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A very British farce.

Missing Gretyl - Si Page, Tony Trimmer

Every time I read a humorous book I hope that this is going to be the one that makes me laugh out loud, that leaves me with a stitch in my side and a desperate need to share it with others. Unfortunately I am yet to find such a book, maybe it doesn't exist, maybe it's just me. I can imagine that others would find Missing Gretyl hilarious - lovers of farce and situation comedy in particular, it just wasn't right for me.


I guess, by the end of the book, I had found a soft spot for Gretyl, though she couldn't have been ruder or more belittling. I certainly felt for her husband, Albert, camped out on his allotment. The two other main characters, Dave and Sharon Soddall were definitely more likable. Both couples were down on their luck and looking for solutions to their problems and a house in Marbella might just hold the answers.


I wasn't a great fan of the narrator of this book, Melanie Crawley. I found her voice a bit whiny, though she certainly put her heart and soul into her performance.




The truth behind working as an NHS doctor.

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor - Adam Mickiewicz

It has never ceased to amaze me just how badly our junior doctors are treated. Their decisions are often life-saving, yet they are expected to operate with minimal sleep and almost no time off. This is Going to Hurt brought home some of the facts that I had long been aware of and put them into context within the life of one doctor. He informs us that the suicide rate amongst women doctors is twice the national average. It's not so much surprising that doctors are leaving the profession, than that we aren't losing many more.


Adam Kay worked on the labour wards, as an obs/gynae, delivering babies and solving problems associated with difficult births. He was also involved with IVF treatment, which can be available if you have a certain post code, but much more limited if you are unfortunate enough to live down the road, in the catchment area of another hospital.


The book consists of snippets and longer accounts, drawn form his diaries. Many of them are amusing (you wouldn't believe what people put up inside themselves!) and some are sad. This does make the narrative a bit disjointed, but on the whole it worked.


I was listening to the audio book, well read by Adam Kay, himself. I discovered that one of the distinct advantages of the audio was that the footnotes and explanations that are added at the end of the chapters in the book, are narrated as appropriate, either in a lowered voice, or with the word 'footnote' and 'end of footnote'. This saved a lot of the page turning associated with the written version.


Definitely recommended for anyone who is considering entering this profession.

It left me wondering how trainee doctors are treated in other parts of the world??

Better than winning the lottery!

Bloodlines: Cove Point Manor - William Taylor

Wouldn't it be wonderful to inherit an amazing historical house and the money to maintain it? Cove Point Manor sounded fabulous and it had even been kept in good condition since it was last lived in, by a maintenance firm. Unfortunately I found the way in which Alex's inheritance found its way to him, a little too coincidental, but OK, I can ignore that.


Then, of course, once you receive this amazing inheritance, you suddenly attract all the scrounging friends and relatives, after their share. Brenda and Connie were no exception and they drove me nuts, as no doubt they were intended to do. Alex was amazingly tolerant, I'm sure I'd have lost my rag much sooner.


The narration by Bill Nevitt was well done, especially as there were many unnecessary repetitions of names, which always irritates me. I so wished the author would make more use of the words 'he' and 'she'. Mr Nevitt did a good job of both male and female characters and read at a comfortably steady pace.


The paranormal part of the story was quite entertaining, with Alex's Great (Great?) Grandmother lurking in mirrors and taking a dislike to the uninvited guests. I did get confused by all the Great Greats and never really got a hold of the Farnsworth family tree. Maybe this was printed in the readable version? I could certainly have done with a copy.


A little bit of an unconvincing ending for me, but all in all, an entertaining cosy mystery that wasn't scary or violent.

Murder in Yummy Mummy-land.

Death in Dulwich - Alice Castle

This book has entertained me through several hours of driving and housework. It was well written and well paced and I loved the picture the author painted of up-market Dulwich, with its Yummy Mummies and valuable real estate.


Beth Haldane is a young mum whose husband had sadly, died young. She has one son, Ben, still in primary school, and has just landed herself the job of archivist at the prestigious secondary school, Wyatt's. Her boss turns out to be a lecherous old man, unpopular amongst the other staff and seemingly lacking in social graces.

When events lead to her becoming the prime suspect in a murder, she decides the police need a bit of help, before she finds herself behind bars and her young son loses his mother.


I liked that Beth's motive for becoming a sleuth, was believable. I also identified with her as being a little out of the 'cool' group and a bit insecure. Her friend, Kate, was a great sounding block for her investigations and a good friend too.

There's a bit of a potential romance, but given that this is the first of a series, there is plenty of time for this to develop, or not.


Well read by Alex Lee, who did a good job on both male and female characters.

I look forward to reading/listening to further episodes in this series.

