Book Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist

Title: The Other Typist

Author: Suzanne Rindell – read all about her!

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Fig Tree (Penguin)

Publication Date: 23rd May 2013.

Hardback: 368

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone – author’s debut novel.

Why did I choose to read this book? I picked this up at the Penguin Bloggers Party and have only just got around to reading it (mentally slaps self on the wrist).

Where to read? Take a corner table at ’69 Colebrooke Row’, a prohibition themed bar in Angel, London. Or if you put the book down for 5minutes take a trip to the ‘Ginstitute’ to learn more about making your own cocktail!

Refreshments: I would certainly steer clear of ‘bootleg gin’ and instead opt for one of these more civilized cocktails courtesy of the Telegraph and for a snack on the side try your hand at smoked salmon blinis (it’s recommended!)

Review:

Its 1924 prohibition has swept through America and New York City is a hotbed of secret doors and makeshift distilleries. In this world we meet straight-laced Rose Baker a typist for the police. She spends her days with criminals and her evenings alone. That is until the enigmatic Odalie steps into the precinct and Rose finds herself captivated by her new colleague. As Rose falls further into Odalie’s dazzling and dark world, she finds herself inextricably linked to the path Odalie has chosen. It is not long before Rose’s fascination becomes an obsession.

The story is narrated by Rose; she is our eyes and ears on all the other characters. By using this style Rindell has given us insight into a deep and complex character enabling us to fully immerse ourselves in their life. At times Rose’s naivety and dedication to Odalie’s friendship in the face of common sense can get frustrating to read. However, this is offset by the descriptions of her acquaintances, especially that of her old roommate Helen and the Sergeant.

I was also a big fan of the period in which Rindell places her characters which suits them and their lives perfectly. From the pith sayings, hidden entrances and glamorous clothes you can easily picture each dazzling scene that so entrances Rose.

The stories of obsession and intrigue, surrounding our two central characters, tease the reader throughout the book. No detail is explicit. Whether you’re reading about Rose’s past as an orphan in the convent, or the appearance of Teddy bringing with him a possible explanation for Odalie’s behaviour, Rindell places your firmly in the detective seat. These sequences are so blurred that by the final chapters I was left wondering if they were in fact one and the same woman.

Rindell has woven a beautifully dark novel whose film rights I’m sure will be snapped up in no time!

Rating: 8 out of 10 – dark and disturbing.

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Book Review: My Holiday Reading

how-it-all-beganPrincess BrideAgent6

Where: I was lucky enough to go to Ecuador for two and a half weeks this May and cruise the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon Rainforest.

Check out my article about the Galapagos Islands Cruise courtesy of Veloso Tours

Check out my article about the Manatee Amazon Cruise courtesy of Veloso Tours

Eating & Drinking: Ecuador loves their pork and corn so a lot of meals centered around these two hearty ingredients, as well as empanadas and a rather addictive chili sauce.

It was also interesting to learn that Ecuadorians love their soups, they eat it every lunch time. One of the most traditional of these being the Locro Di Papa, Potato soup, which is served with cheese, avocado and corn in it to give variety of texture – delicious.

Wine is not in abundance, the one wine producer also owns the main supermarket chain so he has the monopoly on that market! Most wines are imported from Chile and it’s quite disconcerting to find a bottle of ‘Casiellero del Diablo’ being sold for $40USD. Instead it’s better to make the most of the local beers, Pilsner and Cerveza or a warm glass of Canelazo.

Highlights: Deep-water snorkeling every day around the Galapagos Islands. I swam with sea lions, sharks, penguins, giant turtles and a ridiculous amount of fish! Definitely need a waterproof camera next time.

Disappointments:  Apart from the early wake up calls some mornings. The only worry was Iberian Airlines. It might just be I am little spoilt from previous long haul flights with the likes of Air New Zealand or Etihad, but I didn’t think it was too much to ask for your own entertainment screen on a 11hour flight –  is it?

Books:

1. The Princess Bride (abridged) by William Goldman.

This is a fantasy romance novel based around the lives of the most beautiful woman in the world, Buttercup, and the love of her life, Westley. When Wesley leaves to go and make his fortune a fairytale like no other begins. From fencing, fighting, torture, poison,  revenge, giants, hunters, beasts, escapes, passion and miracles you’re unlikely to read anything like this again.

