Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

April 2017 Books

April

Not a stellar month for quantity, but a perfectably acceptable one in terms of quantity.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
This is my second Nicola Yoon book of the year, having read Everything Everything back in February. This was by far my favourite; even though I had no complaints about Everything Everything when I read it, I just felt as though these two characters were better realised, and the very short space of time in which the story is set gave it the sense of urgency that it needed. Natasha and Daniel are both high school seniors dealing with their own problems. Natasha’s family is undocumented, and due to be deported back to Jamaica that very evening, unless she can find a way to stop it. Daniel is a Korean-American teenager, trying to deal with the pressures placed on him by his traditional parents, and the way he wants to live his life, having grown up in America. They meet, quite by chance, and we get to witness their love grow in the space of just one day. What I loved most about this book was the frequent chapters devoted to other, completely incidental characters: the man driving the car that almost runs Natasha over, the train driver who inadvertantly changes the course of Daniel’s day with his tannoy announcement. These extra stories show just how much someone can affect your life with just the smallest action, and they are what sold the book for me. I loved it!

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
I do love a good crime novel, and that’s what we have here, with the third in the Cormoran Strike series. I didn’t realise just how long I’d left it to get around to reading this, but I’m glad I did, as I’m already hankering for the next one, and I shouldn’t have too much longer to wait! If you’re familiar with the stories, you’ll know that Strike is a former military policeman turned private detective, and with two previous high profile cases under his belt, he’s something of a celebrity. His assistant Robin, who has been with him since the start of the first book, and having proved her mettle as a private detective in the previous book, is upgraded, at least in theory, to Strike’s partner. Then she receives a female leg in the post, and this sets in motion the events of the story, in which Strike is convinced that the leg has come from an enemy from his past, and sets out, with Robin, to find out who it is.

The story itself is compelling and full of wonderful characters; I had no idea which, if any, of the four suspects was going to turn out to be the killer until the final reveal, and that’s always the mark of a good crime story. Unfortunately I do find the writing a little clumsy sometimes; there’s a distinct lack of subtetly whenever Strike or Robin want to delve into their memories, which is unfortunate considering that this whole story is about looking back in the hope that they will discover a clue to the identity of the killer. But it’s entertaining, and these are two compelling characters who I am very much looking forward to seeing in the forthcoming series.

The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton
My St. Clare’s readathon marches on; as I”ve mentioned before, I’m a Malory Towers girl, and didn’t read the St. Clare’s series as a child. This is the second book in the series, and while I stand by the idea that Blyton just transposed characters from one series to another and changed a few names, here we have a slightly more dramatic storyline that anything that ever happened at Mallory Towers, when one of the sanitorium rooms catches on fire! There’s a lot of unpleasantness in this book, with various characters being sent to Coventry, and a nasty girl leaving the school because she’s pretty irredeemable in the eyes of the other girls. But I liked it, and I’m moving on to book three right away!

Books in 2017 – 14

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.

 

 

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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