Monday, 12 April 2010

The Lost Book of Salem - Katherine Howe

Connie Goodwin is pursuing an academic career at Harvard and keeps her feet firmly on the ground.  But when her vague, new age mother asks her to clear out her grandmother's house in the New England town of Marblehead, Connie makes a discovery that will change her life forever.  When she finds the name Deliverance Dane written on a small scroll of paper shoved into an old key hidden in the family bible, her research takes her back in time to the witch trials that were held in nearby Salem in 1692.
When she is offered an exciting new academic position by her professor, Manning Chilton, he hints very firmly that he wants her to discover a new source of reference for her historical studies, one that has never been used before.  Connie becomes very excited when she finds out that Deliverance Dane was directly involved in the Salem Witch Trials, and that she had used a spell or 'Physick Book'.  Determined to track down Deliverance's book, Connie's research leads her into the arms of Sam, a handsome young steeplejack who is restoring an old church in Salem, and straight into the path of danger.  It seems that Connie is not the only person who is desperate to get their hands on Deliverance's spell book, and it is only when Sam's life is put in danger that Connie realises to what extreme lengths she is going to have to go to keep him safe.
The Lost Book of Salem is interesting in the way that the modern day story is intertwined with the story of Deliverance Dane and her daughter and grandaughter.  The story skilfully weaves between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, and it isn't until the end that Connie realises how much these stories of the past are connected to her and her family.
A good book for the summer, and maybe serve it up with a glass of cold beer and a hotdog!

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Genesis Secret - Tom Knox

Dan Brown has a lot to answer for, and like so many books in this genre, The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox opens with the discovery of an extremely violent and bloody ritualistic murder.  It almost seems that the authors are in some kind of competition to see who can think up the most revolting, slow and painful way to die.  So, you have been warned, this is not a novel for the squeamish.  Or you can do what I do, which is skim read the really nasty bits and try not to miss anything important to the story.

So here we go.  The Genesis Secret opens with the discovery of an extremely bizarre. ritualistic murder in Benjamin Franklin's house in London, which is now a museum.  It looks as though the caretaker disturbed a group of burglars digging in the cellar; but why the extreme violence? DCI Forrester has never seen a case like this, and it soon escalates as another body is found in the Isle Of Man that has been ritually murdered.

Meanwhile Rob Luttrell is sent to the arid wastelands of Turkey to write an archaeological piece on a mysterious site called Gobekli Tepe, the oldest temple ever excavated.  Gobekli Tepe is a haunted place, a massive stone temple that had been deliberately buried in tons of earth 8,000 years ago.  The question is why? As Luttrell digs a bit deeper to get a more interesting story, he becomes aware of tensions between the Kurdish workers and the archaeologists. Also the leader of the dig has been behaving oddly, digging alone in the middle of the night, keeping secrets from his staff.  When Breitner is killed in what could just be a nast accident or maybe murder, Luttrell joins forces with Christine, an attractive French archaeologist, to find out what secrets Breitner has been keeping that people considered important enough to kill for.

As the strange, ritual killings continue in England it becomes clear that the killers are looking for something. The life of Luttrell and his loved ones and the highly intelligent, but psychotic, leader of the gang become enmeshed after Luttrell publishes a piece in the paper on his amazing experiences and finding in Kurdistan.  Luttrell has uncovered a secret that the gang want to remain buried forever, and don't mind what they have to do to achieve their goal. The question is can Luttrell move quickly enough to protect Christine and his daughter from suffering the same fate as the gang's other victims. Can he get to the bottom of what has remained a secret for thousands of years? Leaving the police behind he returns to Turkey, following his own instincts and leads, but can he do enough to save his daughter and keep himself and Christine alive?

As to what to have for lunch when reading this book, you might find it best to read on an empty stomach.  Have a large glass of water handy or maybe a small glass of brandy.  The Genesis Secret is a good, pacy thriller, with lots of interesting historical facts thrown in.  But there are some very nasty murders, so to be avoided if you have a very vivid imagination!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The House at Midnight - Lucie Whitehouse

Lucas Heathfield is Jo's best friend, but he has a tangled past and a complicated family history.  All through their days at Oxford, and then when they start working in London, Jo is attracted to Lucas but does not know whether he wants anything more from her than friendship.

Everything changes for Lucas, Jo and their small group of close friends when Lucas inherits the imposing country house, Stoneborough, from his Uncle Patrick.  The charismatic Patrick had very unexpectedly committed suicide, and coming so close after his mother's death, Lucas is devastated.

