Some Winter’s Tales

DSCF2292This review covers our winter in sunny Spain, where our only supply of books came from the various charity markets and the old stalwart, the charity library. I don’t think I’ve ever abandoned so many half- read books in my life… the selection on offer was fairly bleak. So the first seven titles come from that sparse selection, whilst the remainder are from my local library, to which I fled within a matter of hours, upon our return. I’d quite forgotten the joy of settling down with a good book, and emerging a few hours later feeling as though I’d been on a personal journey.

Jeffrey Deaver – Praying for Sleep ***

Convicted madman murderer Michael Hrubek escapes from the asylum and seems intent on finding a woman who was a principle witness against him at his trial. As the hunt develops, the woman’s husband and an independent professional tracker complete with bloodhound, take to the woods to try to track Hrubek down, whilst the police and the asylum staff manage to mislead everyone as to his general direction of travel.

A shocker of a climax with a twist that had never been foreshadowed. A superb piece of misdirection. I’m not a Jeffrey Deaver fan, but his books were everywhere on the charity markets, so obviously I’m in the minority here.  🙂

Jeffrey Deaver – Roadside Crosses ***

An effective demonstration of the old adage that you never fully recognise the significance of what you put on the internet, and the pictures that people can build up about you, your fears, your secrets and your friends from seemingly innocuous posts.

A shocking revelation of the world of internet gaming and assumed personae forms the background to a novel where a young boy is assumed guilty by association by the social networking community. A reasonably well disguised twist at the end.

Tideline – Penny Hancock *****

On a winter’s afternoon Sonia opens the door of her Greenwich home to a 15 year old boy, a friend of her own children. Haunted by memories of an intense past relationship Sonia finds the boy reawakens the possessive side of her nature and she decides she must keep him hidden and protected from the outside world.

Set on the banks of the River Thames, the incredible descriptions of the river almost raise it to the level of a sensate being, incorporating sights, sounds, smells during an age (sixties/seventies) when none of the current eco-friendly and safety procedures had been developed.

The surprises keep on coming, right up to the dramatic horrifying end, as the reader watches the evidence of Sonia’s guilt slowly mounting. I confess to a feeling of near-panic myself as I realised that there could be only one outcome to this story.

The best book I read whilst in Spain.

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life – William Nicholson ***

A quiet Sussex village houses a number of residents who are living with their own unresolved inner dramas. The way in which they deal with them each impacts on those around them. The secret longings of a large cast of characters interweave in a gripping story that is at once rich, comic, tragic poignant, cruel and moving. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Acid Row – Minette Walters ****

When I picked this up from the market stall my husband immediately told me I’d read it. It must have been some while ago, because although parts of it did seem familiar as I read through it, it still had the overpowering ability to shock. Set in a council estate where a child has gone missing and rumours of a paedophile being housed in the community the violence escalates to a mindless and horrifying level. The book moves at a pace that practically had me breathless as a doctor steps into danger during her home visits and law and order breaks down in a terrifyingly swift manner.

Before I go to Sleep – S J Watson ***

Difficult as this is to imagine, a woman loses her memory, her history and her identity every time she goes to sleep. Each day she must start anew, waking up with the same stranger who claims to be her husband, secretly seeing a doctor who claims he can help her, and struggling to keep a daily journal so that she can build on what she has remembered and recorded in the preceding days. Incredibly good idea, well scripted and very gripping.

The Breaker – Minette Walters ***

As a fan of Minette Walters, I was surprised to find, when I picked this up on the market stalls, that I hadn’t read it. As ever, the writing is good, the plot capably orchestrated and the characterisation expertly delivered. But for me the story wasn’t quite strong enough.

A young woman’s broken body is washed up on the shore in Dorsetshire, and her traumatized three year old daughter is later found wandering the streets of Poole, twenty miles away. Suspicions focus on three individuals, a young actor whose sailing boat is moored not far from where the toddler is found, his best friend – a local schoolteacher, and the husband of the victim who was supposedly many miles away in the north of England.

The best part of the book for me was the relationship between three ancillary characters, a woman who was there when the body was washed up, her mother, and the local police officer who attended the scene. Walters is at her best when describing these characters and developing the relationships between them. It was worth the read just to follow this side thread.

Cooking with Bones – Jess Richards ****

Perhaps less effective than Snake Ropes (see previous review). Two sisters flee the futuristic city of Paradon for a village by the sea. Disappointing though not without its charm, I found this story bit complicated. Maya is a ‘formwanderer’ engineered to reflect the wants of others, but Amber wants Maya to learn how to be herself. Add a little boy, Kip, who prefers to wear a dress at all times, and a village that lives in fear of Old Kelp, a crone who bakes cakes and you have a combination that should work better than it does. Jumbled dialogue again as in Snake Ropes, which is strangely tolerable. Combining a folksy feel with sci-fi – not an easy achievement – the book is worth a read.

The irritating part for me was Old Kelp’s hand-written recipes which regularly punctuate the proceedings. No ordinary recipes these, including both sentiments and ingredients to go into the cake-baking process (thus affecting the moods of the villagers who collect and eat them daily), but after the first couple of recipes I flicked past the remainder.

I like Jess Richards’ work though – very original and innovative ideas.

Daddy Love – Joyce Carol Oates**

This book will strike fear into the heart of any parent. Abducted child, monstrous abductor, the transformation of the abductee from a happy toddler into a detached, isolated individual. It was painful to read, being both savage and repulsive at times. There is a happy ending which is not really a happy ending, and I was glad when it was over.

The Friday Gospels – Jenn Ashworth ****

Pauline and Martin, both mormons in Lancashire, England, are preparing to welcome home son Gary from a two year mission in Utah. The story is written from the point of view of each member of the family: Pauline, the mother – a housebound semi-invalid in a wheelchair, her husband Martin – a compulsive dog-breeder who, having misread the signals, is harbouring hankerings for an affair with a woman (another dog breeder) he has met on his daily walks. Then there are the children, the much-glorified but inwardly insecure Gary who we meet on the homeward flight. Gary, the ‘family-fixer’ has had a largely unsuccessful mission, and wonders how he will meet the expectations of his family and the local community on his return. There is a troubled elder son who has turned away from the Mormon community and beliefs, and a teenage daughter, currently in an unsuitable relationship, who is going through her own personal crises.

The book contains an almost cringeworthy mix of comedy and pathos as a litany of personal hopes, fears and inadequacies lumbers towards a horrifying meltdown. A clever book which gives a perceptively detached insight into the Mormom community.

Amity & Sorrow – Peggy Riley ***

A mother is on the run across Oklahoma in an attempt to save her two daughters from the fundamentalist polygamous cult run her by husband, a self appointed Messiah. The elder daughter, Sorrow, believes that she is an Oracle, and is an unwilling participant in the escape. A cruel girl with a sadistic streak often vented upon her younger sister Amity, she is pregnant by her father, and is determined to return to the compound where she enjoyed some degree of power and influence.

Their journey ends at a farm miles from anywhere, where the owner, his bed-ridden father and a young farm hand become involved in the lives of the three women. Sensitively written, the cover describes this simplistically as ‘a novel about God, sex and farming’. In reality it is a testament to the horrors a true believer can inflict upon his family and his followers. It’s an interesting enough read, but didn’t fully capture my attention or my imagination in the way that I expected.

Poppet – Mo Hayder *****

I’m a big fan of Mo Hayder and await each of her new books with interest.

This one (another Jake McCaffery novel) is set in a mental institution supposedly haunted by the ghost of a former matron. Following a recent death amongst the inmates, both staff and patients are unsettled and wary and their accounts, drawings and fears reveal startlingly similar images. The main character is a recently promoted male supervisor who is struggling to keep the situation under control whilst at the same time realising that there is more to the situation than simply hearsay or hysteria. Embarking on a relationship with the clinical director, a woman who doesn’t share his suspicions and will not entertain his theories, the supervisor contacts Jake McCaffery to vent his fears.

This one has a continuation of a thread from an earlier book (Jake McCaffery’s relationship with a female member of the diving unit who has a guilty secret), but unlike some books with a continuing theme, the reader would lose nothing by not having read the first.

Mo Hayder’s characterisation is expertly crafted as usual, and I was struck by the genuine sympathy, empathy and patience of the supervisor. The ending, though well heralded in the final chapters, loses none of its powerfulness.

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn *****

Unequivocably, one of the best books I have read. The jacket says “Gone Girl is a book you’ll be begging other people to read, just so you can discuss it with them.

Never was a truer word spoken.

It’s about a marriage. Written alternately from the point of view of the wife and the husband, the relationship, which seems a match made in heaven at the outset, develops into a scene from hell. The incremental character development is superbly executed, with the reader being pulled this way and that, first on the side of one protagonist and then on the other.

‘Who are you? What have we done to each other?’

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange incriminating searches. He says they weren’t made by him. So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

Incredible, frightening, funny, complex, brilliant!

The Paris Winter- Imogen Robertson ****

A truly enjoyable book, and extremely well written too, full of the atmosphere of old Paris. Set in 1909, and spanning the period of the great Paris floods, the book revolves around a community of aspiring female artists studying at a well respected academy of art. A young Englishwoman, Maud, struggles to complete her studies and maintain her independence as she slips relentlessly below the poverty line, dreading the onset of the Paris Winter. Another student, together with the girl who models for the class, takes pity on her and introduces her to a woman who finds genteel employment for young women in impoverished circumstances. Scarcely able to believe her luck, Maud is transported from her cold attic to a warm luxurious apartment where she is to act as companion to Christian Morel’s sister, a secret opium addict, whilst at the same time having mornings free to pursue her classes. With food, warmth and a decent wage, she begins to relax, blossom and find purpose in her life. And then things take a dreadful turn as Maud is plunged into the darkness that waits beneath the glittering city of light.

Well worth reading with a plausible plot and a sensitive and realistic understanding of the world of art and artists. If I had a criticism to make it would be that the characters could be more keenly defined, but that lack of substance does not detract from what is an enjoyable read.

So… a motley bunch of books, some gems, some rather less so, and a pile of half-read books left in the Spanish apartment for someone with perhaps more persistence and lower expectations than I. We will be returning to French waters shortly, so I think I may take a chance on taking freely-chosen library books with me and rely on the internet to renew them until we return to England.


About Sandra

I used to cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and wrote fiction and poetry. Now I live on the beautiful Dorset coast, enjoying the luxury of being able to have a cat, cultivating an extensive garden and getting involved in the community. I still write fiction, but only when the spirit moves me - which isn't as often as before. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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11 Responses to Some Winter’s Tales

  1. Not familiar with any of those titles except Gone Girl! I became one of those annoying “promoters” after reading this book encouraging all my book-loving friends to read it immediately. There is a movie coming soon……I think Reese Witherspoon is somehow involved.


  2. Sandra says:

    I’m so pleased you shared this! I went public with my praises for this book but another writing colleague is so far less impressed. I don’t like going to the cinema, but I could make an exception here, although in general I’ve found the films less entertaining than the original book.


  3. Interesting read, Sandra. I REALLY miss the good U.S. free libraries. The libraries here are not all that great. There’s one British Library, but it isn’t near us and it’s not all that big. I HAVE to buy a Kindle. I don’t get out much to see what’s in the used book offerings or bookstores. I don’t have much room left for books I’ve bought anyway. I find myself rereading old favorites.


    • Sandra says:

      I’m not sure what I’d do without a library. We used to buy a lot of books, but like you we don’t really have the room for them. We’d no idea the local library was as good as it is, so it’s been a real god-send to us. I like the fact that you can renew on-line and see the books outstanding on your account as well. I usually get at least six each visit. I always think it’s a sign of a good book when you can keep re-reading it.


  4. My s-i-l saw I was reading “Gone Girl” and told me that they’re making the movie BUT that they’re putting in a different ending because whatever the twist is at the end, everyone who’s read the book will already know it. Seems like a cheat to me.



  5. I totally agree. I hate when they fool around with the ending because they think it’s too ambiguous for the masses to handle! They tweaked the ending of “The Painted Veil” which I found annoying. Life can’t always be wrapped up in a pretty little package. I’m sure Hollywood is listening right now and will take my opinions under consideration!!


    • Sandra says:

      I think your description of the ending as ‘ambiguous’ just about nails it. 🙂 Funnily enough, when I started thinking about the ending I couldn’t be sure I’d remembered it correctly, (and it’s only a few weeks since I finished it). So I looked it up on Wiki, and I saw I was right. So maybe that’s why they’re changing it… because it wasn’t something that kind of hit you right between the eyes in the way that the rest of the story had.


  6. carto says:

    I’ve seen people checking out a half-dozen book and always wonder how they could read them all. Your summaries are quite readable; a motivation for me to read faster and write more. Cheers.


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