A review of Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

blog book review of Miss Kopp

Seeing ‘Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit’ pop up on my NetGalley suggestions reminded me how much I absolutely loved ‘Girl Waits With Gun’, the first in the ‘Kopp Sisters’ series of novels. So I couldn’t resist requesting it, even though I have not yet read books two and three in the series (me bad!), but having read this, I will definitely have to go back and catch up! Although, to be clear, you don’t need to have read the others in order to enjoy this one.

In book four, Deputy Kopp has now been in her role for a year with the New Jersey Police. She is still struggling to overcome the inherent misogyny directed at her from the general public and her colleagues, as well as manage her friendship with Sheriff Heath whose wife is not happy about Constance’s presence at the station. Especially as it’s election time, and there are a lot of people who don’t like Deputy Kopp…

With several sub-plots about the various guilty (and not-so-guilty) female inmates of the jail, this book takes you on a roller-coaster journey where you are rooting for Miss Kopp at every high and low of her exciting yet challenging life.

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The master of storytelling – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: A review of The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Blog book review The Labyrinth of the Spirits

The Shadow of the Wind left a lasting impression on me when I read it on publication 17 years ago (and on subsequent re-reads). The next novels in the sequence, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, had the same effect. And now I can add The Labyrinth of the Spirits to that list. For those of you who have been holding out for this, the final novel in Zafon’s The Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet, you’re in for a treat. And for those of you who haven’t been fortunate to read his novels yet, I strongly recommend you start. Right now.

Described as, “…an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives”, The Labyrinth of the Spirits combines the genres of fairy tale, thriller, romance and detective stories to provide an extraordinary reading experience.

It was a genuine treat to welcome my old friends, Daniel Sempere and Fermin Romero de Torres, back into my life, and have the opportunity to revisit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, still one of my most favourite fictional places of all time. Even more delightful was meeting Zafon’s latest creation, Alicia Gris, one of the most extraordinary anti-heroes ever to be captured in the pages of a book. Seductive, tortured, sensitive and  cruel, Alicia is a tour de force.

In Labyrinth, Daniel is now a young man, running the Sempere & Sons bookshop in 1950s Barcelona, sharing this life with his loving wife and son. Yet he still frets over his mother’s death and feels the shadows from his past, and hers, threatening his happiness. When Alicia enters his life, and re-enters Fermin’s, the stage is set for the final chapter in Daniel’s search for the truth about Isabella Sempere.

Dazzled, obsessed, haunted… this could describe many of the characters in The Labyrinth of the Spirits, but  definitely describes me while reading it; I could not put this book down! 

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

blog book review of The Psychology of Time Travel

A thought-provoking, page-turning, complexly plotted, fabulous read!

Imagine that time travel was actually possible – what would that be like?  Who would own the ‘rights’? What would the ramifications to history be? What would the constant changes in time do to a time traveller’s circadian rhythm? And what would you do if you knew a crime had been committed in another time?

All of these questions, and more, are answered imaginatively and creatively by Kate Mascarenhas; she even includes a time travel glossary at the back of the book to help the reader understand the time travellers’ jargon as they flash backwards and forwards in time, intersecting with their ‘green’ selves and their ‘silver’ selves, as well as their fathers, granddaughters and friends.

Focusing on four female time travel pioneers, The Psychology of Time Travel is a dazzling debut novel from Kate Mascarenhas. For anyone who loved The Time Traveller’s Wife or Arcadia, this is for you.

The Last, Hanna Jameson

blog book review of The Last

Dystopian present/future? Check.
Modern take on the ‘country house murder mystery’ genre? Check.
Conflicted narrator? Check.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is a fast-moving, yet thought-provoking, exploration of what happens when a set of strangers thrown together by chance have to cope with a catastrophic world event. Far from family and friends, with no access to the internet or any form of news, limited supplies, and the constant threat of looters and raiders, the guests at L’Hotel Sixieme support each other, turn on each other, prey on each other but ultimately come to rely on each other in their new post-nuclear world.

