Category Archives: Review

The Bookshop on the Shore

Jane Eyre meets the Sound of Music, with a little You’ve Got Mail, and some almost library porn (by which I mean getting excited over a fancy library; not that other thing you first thought I meant).

Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore

Yeah, I’m not used to adult romantic fiction. I used to read a lot of it, decades ago, and now that I had worked out that Jenny Colgan writes this stuff and not just children’s books or Doctor Who, I felt the time had come to investigate.

I gather this latest story about a [mobile] bookshop on the shores of Loch Ness builds on at least one former book by Jenny. Her Nina, now pregnant and in need of a temporary replacement, somehow arranges for Zoe to move out of London, where she and her mute four-year-old son Hari have lived in impoverished circumstances.

So it’s that perennial dream romantic book lovers have of moving to a new life somewhere completely different and meeting more books. And love. At first I thought she’d got the wrong love interest there, but he grew on me a little. And I dare say the other chap could come back in some other book.

There are children. They have problems. The local village is another problem, along with its residents who want what they have always had. Nina herself, is another problem to some extent. She wants things done her way.

But Zoe is, well, she knows what is right and stands up for her own ideas, and she loves little Hari, and overcomes most of the other issues. Because it is that kind of story.

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How to Write a Great Story

I frequently wonder why authors write ‘how to write’ books. Are they mad? I know that they know how to, or at least what worked for them, but the competition! Keep it secret, I say.

In this latest one, How to Write a Great Story, Caroline Lawrence shares her tips. In fact, she shares how she wrote her books. And if you know her books, I’d say the advice is even better, because you’ll be able to see exactly what she means, and know what the references are about. She also mentions other famous pieces of writing, likely to be known to the reader.

Caroline Lawrence, How to Write a Great Story

(I brought her book to the hairdresser’s, and he said he’d never want to read a book like this. Could be because it’s not aimed at forty-something hairdressers, but more likely at Caroline’s fans, young and old. He wouldn’t object if I wrote a book about him, though.)

There are some sample workshops, and I envy students who’ve been able to work with Caroline on this. It looks interesting. You might start with a line from The Hobbit, and then you actually change everything, completely losing the Hobbit.

A long section explains writerly words, in case you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Even the Vomit Draft sounds reasonably ‘appealing.’ Or do I mean appalling? And don’t you just hate those elevator pitches? Because you forgot to come up with one, or you forgot what it was. And there is Mr Spielberg, ready to listen for at least ten seconds…

I’d say Caroline doesn’t sleep enough. Some of us need more time. And preserve me from her lunches of broccoli and mayonnaise!

Strangers at the Gate

Wow! If you want an intelligently plotted and well-written crime novel, that will only partially keep you awake at night, then Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson is the answer.

Catriona McPherson, Strangers at the Gate

The murder is pretty gruesome and after a while you realise that there are only so many possible suspects, and that makes your life a little difficult. Yes, some of the characters are a bit odd, but you don’t necessarily want them to be the one who did it.

The question is, ‘did what?’ Finnie and Paddy are newly married, and suddenly find themselves moving from Edinburgh to a small – and strange – town, in a deal that could be described as too good to be true. And you know what they say about such things. Although the weather is awful – Scotland in winter – and the dead bodies not exactly fun.

But Paddy is dead keen to be made partner of the law firm, and Finnie gets a post as deacon in the local church.

If dead children and disappearing corpses are your thing, look no further. In fact, even if they are not, and I really don’t like dead children, this book is it.

I’m so clever I noticed one clue before even Finnie did, and then I saw another, which was actually never part of what happened. I’m really glad I read this novel. I suspect I could be a fan for life, now.

Once Upon a Bedtime

Right now I’m thinking about going to bed. On time. Just so I can wake up when I need to.

David Melling, Once Upon a Bedtime

Like the creatures in David Melling’s Once Upon a Bedtime I have routines. Things that have to be done. But not quite as many as they do.

His Rabbit must have a bath. After which getting dry seems imperative. There’s pyjamas and teeth-brushing (that crocodile has a lot of teeth!) and stories with cuddlies.

But I have yet to discover a Thing under my bed, looking for its cuddly, without which this going to sleep business just can’t happen.

