Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts by Kathy Shuker

Silent Faces, Painted GhostsI found this well-written novel most enjoyable. It’s a current-day tale of human relationships: sometimes loving, sometimes jealous, sometimes violent. There’s a strong cast of well-drawn characters and the world of the reclusive, but famous, portrait painter felt authentic. The central character is driven by the basic human need to belong and to feel at peace. It all takes place under the shadow of a past tragic event, the truth of which slowly emerges.
The Provence setting is captured beautifully; I could smell the lavender and feel the mistral blowing through what’s left of my hair.
It’s a satisfying read and it’s available in both print and ebook formats from Amazon Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts

 

 

Message in a Bottle by Kath Middleton

Message in a Bottle (2)I have to say that this novella is not of a genre that I would usually choose. I’d read and enjoyed another novella by this author and spotted this one being discussed on a couple of book forums. The brief blurb persuaded me to splash out 99p, but then I found that this is the sort of relationship story that I imagine fills the pages of women’s magazines and really not my sort of thing.

Guess what – I surprised myself and enjoyed it.

The writing flows smoothly along making this an easy, undemanding read with convincing characters and an absorbing storyline. Maybe I should be subscribing to womags.

You can read more reviews and buy the book at Amazon Message in a Bottle.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI read the hardback edition and the first thing that struck me when I’d finished it is that it’s short – much shorter than a glance at the hardback might suggest. There are 248 numbered pages, but 4 carry the acknowledgements and, by starting each new chapter on a recto, 11 blank pages are introduced. The space between lines is abnormally large, as are the margins all around the text. New chapters start one-third of the way down a page. I have no objection to reading novellas, but I’m not happy when a publisher uses every trick in the book to make a novella look like a novel in an attempt to justify a £16.99 hardback cover price.

None of which is anything to do with the author and does him no favours; which is unfortunate as he seems to me to have done his job very well. Initially the narrator is an adult who slips away from a family funeral to seek out the scene of half-remembered strange happenings in his childhood. Narration then switches to the seven-year-old boy that he once was. The prose flows beautifully. Locations are described vividly and characterisation is sharp. Sibling and parent-child relationships are captured with painful accuracy.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although afterwards I couldn’t have told anyone the basic message. Is Gaiman just saying that children have powerful imaginations and are capable of escaping into wonderful imaginary worlds; or, as in other books, is he telling us of different worlds that exist below the surface of this one? I’ve no idea what the answer is, but it was a fun read and, at the time of writing, the Kindle edition is available on Amazon for only 99p. At that price it is unmissable. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Devine Legacy by Jennifer Hanning

The Devine LegacyAny book described as a ‘romantic novella’ would normally have me running in the opposite direction, but every now and again I like to challenge my own prejudices. In reading this book I didn’t really think I was taking too much of a chance as I’ve read several of Jennifer Hanning’s books and enjoyed them all.

This proved to be no exception. It’s a warm, insightful, nicely-crafted examination of personal relationships within and across the generations with some thought-provoking consideration of how those relationships may be affected by changes in attitudes and ambitions brought about by the unexpected arrival of money and the re-emergence of people from our past lives.

It’s a satisfying read with a last-minute twist.

Available for Kindle from Amazon <a href=”http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00CTF9VAY/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B00CTF9VAY&linkCode=as2&tag=bjbu-21&linkId=4IUWMAI43U6YCLY6″>The Devine Legacy</a><img src=”http://ir-uk.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=bjbu-21&l=as2&o=2&a=B00CTF9VAY” width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

The Kindness of Women by J G Ballard

Cover imageEmpire of the Sun  has long been one of my favourite books, telling the story of Jim, a young boy held for years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. It was based on the author’s own wartime experiences, which explained how he could write so convincingly with a young boy’s voice.

For years I’ve put off reading this book, the sequel, because I didn’t want to risk changing my positive view of the first book and its author. Like Empire this book is fiction, but based on fact. It goes without saying that The Kindness of Women is exceptionally well written. The prose is powerful; the characters and scenes beautifully captured.

It turns out that I was right to be concerned. I found this a disturbing book with a number of characters that are hard to like. It overlaps the first in that it starts while Jim is still in the Japanese camp, but characters appear who weren’t mentioned in the first book and one very important event that seems central to Jim’s post-war life, isn’t mentioned in Empire.

Sex and death are the constant driving influences in Jim’s life, but there’s a lack of passion when dealing with either. We see, for example, his obsession with the female body he has to dissect at medical school and we have his efforts to become an RAF pilot, apparently driven by the wish to drop atom bombs on people. We do have an early identification of society’s impending obsession with the TV camera and a morbid fascination with car crashes.

