path I’m being led down it puts me off. I had no idea where this book was leading me. I was happy to be dragged along. The most enjoyable sections of the novel are when Maire is being held prisoner and made to bake sinister things with her strange gift. I loved the references to Hansel and Gretel and the Gingerbread Man. I enjoyed the way the author gradually revealed what Maire really was and what her link was to the man who imprisoned her. I’ve read some reviews on Good Reads with people complaining the truth wasn’t revealed until the very end. Hmm, excuse me, isn’t that the point of a book? If you know what’s going on by page 50 why read the other 250 pages? I was pleasantly surprised by Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. Now excuse me while I go and unearth a dark shape over there that looks like a dead body. I’ll just trot along this trail of bloody footprints.

RATING

5 STAR RATING

The Road Through The Wall By Shirley Jackson REVIEW

The Road Through the WallThe Road Through The Wall By Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Classics
Paperback
Published 5 September 2013 (first published 1948)
194 pages
Library book

Author website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

EXTRACT 

The weather falls more gently on some places than on others, the world looks more paternally on some people.

WHAT I THOUGHT 

The Road through the Wall isn’t what I was expecting at all. I’ve read and loved her books, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle so was expecting something similar. The Road through the Wall is quite different altogether. I really enjoyed this book. The residents of Pepper Street are quite horrible people; selfish, spiteful and quite nasty. I felt no sympathy for anyone who lived on the street. The only decent character is three-year-old Caroline Desmond who will likely be as awful as everyone around her when she grows up. The Road through the Wall takes a much darker, unexpected turn towards the end. This dark, sinister turn made me enjoy the book much more. Until this point I thought the book was an okay read but the dark overtones in the last couple of chapters caused the book to go up in my expectations. The Road through the wall in one of Jackson’s earlier novels and is well worth a read to see the start of the sort of writer she will become.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

Cusp by Graham Mort REVIEW

CuspCusp by Graham Mort
Published by Seren Books
Ebook
Published 1 November 2011
118 pages
Digital library book

Poet’s website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

‘Cusp’, this new collection from Graham Mort, features many of the qualities readers have come to admire; keen observation, a feeling for the natural world that echoes and enhances the human interactions in his poems, the sense of the individual as part of a larger society of which we are implicitly responsible. New here is a different sort of line, which alternates short and longer lines in a step-like formation, a terracing which propels the narratives along. Also included is the remarkable, ambitious long poem, ‘Electricity’, fizzing with riffs on its theme. Morts formal rigour, instinctive compassion, and warm humanity shine through in this new book, the first since his acclaimed Visibility: New and Selected Poems.

EXTRACT

From Metalwork

Water’s gleam is pewter
The wood’s alchemical copper
Bronze and gold stripped
From the tree’s base metal…

WHAT I THOUGHT 

I thought Cusp was just an okay collection of poetry but nothing particularly brilliant. The poems for the most part deal with the sort of subject matter that tends to bore me; poems about the natural world and how humanity interacts with nature. I prefer my poems darker, dripping with a little blood whenever possible. In the words of Emily Dickenson, poems should be the axe that smashes the frozen sea inside you. Cusp didn’t even graze the surface of the ice inside me. Don’t get me wrong, the poems are well-written and full of great, powerful imagery – the subject matter just left me cold. Cusp disappointed me and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

RATING

3 STAR RATING

The North Water by Ian McGuire REVIEW

The North WaterThe North Water by Ian McGuire
Published by Scribner UK
Ebook
Published 11 February 2016
336 pages
Digital library book

Author’s Website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

NB: I’ve decided to read all of the books long-listed for the Man Booker this year. Other book blogs do this so it seems like a good idea. 

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this ill-fated voyage.

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.

OPENING

Behold the man.

WHAT I THOUGHT  

I thought The North Water was a great book. I was expecting the book to be a lot darker and quite visceral based on comments in other reviews but I didn’t find it visceral and gory at all. Maybe I’m just desensitised to such things. There is blood and gore but I’ve read worse and seen worse in movies and TV. Anyway, The North Water is great. I love the idea behind the book – a psychopath on a whaling ship hundreds of miles from land. There’s nowhere to run in such circumstances. You’re kind of screwed when the psychopath decides to play with an axe. The setting is incredibly well-written and vivid; I could easily picture the whaling ship, the sea and the moment when things take a turn for the worst – a cabin boy is sodomised and later murdered. The North Water is quite fast paced and events fairly rattle along. The book does contain foul language, murder and animal cruelty so may not suit every taste but I loved it. The historical detail is impressive. The characters develop throughout the course of The North Water in a believable way. I loved the contrast between evil psychopath Drax and the flawed but real ships doctor, Sumner. I also liked the fact that Drax, even though he is an evil monster is a complex character and not a cartoon bad guy which makes him all the more terrifying. The North Water ticked all the boxes for me and I’d highly recommend it.

