Book reviews


The White Queen by Philippa Gregory is published by Simon and Schuster, priced 18.99.

Philippa Gregory turns her attention to the line of the Plantagenets in her latest work, the first in a trilogy set during the Wars of the Roses.

This novel focuses on Elizabeth Woodville of the House of Lancaster, who married the reigning king of the House of York, Edward IV. It was hoped that the union would bring the two houses together and end bitter rivalries.

In reality, Elizabeth's time as Queen of England was marred by violence and murder, and she lived in constant fear for the future of her husband and family, with just cause – her sons and heirs to Edward's throne became the "Princes in the Tower".

Gregory brings this period of history and another strong female character to life with the same colour and intrigue that she applies to all of her novels. It is an informative and riveting read from start to finish.

8/10 Review by Stephanie Murray

The Good Luck Girl by Kerry Reichs is published by Orion, priced 10.99.

Twentysomething Maeve Connolly decides to take a road trip to Los Angeles, with only her talking cockatiel and faithful old car for company.

She'll do almost anything to fund her trip – including dressing up as a monkey in the searing heat for a Tennessee restaurant's customer drive, and revamping a local bookstore in Oklahoma – and to escape from both perfect parents and siblings, and the memories of illness and death.

No-one said anything about discovering a talent for photography, finding the courage to obtain a tattoo, or falling in love. But she does all this and more in American author Kerry Reichs's second book, which is a romance and a self-discovery trip.

The Good Luck Girl is a very enjoyable read.

7/10 Review by Denise Bailey

The Confessions Of Edward Day by Valerie Martin is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, priced 18.99.

Edward Day is a determined young man with a dream: to smooth the sharp edges of his past and succeed as an actor.

But while holidaying at a cottage with friends and new love interest Madeleine, he is almost swept away to sea and is rescued by charming, handsome fellow wannabe Guy Margate.

Shaken, wrung and slightly emasculated by the experience, he is torn between gratitude, indebtedness and caustic envy as Guy's confidence and winsome manner seem to put him always one step ahead of the game.

As he tries to find his way in New York and makes his first tentative steps on to the stage, his jealousy of Guy, who keeps turning up, festers, with his rival seemingly getting the upper hand profession-ally and personally, until the worm turns.

Set against a vibrant backdrop of 1970s theatre, Edward's short-sightedness paves the way for a startling and perhaps bittersweet conclusion to the ninth novel from Valerie Martin.

6/10 Review by Claire Ennis

The Last Mad Surge Of Youth by Mark Hodkinson is published by Pomona Books, priced 7.99.

Having written a number of sporting and music-related memoirs, The Last Mad Surge Of Youth is journalist Mark Hodkinson's debut novel. Not that you can tell from reading the beautifully mapped out, originally told tale of egocentric rock star John Barrett.

A split narrative, the story of Barrett as an idealistic, ambitious teen musician unfurls in one paragraph, while the next will show the flipside of such success and fill in the blanks as the alcoholic, out-of-favour New Wave icon reflects on his life.

It's a daring technique, and works most of the time. The characters are well-rounded. Barrett is selfish and self-indulgent to the last, while his partners and friends, notably the enduring Carey, provide the conscience he so sorely lacks.

They say you should write what you know, and Hodkinson clearly knows this world inside out, but it's his storytelling and knack for deft, unsentimental prose that's his real gift.

8/10 Review by Andy Welch

The Last British Bullfighter by Frank 'El Ingles' Evans is published by Macmillan, priced 11.99.

Frank Evans, of working-class stock from Salford, fell in love with Spain in the early 1960s, having enrolled in night school and learnt the language.

His experience and love for the culture led to him realising that whatever the issues with nationality, he could fulfil a lifelong dream – to become a bullfighter.

The book follows Evans' path – his stints in Spain sandwiching a lively spell back in Salford as a business partner of George Best.

But it is the bullfighting experiences that shine through, the myriad issues Evans encounters and the barriers to his ultimate aim.

Whatever your views on bullfighting, it is difficult not to warm to Evans.

9/10 Review by James Cleary

Beautiful People by Wendy Holden is published by Headline, priced 6.99.

Actresses who live on Champagne and little else, celebrity nannies and passionate chefs are just some of the gloriously frothy characters in Wendy Holden's latest.

BabyBarista And The Art Of War by Tim Kevan is published by Bloomsbury, priced 11.99.

Blogger Tim Kevan's diary of a trainee barrister desperate to win a job is fascinating, subversive and pretty much impossible to put down.