Posts Tagged ‘review’

October & November 2017 Books

October November Books

Death in the Stars by Frances Brody *
I’d probably say that a murder mystery is my favourite type of story, which is very much borne out by my 2017 list – there’s quite a few on there! This is one that I reviewed as part of a blog tour (you can read my full review here); I’ve reviewed the last three Kate Shackleton mysteries, and I’m a huge fan. I think the sense of time is spot on (speaking as someone who didn’t live through the post-war years), and the mysteries always keep me guessing!

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Enger *
This book has been floating around for ages; I follow so many bookish people on Twitter that when a book has a bit of hype around it, I see it mentioned over and over again – this is one such book. It lived up to the hype for me, luckily, despite having a subject matter that it dark and frankly horrifying. Over a decade after leaving grandparents’ vast estate in rural Kansas, Lane returns to look into the disappearance of her cousin Allegra. Being back in the small town brings back memories that Lane has tried to bury, and the narrative splits into two, weaving between Lane’s first summer in Roanoke and the present day, with a bit of old family history thrown in as well. This structure allows the tension to build, so we are left waiting to find out the reason for Lane’s abrupt departure in the past, and what has happened to her cousin in the present. It’s a really great novel, I just loved it.

He by John Connolly
He tells the story of Stan Laurel, famous for his comic partnership with Oliver Hardy. It’s a fictional account, something I had to keep reminding myself of throughout the story. While all the factual major life events are covered – his various marriages, his financial problems, how he came to star in so many films with Hardy – but the rest is a construct. But it’s beautifully imagined, and lends a tragic air to Laurel’s life. It took me a while to get through it, but ultimately I really liked it.

The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler
Having recently renewed my Audible subscription, once a month I find myself trying to find a new audiobook to download. In October, I settled on this one, and then ended up regretting it slightly. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fascinating and well-researched list of 100 authors you may never have heard of. Some were prolific, some were incredibly famous for a short time, but most of whom the average reader probably have heard. My problem wasn’t with the book, nor wit hthe narrator (it was read engagingly by the author), but with the fact that I should have read it, rather than listened to it, as it would have made list making a lot easier!

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng *
This was another book where I read a lot of the hype about the book before I finally got to read the story itself. I really do love it when I have a lot of good things about a book, and then an email lands in my inbox asking if I’d like to be part of a blog tour for it! You can read my review hereLittle Fires Everywhere is a slow story, but not to its detriment. It just takes time to build the characters, and the setting of Shaker Heights, meaning that everything that happens to them is felt on a deep level.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter *
My iPad is full of books that I have downloaded from Netgalley and not got around to reading or reviewing, so when I was on the Eurostar on my way to Disneyland Paris last month, I decided to delve in and find one. I landed on Bonfire by Krysten Ritter, another book that I have heard good things about, but one that ultimately, I wanted to read because I like Krysten Ritter. I wasn’t disappointed; it’s a great thriller about a corporate cover up that descends into something even more nasty.

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
This has been all over Instagram as a festive read, and though I tried to reserve it at the library, I ended up having to buy it as a Kindle download. It’s a World War I story about a young couple who start off as friends, but through their wartime correspondence begin to fall in love. It’s an epistolary novel, which is one of my favourite types of story, and it’s beautifully written. It reminded me a little of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Books with an asterisk were provided by publishers.

Books in 2017 – 37

Book Review ~ How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

51S6QnZA48L._SY346_Tom is old. He looks as though he is in his early forties, but in reality, he’s over 400 years old. He has a rare condition that slows down the usual human ageing process, giving him an extraordinarily long life expectancy.

It means that he can’t sustain long relationships; not only do the people around him age fifteen times faster, but people get suspicious as the wrinkles appear on their own faces but not on his. He’s lived through four centuries, and now finds himself starting over once more in London in 2017, choosing life as, what else? A history teacher.

Tom’s greatest challenges come from the ‘society’ of a group of similarly afflicted people; they call themselves ‘albas’, and everyone else ‘mayflies’, a reference to the contrasting life spans of albatrosses and the flies that do all their living in a single day. Led by the domineering Hendrich (who in his current guise is doing his best to help ‘mayflies’ stop time in their own way in his career as a plastic surgeon), Tom is expected to fall in with everything the society expects of him that will help keep their existence a secret.

The non-linear narrative allows us glimpses into Tom’s past; we understand how he grew up, distrustful of anyone who discovered his secret, but also see how he falls in love with a woman, Rose, who was always destined to grow old ahead of him. The years bear heavily on him; whenever we catch up with him in the modern day, he is having trouble connecting with people, suffering from severe headaches, and feeling almost entirely hopeless.

How to Stop Time Matt Haig

In the end, the only thing that does keep him going is the smallest glimmer of hope that he might one day be reunited with his daughter, who is an alba just like him. This is a story of loneliness; Tom is a solitary prisoner in his own life; unable to truly connect with people, as he knows it’s only a matter of time before he must uproot his life and move on.

But it’s also a story of hope against adversity; if there’s anyone who should want to give up, it’s a man who has lived for 400 years, and has seen the people he has loved torn away from him.

Matt Haig is an exceptional writer, who sweeps the reader up in the story and doesn’t let go until he has wrung all of the emotion out of you. This is an expertly plotted novel, with cameos from the likes of Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the all-encompassing idea that if there is a way to stop time, it’s probably by falling in love.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Publication Date: 6th July 2017
ISBN: 9781782118619
Canongate
Provided by publisher via Netgalley

 

Book Review ~ When We Collided by Emery Lord

9781408870624Jonah is seventeen, and has recently lost his dad. He’s just about the middle child in a large family, and his mum has taken their recent loss hard, to the point where she has retreated to her bedroom, and rarely comes out. Jonah is left to take care of his younger siblings, and he is existing this way until one day, Vivi arrives in his beachside town for the summer. Vivi is a force to be reckoned with; she says what she’s thinking, she wears what she wants, and everything she does is because she wants life to be an experience.