For some reason with this book it’s much more important to me to know what is fact and what is fiction. To put my mind at rest I’m going to have to move straight on to Miracles of Life, Ballard’s autobiography published a few months before his death.

The book is available from Amazon The Kindness of Women

Matchbox Memories by Ray Kingfisher

cover imageThis is a tale of family relationships. The central character, Ian, and his two siblings were orphaned and all adopted by the now-elderly Harry and Ruth. Harry is in hospital and Ian’s sister demands that he takes his turn in caring for Ruth, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. There’s nothing maudlin here; family secrets are unpicked with verve and humour. At no stage did I feel invited to laugh at the Alzheimer’s sufferer, but I often smiled empathetically.

For me a well-written novel is one that is easy to read, involves me with the characters and flows smoothly along, carrying me with it with little effort on my part. A good book is one that doesn’t just entertain, but also makes me think. I found this a well-written, good book that I’m pleased to recommend.

The book is available for Kindle from Amazon Matchbox Memories – An Alzheimer’s Comedy

A Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson

Cover imageI suspect that I’m revealing too much of my feminine side when I say that I really enjoyed this book. It isn’t my usual read; it’s a gentle-paced, family saga that describes the growing to maturity of a young girl in a remote farming community in 19th century New Zealand. The descriptions of the local fauna and flora are just sufficient to create realism, although I was briefly confused by the mention of a rifleman in the undergrowth – until I realised that a rifleman is a small bird and not a sniper.
Occasionally, in the early chapters, I asked myself why I was reading it, but the book sucked me in and I couldn’t stop. For me it was a page-turner, not because it was action-packed and I was desperate to find what happened next, but because the writing is so smooth that it simply carried me along. The characters are lovingly drawn. The formatting is flawless and I didn’t spot a single typo – which is depressingly unusual in a self-published ebook.
Now it’s on to the next one in the series.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. Sentence of Marriage (Promises to Keep Book 1)

Room by Emma Donahue

Cover imageThis book is clearly based on the Fritzl case that shocked us all. There is a basic ethical question here as to whether it is acceptable for an author to use the horrifying real-life experiences of someone else as the basis for a money-making novel. But I bought the book and I may as well review it, although I’m probably the last person in the country to read it and with over 800 reviews already another one is hardly going to matter.
The original twist of making the narrator a 5-year-old worked for me. If the narrator had been the mother I’m sure it would have had less impact. As it was I found myself constantly forced into considering the experiences of a child living his entire life confined to a single room with only his mother (who must have been living in a perpetual state of anguish) and a television guiding his development.
The contrast between Jack’s life and the love-filled, joyful, stimulation-packed existence of my granddaughter (same age) kept bringing tears to my eyes.
In the unlikely event that there might be someone reading this who hasn’t aleady read the book, I’ll avoid giving away the storyline. I’ll just say that the tension mounted as I read on and I was really rooting for Jack and Ma.
I read it in a single session and two months later it’s still fresh in my mind.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon but it’s available in print format from all good bookshops.

The Ice Marathon by Rosen Trevithick

cover imageNone of my family has ever suffered from depressive mental illness, so I have no personal experience of coping with the effects. I have watched various television programmes and read celebrity accounts describing the alternating bouts of depression and hyperactivity, but I have never felt that I had any real understanding.
This extraordinary book has changed that.
Emma is an intelligent, funny, caring, raunchy young woman with just one problem – bipolar disorder. She has learned from bitter experience how to control it with medication and a life regime that includes plenty of sleep. Pregnancy means the medication must stop and childbirth puts an end to the undisturbed nights.
The author brilliantly puts the reader inside Emma’s head as her world falls apart. As we only see through her eyes, like Emma we don’t know who she can trust and who she can’t.
This is a stunning novella: cleverly-constructed, well-paced – and very informative. I read it in a single session and felt as if I’d been pulled through an emotional mangle.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. The Ice Marathon

The Glass Guardian by Linda Gillard

Cover imageThe blurb mentions a ghost and so this has to be badged ‘supernatural’, but if that genre isn’t usually your thing, don’t be put off. This is unlike any ‘supernatural’ book I’ve ever read. The ghost doesn’t frighten either the characters or the reader. He’s not there to unnerve, but to be a very clever device that enables the author to create strong personal connections between the characters and events that befell earlier generations of their family.
Once again Linda Gillard’s talents are amply displayed: the atmospheric sense of place; finely drawn characters and the ability to portray convincingly the emotions of flawed characters. I found this an enjoyable book of great charm.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. The Glass Guardian