Reviewing

I am an avid reader, and know that reviews are very important to authors. If I read a book I really enjoy, I post a review of it on Amazon and Goodreads. I also tweet about my reviews (@wendyproof) and post them on facebook.

Here are a few of my absolute favourites:

Patrick’s Little Dilemma, Peter Davey

Patrick’s calm and ordered life is thrown into disarray when his secretary makes an announcement. How does a solicitor in his forties cope when he’s forced to reassess his life and his feelings?

Each character is an engaging combination of the ordinary and the slightly off-beat. For example, Patrick appears to be a charming English gentleman, which in itself is a rather lovely thing, but there are aspects of his life and personality that are unusual, and his sincere, bewildered reactions to events make your heart go out to him. Peter Davey relates this perfectly paced story in smooth and confident prose, and with such a playful tone that it’s a joy to read.

Patrick’s Little Dilemma is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Simone, Simone, Peter Davey

A wonderful story about lost love and inspiration.

I’m a huge fan of Peter Davey. He has an innate understanding of how to use language to tell stories about characters who feel authentic. In Simone, Simone, he presents us with Alain whose ennui and longing reach out and touch the reader. It is a beautifully crafted story that tells of a yearning for lost love and lost youth, and a deep desire to revisit and re-experience the past. All the poignancy and romance of first love are laid bare in the vivid scenes from Alain’s youth and in his mature, and sometimes wry, reflections on them. I love the present-day scenes with Simone. They combine everyday reality with a dream-like quality, which heightens the tension and the emotion as the story reaches its conclusion.

The beginning and the end – and everything in between – are perfect.

Stormy Weather, Dermot Davis

Dr Robert Monro can’t tell the difference between what is a dream and what is real, which is a little ironic for a therapist who specialises in interpreting dreams. Herein lies the drama and the dry humour of this clever and concise novel.

At the start of the story Robert is full of arrogance, but as his handle on reality crumbles, so does his confidence. Robert’s painful unravelling and the convoluted path he treads to try and return to normality is described in a series of bizarre and sometimes touching scenes.

It is due to the confidence and smoothness of the writing that the author made me feel as unsettled as Robert, and therefore invested in his plight. The secondary characters are equally compelling, and while I’m no psychology graduate, I sense that the psychology is spot-on. The twist at the end is very satisfying.

What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty

Alice slips and bumps her head at the gym. As a result she loses her memory of the last ten years. How much could Alice’s life have changed between the ages of twenty-nine and thirty-nine?

I was enthralled by this story from the very start. Alice’s voice is so strong and endearing that you walk with her every step of the way as she struggles to discover not only what has happened to her over the previous decade, but also who she has become. Her utter confusion and sense of unease as she realises how her relationships with her husband and her sister have changed feel acutely real. The puzzle and final revelation about the mysterious Gina add further drama to the story, but for me the bigger emotional impact comes from Alice not even knowing her own children.

The writing is excellent. I love the little details; especially brief snippets from Alice’s memory and the wry observations that she makes about her own and other people’s actions. Initially I wasn’t sure how the multiple points of view would work, but they do, and they provide strong sub-plots. Alice’s sister’s plight is told through raw and honest diary entries, and their grandmother’s blog entertains with great humour and pathos. In fact many of the funny moments are infused with sorrow, and many of the sad moments are tinged with comedy.

I’ve now purchased another couple of Liane Moriarty’s books, and consider myself a fan.

I laughed, I cried, I didn’t want it to end.

Angel’s Harp, Philip Newey

Alan and Melanie share a warm and carefree friendship as children in the 1960s. One day they find a diary, some photographs and jewellery belonging to Beth who grew up in the same Australian suburb fifteen years earlier.

This is an exploration of the psyche; from childhood, through the awkwardness of youth and into adulthood. Alan is an imaginative child, and the early years of his and Melanie’s close bond are poignantly described. When their friendship falters during adolescence, you feel his confusion and hurt. All three characters struggle to find meaning and direction in their lives, but for me it’s Beth’s story that has the deepest impact, as her experiences are told with a raw honesty that is incredibly moving. We are immersed in her difficult teenage years, the focus of which is her gradual discovery of what really happened to her mother.

The spiritual, sexual and psychological dimensions of this book resonate powerfully, but in a beautifully understated way. And the musical metaphor that is woven into the narrative enhances the storytelling. Often the reader wants to dash through a book to find out what happens next; with this one there is a lot of pleasure to be gained in slowing down and savouring the unfolding story. Although some of the scenes when the characters are adults are a little less immediate and intense, they still draw the reader’s attention. There is a fine balance throughout between the examination of the imaginative mind and the telling of the significant events of the characters’ lives. These combine to provide one of the best endings I’ve read in years.