However, this is definitely a fairytale for grown ups. Prince Humperdinck is not a very nice man, he and his advisor both have a penchant for hunting and researching the limits of man’s pain threshold. To have a Zoo of Death as part of your castle goes some way to explaining the character, and their scheming and subterfuge are both as entertaining as they are shocking.

Although, I enjoyed the book I think I would have preferred it without the running commentary. I found myself enjoying some of the anecdotal passages, but at times they went on for too long (3-4 pages) and I ended up flipping past them. However, these passages weren’t to the detriment of the story as it always picked up where it left off.

 Rating: 7 out of 10 – reminded me of a dark version of the film Stardust, although a lot more disturbing.

2How it all began by Penelope Lively.

When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip it sets off a chain of life-altering events for acquaintances and strangers across London, beautifully illustrating the ability of one life to be changed by someone we will never meet.

This was my favourite holiday read, and one I exhanged in a book swap aboard the Manatee in the Amazon. The story is not action packed or overly dramatic, but it is extremely thoughtful and the lines between the characters are woven very intelligently.

My favourite character was the central protagonist, Charlotte and not just because ‘after a few pages of the Da Vinci Code, she knew she could go no further with this.’ She is quiet, reflective and fiercely independent all at the same time not to mention has a passion for reading herself. Another favourite is Jeremy’s hysterical wife Stella.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – the intricacies and level of detail are deliciously entertaining.

3. Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

The third installment of Smith’s Leo Demidov series is set in 1965. Demidov is now retired and married with two adopted girls, struggling to leave his secret agent life behind him he finds suspicion and intrigue at every corner. When the opportunity arises for his wife and daughters to go to America he is worried for their safety and quite rightly as a tragic murder soon destroys everything he holds dear. Demidov will stop at nothing to find the killer that has crushed his family.

As a lover of history I found the details of Soviet Russia and the intrigue surrounding the country’s society exceptionally well researched. Smith clearly has a keen interest in this period and  successfully manages to create a real intensity and fear within the pages of his novel.

However, I did find the story a bit long winded especially as the finale was a disappointment. As a reader we jump ahead seven years between chapters and we’re shunted to Afghanistan and America like a yo-yo and as a result the story seems to lose direction.

Rating: 6 out of 10 – would have preferred a more concise action-packed thriller.

Holiday: 10 out of 10!

Book Review: ‘Billy & Me,’ by Giovanna Fletcher

Billy and MeCupcake

Title: Billy and Me

Author: Giovanna Fletcher – author website

Genre: Romantic Fiction, or Chic Lit for short!

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Publication Date: 23rd May 2013.

Paperback: 416

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone (Author’s debut novel)

Why did I choose to read this book? I was invited on the ‘Billy and Me’ Blog Tour, so it would have been rude not to!

Where to read? Our leading lady is such a home bird that it would be apt to just hunker down in a nice armchair with more pillows than you know what to do with. Alternatively, if your furniture is more chic than comfy why not pop over and relax at a cottage in the Cotswolds?

Refreshments: The sparkly lights of celebrity life would probably demand cocktails. Check out the cheaper how-to thanks to the Guardian gurus, or find fancy dancy ones in Madisons, Chelsea, London. Plus don’t forget a cupcake like the one Giovanna designed for me above!

Exclusive Q&A: How does Sophie feel on her first trip down the red carpet?

 Sophie’s firstly trip down the red carpet is on the biggest night of any actor’s career, Bafta night! It’s a huge event, one that attracts highly thought of stars, hoards of crowds and dozens of paparazzi.  For anyone it would be a big deal to attend, but being on the arm of Billy Buskin makes the whole thing a different experience altogether. Billy’s world is still alien to Sophie, so her apprehension of the unknown would be massive.

In the days leading up to the big night Sophie would’ve been nervous knowing people would be watching, which after years of shying away from attention is bound to fill her with fear.

Bafta night is like nothing Sophie has been to before, which isn’t difficult seeing as she’s only been to a dozen or so parties in her life. It’s loud, with thousands of dedicated fans, press and photographers wanting to get Billy’s attention and grab a piece of him. It would be chaotic to say the least. No matter how much Billy has prepped her over what to expect, Sophie isn’t prepared for the volume of noise and craziness. Simply stepping out of the car into the view of the waiting crowd would’ve created a great deal of panic for our Sophie.