RATING

5 STAR RATING

Notes from a Big Country (Journey into the American Dream) by Bill Bryson REVIEW

Title details for Notes From a Big Country by Bill Bryson - AvailableNotes from a Big Country (Journey into the American Dream) by Bill Bryson
Published by Transworld Digital
Ebook
Published 2 March 2010 (first published 1998)
416 pages
Digital library book

Author’s website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

Bill Bryson has the rare knack of being out of his depth wherever he goes – even (perhaps especially) in the land of his birth. This became all too apparent when, after nearly two decades in England, the world’s best-loved travel writer upped sticks with Mrs Bryson, little Jimmy et al. and returned to live in the country he had left as a youth.

Of course there were things Bryson missed about Blighty but any sense of loss was countered by the joy of rediscovering some of the forgotten treasures of his childhood: the glories of a New England autumn; the pleasingly comical sight of oneself in shorts; and motel rooms where you can generally count on being awakened in the night by a piercing shriek and the sound of a female voice pleading, ‘Put the gun down, Vinnie, I’ll do anything you say.’

Whether discussing the strange appeal of breakfast pizza or the jaw-slackening direness of American TV, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on that strangest of phenomena – the American way of life.

OPENING

I once joked in a book that there are three things you can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again. For the last seventeen months I have been quietly, even gamely, reassessing point number three.

WHAT I THOUGHT  

I had a great time reading Notes from a Big Country. I laughed so many times reading this book I lost count. Bryon’s insight, commentary and humorous asides after returning to the country of his birth after living in Britain for two decades was a delight to read. I found his, mostly horrified reaction to life in America highly amusing consider he was born there. Living in Britain has left him unprepared for a reverse form of culture shock. I found so many of the stories and anecdotes in Notes from a Big Country amusing. I read the book mostly during my breaks at work where I would sit in the corner and chortle away to myself while everyone around me gave me strange looks. What amused me the most about Bryson’s reaction to returning to the country he was born was how British his responses were. You could almost believe Bryson had never been to American before because so many things seem completely alien to him. Notes from a Big Country is a series of columns Bryson wrote for the Mail on Sunday in the late 90’s. I’d have loved to read them in their original format. I thought Notes from a Big Country was great and would highly recommend it.

RATING

5 STAR RATING

Bride of Ice: New Selected Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by Elaine Feinstein) REVIEW

Bride of Ice: New Selected PoemsBride of Ice: New Selected Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by Elaine Feinstein)
Carcanet Press
Ebook
Published 1 August 2011 (first published 1 January 2008)
269 pages
Digital library book

Poet’s Page: Poetry Foundation

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

When Elaine Feinstein first read the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva in Russian in the 1960s, the encounter transformed her. ‘What drew me to her initially, ‘ she writes, ‘was the intensity of her emotions, and the honesty with which she exposed them.’ Her translations, first published to great acclaim in 1971, introduced Tsvetaeva to English readers. It was the start of Feinstein’s continuing engagement with a poet who has been an enduring, challenging inspiration to her, and whose life she has written. To this enlarged edition Elaine Feinstein adds five major pieces. ‘Girlfriend’, a sequence of lyrics, was written for Tsvetaeva’s lover Sofia Parnok. In ‘New Year’s Greetings’ she responded to the death of Rainer Maria Rilke. ‘On a Red Horse’ is a dramatic fairytale of power and cruelty. ‘Wires’, of which two lyrics were included in the earlier edition, now appears in full; and a previously omitted lyric from ‘Poem of the End’ has been translated. With a new introduction, notes and bibliography of works in English, Bride of Ice brings Tsvetaeva to a new generation of readers.

EXTRACT

From Verse

Written so long ago, I didn’t even
Know I was a poet
My lines fell like spray from a fountain
Or flashes from a rocket…

WHAT I THOUGHT 

This was my first time reading Tsvetaeva’s and she blew me away. Bride of Ice: New and Selected Poems is a great collection of poems. I loved every word contained within the pages. Her words haunted me. Poems stayed with me, repeating in my head over and over when I put the collection to one side and started to read something else. The images are brutal and haunting. The Poem of the End is a stand out poem in this collection and is raw and painfully real. Tsvetaeva is a woman and a poet who knows how to blend light and dark. It has been a long time since I felt so affected by someone’s poetry. Bride of Ice: New and Selected Poems is a brilliant example of the poetry I love to read and the type of poetry I try to write myself. As I read the poems, I wasn’t just reading words, I was taken out of the reality of my life and taken somewhere else on the waves of Tsvetaeva’s mind. I felt lost and found and completely disorientated reading these poems. Feinstein has done a brilliant job of translating these poems from Russian. There are so many brilliant poems in this collection. Some of my favourites include Your Narrow, Foreign Shape, A Kiss On The Head, You Loved Me, Homesickness, I Opened My Veins and When I Look At The Flight of the Leaves. In Tsvetaeva, I’ve discovered another favourite poet. Bride of Ice: New and Selected Poems is astonishing.

