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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Simon Becket - Where There’s Smoke by

review written by Brian Lowen and read live on bookshow 8th Sept 2016

Kate Powell owns a marketing agency and employs three staff.

She has just won a contract from a large firm to arrange their marketing, but she is not as happy as she should be. The reason being is that she is a single, independent person who does not want to enter into a relationship with a man but is desperate for a baby, especially as she often spends time with her friend Lucy and her happy family with young children.

She confides in Lucy that she wants a baby and is thinking of going to a clinic for artificial insemination. Lucy is horrified and points out all the problems of bringing up a baby on your own. But Kate is very strong willed and finds an agency where she can choose her donor. She prefers it this way and advertises for a suitable donor in some of the professional type magazines.

She only gets one reply to her advert and when she eventually meets this man she finds that he would be an excellent donor for her baby and so starts the ball rolling with the clinic.

Things are progressing nicely, but after several meetings with her donor she realises that she is falling in love with him. This leads to them spending a night together but then things start to go horribly wrong as she finds out that he is not the man she thought he was. 

This is an unusual subject for a story but it is dealt with very well and although, as a man, I thought this was not a book for me, I did get hooked on the story as the thriller starts to develop until finally reaching a dramatic conclusion.

A great book and a good read as have been all the other books by Simon Becket that I have read.

Gordon John Thomson - In Winter’s Grip

review written by Brian Lowen and read live on bookshow 8th Sept 2016

This is an historical thriller sent in the period after the Second World War in the terrible winter of 1947 when Britain was suffering from the after effects of the war and life was hard going in those days. 

The story is centred on Newcastle – on – Tyne where a beautiful young German girl is on trial for murder. Jack Raisbeck, the owner of a struggling shipyard, where Elsa worked, is convinced that she is innocent but finds himself helpless as he is unable to prove her innocence.

Jack is physically scarred facially following the torpedoing of his destroyer during the war, but he has fallen in love with Elsa. He must, however, rely on Elsa’s barrister to prove her not guilty.
Alexander Galbraith, her defence lawyer is doing his best, having been funded by Jack, but has problems of his own as his wife Virginia has found out that he is having a homosexual relationship with his young assistant.

Jack also has problems as the murdered Dutch victim was designing a new type of dredger that Jack’s shipyard is building for a wealthy Dutch shipping magnate and the project is behind on its completion due to the terrible winter which is causing the delays. 

The story is set over the period of the trial and we get flashbacks that tell us Elsa’s previous life and the hard times she suffered before getting to England.

A good story with scenic descriptions of the awful weather conditions and what it was like living in those times. I enjoyed the book but was not too happy with the ending as I always like to see a happy ending!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Jojo Moyes - the Horse Dancer

 review written and read live on the bookshow by Ro Bennett Aug 2016.

I started to listen to this book on the library One click audio but ended up buying it as well. For me it was a gripping and emotional story. I felt really involved with all the characters and their heartaches, struggles and successes. 

At first the reader is introduced to Henri Lachappelle who was a highly talented horseman who trained at Le Cadre Noir, an exclusive French riding school, dedicated to the finest horsemanship. I Googled Le Cadre Noir and watched some Youtube videos of horses performing there and it is amazing. Henri is a grand father now and caring for his grand daughter Sarah. They are living in a rather deprived London council estate and in an effort to protect his granddaughter from the crime that surrounds them, Henri has bought a horse for Sarah. Not any old pony, but a fantastic Selle Francaise called Boo. He is teaching her all the skills he acquired fifty years previously. Sarah shares his love for horses and has inherited his talent. As the story unfolds the reader learns just why Henri is living in poverty so far from home and as sole carer of his grand daughter. Then disaster strikes and fourteen-year-old Sarah is left to fend for herself…

Enter successful lawyer Natasha Macauley who is in the process of divorcing her husband Mac. The situation is strained as they are still having to share a house.  Fate throws  Natasha and Sarah together, but a brittle, tense woman and a lonely, hurt, confused and angry teenager don’t make for a harmonious relationship. Especially since Sarah appears to be a delinquent who skives off school, lies, steals and puts herself in hazardous situations in order to protect a carefully guarded secret. 

I was drawn into the emotions of this book. My heart was in my mouth as Sarah was drawn deeper and deeper into a web of petty crime, deception and danger. It looked more and more unlikely that she would be able to extricate herself without lasting damage and harm and I was longing for her to tell Natasha what was going on and ask for help. But Sarah didn’t trust anyone, least of all exasperated Natasha. 

I could empathise with Natasha’s sense of betrayal and anger and hurt and her feeling of being completely out of her depth, not knowing what to do for the best and feeling totally inadequate and a complete failure despite her best efforts. The situation looked increasingly hopeless as the wedge between them kept growing. 

