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Jun 12, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Hurting Distance

Reviewed by Kathryn Moss
I have just put this book down and was so impressed that I felt compelled to promote it! It’s been a while since I’ve read such an original, disturbing, and superbly choreographed psychological thriller. The character development is brilliant, with ‘baddies’ who are chillingly understated, and ‘goodies’ who are, quite frankly, a bit of a mess! You would be too if you’d been in their shoes! The complexity of the plot makes the book fascinating and difficult to put down, as you’re constantly wondering where it will take you next. I’m usually quite good at guessing the ending, however I couldn’t see through this one! Even if you got the main thread there are so many layers to the story that the fallout was just as interesting. I also found the concept that created the title thought-provoking… you’ll have to read the book to find out why.

The story starts with a survivor’s story on a rape web site, a survivor’s story with a difference! Fundamentally it is about a vulnerable woman being deceived by a truly evil man with motives that are unbelievably warped. The character Naomi is cleverly developed, as she isn’t that likeable and it’s hard to find sympathy for her until you realise the full extent of what’s happened to her. There is a great twist involving one of the main police characters too, one that leaves her reeling and demonstrates how people in authority can be just as vulnerable as the rest of us.

I don’t want to say too much more as I don’t want to risk giving away the plot, all readers should experience a plot that’s so hard to see through! I would recommend this book to anyone who loves thrillers: well written, extremely clever and deeply chilling. It still makes my skin crawl when I think about the dark characters involved.

Jun 12, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Sepulchre

Reviewed by Kathryn Moss
A stunning novel about obsession and revenge, this book is extremely hard to put down once you’ve started it. As with her previous book ‘Labyrinth’ the story switches between the past and the present with ease, establishing connections that make the story complete. I often find with books that do this that there is one era I prefer, and whilst reading about the other era I’m itching to get back to my favourite. However, not so with Sepulchre, the story in both eras is equally gripping, and the characters in both eras are fundamental to developing the reader’s understanding of the characters in the tarot cards. The characters are cleverly and beautifully developed, and I grew very fond of some of them so was seen to be shedding a few tears at the events that befell them.

The story starts in Paris in March 1891, where an innocent teenage girl attends a funeral that never was, knowing little about the series of events she was about to become embroiled in. Her only crime is concern for her brother. Little does she know that a truly evil man, charismatic as such men often are, is about to threaten everyone and everything she holds dear. These players and more soon develop into the tarot characters discovered by our heroine in the present day, who embarks on a mission that enables her to discover her ancestry and face her demons (literally!). Knowing how the Victor Constant character had been built up throughout the book I found his reincarnation in the final chapters utterly spine chilling.

The historical and geographical detail in this book is tremendous, so evocative that I could often imagine myself there, exploring the French Pyrenean foothills for example, or walking the streets of the medieval city of Carcassonne. Kate Mosse puts so much effort into researching her books, so that there is a thread of reality running through them that gives the story credibility, even though at times events are truly supernatural. Creepy!! Another fascinating aspect to the story is the musical connection, which pulls in the French composer, Claude Debussy.

Another touch I love is the way pictures of the fictional Vernier Tarot have been painted specifically for this book and illustrated beautifully inside the cover of the hardback. Apart from being very attractive they added an extra dimension in terms of living the main characters. I loved the idea of the lovers being chained by the devil and how that related to ‘real’ events. The wonderfully illustrated map of the area is great too.

If you enjoy tales about the mysticism and the supernatural you’ll love this book. More than that however it’s an extremely rich, entertaining, and well-written novel – enjoy!

Jun 12, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Working Wonders

Reviewed by Kathryn Moss
I read avidly and my taste is eclectic, “chick lit” being one of the genres I read for a bit of light relief (and all too often boredom). That is exactly why I picked this book and I have to say I got a bit of a surprise. Far from being a predictable modern-day romance this book is funny and clever, and at times quite moving, with characters that are well developed and a plot that crosses over into the realms of fantasy – well, why not?!

