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February & March 2017 Books

February & March

Not having been in the blogging swing of things lately, I missed a February round up for books, so I thought I’d combine two months in one!

The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt *
You can read my full review of this book here; it’s a very short novel about three teenagers coming to terms with their difficult starts in life and navigating early adulthood. It’s not a book that I would honestly recommend, having found it to lose its way fairly spectacularly in the final third. It starts off exploring some interesting themes, but I wasn’t overly fond of it in the end.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
The premise of this YA book drew me in; a small child is abducted from by his father, who has recently separated from his mother. His next door neighbour, Emmy, was his best friend, but has had to learn to live in the shadow of his disappearance, until one day, when they are seventeen, he is found, and returns home. It’s an interesting idea, and the author neatly explores the idea that it’s not just Oliver who was affected when he went missing; the consequences are far-reaching. Ultimately though, it’s another enjoyable YA book that is fun while you’re reading it, but doesn’t blow your mind.

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
I picked this up in a charity shop a while ago, around the time that I first started watching Endeavour. Never one to just like a thing, I have to throw myself wholeheartedly into it. I have never actually watched Inspector Morse, so I thought I’d try and read the books first. This is the first in the series, and it’s fine, though very seventies in its outlook in terms of women and sexual violence. I enjoyed it as a crime mystery though, and at some point I will try and pick up the next in the series.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
I have heard nothing but good things about Nicola Yoon’s novels, so thought it was about time I read one. Everything Everything is about a young woman, Maddie, who has such a severe immunodeficiency disease that she is unable to leave the house. Life has been plodding along in such a way for Maddie for almost the entirety of her life, until Olly moves in next door, and brings with him an exciting new possibility, as Maddie falls for him instantly. I liked this book a lot; though I guessed which way things were going, it’s beautifully written. The film is due out later in the year; having watched the trailer since reading the book, I’m not sure it’s necessarily going to capture the story in the way I want it to.

The Twins at St. Clare’s by Enid Blyton
I was a Malory Towers girl, and despite having at least some of the books on the family bookcase, I’ve never actually read any St. Clare’s books. Starting at the beginning of the series, I realised that Enid Blyton essentially wrote two different boarding school books without changing an awful lot. Many of the characters are just carbon copies of one another! But here we have twins, instead of one central character (Darrel Rivers 4eva), which lends a slightly different air to things. I don’t own all the books, so I’m reserving the rest of them at the library!

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
This was on my reservation list at the library for months and months, but it finally arrived, and it was totally worth the wait! The story is made up of two parts; a book editor receives a book called Magpie Murders to read, the latest in a series by the small publishing house’s star author. We get to read the manuscript in its entirety – almost. When she gets to the end, she realises that it’s unfinished, and this sets in motion an amateur investigation by this editor, as she starts to uncover mysteries surrounding the author and his life. I really enjoyed it – two mysteries for the price of one is never a hardship – though I was slightly put out by the denouement, which I won’t spoil here. The reveal of the mystery was fine, it was rather the way in which our central character ended the story that bothered me slightly, but it’s a small complaint, and multiple mentions of Simon Mayo and Radio 2 definitely helped up the star rating (if I had star ratings).

A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde *
I used to read a lot of Katie Fforde. Something about the middle England settings and the romances really appealed to me. My reading habits have changed somewhat since then, but when I spotted this one on Netgalley, I thought I’d give it a go. Nothing has changed; this is a story about two white women; one of whom is middle aged, one of whom is younger. The middle aged one is also middle class, working for a living but comfortable, and enjoying friendships with the local aristocracy. The younger one is poorer, but not destitute, and evidently has enough money to pursue her dream career that doesn’t pay a lot of money. The story mostly follows their romantic lives (both are straight), though there is a side story of the secret garden of the title. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of book, it’s just that I think the world has moved on, and I certainly have, from this very white, very straight, very middle class collection of characters.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
The only thing I have ever seen Amy Schumer do is Trainwreck, the film she wrote and starred in a couple of years ago. I’ve never seen her television series, and though I followed her on social media for a while, I had to unfollow because she started to get on my nerves. She’s a funny lady, and this is an interesting book; she covers everything from her father’s multiple sclerosis, and her former life as a shoplifter, to oral sex and her career as a stand up comedian. She’s eloquent and interesting, and she doesn’t make excuses for herself; she’s relentlessly honest, or certain appears to be. I didn’t laugh all that much with this book, there were a few asides that I felt were trying too hard to get me to laugh, and they didn’t quite come off. But I found it interesting, and with each ‘chapter’ simply an essay on a topic that she feels strongly about, it’s an easy read.

