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Book Review: The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn

The Winter Garden Mystery is the second in a long series of gentle cosy crime mysteries by Carola Dunn, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.

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The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn 

Daisy Dalrymple, or more correctly the Honourable Miss Dalrymple, is the daughter of aristocracy but the family estate was passed onto a cousin when her only brother was killed in the First World War. Daisy is expected to live with her mother at the family estate’s Dower House but, independently-minded Daisy prefers to make her own way in the world and house-share with a friend in London, while earning her living as a writer for a country magazine. Daisy has a particular skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming embroiled in murder investigations.

It’s 1923 and Daisy is off to stay at Occles Hall to write an article for Town and Country about the history of the house and estate. Invited by the daughter of the house, a girl she was at school with though not particular friends with as the girl was a few years older, Daisy isn’t at all sure what to expect. She’s heard a few stories about the Lady of the manor, Lady Valeria, who carries before her a formidable reputation as an unrelenting battleaxe and Daisy starts to wonder what sort of an assignment she’s taken on.

When she arrives Daisy is soon put at ease by the welcome from horse-fanatic Bobbie, otherwise known as Roberta, her younger Adonis-like brother Sebastian and the family’s secretary, Ben Goodman. Sir Reginald also makes Daisy feel quite welcome, though he is a rather absent-minded man and spends all his waking hours at his estate’s dairy, creating award-winning cheeses. Lady Valeria is the only uncomfortable presence so Daisy does her best to avoid her and goes about writing her article and photographing the Hall and gardens.

A visit to the winter garden is a must as it is February at the time of Daisy’s visit so the winter garden is the best-looking part of the estate gardens to show off in the photos and article. Daisy is handed over to the young Welsh under-gardener, Owen, for the tour of the winter garden and on their visit Daisy spots a dead azalea bush in the middle of the garden which looks quite out-of-place amidst the winter flowering shrubs and evergreens. Owen is dismayed and calls on the head gardener straight away. They go to dig it up and make the shocking discovery of a dead body wrapped in a sheet buried under the dead bush. What’s more, the body is that of young Grace Moss, previous parlourmaid at the Hall and particular friend of Owen. She had disappeared a couple of months previously and it was assumed that she had gone off to London to find fortune and fun. A shocking secret lies buried with Grace as well… something to ruffle feathers and rock relationships up at the Hall.

The local Inspector proves to be worse than useless, so Daisy surreptitiously calls on her friend Alec, Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher, from Scotland Yard; an acquaintance made on a previous case Daisy found herself mixed up in and who seems to be as fond of Daisy as she is of him… though both are very aware that they come from different social classes and so their friendship is frowned upon by some members of the upper classes…

Daisy refuses to leave the excitement at the Hall and head back home to London, so Alec needs to find and catch the killer, with some urgency, before they strike again. Daisy’s meddling nature may well be putting her at risk. The trouble is, with a number of likely suspects and little hard evidence, can this murderer be caught?

A gentle 1920s cosy crime mystery, peppered with social etiquette, manners, and featuring the interesting and newly independent Daisy Dalrymple, finding her way in the new 1920s upper and middle class society. A very enjoyable and easy, lightweight read. Absolutely no gore, no deep psychological twists and no suspense of the sort to stop you sleeping at night. A very good, Golden Age-style, old-fashioned murder mystery. If you enjoy the Daisy Dalrymple series, you may also enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and the Kate Shackleton mysteries by Frances Brody.

A complete list of The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries to date (up to April 2017):
1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women

About the Author

Carola Dunn (born in 1946) grew up in England, graduated from Manchester University and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of around 60 books, including the 22 Daisy Dalrymple books, 4 Cornish mysteries and 32 Regency novels. To find out more about the author, visit her website caroladunn.weebly.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Winter Garden Mystery is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £7.99 ISBN 9781845297466. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.