The restricted setting of the hotel and grounds for the majority of the novel creates a suffocating, sometimes threatening environment, and cranks up the tension as Jon Keller, the main protagonist, insists on investigating the murder of the dead child found on the premises in the days after the nuclear bombs hit the US and Europe. Any more detail will entail spoilers so I won’t say any more except that I really enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book” (Hemingway) – a review of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

blog book review of Bookworm

Never has the old adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover been proved more wrong. You can and you should. Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading is beautiful inside and out. A tribute to the extraordinary importance that books have in childhood. I laughed, nodded my head vigorously, and even shed a tear as I read this wonderful memoir.

childrens-stories.jpgIn one of those coincidences that life throws at you, I visited my parents while reading Bookworm. My dad casually mentioned that there were a couple of boxes of mine still up in the loft and I should go through them as he was planning a clear out. And oh, how glad I am that I did. I opened up the boxes and there were some of my old childhood friends. The rush of nostalgia when I saw the covers overwhelmed me. Many of my favourites have sadly been lost, or donated, over the years so it was a very eclectic mix that remained. But every book had a history for me. And I spent a couple of hours exclaiming happily over each and every book in those boxes.

I had the same feeling reading Bookworm.  Reading as a child, I would frequently emerge dazed and blinking, hours after first picking up the book, confused as to why I wasn’t in Narnia, fleeing from a laboratory with my fellow rats, ice skating with Hatty in the moonlight, or making a shelter from willow branches on a secret island.

My parents supported, but were slightly baffled by, my constant urge to read. Breakfast (“put that book down and eat your toast!”), still breakfast (“are you reading the cereal box?! just finish your breakfast!”), post school/pre-tea time (“why don’t you go and run around outside?”), bedtime (“alright, one more chapter”), still bedtime (“lights off now”), still bedtime (give me that torch), still bedtime (“you’ll ruin your eyes sitting in the windowsill using light from streetlamp, for the last time, stop reading and go to sleep”)…you get the idea.

The only way to keep me in books was our local library. Without fail, every week my dad would take me to there (and in school holidays, twice a week, such a treat that was!) where he would patiently wait as I agonised over which five books to check out. And every birthday and Christmas, my mum would make sure that all the relatives knew which books I did(n’t) own or hadn’t read, in a vain attempt to ensure that I received books I hadn’t already read.

owl afraid of the darkAs adults we forget that intense love and passion we had for our books as children. How we could read and reread the same book over and over again. Every now and then I still have a flash of that childhood passion, like when I come across a particular  edition of the The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. [He was an owl. He had issues. He was called Plop. He was perfect in my eyes.] I read and reread Plop’s story so many times. And every time I finished the story, I felt the same sense of satisfaction that Plop had managed to overcome his fears.  Another children’s book that I reread obsessively was The Secret Garden. It was a revelation to me; the main character was a girl, but not a sweet ‘setting an example’ kind of girl, but a grumpy one. A girl who gave as good as she got, who could scream louder than a boy, a girl who had an adventurous spirit and who wasn’t afraid. Mary Lennox, I salute you.

Reading this memoir, it felt as if Mangan was telling the story of MY childhood reading; every chapter of her book journey reflects a step I took on my reading journey (I suspect we are a similar age!). The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Garden Gang (The Garden Gang!!). Enid Blyton. Roald Dahl. Tom’s Midnight Garden. The horsey books. Narnia. The boarding school stories (Ah, Chalet School!). The dystopian future books (Z for Zachariah, Changes). Judy Blume who gave me the courage that I would survive my teenage angst. And last, but certainly not least, I Capture the Castle.

This is a memoir for anyone who loved books as a child, who saw them as friends, who could quote whole chunks from them. And for anyone who still loves reading as an adult.