Books with an asterisk were provided by publishers for a review.

Books in 2017 – 11

Book Blog Tour ~ The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt

The Frog Theory CoverKim and Flow are best friends, living on a council estate, making money selling marijuana and dreaming of bigger and better things. Clate is a girl from a nice neighbourhood, living with her her mum and her violent stepfather. The Principal runs a college for problem teens, excelling professionally but struggling with secrets she conceals.

Mordaunt does a great job at showing that appearances can be deceiving; while Clate has a well-to-do family, and a nice house, underneath it all, she’s suffering at the hands of a violent abuser. Flow on the other hand, may come from a council estate, and already, at 17, have a criminal record, but he’s ambitious, loyal and a great friend to Kim. Kim, who is really the central character of the four, also has ambition, but his home life has been a hindrance, and he also has to overcome previous trouble with the police to do the things he wants to do.

In the middle of all this, we have the Principal, referred to by her job title throughout almost the entire novel. She has demons of her own, and adds to her problems by pursuing an ill-thought out sexual relationship. While the three young characters are easy to engage with, and get to know, I found it harder to care about this woman.

The Frog Theory is only a short novel, and explores some interesting themes, but I feel it loses its way a little in the final third. Everything becomes a little bit overblown, and instead of keeping things simple as a way to resolve the narrative threads, it instead goes all out to show how far these people have come. Clate’s way out of her situation is all just a little too convenient, leaving it feeling entirely far-fetched. Instead of showing how a young woman can find help to find her way out of an abusive home, she’s given a magic solution that doesn’t feel entirely satisfying.

As it only took me an afternoon to read this short book, it doesn’t really matter to me that it didn’t quite live up to early expectations. It’s just not one that will stay in the memory for very long.

 

 

January 2017 Books

January

Not a stellar start to the year for reading in terms of numbers – I was hoping to start as I mean to go on with plenty of reading, but January got away from me. Luckily, in terms of quality, it was a good month; three really good books!

The Dry by Jane Harper *
This is the story of a murdered family in a small farming town in Australia. The inhabitants are already having to deal with the years-long drought that is devastating their livelihoods, so when the family are murdered in an apparent murder-suicide by the husband and father of the victims, tensions run high. Into this comes Aaron, childhood friend of the chief suspect; as a police officer he is drawn into the investigation, and finds secrets from years ago resurfacing. You can read my full review here; it’s a taut and tense thriller with the brutality of the drought conditions adding to the oppressive atmosphere.

The One Memory of Flora Banks *
Flora Banks has anterrograde amnesia, preventing her from creating new memories. She remembers everything since before she was ten, but since then, she relies on information that her mum gives her via a book to discover who she is; she had a brain tumour that caused her memory problems, but she has a best friend and parents who love her and who will always look after her. This has been her life for seven years, but when she kisses a boy on a beach, she suddenly finds herself with a new memory that she is able to retain. She is in love with the boy from the beach, and despite her limitations, she ends up on a journey to Svalbard to find him. This is a beautiful story, and though it might seem as though it’s a lazy YA book about a boy and a girl, it’s really not. It’s a journey of self-discovery for Flora, and although she thinks she has set out to find a boy, what she’s really done is set out to find herself. As cliched as that may sound, the story is anything but. It even turns itself into a bit of a thriller at the end, and it’s well worth a read. 

English Animals by Laura Kaye *
19 year old Mirka is Slovakian, drawn to the UK to escape a family situation at home. She finds herself in the employ of an upper-middle class couple at a country house, helping them with their new taxidermy business. To say too much about the story would be to give things away, but the story follows Mirka for a year as she becomes a part of this couple’s life, and things take a turn. Written from the perspective of Mirka, a woman whose first language is not English, emphasis is place on the otherness of people like Richard and Sophie, the couple for whom she works. Read my full review here.

Books marked with an asterisk were sent to be by publishers for a review.

Because my start of the year posts never got written, I never got around to rounding up last year’s reads, or setting myself a target for this year. I still might right a round up of 2016 in books, but for now, I’ve decided on 75 again. I didn’t manage it last year, but I’m nothing if not a tryer.