The book centres round a group of unlikely people teaming up to bid for an unlikely city to be the European city of culture. Generally the central male characters grow more engaging as the book progresses, although the female characters had less of an impact on me. I really like the main male character Arthur, however my favourite is Sven with his droll sense of humour and attachment to his dog Sandwiches, who goes everywhere with him and becomes an integral part of the team. I love the way the team comes up with wacky ideas to win the bid, which aren’t necessarily based on commercial value or kudos, but are purely designed to raise the spirits of a city long maligned. I realise that in today’s world they are completely unrealistic but that’s part of the beauty of this book, we can dream can’t we? Far too often we just accept the constraints the oppressive world we live places on us, and this book is refreshing in that it disregards many of them. The lengths to which the team go to make their ideas happen are both admirable and hilarious, my favourite being the trip to the far north of Denmark to meet with ice making experts, where fantasy scenes of the frozen north abound and Arthur and Sandwiches take on heroic roles.

The book culminates in a final battle between the remaining two contenders, our unlikely team and their rivals, who have of course tried to thwart our heroes throughout with their evil interventions. This takes the form of an outward-bound exercise in the wilds of Wales, where (of course) good triumphs over evil, kind of anyway.

Quirky. Great fun. Touching. Imaginative. Fantastical. Read it if those adjectives appeal to you. I have read a few other reviews of this book, some of which slate Jenny Colgan for breaking away from her usual style, however I applaud her for it.

Jun 12, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Tell It To The Skies

Reviewed by Kathryn Moss
As is often the case where an established author writes something a bit different “Tell It To The Skies” has received mixed reviews, however I found it to be a gripping novel that deals with dark subjects such as child abuse in a way that gives us hope. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Our heroine Lydia is courageous and sensitive as all good heroines should be and her story begins in Venice, where at the age of 40 she is content with her home, work, friends, and the company of her stepdaughter Chiara, whose father had died several years before. However, her life gets turned upside-down at the chance sighting of a young man who is the spitting image of Lydia’s childhood sweetheart Noah, long since lost to her. The shock of it causes her to fall and badly sprain her ankle, and whilst convalescing her extraordinary story starts to emerge. It is a rather contrived coincidence that Noah’s clone becomes Chiara’s new boyfriend, however it does create a platform for the past to catch up with the present, providing resolution for those still alive.

Back we go to 1968, where in the aftermath of Lydia’s father’s death her mother’s mental state deteriorates rapidly, resulting in her tragic suicide, which Lydia saw as her fault. Having already been more of a mother to her younger sister Valerie, Lydia now became fiercely protective but could not stop social services from arranging for them both to go and live in Yorkshire with grandparents they had never met.

The book now describes at length a grim childhood for both sisters, who survive and cope as best they can. Their grandfather is cruel and violent and their grandmother lives in fear of him. They belong to a strict religious sect full of dubious individuals with the occasional shining light such as Sister Lottie. The way that this environment affects the two sisters differently is really intriguing and well developed, making the reader eager to know what happens to them. As time goes by Lydia finds first friendship and then love with Noah, another misfit who comes to live in Swallowsdale. She is first bullied by and then forms an unlikely friendship with Donna, loud and uncouth but fundamentally good-hearted.

Time moves on and events unfold that will change everything. The book progresses towards a disturbing crescendo, after which misunderstandings occur that force Lydia and Noah apart, not to be reunited until decades later. In fact Lydia is forced to leave everything behind and start a new life in Italy, where for some time she waits to hear from Noah little realising that the scene she left hadn’t worked out quite as she planned. So eventually she picks herself up and gets on with her life, hurt but not defeated.

