Month: February 2017

‘The Girl Before’ by J P Delaney #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com

Jane stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to live in a beautiful ultra-minimalist house designed by an enigmatic architect, on condition she abides by a long list of exacting rules. After moving in, she discovers that a previous tenant, Emma, met a mysterious death there – and starts to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of the girl before. As twist after twist catches the reader off guard, Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined in this tense, page-turning portrayal of psychological obsession.

Following in the footsteps of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, The Girl Before is being brought to the big screen by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard.

I downloaded a free sample of the first few chapters of this book, courtesy of Net Galley, and was intrigued enough by the beginning to purchase the whole book. I was disappointed.

I’m not a fan of the whole ‘Fifty Shades’ idea that women fall into bed with sadistic, controlling and creepy men just because they’re rich. Edward, the architect who designed and controls One Fogle Street, is a really nasty piece of work, and someone that any sane woman would run a mile from. And yet both of the women who agree, for some unfathomable reason, to live in his house, despite the invasive and ridiculous conditions of their tenancy, embark on an affair with him instead. And while Emma’s involvement with him is perhaps the more believable storyline, when the truth is revealed about her story, that is hugely disappointing too. While Jane has suffered the trauma of a stillbirth, and while I do appreciate that that can be a life-changing event, with far-reaching emotional consequences, I didn’t see why it would lead to this intelligent, successful woman becoming totally manipulated by this man because he’s handsome and a bit mysterious. And rich. Of course. Because that’s what all women want, isn’t it?

It’s a shame because the writing, on the whole, is good. There are some scenes that are so disturbing and evocative that they really stay with you. The plot is well -paced, and there is a good idea at the heart of this. But it is sorely let down by the portrayal of both the men and women – the men are all cruel, or slimy, or weird. And the women are unbelievable.

I’m sorry to give such a negative review, and I usually don’t post anything under three stars on my blog, but I was so disappointed in this.

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And here’s my favourite addition to the 50 Shades phenomenon:

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‘Room at the Top’ by John Braine #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

I read this as part of the David Bowie Reading Challenge.

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Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com

The Angry Young Men movement, featuring such stars as Kingsley Amis, is perfectly illustrated through the iconic figure of Joe Lampton. 

The ruthlessly ambitious Joe Lampton rises swiftly from the petty bureaucracy of local government into the unfamiliar world of inherited wealth, fast cars and glamorous women.

But the price of success is high, and betrayal and tragedy strike as Joe pursues his goals.

I’m very torn about this book. On the one hand, Joe’s frustration at the hand he has been dealt in life simply by the consequences of his birth is very easy to empathise with. He comes from a poor background, a dead-end town with no prospects and he wants to get on, to have the things that the middle and upper classes have.

On the other hand, I don’t feel this book has aged well – particularly in terms of the way the women are portrayed.

Joe is ambitious, and he moves to the middle-class town of Warley to take up a new job and to experience life and what it has to offer away from Dufton.

He meets and begins an affair with Alice, a married woman who seems to be fighting against the constraints placed on her sex, just as Joe is fighting the constraints placed on his class. He also begins a romance with the virginal Susan, daughter of a local businessman.

Joe seems to genuinely love Alice, but his feelings for Susan are mixed up with his desire to get to the top. He is using her and this is where the book loses its appeal for me.

I do understand that it is of its time, but still the portrayal of the female characters didn’t work for me. Alice is supposedly independent, intelligent and unconventional, yet she still allows Joe to treat her badly, is still needy. And Susan felt like a caricature of a young girl – whiny and spoilt and childish. She may well have these characteristics, but she would have worked better had she had some redeeming features.

It is an undoubtedly well-crafted and important book, and one that is significant in the Angry Young Men Movement. I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it.

three stars

‘Ghost Variations’ by @jessicaduchen #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Ghost Variations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The strangest detective story in the history of music – inspired by a true incident.

A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

1933. Dabbling in the fashionable “Glass Game” – a Ouija board – the famous Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar, encounters a startling dilemma. A message arrives ostensibly from the spirit of the composer Robert Schumann, begging her to find and perform his long-suppressed violin concerto.

She tries to ignore it, wanting to concentrate instead on charity concerts. But against the background of the 1930s depression in London and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a struggle ensues as the “spirit messengers” do not want her to forget.