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Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

I’m a long way beyond the target audience age range for this book but I enjoy reading children’s fiction; sometimes it’s the perfect switch-off at the end of a busy day. All the best children’s novels are just as good to read as an adult – good writing, good characterisation, plot structure and so on are the main requirements. If a book can meet all those elements I don’t mind who it’s aimed at.

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WARNING:
DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS PAGE

A good opener. I was intrigued. If a book can grab my attention at page one then I’ll read on, whatever the subject. This was just too intriguing. ‘Do not read beyond this page’. Nothing could be more likely to make me want to keep reading than an instruction telling me not to! A great means to get the reader to buy or borrow the book and see what happens next.

“Generally speaking, books don’t cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems.
Books can, for example, give you ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an idea before, but, if you have, you know how much trouble an idea can get you into.

Books can also provoke emotions. And emotions are sometimes even more troublesome than ideas. Emotions have led people to do all sorts of things they later regret…” [from the first page]

I like the way the author talks to the reader, telling us the book is dangerous. There’s a secret in the book and knowing this is worse than not knowing. Of course we’re supposed to read on!

Cass (short for Cassandra) is quite a serious and a very practical 11 year old. She is always prepared for an emergency and carries around a backpack containing items to help with surviving all kinds of disasters; her ‘survival’ kit. Cass has two surrogate grandpas who live near her house in an old abandoned fire station, where they also run an old antiques store. This is one of Cass’s favourite places and she spends her Wednesdays after school here, supposedly helping in the shop but really listening to the grandpas’ stories and exploring some of the antiques.

Max-Ernest, also 11 years old, fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but his classmates aren’t as amused by his jokes as he is. Max-Ernest is always on the lookout for someone to try his jokes out on at school and looking around the school yard one day, he can only see one pupil who hasn’t yet heard his current joke; sitting alone at the edge of a field is Cass. Cass isn’t lonely; she’s investigating a finding on the field which she thinks may spell doom and disaster for the school. Cass is convinced that the school has been built on top of a toxic waste dump. She loves to imagine disaster scenarios and it frequently gets her into trouble with the headteacher.

This meeting on the playing field is the beginning of a friendship between Cass and Max-Ernest and spells the beginning of their adventures. They end up trying to uncover a mysterious secret, involving a rare antique case of vials of smells, a missing magician and his diary and a suspicious estate agent called Gloria Fortune. The pair find themselves embroiled deeper and deeper in this mystery as it leads them on some quite perilous adventures, needing their wits, decoding skills, intuition and escape capabilities. I won’t reveal any more but I can recommend reading the book to find out their SECRET.

The first in a series, this book is followed by:
2. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. This Book Is Not Good For You
4. This Isn’t What It Looks Like
5. You Have To Stop This

Recommended for ages 8+

About the Author

Pseudonymous Bosh is a pseudonym, or pen name and it belongs to American author Raphael Simon. He has written other books under the Pseudonymous Bosch name – the Bad series and a stand-alone children’s novel, Write This Book. To find out more, have a look at his website www.pseudonymousbosch.com

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Name of This Book is Secret is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £6.99 ISBN 9781409583820. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: The Beach Street Bakery series by Jenny Colgan

Sometimes a series of books just sell themselves… If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted escapist mini-series, if you like a bit of non-slushy romance, puffins, seaside, Cornwall and an independent, hard-working main character, then look no further.

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The Beach Street Bakery trilogy by Jenny Colgan

Polly has just emerged from a messy break-up and business failure, leaving her pretty well destitute and homeless. She’s sick of the rat-race and city life and, looking to escape Plymouth and find somewhere affordable to live, she stumbles across the perfect place – a somewhat run-down flat on the little island of Mount Polbearne (loosely based on St. Michael’s Mount off the south coast of Cornwall). Her best friend think she’s nuts but Polly falls in love with the place and before she knows what she’s doing, she’s signed a lease. Almost the first thing to happen to Polly, when she’s barely unpacked, a crash and a screech in the middle of the night… and all of a sudden Polly seems to have adopted a little puffin with a broken wing. Determined not to get too attached, she doesn’t name him but it doesn’t take long for this cute little bird to worm his way into her affections and very soon he’s going by the name of Neil.

