Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, Charlotte Moseley

This is an amazing book, the like of which we probably won’t see again! The six Mitford sisters wrote letters to each other throughout their quite astonishing lives and their correspondence covers major events of the 20th Century, name-dropping an altogether astonishing set of celebrities, politicians and royals.

I’d read some of Nancy Mitford’s books and knew some of the history of the family, but
the letters bring so much insight into their world.

My only regret about this book is that I read it on my kindle instead of buying a ‘proper’ book as I think it would have been so much easier to read. There are notes at the end of each
chapter but it is harder to keep skipping back to the relevant part in the book. It isn’t a book to read all in one go, I’ve been reading it for months, just dipping in and out while reading other things but when I got to the last letter I felt almost bereft – hard to imagine just how hard it must have been for Deborah, the last surviving sister.

It is a really wonderful book, regardless of what ‘class’ you might be or what your politics are – such a portrait of a life that probably doesn’t exist any longer, of sisterly rivalry, arguments and love. I’m going to buy it again but the real thing this time as I want to read it again now I’ve got to the end.

Book Review: Coming Clean, Kimberley Rae Miller

This was a fascinating but uncomfortable read – an autobiography about growing up as the child of hoarder parents. It is a brutally honest and unflinching look at the mental issues
behind hoarding and what it means in practice – unable to keep anywhere clean, hiding the truth of how the family live from friends, ending up living in a tiny corner of the house.

It is a sad tale in lots of ways and yet the author tells it in a very matter of fact, calm way – this is her parent’s reality and although she can (and does) help them to clear up the worst of it regularly, nothing can stop them living their lives in this way.

Although it is a difficult story to read, her obvious love and care for her parents is
heartwarming and you end up having a great deal of sympathy for them all.

Book Review: Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

This is a strange and wonderful book, set in London above and below ground – and below is a fearful, magical place with links to the London we know but which isn’t altogether recognisable.

Richard Mayhew is an ordinary man, not destined to be a hero in anyway, passively drifting into an engagement with Jessica, who wants to mould and improve him. But he defies her to rescue an injured girl who turns out to be an opener of doors – literally! He loses his world and ends up following Door into her frightening and confusing world, having adventure after adventure before eventually getting back to where he started.

I enjoyed this book as I was reading it, the story races along at a great pace and the writing is excellent. But once I’d finished, I did start to think that it would have been better if it was longer, with more about the stories of how the main characters became what they were, Islington, Door and her family, Hunter and of course the fascinating Marquis de Carabas as well as many of the more peripheral characters.

Book Review: Mercy (Department Q), Jussi Adler-Olsen

I enjoyed this Scandi crime drama, with an anti-hero detective, who has lost all his ambition and energy following an event where a colleague was killed and another seriously injured. Carl tries very hard to do as little as possible even when he is given his own department looking at old cases.

HIs cleaner/assistant Assad clearly has a very interesting background and begins to look into a past case which quickly leads us into a tense kidnap storyline. The tension really builds as the two stories begin to come together and the flashback chapters from the kidnap victim’s
viewpoint really draw you in.

Although I don’t think the book is quite up there with the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, it is an original take on the detective/thriller genre and I’m looking forward to reading the other two Department Q novels published to date.

Book Review: The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

I’m torn with this book, really didn’t enjoy it at the beginning – Sage and her story did not
capture me so I was on the verge of giving up. But then Minka and Ania took over the book,
changing my views completely. Just so harrowing to read about Minka’s life and how she
survived those terrible years during WW2.

The intertwined story of Ania, fighting her own battle to survive was also moving and
beautifully written.

Now I’ve finished the book, I almost want to read it again and try harder with the Sage story as the other parts of the book were so moving.

I guessed both the plot twists too which never helps..

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre & the Men and Women Who Worked There

This was a really interesting look behind the scenes at the very secretive wartime activities at Bletchley Park. I knew a little bit about Enigma and the code breaking successes during the war but had no idea just how big and vital the Bletchley Park operation was.

The book was more about the lives of some of the individuals who worked at the Park than the code breaking work, which I would have liked to have learnt a bit more about. But the stories really painted a picture of what society’s expectations were back then and how people had to put their lives on hold during the war – and yet, life still went on.

A fascinating glimpse of wartime life in England.

Book Review: Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

What a book! Unlike anything else I’ve read – the story of Ursula’s life and death and life.. and how the smallest change, a different decision, or path taken can make such a huge difference.

If you could choose to go back and make a different decision, looking back on your life with the benefit of hindsight, would you? But would your different choice then mean that in fact your life was worse instead of better? How would you know the right path to take?

What happens to Ursula on her various incarnations made fascinating reading, sometimes very uncomfortable and you are almost hoping for her to die to make things better. As she grows up (again and again) you get a real insight into the lives of people during WWII, especially life in London during the Blitz.

No review can do this book justice, I wanted to start it again as soon as I’d finished it – and I also wanted the author to write another book about the rest of Ursula’s story.

My tip is to keep an eye on the date at the beginning of each chapter which will make it easier to follow in the beginning but once you are hooked, you won’t find it difficult.

This is a great book, a future classic I think.

Book Review – Dead Secret, Catherine Deveney

I found myself reading this book really quickly as I wanted to find out what had happened to Rebecca’s mother and what the mystery was. In a lot of ways, it was more a story of dealing with the loss of a parent than a murder/mystery and I thought it was very well written,
certainly easy to read.

It was only after I finished the book that I began to find it a bit disappointing – while I was
reading it I was completely caught up in what Rebecca did after the death of her father and anxious to know more. But all the tension built up during her stay in Inverness seemed to seep away again and the ending almost seemed an anti-climax.

Having said all that, I am going to seek some more of the author’s books because I really
enjoyed the writing and as a study of the daughter’s feelings of loss and alienation it was excellent, but the murder storyline just didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This is the first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read, but won’t be the last. It seemed to pull me inside the story immediately and then rattled along at a great pace, I just couldn’t put it down. It is the magical story of a boy from an ordinary family living an uneventful life until everything changed and he ended up having a (fairly scary!) adventure with a girl who had been 11 for many years, entering the strange world she inhabits, or rather, that strange world comes over and inhabits his!

I didn’t realise until I’d finished the book that we never even find out his name, but it doesn’t matter, we get to know this 7 year old boy so well.

“I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
“Also, in my bedroom, nobody minded if I kept the hall door half-open, allowing in enough light that I was not scared of the dark, and, just as important, allowing me to read secretly, after my bedtime, using the dim hallway light to read by, if I needed to. I always needed to.”
“Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”

Although the main characters are children, it isn’t a children’s book so don’t let that put you off. I’d like to say that everyone should read this book, but I know it won’t be for everyone. But if you love stories that race along, dragging you with them so you can’t put down the book, if you were a bookish child who lost yourself in stories, if the quotes above ring very true, if you love being scared by a bit of magic – then this book is definitely for you.

Book Review: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

This book is by Barbara Demick, an American journalist who spent years in Korea. This quite
incredible book is the story of 6 North Koreans who managed to defect to the South and who told their stories to Barbara.

Although it isn’t a novel, the stories are very well pieced together and straight away, you
become engrossed in the very difficult lives the subjects lead in the secretive and controlling
country. Several sections of the book are very hard to read as they cover the horrendous time of the famine when at least one-fifth of the population died.

It kept reminding me of Orwell’s 1984 – a real nightmare and yet the subjects of the book
manage to survive and eventually escape, otherwise we would never have heard their
fascinating and very moving stories.

Not an easy, relaxing read but all the same, a very well-written and accessible way to find out more about this totalitarian and fearsome regime by hearing the stories of people who
survived it.