The concerto turns out to be real, embargoed by Schumann’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration: it was his last full-scale work, written just before he suffered a nervous breakdown after which he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It shares a theme with his Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) for piano, a melody he believed had been dictated to him by the spirits of composers beyond the grave.

As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, where the manuscript is held, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the concerto. When the Third Reich’s administration decides to unearth the work for reasons of its own, a race to perform it begins.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess, and a young music publisher who falls in love with her – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.

In the ensuing psychodrama, the heroine, the concerto and the pre-war world stand on the brink, reaching together for one more chance of glory.

There are so many strands to this book, so many different things that have their own unique appeal. Firstly, it is beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Secondly, its subject matter is intriguing, and a book that mixes fact and fiction is something that really appeals to me. The mystery of the concerto, the story around its discovery, the back story about Schumann himself which is heart-breaking, and the historical detail that seems so particularly relevant today – all these things are brought together in an intelligent, compelling narrative.

The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of Jelly herself, a violinist from Hungary, living in London, and, later on, from the point of view of Ulli, a young music publisher, in love with Jelly, living in Germany as the Nazis climb to power.

This sense of impeding horror and war is portrayed so clearly. These people don’t just suddenly come to power – they take it, little by little, piece by piece. For Ulli, in the midst of it, the realities become terrifying. For Jelly, feeling the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in her adopted home country, the prejudice and intolerance is subtle, but still horrifying.

So this is a timely book too. This is what one character says about the Daily Mail, who have published an article with the headline ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’:

‘”This paper’s feeding us nothing but lies, lies, lies,” Alec said, “yet we gulp it down without questioning it, while there’s real suffering, real danger, out there.”’

And on the appeal of the Blackshirts themselves:

‘Anybody could be drawn to them, Alec said, from the unemployed to Eton lads, some believing they had the answer to keeping out the communists, others determined to restore the glory of British imperialism, or some such guff, which meant reasserting their superiority over filthy foreigners.’

While the author has obviously researched thoroughly, and also has a formidable knowledge of the world of which she is writing, this isn’t highbrow, or inaccessible – it is intelligent and knowledgeable, lyrical in places, but it is also very readable.

There is a real sense of time and place, with little details that bring authenticity to the story. Jelly is warm, talented, intelligent but not perfect – she has her flaws, her insecurities, she makes mistakes. But she comes across as wholly believable, a talented, intelligent woman, striving for success and happiness both personal and professional.

An excellent book.

5 stars

 

 

 

 

When does “NO” really mean “YES”? #Bookblogger #MondayBlogs #RBRT

Another great post about book bloggers – and the attitude of some writers out there (plus a lovely dog :))

Barb Taub

And we need to keep saying this WHY?

Today Rosie Amber’s fabulous book review blog hosts a post by writer and reviewer Terry Tyler:  #Bookblogger bashing: in the end, you’re only hurting yourself

As always, Terry spares no punches in stating what should be obvious.

If a book blogger accepts your book, but gives it a less than positive review, it’s for this reason only:

She didn’t think it was very good.

Terry’s post is a must read for both book bloggers and anyone considering submitting their books for review. Please check it out here.

It is particularly timely for me, because I have YET AGAIN just contacted an author whose book I had accepted for review. I told him that the book blurb did not, in fact, accurately reflect the content, which I not only found personally offensive, but which I had specifically indicated in my submission guidelines…

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#Bookblogger bashing: in the end, you’re only hurting yourself #MondayBlogs

An excellent post about book bloggers/reviewers and what they sometimes have to put up with from authors. Thanks Rosie and Terry 🙂

Rosie Amber

Today I’m hosting a post written by Terry Tyler which I feel strongly about aswell.

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#Bookblogger bashing: in the end, you’re only hurting yourself.

I’ve read a few posts lately about book bloggers being bullied or ‘trolled’ by writers for whom they have received bad reviews, or whose books they have rejected.  For more on this, here’s a heartrending post from The Happy Meerkat, and an associated one on Fictionophile about whether or not reviews should be objective or personal opinion, amongst other things.

Like 99% of the rest of the online writer/reader/blogger/reviewer community, I’m appalled that bloggers who give up their time to read books by total strangers, for no payment, are receiving such harassment.

I write this from the point of view of a writer, and a book reviewer.  Although my own book review blog is mostly for my own reading choices, I’m also a member of

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Visiting Delacroix’s Paris #wwwblogs

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Eugene Delacroix

The last weekend in January, Gary and I went to Paris – the realisation of a dream I’ve had for more years than I care to remember. I don’t know why it took so long to get there, but I wish I hadn’t waited. What a fabulous city it is.