You might think it romantic idealism that Noah comes back into Lydia’s life, a nice contrived happy ending, but hey why not, these things do happen!! Plus of course it’s not quite that simple…

Jun 12, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Inspire: Courageous People of Our Time

Reviewed by Kathryn Moss
The title says a lot about this book, it is indeed inspirational. Inspire tells twelve stories about twelve remarkable British people, all of whom have overcome great obstacles to achieve what they have to date. What drives them? Courage, dedication, a passionate belief in what they do, and in some cases not a small amount of risk-taking! Oliver Chittenden gives us a glimpse into the minds of these people through face to face interviews, insightful background information, and wonderful portrait photographs by Sam Pelly.
One of the things that make this book so fascinating is the variety of inspirational people included. They range from Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE (World’s greatest living explorer), to Tim Smit (Co-founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall), to Terry Waite CBE (former Beirut hostage), to Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE (eleven times Paralympic gold medallist), to name but a few! Each chapter is both fascinating and easy to read, giving the reader just the right amount of information to realise just how amazing these people are. There are plenty of words of wisdom from the individuals concerned, and I particularly like a quote from John Simpson CBE: “Perhaps the point of living is not to be placid and happy and untouched by the world, but to be deeply painfully sensitive to it, to see its cruelty and savagery for what they are, and accept all this as readily as we accept its beauty. To be touched by it, moved by it, hurt by it even, but not to be indifferent to it.” Another great snippet from Tim Smit: “The closer you get to the obstacle blocking your dream, the longer you hold your nerve, the sooner you will find an opening that makes your dream a reality.” The book is full of such inspiring gems, great to write on pieces of paper and stick on the walls around you when life is tough.

Another good touch is the inclusion of charities that are dear to the heart of the people involved in the book, and the fact that a proportion of the income generated from the sales of this book will go to the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, a charity that aims to help people suffering from depression.

In addition to the twelve stories the book includes a foreword by Sir Richard Branson, and a tribute at the end to Jayne Tomlinson, whose incredible fight against cancer epitomises what the book is about. Inspire is the best kind of Coffee Table book, it looks good but once perused has the power to literally transform your day in a few moments. It would make a great gift at a time when there is a lot of despondency around, demonstrating as it does how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist demolition of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, many survivors of the massacre connected with one another in a way that only fellow sufferers can understand. As those who lived through the historic day forged friendships with and drew strength from one another, one woman and her amazing story emerged as a survival superstar.

“THE WOMAN WHO WASN’T THERE is the fascinating tale of an individual with a sick need to be part of something she never even experienced.”

Tania Head, who recounted the tragic loss of her fiancé, Dave, in the collapse of the North Tower, told of her terrifying fight to emerge alive from the Merrill Lynch offices on the 96th floor of the South Tower and bore the physical scars that touched the hearts of Americans in New York City and across the nation. She also recounted the story of a man who came to her rescue during the ordeal. According to her, Welles Crowthers was the very reason she was alive. She even met his family, congratulating them on the heroism of their son and commiserating with them on his loss.

Not only did Tania join forces with the other survivors, she became their leader when she helped them gain access to Ground Zero for a private visit, a privilege previously granted only to the families of the dead.  After working tirelessly as a member of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, Tania was elected president of the organization. In that position, she enjoyed the honor of escorting Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki on the initial tour of the site at Ground Zero.

Lauded as an inspiration and a dynamo by her peers, Tania fought her own demons and helped others face theirs. So imagine the shock they experienced when they discovered that not only was their fearless leader nowhere near the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, she wasn’t even in the country. Furthermore, family and friends of her supposed fiancé insist that they had never even heard the name Tania Head and that she couldn’t have been his intended. Everything Tania told the press, the public and her friends was a fabrication.

When Tania connected with Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. in the hopes of creating a documentary about the survivors of 9/11, his research signaled the beginning of the end of her charade. As Guglielmo uncovered one deception after another, Tania’s tale of woe and triumph unraveled completely.

THE WOMAN WHO WASN’T THERE is the fascinating tale of an individual with a sick need to be part of something she never even experienced. For reasons no one can fathom, she inserted herself into the midst of a group of people trying to recover from what undoubtedly was the great tragedy of their lives and became their leader.