Review:

Giovanna Fletcher’s debut novel and is set to storm the Chick Lit charts if initial reviews are anything to go by.

Meet Sophie May, she works in a quaint tea room in the local village outside of London owned by her best friend Molly. One day a chance meeting with teen heart-throb and actor of the hour Billy Buskin rocks her quiet world. Sophie is soon whisked of her feet and their whirlwind romance finds her in the midst of Billy and his friends’ glamorous world. It’s not long until Sophie is brought to earth with a bump. Bored and lonely in Billy’s penthouse she finds the spotlight hard after years of shying away from attention. Can Sophie’s love for Billy overcome her insecurities and fears for the future?

This isn’t conventionally the type of book I read, however, Gi’s central character Sophie May is sure to capture many girls’ hearts. Her shy and insecure personality is endearing as is her strong relationship with her mother and baking queen boss Molly. Although, at times I felt she could have been stronger and more independent, especially when she moves to London a metropolis of culture, music and language and spends her time in the flat waiting for Billy to come home, she is a true chick lit leading lady

The novel’s second namesake Billy is the chick-lit equivalent of Freddie Prinze Jr in ‘She’s All That’– or that’s how I imagined him – and despite the fact, I prefer my heroes with less ‘shrieking’ he is someone most women wouldn’t mind being swept off their feet by. Special mention also has to be made about Billy’s acid tongued agent Paul who was my favourite character, an unusual choice I know!

Giovanna’s debut novel will satisfy your Chick Lit needs and is destined to be on a lot of ladies holiday reading lists – enjoy!

Next stop ‘LeeleeLoves’

Book Review: ‘All the birds, singing’ by Evie Wyld

All the birds, singingEvie-Wyld

Title: All the birds, singing’

Author: Evie Wyld – author website

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House

Publication Date: 20th June 2013.

Hardback: 240

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone (Author’s second novel)

Why did I choose to read this book? Another fantastic choice by my book club, and an early edition due to contacts in the biz!

Where to read? Although the book never really reveals exactly where Jack’s sheep farm is, I think one of these Homestay’s in the Isle of Man would fit quite nicely.

Refreshments: Our book club relies on good snacks so this month we tucked into the healthier option of chips/ crudites (yes we’re fancy) and dip, carrot cake and blackberries all washed down with copious amounts of Yorkshire Tea – is there any other kind?

Review:

Jake Whyte is the lone resident of an old farmhouse. It’s just her, Dog, and a flock of sheep. But not all is calm, something is coming for the sheep. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of a beast. Plus there is Jake’s unknown past, causing her unease in the present, a story hidden in Australia a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

My favourite aspect of this book was the structure. The starting chapters follow a chronological sequence before seamlessly shifting into a fractured series of snapshots of, our main character, Jake’s life. It is through this style of writing that Wyld has created a beautiful narrative, revealing the character to us and developing our relationship with her. This method also enables Wyld to conceal the entire truth of Jake’s life until the bitter end and a shocking denouement.

As this novel was the subject of my book group it was interesting to hear how others had reacted. The overall consensus was that the story was heart wrenching and extremely powerful, however, it was surprising to hear how specific details had been interpreted. This was most notable in the sexual orientation of the characters, from Jake and Karen’s relationship to that of Jake and Lloyd. The specific setting of the sheep farm within the British Isles was also a topic of discussion. This active debate is testament to Wyld’s ability to write an engaging novel with scant narrative embellishment.

No review could really be conducted without a brief discussion of the actual characters. Aside from Jake, the other character that made a lasting impression was Otto, and this was a deeply sinister one. His life and his role within Jake’s life are never explicit and it is left to the reader to make assumptions. Each episode contained often graphic and disturbing descriptions, hinting at a inexplicit threat, especially when a shoe and earring are referenced.

It is also clear that Wyld has drawn upon her childhood in Australia and her present life in Britain in order to capture language idiosyncrasies and jargon. This effectively identifies the different sections of Jack’s life and the reader’s journey between her past and present.

This novel will frustrate some and fascinate other readers. The story is fractured, but the simple narrative makes it easy to follow and sew up the story in your mind. It is a dark and emotional story of one person’s life and how childhood events can shape the rest of your life.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – heart wrenching and beautiful. Will definitely be reading her first novel, ‘After the Fire, a still small voice.’