Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Moon in a Dead Eye - Pascal Garnier - Guest Book Review

Published by Gallic Books
Translated by Emily Boyce


Given the choice, Martial would never have bought a home in Les Conviviales.  But Odette's heart was set on this new retirement village in the Midi. 

At first the move feels like a terrible mistake: they're the sole residents and it rains non-stop.  Then three neighbours arrive, the sun comes out and life becomes far more agreeable..

Until some gypsies set up camp just outside their gated community...

Guest review by Janice Lazell-Wood

A rich and darkly humoured tale, and one that I enjoyed immensely.  Five characters come together in a retirement community, two couples and one single lady who has been left her house as a gift. The community sounds idyllic, it boasts activities, year round sunshine and a pool. However, the stark truth is, it's raining, there are no activities and the only water in the pool is rainwater. 

Living their lives under the watchful eye of sinister and gossipy Monsieur Flesh, the caretaker, our five characters, Martial and Odette, Maxime (with his ill fitting dentures) and Marlène, and single lady Léa forge friendships and start to make the most of things, until resentments are inevitably stirred up, past histories revealed and truths told...

The dialogue is snappy and very well translated from the original French, there is humour, horror, irony, sadness and a page turning desire to find out where the story is going.  Highly recommended, and if this story is anything to go by, I will be looking to read more of Monsieur Garnier's novels.

My thanks goes to Lindsay forgiving me the chance to review this novel.

Many thanks to Janice for reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Place to Call Home: Toby's Tale - G. A. Whitmore - Guest Post

Today I'm pleased to share an author guest post with you by G. A. Whitmore, author of A Place to Call Home: Toby's Tale.

White German Shepherds: Defective or Just Different
by G. A. Whitmore

The main character in my new book A Place to Call Home: Toby’s Tale was inspired by an abused dog I adopted from the Connecticut Humane Society in 1989. Toby was a white German Shepherd/mix, who at the age of seven months, had already had three “homes” and was so scared and traumatized that he would not move around humans. He would not sit up, he would not walk.

Toby and his sister pup had been found in a box inside a dumpster in northern California. Somebody didn’t want them. Why? They were beautiful puppies, gorgeous white fur and chocolate brown eyes. My curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to research the history of white German Shepherds.

What I learned was that white German Shepherds have been living in the United States since the early 1900s after the first German Shepherd dogs were brought to the country from Germany.  Periodically white puppies were born as part of the litters, as they had been in Europe, and the white version of this traditionally black and tan dog soon developed its own following. As time went on the white German Shepherd became more and more popular as the dogs proved they could keep up in all respects with their black and tan brother and sisters.

In the middle of the 20th century a shift occurred and many German Shepherd breeders began to think of the white version of the dog as defective, a mar on the breed. They believed the recessive gene that resulted in the white coloration of the fur was contributing to genetic defects and medical issues within the breed as a whole. Culling of the white puppies became a standard practice among those who adhered to this belief. Lovers of the white German Shepherd remained firm. There was no scientific evidence to support the claims being made against these beautiful white dogs, and over time, the prejudice and discrimination against them subsided. It did not go away, though. I learned there are still breeders today who continue to cull these wonderful dogs from their litters.

Were Toby and his sister the victims of prejudice and discrimination based on the color of their fur? Is that why they were “discarded”? I decided to go with this story line in my book, it made sense, and it felt right. So in the book, Toby and his sister are given a death sentence by Mr. Bailey, their breeder. He tells his wife he wants the farm hand Walt to dispose of them. But his plans are thwarted when Mrs. Bailey and Walt devise a plan to save the dogs’ lives.  
It should be noted that the man considered to be the founder of the German Shepherd breed Max von Stephanitz firmly believed that: The German Shepherd dog should be judged based upon its ability to work, its courage and its temperament. Never did he mention the color of the dog’s fur as a measure of the dog’s worth.

Shouldn’t we all be judged by our character and actions, not by the color of our skin or fur?


About the book...

Every rescue dog has a tale to tell, a story uniquely their own.

A Place to Call Home is Toby’s tale.

Born on a small farm in northern California, Toby’s carefree days as a puppy are cut short when he narrowly escapes the death sentence imposed upon him by his breeder. Through a series of events driven by good intentions, he finds himself in a Connecticut suburb, where life with his new family soon collapses on him, and his newfound happiness is brutally destroyed.