I’m looking forward to reading Philip Newey’s earlier novel, Maybe They’ll Remember Me.

A Jane Austen Daydream, Scott D. Southard

Jane lives a quiet life with her family in Regency England, writing novels and finding happy endings for her heroines. A visit to a fortune teller and an opportunity to meet eligible young men at a ball, open her eyes to the possibility of a real-life romance. Will she find her own happy ending?

This gem of a novel weaves fact and fiction – including Jane Austen’s own fiction – to create a life that might have been. Jane’s character is such a winning one, with her quick wit providing levity, and her fine mind providing the more thought-provoking moments. She has the sensibilities of a modern woman, but is restrained by the mores of her time.

For the most part the author successfully captures the style and feel of an Austen novel, and rarely puts a foot too far wrong with the language. The story is carefully crafted, and the affectionate scattering of lines and the introduction of characters from the original stories provide an additional layer of enjoyment.

I know I’m not the only reviewer to comment on a wonderful line quite early in the book, when the fortune teller tells Jane that her lifeline never ends: “It means…that you will never die.” It’s a deceptively simple statement that carries a poignant message.

I absolutely love the build up to the scene when the identity of the mysterious stranger is revealed; such an audacious choice of character, and quite perfect. I’m sure Jane would approve.

Finding Lucas, Samantha Stroh Bailey

Jamie knows that her relationship with Derek isn’t working any more. In five years he’s changed from a loving, carefree guy into an uptight, critical grouch. He’s scornful of every aspect of Jamie’s life, from her choice in clothes to her eccentric family to her job as associate producer on a daytime talk show. The show is planning an episode about reuniting people with their lost loves, which gets Jamie wondering whatever happened to her first love, Lucas. Will she find him? Will they still have that incredible connection?

What a delicious book. Each character – lead, supporting or incidental – is totally believable and thoroughly entertaining. Somehow the author brings each of them to life by giving them real dilemmas but also a quirk or something to make them an individual. For example, Sue, Jamie’s one-time boss, has problems at home and a habit of mumbling so Jamie has to ‘translate’ her mumble to everyone else. (Sorry, I’ve killed the joke here, but the author nails it effortlessly.) And Hanna, Jamie’s close friend, is drop-dead gorgeous but has her insecurities and foibles. I won’t take you through all the other captivating characters we meet – the whole of Jamie’s family, her friend Lucy, her new boss Andrew – but be assured that they are warm, lovely and engaging. In case you think this sounds too saccharine, there are the ‘baddies’ – the dreadful Derek, his equally dreadful mother, and Jamie’s colleague, Eva – who add a little grit and a lot more comedy to the mix.

The unquestionable ‘star of the show’ is the lead character, Jamie. I took to her from the very start. She’s warm-hearted, genuine, flawed and funny, and not supermodel perfect. She simply wants to love and be loved. That’s really the theme of this book, played out in scenes of honesty, sadness, nostalgia, amusement, hilarity and absurdity.

The writing is deft and the story moves at a good pace. I have tiny quibbles about some repetition and some elements of Jamie’s back-story with Lucas. However, they pale into insignificance against the enjoyable few days I had living and giggling along with this book. I suggest you read this at the same time as your best friends and then get together over wine and nibbles to share your favourite characters and moments. If asked to share a highlight I’d say the sublime set of events that occur in Chapter 21, which I guarantee will have you laughing out loud.

I won Finding Lucas in an e-book giveaway, but I would have been more than happy to pay the (very reasonable) asking price.

Wrecks, k. c. wilder

I loved reading these three stories about imperfect relationships. The scenarios may be familiar – opposites attract, the temptation of adultery, second chances – but the storytelling and the characters are unique. Within a few paragraphs you can see each person, you’re involved in their lives and their emotions. When you’ve finished reading, you’ve been on a journey with them, and they’re still with you for a while after. I admire the author’s natural ability to fully engage the reader in the space of a few pages.

Seattle Postmark, k. c. wilder

So, what made this lovely story such an enjoyable read from start to finish? Believable characters, with quirks and imperfections; an entertaining plot that flows at just the right rate; and a good mix of funny and moving moments. I had an inkling of how the story was going to conclude, and was so pleased when the author revealed the perfect ending.

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