RATING

5 STAR RATING

After Alice by Gregory Maguire REVIEW

After AliceAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire
Published by Headline
Hardback
Published 27 October 2015 (first published 1 October 2015)
256 pages
Owned

Author Website

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

When Alice fell down the rabbit-hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings -and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but, arriving a moment too late, tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: if Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life.

Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice.

OPENING 

Were there a god in charge of a story –  I mean one cut to Old Testament specifics, some hybrid of Zeus and Father Christmas – such a creature, such a diety, might be looking down upon a day opening in Oxford, England, a bit past the half-way mark of the nineteenth century.

WHAT I THOUGHT 

After Alice is a huge disappointment. I usually love Maguire’s books (Wicked is one of my all-time favourites) and had huge expectations for this book which ultimately fails to deliver. I loved the idea of a rational child falling down the rabbit hole and trying to make sense of the craziness to be found. This could have been such fun, showing Ada refusing to admit what she’s seeing, maybe she could gradually accept it or convince herself she’s merely dreaming. A lot of possibilities could be explored but they’re not. It doesn’t take Ada long to turn into another Alice, chatting to the Queen of Hearts as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on. About three-quarters of the book revolve around Alice’s sister Lydia and the house staff looking for Alice who’s disappeared. None of these sections are interesting. I was bored most of the time. The sections with Ada in Wonderland were the best bit about the book but they weren’t fantastic and had a sense of been here, done this and seen this all before. There are also sections of the book where Maguire rambles on about slavery, Victorianism and evolution which had no place in the book which should have been a fun, fantastic read and not a social commentary. After Alice is just so boring. Nothing interesting happens. Ada meets characters we’ve already met before and has a chat and that’s about it. I would not recommend this.

RATING

1 STAR

Hard Times by Charles Dickens REVIEW

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Published by Penguin Classics
Paperback
Published 27 February 2003 (first published 1854)
321 pages
Owned

Author’s Wikipedia Page

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

A damning indictment of Utilitarianism and the dehumanising influence of the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times is edited with an introduction and notes by Kate Flint in Penguin Classics.

In Hard Times, the Northern mill-town of Coketown is dominated by the figure of Mr Thomas Gradgrind, school headmaster and model of Utilitarian success. Feeding both his pupils and family with facts, he bans fancy and wonder from any young minds. As a consequence his obedient daughter Louisa marries the loveless businessman and ‘bully of humanity’ Mr Bounderby, and his son Tom rebels to become embroiled in gambling and robbery. And, as their fortunes cross with those of free-spirited circus girl Sissy Jupe and victimized weaver Stephen Blackpool, Gradgrind is eventually forced to recognize the value of the human heart in an age of materialism and machinery.

This edition of Hard Times is based on the text of the first volume publication of 1854. Kate Flint’s introduction sheds light on the frequently overlooked character interplay in Dickens’s great critique of Victorian industrial society.

Charles Dickens is one of the best-loved novelists in the English language, whose 200th anniversary was celebrated in 2012. His most famous books, including Oliver TwistGreat ExpectationsA Tale of Two CitiesDavid Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers, have been adapted for stage and screen and read by millions.

OPENING

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’.

WHAT I THOUGHT  

I read this because it’s a set text for the English Literature degree I’m starting in October with the Open University. I listened to the audio version at the same time with my Audible free trial because the book is quite hard going. For me, anyway. I tried and failed to read it about a year ago.

I enjoyed Hard Times. For Dickens fans, this is not his typical work so you better brace yourself. There is no Jacob Marley in this one. I need to be perfectly honest – I only enjoyed the book because I listened to the audio book as well. At times, I didn’t even pick up the book to read along and just listened to the audio. I found Hard Times slow at first but good things start to happen. Tom’s decent into drinking and gambling is dark and brilliant. The characters are fantastic, brilliant drawn and so real they leapt off the pages and walked around my house. Bounderby is my favourite character. He’s awful. I hated him and his bluster and his constantly repeating how tragic his upbringing was and how his mother abandoned him to be raised by his alcoholic grandmother. The moment in Hard Times when his lies collapse around him is brilliant. I didn’t know what to make of Louisa, Gradgrind’s daughter, forced into a loveless marriage with Bounderby whose thirty years her senior. She’s the perfect tragic heroine but has no backbone and irritated me at times. The tragic end to the novel made me cry a little. I enjoyed Hard Times thanks to listening to the audio book at the same time.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

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