Readers will shake their heads in wonder at the brazen bravado Tania Head displayed when she created a fictional life that put her first and foremost at the center of the greatest American tragedy to date. Even after the book is finished, they will be left to wonder, as we all are, why she created the enormous falsehood and what, if anything, she hoped to gain from it.

Reviewed by Amie Taylor on April 6, 2012

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc

The legend of Joan of Arc has always been well known: The Maid of Orléans, poor and uneducated, touched with divine guidance, led the armies of France to key victories over the English, and was burned at the stake by her captors at the tender age of 19. Twenty-five years after her death, she was labeled a martyr and canonized in 1920. That’s the story. Simple. Majestic. Powerful. Yet as we recognize the 600th anniversary of her birth this year (the date is unknown as the practice of recording the dates of non-noble births were not in effect in the 15th century), Nancy Goldstone tells us that, up until now, we have only heard half the story. With THE MAID AND THE QUEEN, history is opened to illustrate a connection between Joan and the oft-forgot Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon.

“The intrigues of the history and the miraculous unfolding of the story of Joan make the book seem as gripping as any novel…. Until then, THE MAID AND THE QUEEN stands as a fascinating new take on the legacy and legend of Joan of Arc, and a great introduction to the oft-overlooked Queen of Sicily.”

Who is Yolande of Aragon, and just what part did she play in the story of Joan of Arc? Beautiful, ambitious, and educated in the manner of the men of her time, Yolande was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. France was embroiled in the Hundred Years War with England and Burgundy. The throne of France was in upheaval, with Charles VII unable to claim his right due to the occupation by England and the betrayal of his parents (they declared he could not be King as he was the product of an affair by Queen Isabeau). Fearing for his life, Charles fled to the Queen of the Four Kingdoms: Yolande of Aragon. She would provide him protection and a wife, her daughter Marie, and begin to use her political acumen and impressive network of spies to see that her son-in-law could claim his throne. Some of her ploys backfired, such as the assassination of Charles’s cousin, but she was soon driven more than ever to find the one who would bolster Charles and turn the tide against the English.

That “one” would turn out to be Joan. Growing up in Domrémy on the farm of her father, situated in the duchy of Bar, Joan had a connection to Yolande. Yolande of Bar, mother of Yolande of Aragon, held the duchy as her ancestral home, and throughout history it was loyal to the king of France. At the time of Joan’s youth, Domrémy was on the front lines of conflict, with the loyalists of Burgundy just across the river. Yolande of Aragon had even manipulated to have her uncle, the duke of Bar, select her son, René, as a successor, who would steadfastly hold Bar and Lorraine for Charles. Goldstone thus acknowledges that by the simple nature of the size of the region and by Joan’s later requests for men from the duke, there is no way she would not have known who René was, or his connections. And since Yolande was seeking a heroine, one who was touched and who could kindle the fires of valiant combat for her king, the fact that Joan began to hear voices at around age 13 only drew the attention of the Queen and her people — in particular, René, who set in motion the acts by which she would gain audience to Charles.

THE MAID AND THE QUEEN is divided into three sections: the life of Yolande, the life of Joan, and the wrap-up of the events following the life of Joan, the impact on France, and the final years of Yolande’s life. This template serves the story very well. So much of the groundwork for Joan was in place before she was born, and showing the life of Yolande goes a long way to making the case for her involvement in the events to come. Citing medieval sources only written in French as well as Joan’s trial documentation, the notion that Yolande pulled the strings that led to the success of France are quite plausible.