Also published as Harriet's Big Fat Wedding Blunder

The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties - Lynda Renham

Hariet fumbles through.
If you love Chick-Lit and you laugh out load at comedy novels, then this is the book (or audio) for your summer holiday. 

Harriet is a lovable Battersea girl, all rough edges and self-deprecation. She works as a laundrette manager to make money for her medical studies and has a low-life of a boyfriend, Julian. When he lets her down big time, Harriet finds herself saddled with a huge debt and no way of paying it off.
She receives 'An offer she can't refuse' and her ensuing adventures feature gangsters, engagement to a wealthy creep, inviting her wacky family to a large country mansion and, of course, romance.

I have yet to find a book that actually makes me laugh out loud. I can cry buckets, but for some reason I never laugh. So, to say this book made me smile, is probably a good sign. Yes, it was a bit exasperating, but I was forewarned by the title. The ending was a bit predictable, but the way it came about was definitely original.

I wasn't really a fan of the narration, although Rosie Akerman has been praised by other reviewers, I found her male voices unconvincing - with the exception of her sexy Bryce voice. She did a good job with the accents though, so credit where credit's due.

All in all, a good romp, something to take your mind off your own troubles for a few hours.


Days of Wonder - Keith Stuart

I've just finished this, with tears running down my face. Of the two, I probably marginally preferred A Boy made of Blocks, but this was a close second. It just took me a little longer to get into.


Hannah has known from very young that she had a faulty heart, she never planned for a future and took every day as it came. Her father, Tom, deals with the problem as only someone with a theatrical background and a job at a theatre, can. He puts on elaborate productions for her birthday and makes her whole life mystical. He was just a super-fantastic dad! Her mother had left to pursue her own interests when Hannah was just three years old, so the folk at the theatre became her family.


When we meet her she is a teenager, just beginning to find boys attractive and starting to pull at the apron strings. But also, her heart problem is starting to become more serious. She wants her Dad to go out and start dating again, she's worried he will be all alone if she dies. He has some pretty cheesy relationships but there's plenty to laugh about too.


There are some fabulous characters, some as flamboyant as you would expect at a theatre and some just normal people for whom the theatre is an escape.

An excellent story with an ending that could have gone either way and I liked that I never knew which way.


Cosy mystery.

Tastes Like Murder - Catherine Bruns

This was an entertaining, light-weight listen, for lovers of cosy mysteries. I enjoyed the narration by Karen Rose Richter, who managed managed male and female voices equally well.


Sally Muccio (Sal) has returned to her home town to open up a cookie shop with her best friend Josie Sullivan. She has left behind a loser of a husband and is ready to make a new start. Unfortunately her ex-husband's lover is set on making problems for Sal, ultimately falling dead on her doorstep. Sal feels compelled to find out why Amanda died, before her business collapses under suspicion that her cookies were responsible.


There are some real quirky characters in here. Sal's family are nuts; her mother thinks she's still a teenager and dresses appropriately, and her father is obsessed by death, funerals and coffins. An elderly neighbour is constantly rude, for no apparent reason. Thank goodness for the wise old grandmother who holds them all together.

To add interest, two sexy men are chasing Sal, an ex boyfriend, and a dashing policeman, who will she go out to dinner with?


A fun listen, got the ironing done with a smile on my face :)

Life under occupation.

Dancing Arabs - Sayed Kashua, Miriam Shlesinger

I wasn't quite sure where this book was going, it kind of lacked direction. What it did give though, was a feel for the divided life of an Arab citizen living in lands that once belonged to his Grandparents' generation, yet were now under Israeli rule.


The unnamed narrator gets a lucky break as a youngster, when his school grades mark him out for special education in a Jewish boarding school. Yet this is not without its inherent problems. He learns to imitate the Jews in language, behaviour, appearance and habits and he is actually insulted when he is recognised as an Arab. This pretense takes its toll though, and he does not become the builder of the first Arab atom bomb, as his parents expect. I cannot help but wonder if he might have done better by remaining in his home school, amongst his own. How much of his downfall is due to the stresses of trying to become someone that he is not.


What came across clearly, was the position of the Arabs as second class citizens, even third or fourth class citizens. How this impacted on their lives and aspirations. Even having the blue card that allowed them to work within Israeli borders, their options were limited.


It's quite a depressing book, but profound in its message and well worth reading for an understanding of the situation that we hear biased reports of from the media.

One of my favourite reads of 2018.

The Man I Think I Know - Mike Gayle

I had previously read a couple of Mike Gayle books (Dinner for Two and The To-Do-List) and considered them to be Chick-Lit, but written by a man - Guy-Lit. The Man I Think I Know was in another class entirely, one of my favourite books of 2018. It still contained Mike's trade-mark humour, but this was also full of empathy and emotion, and still remains with me even though I read it nearly six months ago.