It’s not always easy to like Vivi. She’s overbearing, and difficult, and not always totally sympathetic. But as her story unfolds, she displays more and more vulnerability, and although she sets out on a one-person mission to save Jonah, and make his life a little more bearable, it’s obvious that she needs saving as much as he does, if not more.

A YA beach-set novel is one of my favourite types, but I never expect more than an entertaining story and a romance between the lead characters. I thought When We Collided was going to be that type of book, but it didn’t take very long for me to realise that it was a different story altogether. It’s YA fiction at its best, because it takes the universal story of first love and explores it through the lens of both grief and serious mental illness.

Without giving anything away, the ending had me crying as I finished the book on the train. I am not sure that I bought into the romance as much as I could have, but I think that the ending proves that it’s a story that is about more than just a boy and a girl.

When We Collided by Emery Lord
First published: April 2016
ISBN: 9781619638457
Bloomsbury
Review copy provided by publisher via Netgalley

Book Blog Tour ~ Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Relativity Antonia Hayes review

Ethan is twelve years old, raised by a single mother, and is particularly gifted in the field of physics. He has an innate understanding of the scientific ordering of the universe, is fascinated by astronomy, and counts among his heroes Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein. Ethan knows that his dad is no longer around, and that his mother, Claire, doesn’t like to talk about it, but what he doesn’t know, and what Claire wants to make sure he never finds out, is that his father, Mark, was accused, tried and convicted of shaking Ethan when he was just four months old, causing a brain injury.

The story proceeds from the point where Mark makes an unexpected return to Claire and Ethan’s life. This moment coincides with the discovery that Ethan, beyond the seemingly natural affinity for physics and astronomy, may be something entirely more unique; doctors posit the idea that he is an acquired savant, able to actually ‘see’ physics. This raises the question of whether or not the brain injury he sustained as a baby (something his father has always denied causing), really was such a tragedy, or if it set in motion the events that would allow Ethan to see the world differently to others.

Relativity book quote 2 [74270]

Relativity is first and foremost, a wonderful novel. In Ethan, Hayes has created a complex and brilliant young protagonist whose view of the world is a joy to read. Claire and Mark are equally complex, and as adults whose lives have been dictated by this earlier tragedy, they are flawed and open to much interpretation. One of the most enjoyable facets of this story is that the reader is not asked to vilify either character or their actions, either in the past or the present. Mistakes are made on both sides, but Mark and Claire are both imbued with such humanity.

Testament to Hayes’ talent for writing is that the physics element of the story is written with exceptional understanding, but never alienated me, a reader who has no natural affinity for the laws of the universe. I’m fascinated by the ideas of matter and anti-matter, of supernovas and wormholes, but I can’t say I approach even the most basic understanding of those things. Hayes writes with authority on this subject, but never allows the science to overpower the emotion at the heart of the story; rather, she uses the physical forces that are an undeniable part of our galaxy to examine emotions. Each chapter is named after a physical force – time, space, gravity, energy, and the book’s title, Relativity, refers as much to the idea of how a person exists in relation to those they love, as it does the scientific notion of the same word.

With exceptionally well drawn characters, an unflinching look at a family defined and forever-changed by a single moment, and a nuanced exploration of how our parents’ experiences impact on our own lives, Relativity is a wonderful debut novel from Antonia Hayes.

Relativity
First published (UK): 7th April 2016
ISBN: 9781472151681
Corsair
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Review ~ All Together Now by Gill Hornby

The Bridgeford Community Choir has been a fixture in the small town for decades, but as this story starts, there’s a small crisis brewing. The recruitment drive hasn’t been particularly fruitful, with most inhabitants of the village preferring to politely acknowledge the choir without engaging with them at all, and one of their most stalwart members suffering a life-threatening car crash at the start of the novel. The renaissance of the singing group begins with new members Tracey and Bennett, who have previously spent most of their time in Bridgeford avoiding contact with the locals.

All Together Now is a well observed, gentle comedy. If it was a film, it would be one of those films that was aimed squarely at a middle aged/elderly audience, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or Quartet. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; gentle comedy is fine, and despite being neither middle aged nor elderly, I enjoyed the pace of the book.

The story really revolves around Tracey, a woman who is approaching middle age with a grown-up son who finally seems ready to fly the nest. Tracey isn’t altogether happy with this, but when it becomes inevitable, she reluctantly entangles herself with the choir. If Tracey was a real person in my life, I think I would be quite irritated by her. She’s one of those people who wants to be seen as thoroughly alternative (she wouldn’t be a Radio 2 listener, for sure), and those kind of people aren’t my favourites. But it’s clear that she uses that image to hide her past, which she is keen to ensure is never revealed, and ultimately she turns out to be slightly more endearing than she appears to be at the start of the story.

The characters are actually well written; if the pace of the novel is slightly pedestrian, the characters are easy to identify with, and in the case of Bennet’s ex-wife, Sue, to thoroughly hate. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the direction the plot is heading, but that’s not a huge problem; it’s not about the conclusion itself, but how you get there. It’s not easy to get over-excited about All Together Now, because I don’t believe it’s a book that gets over-excited about itself, but it’s a perfectly nice read, and describes village life to a tee.

All Together Now by Gill Hornby
First published: 4th June 2015
ISBN: 9780316234740
Little Brown UK
Review copy provided by publisher

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