Friday, January 29, 2016

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Exposure is an engrossing and evocative thriller, brilliantly conjuring London during the post-war Cold War.  Helen Dunmore writes so well and creates a web of conspiracy, self-interest and corruption which entangles and endangers Simon and Lily's family in Muswell Hill, threatening their relationship as the power games are enacted.  It is a jolly good read.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The American, by Nadia Dalbuono: Blog Tour

When I was offered the opportunity to read this book for review and to participate in the official blog tour to celebrate its publication, I was thrilled.  You see, the book cover claims that if you don't love it as much as Donna Leon, you can have your money back.

The American: a Leone Scamarcio thriller

Now, I adore Venice: it is one of my soul places.  Following our wonderful week on Dorsoduro in October 2007, it calls me back and I long to return.  One of my dear blog-friends, Britt-Arnhild, suggested I might enjoy the books of Donna Leon and I have done so, ever since.  I feel that, in her books, Venice is as much a character as the wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti, so that it is like visiting the place all over again.

So, I imagined reliving our 2011 week in Rome when reading The American, with my map and maybe guide book to hand, as well as revisiting my holiday snaps to illustrate this blog post.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the concentration of so much antiquity in Rome.  It is very beautiful and full of interest, so much to see and fat more than one can really see and absorb in a week.

I believe this to be the bridge where the first event in the story is discovered.

We took an open bus tour from beside the Terminale on our first day, to orientate ourselves to the city, so we saw a lot of places and sights.  Most of our sightseeing was by bus and on foot, a struggle for me as I walk with two sticks and have balance problems in crowded places, but I pushed my limits and enjoyed seeing this beautiful city (and the Vatican City, of course: separate yet very much woven into the fabric of Rome itself).

Here are the very busy Spanish Steps, which are mentioned in passing when Detective Leone Scamarcio visits a cafe nearby for refreshment.

 Also mentioned in passing is the Trevi Fountain, where it is hard to get a fountain for all the people around it.

Otherwise, my extensive photograph album is of little relevance to the story, and I think perhaps it is a disservice to compare Nadia Dalbuono's books to those of Donna Leon.  Yes, both are about detectives working to solve crime in their own Italian cities, but otherwise they are quite, quite different in style, atmosphere and scope. Whereas Brunetti has a comfortable and happy family home life to sustain him, Scamarcio is much more of a loner.  Both a pleasure to read, but divergent experiences.

The American reveals a maze of issues, from corruption in high places to caring for one's loved ones.  Lovers of conspiracy theories (maybe fans of Dan Brown, for instance, but don't let that put you off if it threatens to do so) will find plenty to enjoy in this excellent book.  The hard thing in reviewing a novel is not to spoil the surprises in the unfolding of the twists and turns of the plot, so I'll leave the tale for you to discover.  I found this story shocking, haunting and highly credible, beautifully written with good character development and excellent pacing.  There were subtle insights into contemporary Roman living, and of course one does not see one's home as visitors see it.  We take for granted what is around us all the time.  It did, however, make me feel I want to return and spend time in Trastevere, which we missed out on last time.

Do read The American, and watch out for more of Nadia Dalbuono's intelligent, engaging, entertaining and thrilling writing - I am now planning to read its prequel, The Few.  The American is a cracking book.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"The Things We Keep" by Sally Hepworth.

A delightful, very unusual story, more a  romance than a tragedy and an excellent, original addition to the sub-genre of dementia books.  Dementia is a disease of loss, and I have been privileged to work with its sufferers in the past.  For both the patient and their relatives and friends, it represents a whole series of bereavements despite the continuation of life in some form, and it can be hard to comprehend the enormity of this.  Sally Hepworth gives a lucid and engaging account of the process, managing to combine it into an entertaining, rewarding read which is both romantic and a subtle discussion of the ethics of caring for dementia sufferers.  Loss and making the most of what you have are the significant themes in the book, and there is plenty of food for thought.  I think "The Things We Keep" would be an excellent book club selection, with plenty of themes to consider and discuss, as well as a captivating read.

To be published: 19th January 2016 by St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

I approached this book with a little trepidation, concerned it might be mawkish and formulaic. However, I found it an exceptionally written tale with clever and engaging plot and characters. It deals with abuse and mental health issues with great empathy and originality. It kept me guessing and made for compulsive reading. Ann Morgan seems to be an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more by her. Truly outstanding.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

A brilliantly crafted novel, full of suspense and a tangled web of deceit  spun from self-interest and merciless manipulation..  Secrets can be a most destructive force within the family, and Sean Jackson's family is more complicated than most, with his serial marriages.  This story explores loyalty and contrasts the perfidy of the supposedly responsible adults with the innocence of the children, and has resonance with familiar news stories.  Some of the characters are unsympathetic, whilst others grow on the reader as the tale progresses.  A psychological thriller that is engaging and compulsive reading, an absolute treat.