And then there’s the baking… the clue is somewhat in the title but, for those who haven’t read the series, I won’t give away how Polly gets into baking on Mount Polbearne. She’s always loved baking, been passionate about different breads and spent her weekends kneading dough and creating tasty loaves and treats but she’s never earned her living by baking before. However, once Polly realises she can’t live on fresh air alone and an opportunity presents itself, well, the rest you’ll need to find out from the books.

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St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

This is a really warm series about starting afresh, about it never being too late to follow your dreams (even if you don’t yet know what those dreams are), about living for the moment and getting in touch with your creativity. There is some romance to be found but not the slushy variety. Polly is an independent young woman; not someone to lose herself or her identity in an all-consuming relationship, though she does of course like to have a bit of fun and everyone wants to find their Mr. Right.

Start with ‘Little Beach Street Bakery’; follow on with ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ and finally, settle down by a cosy fire with a glass of mulled wine and enjoy ‘Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery’. If you have young children you might like to introduce them to her spin-off series for kids, starting with ‘Polly and the Puffin’. Oh, and you’ll find a few yummy recipes in each book as well!

About the Author

Jenny Colgan is the author of a number of romance novels, starting with ‘Amanda’s Wedding’ (2000). She’s also written several Dr Who novels and writes occasional pieces for The Guardian. You can find out more about Jenny on her website www.jennycolgan.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. ‘Little Beach Street Bakery’ and ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ are in paperback at the RRP of £8.99; ‘Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery’ is only in hardback at time of writing, RRP £12.99. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.

I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.

The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…

I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is  equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.

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Nancy Drew novels

About the Series

Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well.  The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.

Where to Buy

The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend biblio.co.uk for collectable and out-of-print books.

Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

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How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

Having met my other half in the bookshop (him customer, me bookseller) I loved the sound of this book; it was a definite must read and just the thing for a summer’s eve.

Emilia is 32-ish and she inherits, from her father Julius, the bookshop and home she grew up in but where she has spent little time over the past few years. It has been just the two of them since Emilia was a baby, so when Julius dies there is no other family to help out and Emilia has to make all the decisions about the future of the bookshop by herself.

Julius has poured much energy,  love and money into the bookshop for the past 32 years but has he left a strong enough business for Emilia to continue his legacy…?

‘A book shop could only make things better – for everyone in Peasebrook. Julius imagined each person he passed as a potential customer. He could picture them all, crowding in, asking his advice, him sliding their purchases into a bag, getting to know their likes and dislikes, putting a book aside for a particular customer; knowing it would be just up their street. Watching them browse, watching the joy of them discovering a new author; a new world.’

Nightingale Books occupies a prime location in the yellow-stoned Cotswolds town of Peasebrook and it occupies a very special place in the heart of the community, with a core of customers who are determined to help keep the bookshop open now that Julius has gone.

There’s the ‘lady of the manor’, Sarah, who has a long-standing connection to the bookshop and understands all too well what it’s like to be in financial difficulty. There is Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher, just a few years younger than Emilia, who falls for a man she met in the cookery section. There’s Mia, a young mum who’s given up a high-flying career to have the country life at home with her baby but is looking for something more. There’s Marlowe who used to put the world to rights with Julius several times a week over a drink or two, and who Julius used to play cello with in a small chamber group and then there’s Jackson, the young builder who is trying to save his marriage and form a deeper connection with his young son, through books.