The two main characters had been to private school together, yet both were in some way disabled. James DeWitt was from a wealthy family, while Danny Allen was from the wrong side of the tracks, but circumstances have a way of producing outcomes that no-one would have expected and they are thrown together in a fascinating, endearing twosome, that had me turning the pages enthusiastically.


I don't think I want to say too much more because this is a book that should unravel before your eyes and it would be a shame to spoil the pleasure with too much information. So I will just say that I hope you get the chance to pick up this book, and if so, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Well, I could have done without this being a contemporary reselling of Antigone, as I'm really not a fan of rehashing the old fables in modern form. Still, I was pretty much able to ignore the comparisons and take the story at face value - a tragic tale of fundamentalism and its disastrous effects on a family.


I read this because the author was attending our local Lit Fest, and I'm glad I did. It depicted the struggles of an immigrant family that, to all intents and purposes, had become British, yet their beliefs and values undermined their every move and influenced their beliefs.


The eldest member of the family, Isma, has been caring for her younger siblings since their mother died. Now that they are older, Isma finally has the opportunity to do something for herself; to accept an invitation to carry out research in America under a much respected mentor. However, she still worries about her younger sister, Aneeka, and Aneeka's twin brother, Parvais. Aneeka can be reckless and foolish, while Parvais has been missing, believed to be attempting to follow in his father's fanatical footsteps.

When Isma meets Eamon, son of the local MP, and sends him to her family with a package to post, she opens up a can of worms that has no lid.

The fall-out from this event is cataclysmic, as the characters spiral downwards into their own black holes, Isma tries desperately to hold the family together.


Definitely a powerful read, a book of our times.


Also read, by the same author: Burnt Shadows (5*)


Behind the scenes of a war.

The Baghdad Clock - Shahad Al Rawi

After a slow start, this became an interesting and revealing narrative about the effects of two Gulf wars and the attached sanctions, on the Iraqi civilian population. Narrated from the point of view of a young girl who grows up in a disintegrating Baghdad, it becomes clear just how insidious the sanctions were, effectively causing more destruction than the missiles.


The voice of the un-named narrator begins as that of a child, which initially had me concerned that this was going to be the writing style for the whole book. Thankfully, the narrator matures and with it her narrative voice. She introduces us to some of the characters of the village, the wacky, the sad and the ever hopeful. I will never forget the watch-marks bitten on the wrists of children by Uncle Shawkat, or his loyal pet dog, Biryad.

As the young girl and her friend Nadia grow into teenagers, they share their loves and loses, until the inevitable time when the black Chevrolet comes to the door and spirits them away with their families to a safer haven, one that will never truly be Home.


It's a raw commentary on the other side of war, the one that we didn't see from TV reports and newspapers. This is a book that should be widely read and now that it has been awarded the Edinburgh Book Festival's First Book Award, this will begin to happen.


Shahad Al Rawi spent her childhood in Baghdad, reaching secondary school before moving with her parents to Syria. I'm glad to say she then moved to Dubai, where I am looking forward to hearing her speak at our Literary Festival in March.

Book 1 of an ongoing series.

Dead Simple - Peter James

Although I listened to this as an abridged version, it had been well cut and was excellently narrated by William Gaminara, so I was barely aware that it was not the full book. I've never read anything by Peter James before, although I had heard him speak at a literary festival.

The plot itself was well suited to audio, as there was nothing too demanding or complex to concentrate on and I was happy having it playing in the background while I worked in the house.


I wonder whether the 'Simple' of the title might be considered politically incorrect these days, being as it refers to a young man of low intelligence, who finds a walkie talkie, yet fails to comprehend its importance; to him it is just a toy. In reality it holds the clue to the whereabouts of Michael Harrison, who has disappeared while out celebrating his stag night. Mark, his business partner and best man, seems to know more than he is letting on, while the fiance, Ashley Harper, is distraught, with the wedding just a few days away.


Detective Superintendent Grace leads the investigation. He is a likable enough detective, if a bit ineffective at times. His use of a medium towards the end did seem a bit of a cop-out. The fact that his wife had disappeared 10 years ago, though, was a good cliff-hanger for the future of the series.


I am vaguely familiar with Brighton and my Grandmother used to live in Hove, which added interest and I would certainly give the second book a try, preferably in audio format again.

The origins of Islam.

Mother of the Believers - Kamran Pasha

This was pretty much compulsory reading, considering that I live in the Middle East, and it was a book that has been on my shelves for quite a while. However, although it was interesting, it certainly wasn't un-putdownable - checking back I see that it has taken me over 2 months to read. It's quite a big book and I was moving house, but even so, that's a looong time.