Lucas wants to share the house and his new wealth with his friends, and they start to visit the house every weekend.  Jo is delighted when Lucas deepens their relationship and they become a couple.  But very soon Jo starts to wonder whether their new relationship can last, especially when Lucas announces that he is giving up his law career in London and moving to Stoneborough permanently to write.  Moreover, their mercurial and manipulative friend Danny is also moving with him, after being fired from his prestigious job.

Jo finds the big house hostile and is aware of currents of dark energy and emotions from long ago swirling through the dark of the night. When Lucas finds a box full of old cine films taken when his uncle, parents and their friends visited Stoneborough, he becomes obsessed with watching them.  Events take a dramatic turn when Jo's unhappiness leads her to give into a new passion and betray Lucas and one of her best friends.

But Lucas cannot let Jo go, and she finds herself repeatedly pulled back to Stoneborough, where Lucas is becoming more unstable and unhappy.  Resolving to break away from the situation forever, Jo wonders what Danny's real agenda is and what lengths he will go to to get his own way.  As Lucas uncovers more secrets from his family's past, the situation at Stoneborough builds to a tense climax.  But will the dark forces that seem to control the house, lead to tragedy once again and claim more victims?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Out of the Shadows - Susan Lewis

Susannah Cates had had a tough three years trying to bring up her teenage daughter alone since her husband had been sent to prison.  Money was tight and Susannah juggled several jobs to make ends meet and get by.  Even her best friend was half a world away in Australia!

Things begin to look up when her best friend Patsy returns to Europe to head up a beauty company's division in Paris and her enterprising teenage daughter, Neve, seeks out Susannah's first love, Alan Cunningham, on Friends Reunited and starts contacting him while pretending to be her mother.  Susannah is at first shocked by her daughter's actions and then thrilled to be caught up in a whirlwind romance with her long-lost first boyfriend.  Patsy enjoys the challenge of her new job in Paris, but is both intrigued and irritated by the enigmatic Frank.  Is she attracted to him and what does he really think of her?

Things move fast for Susannah and while her romance with Alan deepens, she auditions for her first acting role in years and is stunned when they offer her the leading role in a racy, new drama.  Susannah's glamorous new life starts to unfold, but little does she know of the true reasons why Neve has become so depressed and uncommunicative, and that maybe her perfect partner Alan is desperately trying to hide secrets from her that could tear their relationship apart and destroy their reputations forever.

Although this book is well written, I am not sure whether it is trying to be a glamourous 'bonkbuster' on the lines of Jackie Collins or something darker and grittier.  The main theme is very dark indeed, but I feel is trivialised a little by the emphasis on champagne, worldly success and beautiful surroundings.  I suppose a lot of books have a happy ending, but this one seems surreally unrealistic and idyllic especially so soon after the traumatic events that the main characters went through. Or maybe I'm just turning into a grumpy old woman!

A summer book to read by the pool, so champagne seems to be the order of the day for this book along with pate de foie gras.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Rapture - Liz Jensen

An apocalyptic novel set in England a few years into the future, The Rapture by Liz Jensen tracks the story of Gabrielle Fox as she moves into her new life after being paralysed from the waist down in a tragic car accident.  A psychologist by trade, she moves to a small town on the South Coast to try and rebuild her career.
Gabrielle is assigned to the case of Bethany Krall, a very troubled teenager who killed her own mother by stabbing her in the eye and who gets a kick out of her electro-convulsive therapy.  Bethany's previous therapist left suddenly and her case notes are unaccountably missing.
Gabrielle finds that Bethany believes that she can predict various natural disasters that are happening around the world, and after a devastating hurricane and a killer earthquake happen on the dates and in the locations that Bethany prophesied, Gabrielle starts to feel uneasy and finds that she has trouble dismissing them as coincidences.
Gabrielle is also having to come to terms with her own emotional life after she meets the physicist Frazer Melville at a charity event.  Her married lover had been killed in the car accident that had taken the use of Gabrielle's legs and she had also lost her unborn child.  She had come to believe that she would never again have a physical and loving relationship with a man and has to battle with her own insecurities and lack of self-belief as enters into a relationship with Frazer.
With Britain caught in a 'Faith Wave' due to the ravages of global warming and food shortages and many people predicting that the end times had started, Gabrielle tries to untangle Bethany's past as a child of a preacher and get her to open up about what had happened to her mother.  But Bethany's visions seem to become more powerful after each course of ECT and she starts to predict the 'big' one, where floods and lakes of fire will engulf large parts of the country.
Gabrielle and Frazer start to try and convince the world of science that the world is in danger, but as the story draws to a dramatic climax, is Bethany manipulating them more than they realise?  How much does she really know about what is going to happen, and how much depends on her need for revenge on her father?
Not a long novel, but it packs in a lot of ideas on potential environmental disasters, religion, love and insanity.  A good thriller, but a depressing world view, so you'll need some comfort food like sausages, mash and beans with a large glass of wine!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Writing Tips for Aspiring Authors