Books in 2017 – 3

Book Blog Tour ~ English Animals by Laura Kaye

english-animals-jacketMirka is 19, Slovakian, and starting a new job at an English country house. Her employers, Sophie and Richard, are upper-middle class, with no children, and Mirka is unsure at first what her role is to be. She becomes a live-in assistant, helping Richard with his fledgling taxidermy business, and providing domestic support to Sophie. The lines are blurred; is she domestic help, business employee, friend?

Mirka’s ability as a taxidermist soon surpasses Richard’s; for him it is another business venture to try and keep afloat amidst the troubles of keeping a large house running. But Mirka, though reluctant at first, finds an art in it; the English animals that she preserves become a way of expressing herself, and taking inspiration from old fashioned anthropomorphic taxidermy, creates a name for herself, eventually being featured in a magazine.

 

The taxidermy is expertly described, down to the smallest detail; if Laura Kaye has no experience of the craft herself then she has certainly done her research. But it provides a mere backdrop to the more important English Animals that are at work here; Richard, Sophie, and the supporting players throughout the story.

Mirka finds Richard an easy man to like when he is being warm, generous and funny; she shares a close friendship with him that includes trips to the pub and hunting expeditions (even if Mirka does ultimately balk at the idea of shooting an animal).

Sophie, the lady of the house, is an enigmatic, privileged woman who is used to having what she wants; though what she wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t seem to have – a baby. Mirka struggles at times to understand Sophie’s motivations, accusing her of seeing everything as a toy to play with. Sophie admits as much herself; she just wants to feel wanted.

The entrance of Mirka, an Eastern European, into a middle England village in this day and age certainly reflects a Brexit state of mind; in groundskeeper David we get a man who almost certainly would have voted leave, threatening Mirka and making it clear that he thinks she should go back to where she comes from. Sophie’s father, though slightly more caricatured than David, has similar views on foreigners, failing to recognise the irony in having a house in France that he lives in year-round.

The quirkiness of the English middle classes; isolated in their rural communities, is emphasised by the fact that the entire story is told from the perspective of Mirka, whose first language is not English. She has no handle on idioms, unable to help Sophie with the cryptic crossword until something finally clicks towards the end of the novel. Mirka’s sense of disorientation at this previously unknown culture helps us to see these people through her eyes. Her discomfort at Richard’s birthday party – a bad taste fancy dress party where people dress as dictators, pregnant nuns and child molestors – is palpable, and in stark contrast to another party she attends with some hipster types in East London, where she feels at ease, with her ‘own tribe.’

This really is an exceptional piece of work, particularly given that is a debut novel. It’s easy to read without lacking in scope, and the plot drives the momentum of the story beautifully. Laura Kaye is most certainly a novelist with a bright future.

English Animals by Laura Kaye
First published: January 2016
ISBN: 9781408709450
Little Brown
Provided by publisher

 

Book Blog Tour ~ The Dry by Jane Harper

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The worst drought to hit Australia in a century is already causing tensions to run high in Kiewarra, a small farming town that hasn’t seen rain for two years. Things become unbearable when a local family is murdered, and the only suspect is Luke, husband and father, who appears to have killed himself after gunning down his wife and son.

Luke’s childhood friend Aaron Falk is the protagonist who leads the reader through the story. As a police officer himself, he is drawn into the investigation into the family’s deaths, and his presence in his childhood home forces him to confront some of the lies and secrets that caused him to leave in the first place.

Through the clever use of flashbacks, the reader learns that Aaron and his father were implicated in the death of a teenage girl decades earlier, after she drowned and left a note showing only one word – their surname. This old mystery runs alongside the current investigation into the murders of the Hadlers, and though Aaron would rather leave the past in the past, secrets refuse to stay buried, and the two cases become intertwined.

The crime at the centre of the novel is a strong one, and one that will keep readers guessing. The oppressive feeling of returning to a place long consigned to memory is compounded by the heat of the weather; Aaron is struggling with his return to a community that effectively ran him out of town, and this feeling is emphasised by the brutality of the drought conditions. There is no respite from the weather, or the lack of weather as far as rain is concerned, and the pressure mounts throughout the novel as it becomes clear that this community is on the brink of total devastation.

The Dry is my first read of 2017, and it was a pleasure to read it. The film rights have already been acquired, and it’s obvious that in the right hands, this could be adapted to a taut and atmospheric crime thriller.

Friday

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