There are several love stories woven through the novel, each of them appealing in their own way and the multiple plot strands make it a great page turner; it literally kept me up one night to finish it. I was slightly less enthused about the inner workings of the bookshop, renovations and practicalities but that’s only the bookseller / bookshop owner in me picking holes in the detail. It is a novel after all, not a factual account. Very few readers are going to notice anything to grumble about there; just bookshop owners like me! My only other grumbles are extremely minor but they niggled at me so I’m going to mention them. Book Shop or Bookshop? There are so few examples of ‘Book Shop’ being used these days; the norm being bookshop or bookstore (bookstore being slightly more American but both terms are used in both countries). This bothered me, perhaps unduly. What do you think? My only other niggle was just a tiny editorial thing. Near the beginning of the novel Veronica Henry has the characters going ‘up to London’ from Oxford… and that just didn’t work for me; you don’t go ‘up’ to London from Oxford, you definitely go down. They really are tiny grumbles.

I haven’t read any other novels by Veronica Henry so I can’t make any comparisons with her other books but when I fancy a light-hearted romance I would read another. I enjoyed her style and multiple plot strands and anything that keeps me up into the early hours of the morning has to get the thumbs up from me.

About the Author

Veronica Henry lives in Devon and has penned 14 romance novels; one of which won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award, A Night on The Orient Express. Before trying her hand at fiction she also had a successful career as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, amongst others

Where to Buy

You can buy How to Find Love in a Book Shop from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local where possible to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new hardback is £12.99. ISBN no 9781409146889. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Orion in hardback in 2016.

Review: Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I chose Mobile Library as my next read; something cute and fluffy about books and reading perhaps. The story is about a 12 year old boy and I think I was expecting a children’s book. What I got was something quite different. Mobile Library is something of a contemporary fairy tale, complete with all the dark and dismal parts that usually crop up in fairy tales, as well as the redeeming fairy-godmother.

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Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

 

Twelve-year-old Bobby lives a bleak and lonely life, devoid of affection since his mother died. His father and girlfriend appear to care little for Bobby and show little interest in the boy, except for when they are venting their anger. When he’s at home Bobby spends his time neatly arranging and rearranging memories of his mother into files, or boxes, so that she can pick up her life where she left off when she returns… Bobby is also bullied at school but has a best friend, Sunny, who is his greatest protector. Bobby and Sunny are on a mission to turn Sunny into a cyborg so that he can protect Bobby from bad things forever.

Then Bobby meets Rosa when he’s passing by her house on his way home from school. She is 13 and she asks Bobby if he’d like to play. She has a disability of some sort, has a loving and trusting nature and immediately takes to Bobby as a friend. Rosa is attacked by the same bullies picking on Bobby (while Bobby, through fear hides in the bushes) and through this situation Bobby comes to meet Val, Rosa’s mum. Val and Rosa both warm to Bobby very quickly and take him into their hearts. Bobby spends more and more time with them, learning better how to communicate (after the silence he endures at home), taking baths (another forbidden thing at home), reading books, playing, eating proper meals and indulging in treats like ice cream (not allowed, his father says). Val enjoys Bobby’s company – for many years she has had little company other than her daughter – and Bobby feels love and a sense of belonging for the first time since his mother’s death. The little trio start to become like a functional family unit, although Bobby still has to go home to his father at the end of the day.

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so that the things that happen in them will happen to you.’

‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’

Then events occur which put their surrogate son-mother relationship in danger and Val decides to take off across the country with Bobby and Rosa in the mobile library which she cleans once a week. In their time together this library has become like a dreamworld to Bobby – full of stories, adventures and escapism:

Morning hours vanished somewhere inside the books. Bobby read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, amazed that a man whose name he couldn’t pronounce might write a story that seemed like it was written just for him. Like the young prince, he too found the adult world strange. He too saw very few certainties in it.

They encounter quite a number of adventures while travelling and trying to evade detection, including picking up a fellow traveller-on-the-run who leads them all the way up to Scotland, from middle England, and back down and Bobby, Rosa and Val are all having the times of their lives when reality strikes. Will they be able to stay together in their new-found family unit…?