On his quest to find a place to call home, Toby encounters and endures the best and worst of humanity, as he comes face to face with sorrow and joy, fear and courage, and ultimately, with the power of love.

Part of the proceeds of from the sale of each book will be donated to an organization of the author’s choice that promotes and advocates for the protection and welfare of dogs.

About the author...

Ms. Whitmore’s passion for writing and her love of dogs come together in her series The Rescue Dog Tales. The first book in the series, A Place to Call Home, was inspired by Toby, an abused dog she adopted from the Connecticut Humane Society. Ms. Whitmore currently lives in Connecticut with her two rescue dogs, Kadee and Zeus.

Author/community Facebook page

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Leopold Blue - Rosie Rowell - Guest Book Review

Published by Hot Key Books

Guest review by Susan Maclean

I do like books aimed at Young Adults (which I hope this was), but I am not sure that it’s supposed audience will make it a best seller.  It’s well written, the descriptions of the area of South Africa where the book is set are good enough for you to “see” what it’s like, and none of the characters are two dimensional.  

But. I couldn’t empathise much with Meg who is 15, full of hormones, and really does not fit in at school in her little township.  Her mother Vivvy, English, married for love and now stuck in the middle of a rural and changing SA,  has views about politics which don’t sit well with Meg, and her class-mates’ parents.  She is also on a campaign to inform black farm workers about AIDs, which was rife at the time Mandela came to power when this book is set.  Meg cannot understand why her mother would be out on the farms every Sunday, telling workers about condoms, bodily fluids and the like when she should be home with her family. Meg’s Mum cannot understand why Meg feels this way, and why Meg's so angry with her.

Into Meg’s life comes  Zanthe, who sits next to her at school, and whom the headmistress wants Meg to take under her wing.  Zanthe, with cat’s eyes.  Zanthe, who doesn’t give a stuff about anyone.  Zanthe, who surely dyes her hair black as her eyes are blue.  Zanthe, who wants to be naughty.  Zanthe, who takes to calling Meg, “Madge”.

If you are a teen, you will probably know exactly how Meg feels.  And if you are a teen, you will certainly know how it feels to be embarrassed by your parents, how that first crush feels, how no-one understands you. But I am not so sure you will put this book in the “best I have ever read category”.  You may find, as I did, that it is rather slow, and that you expected the bad things to be bigger and more shocking than they were. 

Many thanks to Susan for reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library. Susan blogs at Mac-Adventures (with Books!)

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Time of Women - Elena Chizhova - Guest Book Review

Translated from the Russian by Simon Patterson with Nina Cordas

Guest book review by Mandy Jenkinson

On the surface this is a simple, domestic tale. Three elderly women are raising a little girl, Sofia, the illegitimate daughter of factory worker Antonina, who has been lucky enough to be allocated a room in the “grannies’” communal flat. While Antonina goes to work, often accepting double shifts, to support the makeshift family, the grannies tell their stories to little Sofia and reminisce about their lives, filling her head with images from Russia’s troubled past. Each of the old women has suffered immeasurably during the war and siege of Leningrad, losing homes and families. Now they pour all the love they have into the little girl.

Life is hard. The novel poignantly and vividly captures the atmosphere of 1960s Soviet life – the daily drudgery to find enough food, the endless queues, the excitement of finding fabric to make a dress and managing to jump the queue and get a TV, the difficulties of washing and doing the laundry without a bathroom. And interspersed with the minutiae of daily life are the memories of the old ladies and the unbelievable struggle they had to survive during the Siege, the hunger, the deaths, the cold. Much of the action takes place in the flat, but we are also taken to Antonina’s factory, to the shops, the church, the nursery where Sofia goes before the grannies take over.

With these three generations of women the reader has a moving and compelling account of life in Soviet Russia, all told from a feminine perspective. Men are pretty much absent from the book, or if there, then pretty unsatisfactorily. It’s certainly a grim story but ultimately one of hope and renewal. Antonina doesn’t have to suffer as much as the grannies did. Sofia will not have to suffer as much as her mother did. She will have choices none of them could have dreamt of, and she will remember them with affection and gratitude.