As the manuscript for the children's fantasy fiction novel that I am writing is (and has been for some months!!) stuck at 50,000 words, I found that reading cindyvine's Hub on writing tips for aspiring authors to be both timely and useful.

cindyvine has written and published a couple of books and in the Hub talks us through how to plan our writing and be disciplined about it.  For any novel to be a success these days, it needs to well written, properly formatted and have a professional-looking cover that will appeal to your target audience.  The Hub also talks about writing about what we know and doing a lot of research to get the details correct.  There would be no point in writing a historical romance set at the time of the The War of the Roses in England if you had no historical knowledge of that period?  All that would happen is that anyone choosing to read that book would probably chuck it straight in the bin or through the open window (yes I have done this!).

So if you are serious about moving your writing career forward and really want to finish that novel that you started read all of writing tips for aspiring authors

Monday, 25 January 2010

Queens Consort - Lisa Hilton

Although up until now The Lunchtime Book Review has mainly stuck to fiction, I do read a lot of non-fiction and one of my favourite subjects is history.  So I used my Christmas book tokens to buy some interesting-looking history books.
One of them was Queens Consort by Lisa Hilton, a book in which she goes through all the Queens of England in the medieaval period from Matilda of Flanders, who was the wife of William the Conquerore, through to Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III.
It is a fascinating insight into how the role of Queen Consort developed in England, what kind of power, influence and duties these women had, and the different characters and temperaments of the various Queens.
Many of these Queen Consorts were foreign princesses who were sent to marry a stranger in a foreign land, often at a very young age.  How much of their culture were they able to bring to the English Court?  How difficult was it for these young princesses to adapt to their new way of life and new position?
Queens Consort is a fascinating read and one that you can do in bite-sized chunks as  there is a separate section for each Queen.  It will sharpen up your knowledge of medieval English history, and I found that sometimes I needed to go and do some further background research if one of the events written about particularly interested me and I previously didn't know too much about it!
One for a packet of digestive biscuits and a large mug of strong tea!  More non-fiction will be coming your way - you have been warned!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Ghost Orchid - Carol Goodman

Ellis Brooks arrives at the great house of Bosco to write a novel based on the events surrounding a seance, several mysterious deaths, and the disappearance of a little girl in the late nineteenth century.  Bosco has been set up as a retreat for writers and artists and its ruined gardens which are famous for its many fountains that no longer work and broken statuary are being surveyed to see if they can be returned to their earlier magnificence.

But as Ellis delves deeper into the those events from the past, it is as if the past is coming alive again and that something or someone needs their story to be told.  Was Corinth Blackwell the medium who was brought to Bosco in order to contact Aurora Latham's dead children a fraud?  And what was her relationship with the master of the house, Milo Latham and the charismatic Tom Quinn?

As Ellis gets to grips with the horrific events that unfolded over those few days long-ago, the past seems to be affecting all of the artists who were working at Bosco - Nat the one-novel wonder, Bethesda the autobiograpy writer, Zalman the poet and David who is surveying the fountains and gardens to see if they can be restored.

A local legend of an Indian maiden who threw herself from a cliff after being betrayed by her lover seems to haunt the gardens and Aurora Latham's dead children make their prescence felt.  As Ellis's own love life becomes more complicated, can she unravel the mysteries of the past in time to save those living there in the present?  As the accidents pile up along with the winter snow, Bosco slowly reveals it secrets and the true extent of the tragedies that had once engulfed those residents of 1893.

The Ghost Orchid is written in the style of a Gothic romance/horror and is full of rich imagery and a strong sense of a crueller past, where children frequently died at an early age, pregnant woman were shunned and sometimes took their own lives and rich men could buy whatever they wanted.  It is also a story about finding your true self and how you can only run so far before you are forced to turn and look at who you really are.

One to read on a cold winter's night with a big mug of hot, sweet tea and some toasted tea cakes dripping with butter!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Greatest Lost Books

Have you ever wondered how many great books have been written that have been entirely lost to history? This great Hub by Arthur Windermere explores some of the truly great books that are known to have been in existence but have disappeared into the swirl of history.