The novel starts at the end, which I didn’t particularly mind; it’s usually a device that annoys me as I like the novel to tell the story but in this case it is the ending told from a slightly different narrative perspective to the actual ending which is narrated in more detail and with Val’s voice, so the story isn’t fully revealed at the beginning. I didn’t get into the book right away, perhaps because it was so different to what I was expecting. I found the characters all a bit extreme and therefore not very believable and the plot a bit far-fetched. But. Then I settled into the fairy-tale-type style and it no longer mattered to me if the characterisation was over-the-top and the accumulation of events unbelievable; the characters were living out their own story and that’s when it started to work for me and fall into place. There’s no doubt that child abuse on this level does take place, disability discrimination, and so on. And there’s no doubt that reading stories, along with love and nurture, can really help unlock a child’s potential. The author also explores the theme of imagination and how far one can go with imagination before harm is done, i.e. is it always good to be imaginative, or should the self or another inflict boundaries to protect you from harm? A number of deep themes are explored.

There is some interesting philosophising in the novel, some great snippets about books, reading and the influences of literature, and some deeply disturbing aspects regarding child abuse and abusive relationships. It is not a novel for children, that much is clear but it doesn’t otherwise fit into a neatly arranged category. It is a good, thoughtful read. I often find it easy to forget a book almost as soon as I’ve read it but I won’t forget this one. The book isn’t perfect and can feel overdone and blatant but I would recommend it, particularly for the universal message about the power of stories to change, heal and transform.

About the Author

David Whitehouse was born in 1981 and lives in London. His first novel, Bed, won the inaugural 2010 To Hell With Prizes Award for unpublished work, the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in eighteen countries. His journalism has appeared in the national press and he has undertaken TV and film projects as well.

Where to Buy

You can buy Mobile Library from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £7.99, ISBN no 9781447274711. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Picador in hardback in 2015; Picador paperback edition 2016.

Review: Awful Auntie by David Walliams

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Awful Auntie by David Walliams

What’s not to love about a David Walliams book? Well… nothing. They’re great! They’re warm, funny and meaningful. They’re also brilliantly illustrated and they have appeal right across the 8-108 age range; they are not just restricted to kids!

I have now read most of his books (skipping The Demon Dentist – I’m really not that keen on the theme) and I haven’t yet read Ratburger. All the ones I have read have been brilliant. David is definitively the new Roald Dahl of children’s literature. No other children’s writer has come close to pulling off the Roald Dahl style of humour but Walliams does it brilliantly. Three of his books have won the National Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year – Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger and they’ve all sold a crazy number of copies.

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Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, illustration from Awful Auntie by David Walliams. Picture by Tony Ross.

Aunt Alberta is a truly awful Auntie. Her niece Stella has been orphaned – parents, Lord and Lady Saxby, killed in a horrific car crash – and Alberta is ‘looking after’ Stella at Saxby Hall, the family pile, while trying to trick her niece out of her inheritance. Aunt Alberta has a pet Great Bavarian Mountain Owl, called Wagner, who assists her in her evil schemes and has been devoted to her since he was a little owlet. There is also an ancient butler at the hall who is deaf as a post and gets everything muddled, so he’s no help to Stella for protection from her wicked aunt. Stella’s one salvation comes in the form of the ghost of a chimney sweep but will he be enough of an ally to help her overthrow her wicked aunt?

…’the butler was marching proudly down the corridor carrying his silver tray. Wobbling on top of it was a tiny pot plant. “Your breakfast, Duchess!” he announced, as he opened the door to a cupboard and stepped inside.’

The butler only makes brief appearances but he’s a firm favourite with me. All of the characters are well-described and then brilliantly brought to life by Tony Ross’s illustrations. There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, especially if you read it aloud and I have no hesitations in recommending it to anyone and everyone. And once you’ve read Awful Auntie, get down to your local bookshop or library and buy or borrow some more David Walliams novels to enjoy with, or without, your children or grandchildren!