This is another gorgeously sweet ‘please-go-to-bed-now-darling’ book. You just can’t have too many of them.

A Shot in the Dark

How quickly time passes! Lynne Truss set her crime novel – featuring the best of Brighton’s landmarks – in 1957, making it somewhat historical and retro. But my mind boggles as I realise that I first set foot in Brighton a mere twenty years later, and moved away ten years later still. That almost makes me retro as well.

Lynne Truss, A Shot in the Dark

It’s amusing to find the streets and squares of Brighton in the names of the characters; Old Steine, Brunswick Square, and little Twitten, not forgetting Groynes, Palmeira and Adelaide.

Inspector Steine is an idiot. Sergeant Brunswick so-so, while young Constable Twitten doesn’t miss much, unless it’s social cues. What I don’t know is how long it would have taken me to know who the villain was, has Lynne not actually talked about that at her Bloody Scotland event. Was it very obvious, or just a bit obvious?

Whatever. It’s an entertaining story, poking fun at old-style crimes and old-style policemen, with a dash of Brighton Rock thrown in.

After the Bloody Scotland ‘cosy’ discussion about swearing and authenticity I couldn’t relax, but had to look for discrepancies. I always do this. There was much swearing for a ‘no-swearing’ book. And it’s never easy knowing what life was like around the time you were born. To some extent I’d say Brighton in 1977 wasn’t much different, albeit perhaps with a few more language schools.

I went to my first panto in the Theatre Royal. It was slightly more lacking in bloodshed that time.

If you are nostalgic for times gone by, this is your book.

Under Earth

Because Ellen Renner’s Storm Witch had resonated so deep within me, and the memory of it had stayed, I was cautious as I began reading the sequel, Under Earth, in case it wouldn’t deliver. But of course it did! Please bring on book three, The Drowned Ones, as soon as possible.

Storm is now the Weather-witch, and more powerful than most, and more than she herself understands. Travelling on her uncle’s ship, they are heading for Bellum Island to trade. But it seems it’s not just goods that can be traded; Storm is also desirable to others, because of her powers, so is not safe among the kind of people who will stop at nothing.

Ellen Renner, Under Earth

As with the first book, this didn’t head in the direction I imagined, nor did it keep going the way I thought it would. She’s only 14, but has to be wise beyond her years if her own island and its people are to survive. But she also wants revenge for the death of her mother.

Bellum is another world compared to Yanlin, and the people live differently there. At times I was wondering if Ellen was describing the island she and I inhabit when she talked about the wasteful and discriminatory way the leaders of Bellum govern. The fact that they don’t ‘make.’

Storm finds it hard to know what to do, and who to trust, but she at least has a few people to guide her. Let’s hope that will be enough. It doesn’t look like book three will involve much plain sailing.

Bad Day at the Vulture Club

‘Man cannot live on dhansak alone.’ But they certainly try, those Parsees at the Vulture Club.

Vaseem Khan, Bad day at the Vulture Club

It’s time for Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesh to solve another murder when a wealthy and respected Parsee is found dead, in the place where the dead are put to be eaten by vultures. Could it have been an accident?

As usual Chopra does his best in the face of lack of belief in this ‘murder’ and meanwhile his partner Rangwalla is investigating a collapsed building. And Poppy, Mrs Chopra, has a new cause, Poo2Loo, much to Chopra’s embarrassment.

This latest crime novel by Vaseem Khan looks at some of the richest people in Mumbai, and also how some of the poorest people live, both in regard to their homes and jobs, as well as their [lack of] toilets. We get to know more about India today, with the help of fictional crime and a good dose of humour. Singing turds, anyone?

At times Chopra seems more literal than ever, even going so far as to point out to Poppy that ‘I don’t have a husband.’ And this time his mother-in-law actually has a point, and she’s starting to grow on me. Well, I suppose she is responsible for how the lovely Poppy turned out.

The crime turns round and round several times, and both the reader and Chopra think they know who did it, and they don’t, because they didn’t. And we don’t want it to have been one of the people we like.

But more than fairness in finding a murderer, we want a better and safer life for all Indians, at the mercy of crooks everywhere. This is neither cosy nor noir, but entertainment with humour, while educating us about that which we didn’t know or had forgotten about.