Arthur Windermere talks about books and plays by Pletho, Cicero, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Heraclitus, Aeschylus and Melville that have been lost to us and are only know through snippets and references in other works of literature.

To read all of this fascinating Hub click here

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Sign - Raymond Khoury

The Sign by Raymond Khoury is a fast moving thriller where the action moves from Antarctica to Egypt and then on to the United States. Gracie Logan is an up and coming journalist whose news team is investigating the splitting off of huge pieces of ice from cliffs of the Antarctic when they are the first to witness 'The Sign'; an amazing display of lights that moved, shimmered and changed before disappearing as mysteriously as it arrived. Is 'The Sign' a natural occurrence, has it been sent from aliens or is it a sign from God that all is not well with the planet? Not sure what to make of this amazing phenomenon, Gracie receives a call inviting them to Egypt, where an old priest who has been living as a recluse in a cave has been drawing the very same sign on the walls of the cave for several months.

As the world is whipped into a frenzy by what is meant by 'The Sign', Gracie and her team travel to Egypt to meet with the saintly Father Jerome. But the appearance of another sign over the arctic and then over the head of Father Jerome on the roof of the monastery makes it very dangerous for them to stay at the ancient Coptic monastery as a large mob gathers outside the walls. They need to get Father Jerome away to safety; somewhere where his presence will not trigger religious riots and he will be safe.

Meanwhile back in the United States Matt Sherwood learns that his beloved brother Danny might not be dead after all, and that he might still be being held captive somewhere. On a crusade to find the truth and his brother, he realises that he has gotten on the wrong side of some very powerful people. He has to go on the run after he was set up as the murderer of one of his brother's associates, and teams up with another of his brother's old friends, Jabba, after saving his life from the thugs who are after them.

As Gracie starts to realise that all is not as it seems regarding Father Jerome and 'The Sign' and Matt begins to work out what Danny was working on and which powerful people he is dealing with the danger both for them and the world grows. They learn that a dream of idealism to create a better, greener world has been hi-jacked for the sake of personal power and that it is beginning to unfold and unravel.

A thriller based on one man's desire to save the world and shock it into a cleaner, greener way of living. Matt Sherwood is an all-action hero; a one-time bad boy come good. His physical prowess and ability to take out large amounts of armed, trained men strained my credulity at times, but it is rollicking, fast-moving story. And I don't think you need me to tell you where the love interest happens! Fix an organic avocado and prawn salad and sip a nice glass of organic white wine with this one!

The Library of Shadows - Mikkel Birkegaard

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard is an unusual thriller set in Denmark and Egypt. Jon Campelli is a lawyer leading a professionally busy if somewhat emotionally sterile life in Copenhagen. His mother has been dead for many years and his bookseller father, Luca, refuses any contact with him. Jon's career star is in the ascendant when he hears the shattering news that his father has died and he is drawn into the strange and shadowy world of the Libri di Luca,the book shop that he has inherited from his father.

He is drawn into the strange and mysterious world of the Lectors; those rare and talented people who can influence other people's feelings and thoughts when they are reading, and who can even charge books with a special energy just by reading from them. The Transmitters can manipulate a listener's experience when they are reading aloud and influence how they are responding to the text and affect their emotions and ideas about the story they are hearing, while the Receivers can tune into what is being read by someone and amplify and distort the feelings and thoughts that they have whilst reading. A Transmitter and Receiver who work well together can be a formidable combination. Jon is also introduced to the disturbing theory that his father did not after all die of a heart attack but was some how murdered.

The Transmitters and Receivers used to be united in one Society, but now they are split apart and are very wary and distrustful of each other. Jon agrees to investigate his father's death and at the same time is given a new client to work with at his law firm; the slippery, evasive businessman Remer. As Jon get to work on his investigations with the help of his father's business associate Iversen and a beautiful Receiver that his father mentored called Katherina, he tries to bring the Transmitters and Receivers together, but this fragile trust is broken when the Lectors begin to die in mysterious circumstances.

As the plot thickens and the elusive Remer seems to show an unusual interest in the Libri di Luca, Jon turns to one of his clients for help. Mehmet is an Internet nerd who make his living from winning prizes in online competitions and helps Jon hack into computers and emails to extract the information they need.

Will Jon be able to find out who is behind the murders before another Lector dies tragically? Will he and Katherina be able to resist their growing attraction for each other? And will they realise in time the plans that Remer has that could change the course of history?

The action is both physical and cerebral and the idea of the Lectors is fascinating. Settle down with a Danish Open Sandwich and a big mug of beer for a thought-provoking read!