About the Author

I’m not sure that David Walliams needs introducing so I’ll confine this to mentioning his literary output. So far David has written Camp David (2012), his autobiography; co-authored Inside Little Britain (2006); 4 children’s picture books – The Slightly Annoying Elephant, The First Hippo on the Moon, The Queen’s Orang-utan, and The Bear Who Went Boo! – and 9 novels for children; they are:
The Boy in the Dress
Mr Stink
Billionaire Boy
Gangsta Granny
Ratburger
Demon Dentist
Awful Auntie
Grandpa’s Great Escape
The World’s Worst Children

Where to Buy

You can buy Awful Auntie from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £6.99, ISBN no 9780007453627. Like most of our new books, we usually have this for sale in the bookshop at a discounted price. Published HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2014.

 

Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

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Maisie Dobbs is the creation of Jacqueline Winspear and she is my favourite fictional detective to date. I’m a bit of a book tart in my reading tastes – pretty much anything goes, except crime or thrillers which leave me unable to sleep at night, forensics or gore, or horror. I only lightly touch on science fiction as well but I enjoy the occasional fantasy or dystopian novel. Maisie, however, is a fictional detective I really enjoy reading about. The series reminds me slightly in style of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series but there is greater depth with Jacqueline Winspear’s novels.

A Dangerous Place is the 11th in the series based on Maisie Dobbs and, although it seems to have divided opinion amongst Maisie fans, I enjoyed it almost as much as I have enjoyed the rest of the series.

Background
If you go back and begin at the beginning (as the King says in Alice in Wonderland), the first book introduces us to a young Maisie Dobbs who has just started up her own private detective practice in London, in 1929. Independent self-employed young woman in London in the 1920s – I fell in love with this straight away! You sense in Maisie, from the beginning, a sensitivity, spirituality and sadness which makes for an interesting and empathetic character. Maisie’s first assignment as private investigator turns out to be a harrowing one for her personally, as it takes her to a convalescent home for severely wounded veterans of the First World War. This forces her to face her demons and flashbacks back to her time as a nurse on the battlefields in France.

Subsequent novels take Maisie through the 1930s, with moments of joy and humour, as well as psychological investigation and touches of sadness. She develops into a fiercely independent, modern woman and, as an investigator, into one with a talent for solving crimes where compassion and understanding of the human psyche are often involved. She takes on a couple of assistants, Sandra and Billy, each with troubled backgrounds of their own, and by the end of Book 10 the reader is hoping for developments on the romance front, with travel and marriage on the near horizon.

The joy is short-lived as Book 11 takes quite a different path from the one the reader is expecting…

A Dangerous Place very soon has Maisie embroiled in a suspicious murder and missing murderer in Gibraltar, right on the edge of the horrific goings on next door in Spain, in the Spanish Civil War. Maisie has suffered great tragedy and is on her way back to England after a spell in India. She stops off in Gibraltar and can’t help but get involved in trying to solve this murder which she stumbles across, quite literally, one evening while out for a stroll. Maisie finds her old investigative curiosity and skills returning and feels as though solving this crime will lead her back into the real world and ready her for her return to England, her family and friends.

Spoilers…

I was slightly disappointed that the author glossed over Maisie’s (much anticipated from previous novels) marriage to the lovely James and their happy times together in Canada; picking up the story again after summarising the tragic fate of  James and their unborn baby. It is a shame that the author felt she could only write Maisie in her grief-stricken and troubled state as we, the reader, having come to love Maisie after ten previous novels, would have liked to share in her moment of happiness before tragedy struck home again. Stylistically though, I could see why Jacqueline Winspear chose to continue the story this way; I was just a little disappointed not to share in Maisie’s moment of joy.

Other Maisie fans have criticised the direction Maisie is headed in, with her becoming drawn into espionage instead of her usual private detective crime solving. To me, however, this makes sense. I have read the synopsis for the forthcoming book 12, Journey to Munich, and it is quite understandable that the secret services would be recruiting investigative talent like Maisie as women spies were every bit as sought after in the Second World War as their male counterparts. Hopefully, espionage will turn out to not quite her thing and she’ll return to what she loves doing best but it seems perfectly plausible that she should be recruited for her abilities in the war effort.