 

I am, I am, I am by Maggie O’Farrell

blog book review of I am I am I am

I read this in hardback when it was first released (as I do all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books) but the recent release of the paperback prompted me to go back and reread it.

And thank goodness I did. Once again I got to marvel at the perfect tone of her stories and her lyricism. What struck me, as I read her stories, is her sense of optimism and above all her will. Her will to survive. Her will to succeed. Her will to carry on carrying on. There is not a single self-pitying sentence in the entire book. Her wit and her wisdom shine through every page, but not in a saintly way – she is matter of fact and tells her tales warts and all.

You would be forgiven for thinking that 17 brushes with death (well 16, those who have read it will understand my caveat) would make O’Farrell maudlin, fearful, or see herself as ‘unlucky’. But, as she tells an ex-boyfriend, she sees herself as lucky.

I read this book in a single sitting the first time, and again this time round. And I suspect I will, the third and fourth time (ad infinitum) that I read this. And you should to.

My love affair with libraries

blog banner libraries

My love affair with libraries started more than 35 years ago when my parents first took me to our local library and registered me there. To a child who read voraciously this was a gift that kept on giving. To know that I could walk up to the shelves, pick up a book, any book, and hand it over to the nice librarian to have my card stamped and take it home with me to read was intoxicating. On each visit I always checked out the maximum quantity of five and there were times, in the school holidays, when my parents would have to take me twice a week to keep up with my reading demands.

Looking back with an adult’s eyes, I don’t think it was a particularly attractive library, with its fluorescent strip lighting and cheap shelving. But it was beautiful to me.  I felt a thrill every time I crossed the tiled floor of the foyer in the Victorian municipal building where the library was housed, walking past the librarian’s desk to the children’s section where I would choose my next reading adventures with more care than I applied to any other decision I made at that age.

Then I moved away, to university to read English Literature and Language where (in that pre-digital age) a library once again became the centre of my life. I haunted the book stacks there, working my way through bound copies of Blackwood’s Magazines to find contemporary reviews of Victorian novels, reading up on literary theories and criticism and generally enjoying the fact that I could read for many hours a day and call it ‘work’.

Once I started paid work (for a publisher, you may be noticing a theme developing here!) I didn’t visit libraries for a while. I was earning so could afford to buy books (particularly with my publisher discount!). Then my husband and I moved to Australia and the local library became a lifeline once more while I was looking for work; free books to read, somewhere to while away the hours between interviews, free Internet access, a book group where I could meet people.

But the most significant library to me was the one I joined when we moved to Raleigh NC in the US. When we first arrived my husband started his job straight away, but I couldn’t work to start with as I had to wait to be allocated a social security number (which took six months in total, long story). This meant that I was six months without a bank account, a state drivers license, a job. In other words not many ways to fill my days. Luckily there was an amazing library only a 15-minute cycle away, at Cameron Village. This place saved my sanity. The library felt so welcoming, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and it had a truly amazing array of books over two levels. |i went there two, maybe three times a week.And it hosted so many book groups! I joined four, yes four, book groups. Meaning that I got to meet up with people who were as passionate about reading as I was every single week. And was introduced to books I would never have picked up if not for them.

After moving back to Melbourne (and rejoining my local library!) and living there for a few years, we finally moved back to the UK but to Cheshire not my native Oxfordshire. So once again, I was in an unfamiliar town where I didn’t know anyone and I was freelancing from home therefore not meeting anyone through work. So what did I do? You guessed it. Joined the local library. And I have also been working my way around the amazing libraries that Manchester has to offer: Central Library, John Ryland’s Library, Portico Library, and Chetham’s Library (oldest public library in the English-speaking world), to name but a few.

Okay, so I am not sure how to end this article as really I just wanted to witter on about my love of libraries and didn’t really have an end point planned when I started this. So why don’t I finish by saying that if libraries aren’t used, they disappear.

Visit your local library. Support your local library. Love your local library.