Review: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Nowadays, a reader could be forgiven for thinking no-one in history ever did anything with a simple motive. No-one merely painted a picture to adorn a church, no-one founded a religious order because of their faith. And now, it seems, no-one designed a memorial garden purely to immortalise his lamented wife. The Savage Garden follows a Cambridge student as he unpicks the layers of meaning in a Tuscan garden, unearthing crimes that span generations. The book starts slowly, but it picks up pace, and will give a reading group plenty to discuss. Pack it in your suitcase and head for Italy.

 Personal read: 3 star
Reading group read: 4 star

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

“Quirky” is the best word for this very British book. The premise is as daft as its title suggests, and the sometimes larger-than-life characters could only spring from someone raised in the culture that invented pantomime. I almost hissed the baddie, whilst cheering the heroes towards success and glory.

The pace is lively; the unusual presentation in the form of emails and after-the-event interviews works well for this tale of one man’s dream. Is it a metaphor for today’s clash of cultures in the Middle East? Does it say something meaningful about the power of faith in possibilities? Decide for yourselves while you enjoy a great read.

Personal read: 4 stars
Reading group read: 5 stars

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

It’s an interesting idea – use old photographs of inexplicable scenes as the basis of a novel. As someone who runs writing workshops around the use of random prompts, I was attracted by the idea. So how well does it work?

Well, the photographs reproduced in the book are fascinating glimpses into early photography and the culture they captured. And the modern twist on an old myth is a great way to meld them all together. But at a cost. It’s very obvious when a photograph is about to be shown because they aren’t woven into the book as seamlessly as I, for one, would have liked. It makes the story-flow quite clunky in places.

But, it’s an enjoyable read, a great topic for discussion and like many of the Young Adult genre, there’s plenty in here for adults to appreciate, too.

The photos add a lot to the pleasure of reading this book and I don’t know if they’re included in the Kindle version.

 Personal read: 4 stars
Reading group read: 4 stars

Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

A coloured edging to the pages of a book is often just a gimmick, but sometimes it’s an early indication that you’re holding something out of the ordinary. And this debut novel deserves its black trim.

A thriller with fantasy elements, historical echoes and a classic love story – this is genuinely a novel that straddles genres. And does it well. The elegant writing is so smooth that the reader doesn’t even notice the pages slipping past. Believable characters I cared about, a truly original setting and a plot that kept surprising me were all factors that added to an unforgettable experience.

One word of caution – this is not a book for the squeamish reader, as the Gargoyle of the title is a burn victim and there’s a lot of description of his injuries.

I don’t often lavish so many superlatives on a review, but this is simply the best book I’ve read in years. Buy it, take it on holiday – but be careful it doesn’t make you late for your return trip.

Personal read:  5 stars
Reading group read:  5 stars