My main criticism is that something about the final chapters seems a little rushed and doesn’t hang together quite as well as the rest of the novel. The plot becomes quite muddy and, in places, slightly repetitive. The author clearly has a good researcher but with this novel it’s almost as if she doesn’t fully grasp the scene of her characters; whereas in earlier novels she takes the reader right there to the time and the place. There’s also something rather touching about the way that Maisie usually ties up all of the loose ends, meditates on the outcomes and revisits all of the places that were significant in her investigations, for personal closure on the case. In this book, this was hinted at more than made explicit and it didn’t make for quite the same feeling of satisfaction as an ending.

I enjoyed A Dangerous Place and I love the series as a whole but I am hoping for a return to better form with the next one, Journey to Munich. (It will be out in hardback in the UK on 1st April 2016).

 

About the Author

[From the book blurb] Jacqueline Winspear has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Originally from Britain, Jacqueline now lives in the United States.

Where to Buy

You can buy A Dangerous Place from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £7.99.

 

Man Booker Prize Winners to 2015

One of the most hotly anticipated events in the annual British literary calendar is the Man Booker prize. The prize, which has been running since 1969, is awarded to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. Booksellers, publishers, authors and bibliophiles all get excited about this one and I look forward to it every year.

The prize is not to be sneezed at – £50,000 for the winner and £2,500 each for the shortlisted authors makes this a trophy on many novelists’ wish lists. Money matters aside, there is also great kudos attached to the Booker and shortlisted and winning authors can expect a healthy boost in sales.

I’ve put this list together mainly for my own benefit as I often look up the prizewinners by year and this will be a useful quick reference tool for me so hopefully others will find it useful too. I plan to explore shortlisted titles and international prizes in later posts.

Inaugural Year
1969 – Something to Answer For by P. H. Newby

1970-1979
1970 – The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens
1971 – In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
1972 – G. by John Berger
1973 – The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell
1974 – Holiday by Stanley Middleton AND The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
1975 – Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1976 – Saville by David Storey
1977 – Staying On by Paul Scott
1978 – The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
1979 – Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

1980-1989
1980 – Rites of Passage by William Golding
1981 – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
1982 – Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee
1984 – Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
1985 – The Bone People by Keri Hulme
1986 – The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis
1987 – Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
1989 – Remains of the Day by Kashuo Ishiguro

1990-1999
1990 – Possession by A. S. Byatt
1991 – The Famished Road by Ben Okri
1992 – The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje AND Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
1994 – How late it was, how late by James Kelman
1995 – The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
1996 – Last Orders by Graham Swift
1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
1998 – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
1999 – Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2000-2009
2000 – The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
2002 – Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2003 – Vernon God Little by D. B. C. Pierre
2004 – The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
2005 – The Sea by John Banville
2006 – The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2007 – The Gathering by Anne Enright
2008 – The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
2009 – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2010-2015
2010 – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
2011 – The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
2012 – Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
2013 – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
2014 – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
2015 – A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Lost Man Booker Prize
In 2010 a special prize was awarded for a novel published in the year 1970. For the first two years of the prize, the prize was awarded retrospectively for books published in the previous year. The rules changed in 1971 to books published in the year of the award, which meant that books published in 1970 missed out altogether. Six books were shortlisted for the award and the winner was:
Troubles by J. G. Farrell

The Best of the Booker Prize
In 2008 a special prize was awarded to celebrate 40 years of the Booker. The winner was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

The Man Booker Best of Beryl Prize
This special prize was awarded in April, 2011, to celebrate the work of Beryl Bainbridge; five times shortlisted but never a winner (The Booker Bridesmaid). The public were invited to vote online for their favourite from The Dressmaker, The Bottle Factory Outing, An Awfully Big Adventure, Every Man for Himself, and Master Georgie. The winner was Master Georgie. Beryl died in 2010.

Where to Buy
As always, I recommend shopping at your local independent bookshops, or buying online from hive.co.uk, where you can still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local to keep your High Streets alive. For out-of-print or collectable editions try your local bookshops again or biblio.co.uk. I don’t receive commissions for recommending these sites to you (only Hive commissions if you nominate Books & Ink as your favourite bookshop!!).