The central character is Mohammed's first wife, Aisha, and the book goes beyond Mohammed's death to the caliphs who ruled after his passing, but during Aisha's lifetime. There is debate about how old Aisha was at the time of her marriage and it was the author's choice to take the youngest age, at just nine years old. I found, however, that her thoughts and conversation seemed more suited to an older person and this caused me some conflict in the earlier chapters.

Mohammed (pbuh), was an interesting character, more of a warrior than I had realised, but also a man of peace, with amazing negotiating skills. He held together a warring mix of tribes, against all odds, and gave generously of all he had, to the poor.


It is a shame that religions become warped to people's own ends. Islam teaches generosity and love, not the fanaticism that we see today. The early believers would turn in their graves if they could see what has happened since.


This was a book group read and I was fortunate to have some Muslim friends in my book group, who explained some of the narrative and put it into context within today's world.

I do think this is a book worth reading and although it took me a while, I don't regret the time spent. I am now much better informed about the origins of the Islamic faith and the history behind it.

A bit formulaic.

Judge & Jury - James Patterson, Andrew Gross

A friend kindly gave me her collection of audio CDs and so I promptly trundled my car down to the auto repair shop to get my CD player fixed. The first CD I chose had such low volume that I couldn't hear it in the car, but I'm glad to say my second choice was more successful. Most of the books were abridged, but this one was a complete novel, well narrated by Joe Mantegna, and although not earth shattering, it kept me entertained through several hours of driving.


The two main characters are Nick Pellisante, the detective responsible for bringing in mafia boss, Dominic Covello, and Andie, a member of the jury chosen to try him. Nick is an FBI agent who has been on Covello's heels for a large part of his career. Andie is a single mother and part-time actress, who really doesn't want to be on the jury at all.

Their paths cross at various times during the case, but their joint desire to see Covello brought to justice results in a satisfying denouement.


Initially this looked like being a court case-based fiction, but I'm glad to say that it broadened out into something a bit more interesting. My main problem with it was the structure of "build-up, emergency, solution", which seemed to be on repeat throughout the book. It got a bit irritating and predictable after a while.


I'd only read one Patterson book before, 1st To Die, but this felt similarly formulaic and I won't be rushing back to read another.

Numbers and song titles...

Brass in Pocket - Stephen Puleston

Having enjoyed Stephen Puleston's prequel, The Devil's Kitchen, I was looking forward to following Inspector Drake and his assistant, Ceren Waits, as they embark on a full length investigation. I was not disappointed at all, and Richard Elfyn again added a dimension, with the narration and his lovable Welsh accent. Some of these place names would have been massacred in my head, had I tried to read them.


The book starts with us in the murderer's shoes, as he stalks two police officers through the Welsh countryside and into the mountains. Drake is soon alerted to the murders of the two officers, and he and Ceren rush to the scene to find that they have been murdered by a crossbow, and traffic cones have been left in the shape of a number four. When a politician is murdered soon after, the suggestion is made that the number four is a prediction of the number of intended murders. Drake and Ceren are now under pressure to solve the crime before the target is reached.

As well as the numbers, the killer complicates the investigation by sending song lyrics after each murder. Surely this is a clue, but what does it signify?


An enjoyable listen that kept my interest. Atmospheric, with description of the Welsh countryside, but a little annoying when Drake's OCD is referred to repeatedly and his constant need to play Sudoku puzzles to calm his nerves, becomes irritating. Thankfully I don't have to live with him!



I've given up!

Milkman - Anna Burns
I should know by now that a book that wins the Man Booker prize is going to do nothing for me. With the exception of White Tiger, I have never enjoyed a Man Booker prize winner and Milkman was no exception. I was listening to an excellent reading by Bríd Brennan, complete with genuine Irish accent, but even this could not make up for the unnecessary verbosity of this book. Huge credit to the narrator for making it to the end, I abandoned ship at 23%.

Just as an example, here is a typical paragraph:
"Considering alone his avowals of devotion towards women, his mission of idolatry, his supreme glorification and deification and view that on earth in women was the life of things, the breadth of things, the cyclicality, essential nature, higher aspect, the best, most archetypal and utmost mystery of everything." 

And this was then followed by an endless discourse about whether or not the sky was actually blue?

There was much scope to provide an understanding of life as a young girl during the time of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland. The way women were treated, the boys' names that were or weren't acceptable, who was 'in' and who was 'beyond the pail', This book kind of suffuses this into the reader by osmosis, but by the same token, it was becoming more and more irritating and I do my reading for enjoyment; I was not enjoying the style of this book at all.

My first abandoned book this year :(