I was desperate to visit the home of Eugene Delacroix, the artist around whose painting ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ my WIP revolves. Of course, I wanted to see the painting itself, hanging in the Louvre, and also wanted to visit his grave, at Pere Lachaise cemetery (where Jim Morrison is also buried, so Gary was happy!).

We stayed in the Left Bank, the art district, so it was a short stroll to the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the Rue de Furstenberg where Delacroix lived from 1857 until his death in 1863.

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It was a very strange feeling walking through the rooms where Delacroix lived and worked and eventually died. The museum is wonderful – thoughtfully and lovingly designed, with artefacts and objects that belonged to the man himself and many artworks too. The garden at the back of the building has been recreated to include many of the plants and trees he loved and would have grown there. It is so peaceful in the little walled garden – the centre of Paris, but calm and tranquil. It was easy to imagine Delacroix walking there. The garden is the setting for one of the scenes in my book and actually being there was so much more inspiring than looking at photographs.

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We went to the Louvre next, and straight to the Delacroix paintings. There are several of his works there. I have seen some at an exhibition at the National Gallery, but not ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ itself. It is truly a magnificent painting. We sat there, just looking, for ages, really taking it in.

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We did go on to look at the Mona Lisa, because you do feel you have to. There was quite a queue, which we didn’t join, we just looked at it from across the room. To be honest, it wasn’t very inspiring. There are wonderful things in the Louvre, amazing paintings and sculptures, and so many people were walking past these lovely, irreplaceable works to take a selfie with this tiny painting. I do think Leonardo himself would be pretty annoyed to think that that’s the thing people associate him with. It seems to have become something to tick off on a list – been there, seen that.

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Hmmmm…

Anyway, we saved the cemetery for our last day in Paris, and the skies were suitably grey. It is a strange place, horribly crowded and a bit confusing. We were armed with a map though and instructions from our daughter who had been there the week before Christmas. We soon found Delacroix’s grave – it is simple, so unlike his paintings, but somehow that seems fitting. After all, how can you really commemorate someone like Delacroix?

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I always find it touching that people leave small gifts at the graves of those that have touched their lives and it was nice to see single flowers left there. It’s always gratifying to know that other people revere and love the people you admire.

There are so many others here, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Ingres, Géricault, Balzac, David, Chopin, and of course Jim Morrison, among many, many others. That all these people have Paris as their final resting place is testament to the city itself, vibrant and liberal, intellectual and open, a place where art, music, writing and philosophy have always flourished. In a time when the world seems to be moving to the right, to a political landscape where free thinking, creativity and critical thinking are denigrated and ridiculed, let’s hope it remains that place.

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‘How to Murder Your Life’ by Cat Marnell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

By the age of 15, Cat Marnell longed to work in the glamorous world of women’s magazines – but was also addicted to the ADHD meds prescribed by her father. Within 10 years she was living it up in New York as a beauty editor at Condé Nast, with a talent for ‘doctor-shopping’ that secured her a never-ending supply of prescriptions. Her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, while she struggled to hold down her high-profile job during the day. 

Witty, magnetic and penetrating – prompting comparisons to Brett Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – Cat Marnell reveals essential truths about her generation, brilliantly uncovering the many aspects of being an addict with pin-sharp humour and beguiling style.

 

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Charting Marnell’s life (so far!) and her journey from misunderstood and rather spoilt child to New York fashion editor and drug addict, this is a really compelling and interesting read.

Marnell seems to have everything going for her and yet seems determined to ruin it all, to throw it all away. This would normally put me off, but she is so honest about herself that you just can’t help liking her, and while you want to shake some sense into her, you also want to give her a good meal, some clean clothes and a hug.

At first I found the writing style a little irritating – all the exclamation marks and the, at times, childlike tone, but as I read further into the book it became obvious that this is the author’s authentic voice. She really is overly enthusiastic and dramatic and she couldn’t write any other way.

The degradation, the misery, the utter loneliness that she goes through is sometimes hard to read, but Marnell isn’t looking for sympathy or understanding. This is the story of her life, of what she’s experienced and who she has encountered along the way. And she tells it really well. Not always enjoyable, and often uncomfortable, this is, however, a really important account of what it’s really like to be an addict.

Definitely recommended.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free review copy