This is a rich and multi-faceted novel and a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about life in the Soviet Union. It’s not always an easy read, as it frequently switches between the narrative voices, and it’s not always immediately clear whose voice we are hearing. Passages of stream of consciousness need to be read slowly and carefully to fully follow what’s happening. And it certainly helps to have some knowledge of the historical background before starting. However, these are minor criticisms of a book that I very much enjoyed and one that I look forward to reading again.  It captures perfectly the atmosphere and environment of a particular place and time with compassion and empathy, and the characters come alive and linger in the imagination long after the reader finishes the last page. A fascinating and immensely enjoyable book and a worthy winner of the Russian Booker.

Many thanks to Mandy for reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library. Mandy is an omnivorous reader who enjoys reviewing, for newbooks magazine as well as elsewhere, and enjoys discovering new authors.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Woman in the Picture - Katharine McMahon

Set in London in 1926, this novel features Evelyn Gifford, who we first met in an earlier novel by Katharine McMahon, The Crimson Rooms. Now one of the first female qualified solicitors, Evelyn’s brother was killed in WWI and she is living with her young nephew and his mother Meredith. Two cases dominate the storyline; one regarding disputed paternity and another regarding union strikes. In her personal life, too, Evelyn faces challenges, decisions and conflicts, with the chance of happiness with a man who admires and loves her, and yet the lure of a past lover returned.

The Woman in the Picture is another beautifully written historical novel by Katharine McMahon, with super characterisation; it’s wonderful to revisit Evelyn and discover her current endeavours – though this novel can certainly be read without having read The Crimson Rooms. The narrative offers a compelling portrait of a time when a female lawyer was unusual and the preconceptions and judgements Evelyn therefore faces from others in the profession and from the general population.

The story moves along at a good pace, both the legal matters and the romantic aspects are intriguing and held my interest. The author has a skillful and elegant way with language and incorporates convincing authentic period detail. I think anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction with an engaging, intelligent plot and an element of romance, and in particular if you like to read about a strong, independent female central character, will find a lot to love in this novel.

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Jamie Baywood - Author Guest Post - Getting Rooted in New Zealand

Today I am very pleased to welcome author Jamie Baywood to the blog with a guest post. Jamie is the author of Getting Rooted in New Zealand.

Guest post by Jamie Baywood

It was always my dream to live abroad when I was growing up in California. I had bad dating experiences in California and read in a New Zealand tour book that the country’s population has 100,000 fewer men than women. I wanted to have some me time and an adventure. New Zealand seemed like a good place to do so. Although I intended to have a solo adventure I ended up meeting my husband a Scottish man in New Zealand.

I consider myself an accidental author. I didn’t go to New Zealand with the intentions of writing a book about my experiences there. I had funny experiences that I had trouble believing were true. I wrote the stories down to stay sane. I wrote situations down that were happening around me and shared them with friends. The stories made people laugh so I decided to organize the stories into a book and publish in the hope of making others laugh too.

One of the first people I met was Colin Mathura-Jeffree from New Zealand’s Next Top Model. I had no idea who he was or that he was on TV when I meet him. He is friends with my former flatmate. We had a steep staircase that I kept falling down. Colin taught me to walk like a model so I wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

In New Zealand, I had a lot of culture shock.  One of the most memorable moments was learning the meaning of the Kiwi slang word “rooted.” One night I was brushing my teeth with my flatmate and I said, ‘I’m really excited to live in this house because I have been travelling a lot and I just need to settle down, stop traveling and get rooted’. He was choking on his toothbrush and asked me if I knew what that meant because it had a completely different meaning in New Zealand than it does in the States.

I had the opportunity to write and perform for Thomas Sainsbury, the most prolific playwright in New Zealand. I performed a monologue about my jobs in the Basement Theatre in Auckland.  The funny thing about that experience was Tom kept me separated from the other performers until it was time to perform. I was under the impression that all the performers were foreigners giving their experiences in New Zealand.  All of the other performers were professional actors telling stories that weren’t their own. At first I was mortified, but the audience seemed to enjoy my “performance,” laughing their way through my monologue. After the shows we would go out and mingle with the audience. People would ask me how long I had been acting. I would tell them, “I wasn’t acting; I have to go to work tomorrow and sit next to the girl wearing her dead dog’s collar around her neck.”

I love making people laugh more than anything else. I feel very grateful when readers understand my sense of humour. I plan to divide my books by the countries I’ve lived in. My next book will be about attempting to settle in Scotland. 

Getting Rooted in New Zealand book description:

Craving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country's population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.

About the author Jamie Baywood:

Jamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book, about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book.

Getting Rooted in New Zealand is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon:

Jamie Baywood can be followed on the following sites: