Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Season's Greetings

A seasonal, and book-themed, photo from our recent visit to the brilliant 'Making of Harry Potter' studio tour, where it was all decked out for Christmas with the theme 'Hogwarts in the Snow'Apologies for the lack of updates for the past few weeks. I hope to be back a bit more in the New Year, and I'll try and put together an end of year summary/best reads pick.

Wishing all readers of the blog good health and plenty of happiness over the coming holidays, and always. 

Thank you for visiting,


Monday, 17 November 2014

The Separation - Dinah Jefferies

Synopsis from goodreads:

What happens when a mother and her daughters are separated, and who do they become when they believe it might be forever? 

Malaya 1955. It’s the eve of the Cartwright family’s departure from Malaya. Eleven-year-old Emma can’t understand why they’re leaving without their mother, or why her taciturn father is refusing to answer her questions.

Returning from a visit to a friend sick with polio, Emma’s mother, Lydia, arrives home to an empty house ─ there’s no sign of her husband Alec, her daughters, or even the servants. The telephone line is dead. Acting on information from Alec’s boss, Lydia embarks on a dangerous journey across civil-war-torn Malaya to find her family.
The Separation is a heart-wrenching page-turner, set in 1950s Malaya and post-war England.​ 


I found this debut novel by Dinah Jefferies an emotional, atmospheric and gripping read. I was engrossed in the story from the very start. I found myself drawn deeply into the story and grew to care very much about the lives of Lydia Cartwright and her eldest daughter Emma in particular. These are the two main characters whose stories we follow throughout the novel, supported by a well drawn and diverse cast of other family, friends and accomplices in Malaya and in England.

The setting in Malaya (now Malaysia) is vividly conjured by Dinah Jefferies; the sights, the colours, the creatures, the jungle and the dangers that lurked thereabouts, the people depicted in evocative prose that provides an authentic background to Lydia's journey. It is not a place or time I knew much about and I felt transported there to the time of the Malayan Emergency and plunged back into history as I read. I read at the end that the author had spent some of her childhood in Malaya and I think her experience and sense of the place comes through vividly to the reader through her evocative writing. In addition to this there is the murky sense of wrongdoing lingering, which the characters have to uncover for themselves but much of which the reader is party to, making for a heartbreaking read at times.

I could feel the pain Emma felt at being separated from her mother, and I was so sad and angry about the things Lydia heard and was told about her daughters Emma and Fleur. Lydia was distraught and heart broken, her life had been pulled from under her, so that at the worst point;

'She felt herself slipping far away beneath the surface of life, where nothing could reach her, where there was no love, no pain, and there was no point in hoping.'

I loved how Emma found escape and solace in her creative writing;

'Sometimes I felt the world was too unfair, so when things got really bad I wrote stories. I loved the way you could make up anything you wanted.'

It was powerful stuff for me as a reader, to know what each of them was going through, and I was desperately willing things to come right, for the truth to be revealed. The structure was one I liked; chapters with Emma narrating in the first person, and then Lydia's experiences told of in the third person, and both voices held my attention, though I admit to warming most of all to Emma. My favourite passage from the book is one of Emma's thoughts; 

'...I imagined a fine line that wound halfway round the world. It was the invisible thread that stretched from west to east and back again; one end was attached to my mother's heart and the other to mine. And, I knew, whatever might happen, that thread would never be broken.'

Those words really struck me and felt so heartfelt and moving, they conveyed to me how strong the emotional attachment was between Lydia and Emma, that it could not and would not be broken despite them not being together physically. 

I don't want to slip into giving any spoilers as to how the tale unfolds; I would say that I liked in particular the characters Emma and Lydia and the very strong bond between them, and I admired Veronica on how she conducted herself. Lydia showed courage and kindness in caring for the young child Maz whose mother has abandoned him we are told. One character's deceitful behaviour was to me unbearably, terribly cruel and I could not wait for the moment when this might finally be exposed. There are various intriguing strands to the story, beginning right at the prologue, which made me wonder and which are brought together and resolved by the end of the novel in a successful way.

I found this an absorbing story that took me to a destination unfamiliar to me, opened my eyes to another place and time in our history, and it is a beautifully written story with plenty of tension and depth. A very good read throughout with a heart wrenching last hundred pages or so; I felt emotional towards the end as the last few stages of the story were played out. I had been deeply drawn into Emma's and Lydia's worlds and still think about them after closing the book. A gorgeous book cover too. Many thanks to the author for kindly sending me a copy of her novel to read and give an honest review

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Synopsis from goodreads:

To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists. 

Just goes to show.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every evening. Every day she passes the same Victorian terraces, stops at the same signal, and sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof terrace. Jason and Jess seem so happy together. 

Then one day Rachel sees something she shouldn't have seen, and soon after, Jess disappears. Suddenly Rachel is chasing the truth and unable to trust anyone. Not even herself.

Tense, taut, twisty and surprising . . . The Girl on the Train creeps right under your skin and stays there. 


This is my first review on the blog in quite a long time, it feels a bit like starting over again and it's not a very detailed one - I haven't gone over the plot much, I've added the synopsis above instead -  but I did really enjoy the book so thought I would share the brief thoughts I had about it.

The Girl on the Train is Paula Hawkins' debut novel, and it's a cracker of a read. She's delivered one of those stories that you don't want to stop reading until you reach the end, because it becomes so tense and the chain of events and revelations keep you hooked; the fast-paced storytelling reins you in and just doesn't let go. This is a gripping psychological crime thriller, a genuine page-turner of a novel. 

The opening premise is a great idea, and so easy to identify with - how, whilst travelling by train, we might look out of the window and observe the lives of others playing out in those gardens backing on to the tracks, and we imagine what those other lives might be like.

Three young women narrate the story in turn, and each one of them had me questioning what was true, what was really happening, what I could believe; Rachel in particular I thought was very compelling in the way her character was drawn and fleshed out. 

A couple of quibbles with the plot aside, which I can't really mention because they would be spoilers, I found this to be an addictive, twisty read and certainly a cleverly told debut novel which I think will be massively popular with readers when published early in 2015. 

I received an advance review copy of this novel from the amazon vine program and these are my honest thoughts. On there I gave the novel 4.5 stars rounded up to 5.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A quick hello...

This is a quick hello and a few 'thank you's' and a little update really.

Firstly, thanks again to all the lovely folk who have kindly read review books and written guest reviews of them for the blog, which it's been great to share over the last few weeks or so, and thank you to the authors who've shared guest posts and taken part in interviews. 

Thank you too to Jane at Booketta's Book Blog for the One Lovely Blog Award nomination and Jacqui at Jacqui Wine's Journal for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award nomination, both very gratefully and happily received. I will try and pass them on soon. 

I've not updated the blog much lately with what I've been reading myself, or with book reviews of my own; I've found I haven't been able to write much of one for a while, for various reasons. I've been trying to write a post about why for a while now, and I keep starting it, changing it, starting again, and then getting frustrated and leaving it, then coming back. In the end I just wanted to post something, so even if this doesn't go into too much detail, it will at least be a little bit of an update.

Basically, I've ended up cutting back on blogging time recently. I got to a stage where I was finding the amount of reading and posting, that I felt had become a bit of a requirement, was becoming excessive, and when you're at the point of lying awake worrying about your book blog and the piles of books that are all demanding to be read and reviewed and end up in tears, something's not right is it? It was affecting my health negatively; such a shame as blogging had started for me as a happy hobby and something to help me with my low mood and self-esteem. But I was putting so many other people and other things above my own wellbeing. Also worrying me was the thought of all the lovely books I've bought over recent years, that I had really wanted to read, that are still sitting on my bookshelves unread.

Apologies to anyone I have let down by not reviewing your book. And I am incredibly grateful for the books that I have had the opportunity to read which I might not have otherwise discovered. I was very keen when I started blogging and never realised how overwhelming it could become if I didn't keep on top of it. I wanted to help and support authors and I thought I could please all of the people all of the time but I wasn't looking after myself. 

So many people have said to me that reading ought to be for pleasure and not be a chore or a pressure. If this means that I can't read every new book going right now and I can't manage to review stacks of new books and try to please all of the people all of the time etc then that might have to be how it is, because it's darn hard trying to do that, and then it's not always met with thanks, which can be dispiriting. 

A few events in recent months have focused me a bit, for the better hopefully. And I've come to the conclusions that, if I'm not enjoying a book, and I've given it a darn good try, it's ok to give up without finishing it. And also that I don't want to put off any longer reading books I have been looking forward to. Life is too short and there are too many books that I'd like to read. 

I had the aim of writing honest, intelligent reviews of books I wanted to read, and I hope I did manage that, at least sometimes. I still hope to post on the blog when I can, but I'm not sure how frequent this will be or how in depth the posts might be when they do appear. I hope some folk will stick with me and pop back now and then to see if I am still here :) In the meantime I'll keep reading the blogs I enjoy, there are some wonderful book blogs and book tubers and a great community out there, and I'll keep following and commenting as much as I can. 

So basically I am trying to rediscover my love of reading, for pleasure, relaxation, enjoyment and discovery, and I am trying to look after myself better and improve my health. And so far, so good. 

Something I read recently (via Blurt Foundation) that I need to listen to:

Be true to you, make sure your needs are being met, make sure you're receiving the help you so need and deserve before helping others. It's not selfish to do so. It's vital to your wellbeing.
Help yourself to feel better and you'll have so much more to give.
P.S. You're worth squadillions!
P.P.S. You might not believe us that you are worth squadillions so you're just going to have to take our word for it.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Kraals of Ulundi - David Ebsworth - Author Interview

Today I am very pleased to welcome author David Ebsworth to the blog, with an interview as part of his blog tour. David's new novel is The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War.

Welcome to the blog David!

Hello Lindsay, and thanks for hosting this stop on the tour. It’s great to be here.

Please could you tell us a bit about your new book The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War?

Yes, of course. It’s set in 1879 and tells the story of the unprovoked invasion of Zululand in a South African land-grab that British history likes to call the Anglo-Zulu War. Kraals picks up the story from the perspective of three main characters – the Zulu warrior, Shaba; the English Lieutenant, Jahleel Brenton Carey; and the renegade trader, William McTeague.

How do you decide what you want to write about next - do you look to periods in history or places that particularly interest you and build a story from there?

Well, basically, I like to write stories that, really, I wish somebody else had written for me to read but which, for one reason or another, don’t yet exist. So yes, they’re usually “little known” periods that intrigue me.

What was the inspiration for this new novel?

In the middle of the Zulu War, the British forces were joined by an unusual observer, the French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon. He fell into an ambush and tragically died there. It was a story that I’d known for a long time but hadn’t been covered, so far as I could tell, in any work of fiction. So I decided to use this incident as the catalyst around which my three main characters are linked. In addition, I knew that the 50th anniversary of the iconic movie, Zulu, was coming up and I realized, in addition, that there are no novels covering the six months of the conflict that took place after the incidents depicted in the film – the defence of Rorke’s Drift. So I like to say that Kraals picks up the story of the Zulu War where Michael Caine left off.

Do you plan extensively in advance when you write, in terms of plot and character, or do you have just an outline/main idea and then see where the words take you?

No, I don’t plan the plot itself very extensively at all. I normally lay out the bones of the actual historical events, then work a fair bit on outlines for my main characters, with lots of personal detail and background behaviour drivers. Then I really just let them loose and see where their personalities (rather than the words) take them.

How long do you spend writing a novel from start to finish, and does it vary depending on the subject matter?

Last week I finished the first full draft of my fourth novel (about the Battle of waterloo, but from the perspective of two French women) which I started last October. That’s pretty standard for me. 8-9 months for the working draft. Then it will stand for a month before I begin re-writing. During that month, I normally visit the locations to check them out and get the feeling or colour of the settings, and allow my “ideal reader” (my wife, Ann) to have a sneak preview and give me her always critically constructive opinion of the plot. Then I edit, rewrite and polish, until I’m happy with the finished version. The whole process, start to finish, takes me a year.

Do you find the novel-writing process addictive - is it hard to stop once you get going, and how do you find editing and revising your work?

Very addictive indeed! After I retired, I was looking for something that would challenge me and retain my work ethic, producing something useful but without all the stresses and strains. Novel-writing has given me exactly that, though I still write almost every day of the year. I think you have to write every day just to keep the plot flowing and get to the end – even if you’ve got limited daily free time to play with. The same applies to editing and revising. I always follow Stephen King’s advice and cut at least 10% of my first draft. That way, you keep your work tight.

Can you recommend some of your own favourite authors and/or novels please?

That’s a tough one. Without thinking about it too much, one of my earliest historical fiction influences (fifty years ago) was Rosemary Sutcliff, and particularly her brilliant Sword at Sunset. Then Dickens, I think, and Great Expectations. But my two all-time favourites must have been, first, Patrick O’Brian (with his Master and Commander, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series), and then Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mister Ripley, Ripley’s Game, etc). I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I identify closely with Tom Ripley and I simply adore anti-heroes.

Would you recommend the self-published route having done this yourself?

I’d recommend self-publishing with a few health warnings, I think.  My first novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was critically acclaimed by lots of lovely folk, including the Historical Novel Society, but was never going to be commercially viable enough for a traditional publisher to pick it up. So self-publishing was the obvious option. The intelligent thing would have been to simply self-publish as an eBook but, sadly, vanity kicked in and I decided to go for a print version also. There’s nothing quite like holding a ‘real’ copy of your book for the first time – but that costs money. Especially if you want it to look good. And you’re not likely to make enough sales to get your money back from the publication of one book alone. That’s true. Just look at the statistics for how many copies are sold by most first-time authors. A few hundred, if you’re lucky. So I wrote a second (The Assassin’s Mark, a Spanish Civil War thriller). More investment but better returns. Because guess what? The people who liked Assassins went off and bought Jacobites too. So then I found myself running a small business. As an authorpreneur. Spending almost as much time marketing as writing. The third book (The Kraals of Ulundi) has almost helped me to break even. And the fourth one, due to publish later this year as The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, will see me making a small profit. Successful friends in the business tell me that, after book number five, it’s all plain sailing. Well, we’ll see! But at least I’m in control of the whole process rather than being at the whim of an agent/publisher. Because your excellent question has another side to it. What happens if you’re phenomenally lucky to be offered a traditional deal? The vast majority of first-timers get paid pathetically small advances by publishers. Most first-timers make buttons in royalties. And most publishers will do little or nothing by way of marketing to help you get your work on bookstore shelves. So self-publishing? Yes, go for it! And if you want to test the water, be sensible and produce an eBook first. You can always go for the print version once you’ve tested the market.

But hey, thanks for the interview, Lindsay. And if any of your readers want to know more, I’m happy to pick up any questions or comments.

Author Links ~ find David on twitter @EbsworthDavid

About the novel ~

1879 – the British army has suffered one of the worst defeats in its history at the hands of the Zulu King Cetshwayo. Now the British seek revenge and a second invasion of Zululand is about to take place.
Within the Zulu regiments charged with repelling the assault is Shaba kaNdabuko − driven by ambition to share the glory of battle, to bring honour and cattle to his family.
Meanwhile, new British soldiers are shipped out to replace those lost in the military disasters, and among them is Lieutenant Jahleel Carey, likewise also hoping that adventure will bring him a change of fortune.
But there are also always those on the sidelines of conflict, profiteers like renegade trader William McTeague.

Three men, three women, will be brought together by one of the Zulu War’s strangest episodes, and their destinies will be changed forever.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion and is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.  

I'm highlighting words that are new to me/that I really like/that struck me for some reason..!

These came from the novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which I read recently (and which I loved by the way).

1. upbraid (verb)

1. to reprove or reproach angrily
2. to find fault with

2. palmate (adjective)

1. (Zoology) shaped like an open hand: palmate antlers.
2. (Botany) botany having more than three lobes or segments that spread out from a common point: palmate leaves.
3. (Zoology) (of the feet of most water birds) having three toes connected by a web

3. embrasure (noun)

1. (Fortifications) fortifications an opening or indentation, as in a battlement, for shooting through
2. (Architecture) an opening forming a door or window, having splayed sides that increase the width of the opening in the interior

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Killer Next Door - Alex Marwood - Guest Book Review

Published by Sphere

Guest book review by Janice Lazell-Wood


No. 23 has a secret. In this bedsit-riddled south London wreck, lorded over by a lecherous landlord, something waits to be discovered. Yet all six residents have something to hide.
In the dead of night, a terrible accident pushes the neighbours into an uneasy alliance. But one of them is a killer, expertly hiding their pastime, all the while closing in on their next victim...


No.23 Beulah Grove is a rotten old house divided into bedsits, and it’s owned by the most revolting of landlords, Roy Preece, a vile and obese creature with no morals or hygiene.  He’s desperate for the sitting tenant of the house to die, so he can sell up, move away and live comfortably on the rent proceeds, but she’s not dying nearly quickly enough, so he hatches a plan to help her on her way, a plan that goes horribly wrong.  A plan that leaves the residents unable to go to the police, for fear of their own secrets being discovered, for they have many secrets amongst them…

Cher is an underage care home runaway, living a dangerous day to day existence, Thomas is lonely, boring and just wants some friends, Hossein is an Iranian asylum seeker, Collette is on the run from some very nasty men after doing a bunk with lots of their money, there’s a mysterious man who keeps himself hidden away, playing his music at all hours and interacting with no-one, and finally, there’s sitting tenant Vesta, the matriarch of the group, a woman approaching 70, who’s lived in the house all her life, with nothing to show for it but dusty ornaments and a tea set that once belonged to her parents.

One of these residents is a murderer and we are given full access to their modus operandi in all its graphic and gory detail.  If you can stomach the novels of Mo Hayder and Val McDermid, you’ll be ok reading this, if not, then be warned, it’s not for the fainthearted.  There are shades of how real life killer Dennis Nilsen disposed of his victims here, as well as great detail on how the Egyptians took care of their dead…  The fact that the novel is set during a heatwave, just cranks up the rancid atmosphere of the house!

For me, this was a page turning psychological thriller, one that was devoured in a day.  I have just one gripe, the ending.  It left a question unanswered, however, don’t let this put you off.  Read, enjoy, and treat yourself to a restorative G&T afterwards, you might just need it!

Thanks to Lindsay for the chance to read and review this novel.  I look forward to reading more by the author, Alex Marwood.

Many thanks to Janice for reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library!