Goldstone weaves a remarkable dual biography. The intrigues of the history and the miraculous unfolding of the story of Joan make the book seem as gripping as any novel. Among the great positives is that it moves at an incredibly readable pace. One of the drawbacks to this is that so much more could have been laid out and explained, doubling the book’s size. Perhaps others will follow in her footsteps and take up this line of inquiry. Until then, THE MAID AND THE QUEEN stands as a fascinating new take on the legacy and legend of Joan of Arc, and a great introduction to the oft-overlooked Queen of Sicily.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 29, 2012

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Lifeboat

Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she’d found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Gods of Gotham

27-year-old Timothy Wilde works as a bartender at an oyster bar while saving money to work up the courage to ask Mercy Underhill to marry him. Orphaned as a child after his parents perished in a fire, he has been raised by his older and much wilder brother, Valentine. While Timothy is deathly afraid of fire, Val rushes headlong into burning buildings without regard for his safety. To many, Val is a hero. To Timothy, he is a depraved addict spiraling out of control.

“THE GODS OF GOTHAM is a vibrant tale that weaves historical facts along with a suspenseful storyline… a compelling story with vivid details, memorable characters and lots of surprises.”

To Democratic politicians like real-life historical figure George Washington Matsell, Valentine Wilde is a rising star. The first Chief of Police for the City of New York, Matsell has created a police department with an army of copper stars. Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic hatred has divided the city, and many of the new coppers are themselves Irish immigrants. Because of his heroic reputation as a fearless firefighter, Val becomes a captain on Matsell’s newly formed police force.

When fire destroys Timothy’s place of employment, burns up his life savings, and disfigures part of his face, Val convinces him to join the police force. Becoming a policeman in New York’s Sixth Ward is “an unwelcome surprise” to Timothy, but with nowhere to live and no money, he relents. Timothy eventually finds a place to rent in the Sixth Ward and begins his new job, using what he learned as a bartender about being observant and listening to people.

While Timothy is vigilant on the job, he is unconcerned about becoming a hero; he only has eyes for Mercy. The attractive daughter of a widowed minister, Mercy is a zealous missionary who travels to the city’s most squalid neighborhoods to treat and give comfort to society’s outcasts.

On his way home from work after a long night, Timothy rescues Bird Daly, a 10-year-girl covered in blood. Bird is fleeing after being forced to work as a kinchin mab, a child prostitute in a house of pleasure operated by a notorious madam. Bird weaves unbelievable tales about murdered Irish children buried in the woods. Skeptical at first, Timothy starts to believe Bird after the discovery of the body of Liam, a 12-year-old boy with a crude cross cut into his chest. And that’s just the beginning, as the remains of 19 additional Irish immigrant children are unearthed. When Timothy receives a letter from a man claiming responsibility for the grisly murders, public outcry and panic engulf the city. Chief Matsell quietly assigns Timothy to the case.

THE GODS OF GOTHAM is a vibrant tale that weaves historical facts along with a suspenseful storyline. Told in the compassionate voice of Timothy Wilde, this is a story of poverty, discrimination, debauchery, arson, addiction and murder. The listing of Selected Flash Terminology at the beginning of the book aids in understanding the unfamiliar historical jargon, while the maps on the inside covers also help bring the old city to life. Lyndsay Faye’s debut is a compelling story with vivid details, memorable characters and lots of surprises.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on April 6, 2012

Apr 11, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Coldest Night

This is a very memorable and stark tale of love, war, and what comes after. Olmstead’s spare style is reminiscent of Hemingway as he charts the coming of age of a seventeen year old who falls in love with the daughter of a Judge. They run away together, are married, then are separated as the Judge’s family attacks him and abducts his wife. For lack of a better alternative, he signs up for the Korean War, and soon experiences the horrors of the retreat from Chosin reservoir.

There is a timelessness to this story which pierces your mind and keeps bringing images back to you. It’s appropriate fare as we deal with the issues of the Iraq and Afghan veterans to think on Olmstead’s portrait of “Henry”- scarred and tormented by his war experience, but really facing an even greater challenge in returning home, and conflicted by a desire to go back to the battlefield.

This novel has a more obvious appeal for male readers but I recommend it highly to any reader. It is award-level writing.

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