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A selection of Booker Prize winning novels

Review: Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

Trickster Front Cover
Trickster by Tom Moorhouse

I read – and loved! – Tom’s first book,The River Singers, which was published in 2013, snapped up the sequel, The Rising, as soon as it came out and when his latest book, Trickster, was published on the 4th February I bought myself a copy straight away. I enjoyed reading Trickster so much that I stayed up ridiculously late to finish it (cue, bleary-eyed bookseller in the morning!).

Now, I don’t want to sound all gushing or anything… but I just genuinely really like Tom’s style of writing, the depth of knowledge and research that goes into his stories and… well… just his great characterisation and storytelling. He writes nature stories for kids of the twentyteens and he does it really well. Think Farthing Wood, Watership Down, Rats of Nimh, The Wind in the Willows, Joyce Stranger’s stories and so on – but, dare I say it… after all I grew up on all these wonderful animal stories… in my opinion he does it even better. I loved all these other stories – and still do – but Tom’s stories are real. I feel like I’ve learned a whole heap about water voles from reading The River Singers and The Rising but not intentionally; it’s the stories that shine but the ecological information just sort of filters into the brain as well. It’s genius.

Trickster is a story about two brother rats, Ash and Gabble, growing up from being young flapfeet, to I suppose adolescent ratlings, to growing into being full grown rats. Rats. Yes. I detest rats. Now, water voles (the subject of The River Singers) were cute but I’ve always hated rats. I shouldn’t get on with this book at all, right? – No. Wrong. Once I’d got the idea of rats out of my mind, it didn’t matter at all that this was a story about animals that I really dislike; the story is good enough to overcome that. It helped that I had grown quite fond of a kindly old rat in The River Singers and The Rising and it turned out that Trickster is the story of that very same rat.

There is absolutely no need to read the other two books before you read Trickster; it stands completely by itself as a novel. In fact, you might even call it a prequel of sorts as it looks at a young Fo’dur’s life (aka Gabble – the sensible brother) but you don’t need to read these books in sequence at all. I highly recommend that you do read them all but it’s not necessary to have read the other two before you read Trickster.

So, where was I? Yes, Ash and Gabble. Ash is a troublesome young rat; he gets into scrapes, has a very independent, adventurous, even reckless streak and likes to test all the boundaries. Moreover, he’s white and the rest of his clan are more ordinary brown rats, so Ash stands out physically as well as by his behaviour. Gabble is a more sensible rat shall we say and is very protective of his difficult brother and tries to be a stabilising influence, though Ash makes this as difficult as he possibly can. Ash’s adventurous streak takes him and his brother off on food raids before they are ready and exploring territories out of bounds to their rat clan. He brings trouble on his own community when neighbouring rat clans want to fight. Gabble does all he can to save his brother and his clan. Will it be enough?…

Like I say, a great story and it also touches on some good themes; such as fitting in, independence, following one’s own path while being considerate to others, communities, difference and acceptance. There are subtle messages that can be taken from the story, or it can just be enjoyed as the good adventurous story that is. I would recommend it for the 8-12 age range but …well, let’s just say I’m considerably (ahem) outside of that range and I loved it. I’ll recommend it for those aged 8-108 instead! If I had to rate Trickster, it would get a full 10/10 from me.

About the Author

[From the blurb inside the back cover] Tom Moorhouse lives in Oxford. When not writing fiction he works as an ecologist at Oxford University’s Zoology Department. Over the years he has met quite a lot of wildlife. Most of it tried to bite him. He loves hiking up mountains, walking through woods, climbing on rocks, and generally being weather-beaten outdoors.

Where to Buy

You can buy Trickster from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local to keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £6.99.

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Trickster, with The River Singers and The Rising by Tom Moorhouse

 

Tom Adderbury
Tom Moorhouse giving a talk at Adderbury Literary Festival, November 2013