The book was full of suspense but wasn’t all gloom and doom. There were heart warming aspects which balanced it and kept me turning the pages. This is the sort of book that I will remember. Excellent book, highly recommended!

Geraldine Brooks - The Book Reader

 review written and read live on the bookshow by Ro Bennett Aug 2016.
This is another book I listened to, but this time from the library Borrow Box Audio service. I bought this book as well. Sometimes the books are light and easy to listen to but sometimes, as in this case they are more meaty and I like the printed version to refer to at times. 

Mentioning listening, the only problem I frequently have with audio books are the dire accents and this book was no exception. The woman’s reading voice was fine but each time she attempted different accents for different characters it was so dire I found it intensely irritating and off putting. On more than one occasion I was tempted to abandon listening and just read the book, but I do like to listen to something as I do my chores. 

Having had my moan - despite this, it was a good book, the subject was interesting and it was very well researched. 
When Hanna Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript which has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of war torn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring The Sarajevo Haggadah to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival.

The Sarajevo Haggadah really exists. The Haggadah is the story of the escape of the Children of Israel from Egypt and is read at the Jewish Passover Seder every year. This actual illuminated manuscript was produced in Spain in the 14th century. It is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible, from Creation through to the death of Moses. 
There is much information about it, as well as reproductions of the pictures, on Google.
The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were all expelled by the Alhambra Decree in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 16th century. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.
During World War II, the manuscript was hidden from the Nazis by the Museum's chief librarian, who at risk to his own life, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo. He gave it to a Muslim cleric who hid it under the floorboards of either a mosque or a Muslim home. In 1992 during the Bosnian War the Haggadah manuscript survived a museum break-in and it was discovered on the floor during the police investigation by a local Inspector, with many other items thieves believed were not valuable. Then it survived in an underground bank vault during the siege of Sarajevo by Serb forces. To quell rumours that the government had sold the Haggadah in order to buy weapons, the president of Bosnia presented the manuscript at a Jewish community Seder in 1995.

This is an amazing story in itself and obviously fired the imagination of the author. The history of Derviš Korkut, who saved the book from the Nazis, was told in an article by Geraldine Brooks in The New Yorker magazine. The article also sets out the story of the young Jewish girl, Mira Papo, whom Korkut and his wife hid from the Nazis as they were acting to save the Haggadah. In a twist of fate, as an elderly woman in Israel, Mira Papo secured the safety of Korkut's daughter during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Altogether the whole thing is fascinating.  

Geraldine Brooks, was a newspaper correspondent in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war and was fortunate enough to have witnessed the uncovering of the book in Sarajevo. She has also done meticulous research on the art of book conservation, and on what can be deduced about a book's history from microscopic examination, not only of the parchment and the colours, but also from tiny foreign bodies that have been trapped in the book. 

In the story an insect’s wing, a white hair, wine and salt stains were discovered. Like a detective Hanna proceeds to try and trace the book's earlier history, moving backwards from the present. What was the significance of these clues? Which part of the world did the insect come from, and was the white hair human? Was it cut or plucked? what happened to the silver clasps which were missing, and why was the Haggadah so lavishly illuminated at a time when Jewish belief was firmly against illustrations of any kind?  
The chapters alternate between Hanna's present day life with all its current dramas, and historical fiction, taking us back through time and concentrating on each era’s affect on the Haggadah. So it explores the persecution of the Jews in recent times and back to the Spanish Inquisition, times of terrible turmoil and upheaval. I could have done without the gory details of the cruelty and barbarity, but I suppose that is an integral part of the history.  
At the front of the book there is a map which traces the imagined global journey of the Haggadah. At the back there is an afterword about the author. In Hebrew you would say ‘Kol haKavod’ - ‘all the honour’. She has written a magnificent book, a lot of hard work went into researching it and the result is excellent. A copy of the Sarajevo Haggadah was given to former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mustafa Ceric during the awards ceremony for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Faith Shorts competition in December 2011. The Grand Mufti presented it as a symbol of interfaith cooperation and respect, while recounting the protection of the Jewish book by Muslims on two occasions in history.

David Baldacci - The Winner

review written and read live on bookshow by Brian Lowen Aug 2016 

LuAnn Tyler is living in abject poverty in an old caravan in Charlottesville in the US with a young baby and a drunken husband who is out of work.

She works as a waitress in a truck stop café, keeping her baby under the counter.
She is seen here by the mysterious Mr Jackson who later makes her an offer she finds hard to believe. He says that he can make her win the national lottery which this month has reached $100 million. She is undecided what to do but then when she comes back home to find her husband has been murdered and the murderer is still in the caravan, a fight ensues and she ends up killing him.

She is now on the run from the police and phones Jackson to accept his offer. She buys a lottery ticket and gives the numbers to Jackson. Then she travels to New York with her baby, Lisa, all at Jackson’s expense where she wins the lottery. The conditions that Jackson imposed is that he banks the money and just pays her a substantial amount each month.
He will invest the money over a period of ten years and then pay her the capital back at the end of that time.

As she is on the run from the police, Jackson gets her out of the country and sends her on a world tour with Lisa and also Charlie, who was originally appointed by Jackson to look after her in New

York. Jackson tells her that she must never return to the States but after ten years continual travelling she is homesick and comes back home, which is when her troubles really start.

A canny reporter, Donovan, has been investigating the National Lottery and wants to speak to her, but luckily she has found a local builder, who was working for her, falls in love with her, and who decides to help her through her problems. Matthew Riggs is an ex FBI man also with a troubled past and they both work together to thwart Jackson who is furious that LuAnn has come back to the States.

Another great story from David Baldacci that really grips you and holds your attention right through the book until it reaches its thrilling climax.

Well recommended.

Simon Beckett - Stone Bruises

review written and read live on bookshow by Brian Lowen Aug 2016
Sean is on the run. We don’t know why or who he is running from but we do gradually learn this in flashbacks throughout the story.

We meet him as he is abandoning his battered, blood stained car in the depths of rural France in the height of the summer heat.

He takes to the road and starts walking, hitch hiking lifts, but when he stops for a rest in a cool wood he steps on a vicious animal trap and cannot move. He calls for help as he cannot move and feels he is going to die. He sinks into unconsciousness but then is rescued by the two daughters who live on the farm wherein the wood is situated. He is taken down to the farm buildings and kept in a dilapidated barn where he is restored to health, although still having to use a crutch, because of his crushed leg.

When their Father, the surly farmer Ahmed finds out he is being kept there he is furious and demands that Sean do some work to pay for his keep. As Sean struggles to help on the farm he explores this remote place with its locked gates, run down vineyard and brooding lake  and so his adventures begin as he discovers the horrific secrets of this chilling place.

A great story which I thoroughly enjoyed. The atmosphere of the place is well portrayed as are the characters on the farm. You

feel nothing much is happening but it is still a gripping story. Well recommended.

Gregory David Roberts - The Mountain shadow

review by showhost, sept 2016.
If you loved Shantaram you will like this one (my opinion - not as good as Shantaram).  It is a massive tome with over 800 pages and in hardback so no easy read when you are reading in bed.  It was lovely to meet up with old friends like Didier, Abdullah, Karla and of course Shantaram himself.
Shantaram, for those who never read it, was based on a true story of an Australian who broke out of prison and ran to Bombay to hide.  He ended up working and living in the slums and became a non qualified doctor to those slum dwellers & friend.  They call him Lin.  He made his money forging passports working for the mafia (the company).  He had so many risky adventures, police brutality and gang violence plus a stint in Afghanistan that I was amazed he survived.  He also sat in council with the very wise Khaderbhai.
In this sequel, Lin/Shantaram comes back from a stint away to find things have changed in the company which was Khaderbhai’s and not all to his liking, nor is the new leader Sanjay.  Shantaram is living with Lisa but still in love with Karla whom he has not seen for 2 years.  Karla has married Ranjit.  The company is not being run with the same wisdom or fairmess of play.  When a girl and her drug addicted boyfriend, who are travellers in India, buy some bad drugs, the boyfriend dies. Sharantam traces the bad stuff back to the company he works for and it starts to question his believe in what he is doing.  There are also people being brought into the company who are not good people – one of them a big Irishman Concannon who puts a 24 hour contract out on Shantaram.
Karla comes back into his life through her husband who is worried for her safety because of his dodgy business dealings.  He wants Shantaram to protect her from his enemies due to his shifty dealings with money.
Shantaram is sent away to Sri Lanka on a business deal.  On his return his girlfriend Lisa is dead – verdict is overdose.  Shantaram and those close to him do not believe it and they vow to find who was with her in his flat before she dies.
Hope starts to glimmer for Shantaram and Karla but it is a very tentative relationship.  Karla wants him to give up his dodgy illegal business and join her in her ligit PI for lost loves business.  Their paths continually cross and unwind.
There is an awful lot of ‘musing’ of gurus and wise men which pads out the book.  I enjoyed these in the first book as there weren’t that many and I understood them but felt there was way too much in this sequel plus most of them I didn’t understand especially the pages on the spiritual talk with Idriss.  But that aside (in fact I skipped some of these pages and didn’t miss a beat with the story) I really enjoyed the book when things/action happened and also enjoyed catching up with old characters again and meeting some new ones.  You must read Shantaram first to appreciate this sequel