Book Review: The Guy Selling Rubbish

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The Guy Selling Rubbish
The Guy Selling Rubbish by Jack Williams
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A freebie Kindle book and a quick read (well under a hour) that gave me a snigger or two. After attempting to seel so,e rubbish on ebay for a laugh, the guy in the book is challenged by a friend to sell more and make some money. Over the next few months he attempts to sell such oddities as a blank piece of paper, an Air guitar and an empty plastic bottle. Much of the book is actually filled with screenshots of his ebay sales and statistics – viewers 5, bids 0 type of thing. Astoundingly he does actually sell a couple of items but though I found it. Occasionally funny, I didn’t really get a lot more from this book.

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Book Review: A Cromer Corpse

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A Cromer Corpse
A Cromer Corpse by Kelvin I Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was attracted to this because it had Cromer – my favourite place – in the title. When a body is pulled from the sea off Cromer with an unusual mark carved on it, an ex detective recently relocated from Cornwall to Norfolk for a quiet retirement is pulled in to help solve the case, because he worked on similar cases during his career. Thus we find ourselves in the middle of a fairly standard murder mystery that involves paganism, Wicca and Masons. The mystery itself was interesting, with a neat unexpected twist at the end, but the location of the novel frustrated me. I know Norfolk quite well but whilst there are some real places mentioned – Cromer, Wells, Fakenham – there are also plenty that are fictional. as far as I know. For example, there’s much talk of an event at Blackling Hall,which is based on either Blickling or Holkham, and there are other places – Morton, Saxborough – which are either rooted in reality or entirely made up. Why set a book in a real place but then have fictional places too? Just annoyed me!

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Book Review: Whatever Makes You Happy

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Whatever Makes You Happy
Whatever Makes You Happy by William Sutcliffe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was at primary school with William Sutcliffe, and his mum worked with my mum, but we were never close friends and lost touch altogether when we went to senior school. I’d not thought about him for years until I came across two of his books – New Boy and Are You Experienced? – in a charity shop. I bought them but still haven’t got round to reading them – grr – but did get this one for my Kindle and read it on holiday. (I was also thrilled to discover that he is married to Maggie O’Farrell, who is one of my favourite authors!)

It’s a funny little book, which actually made me literally LOL a few times, which very rarely happens. It’s about three guys – Matt, Paul and Daniel – who have reached their mid thirties without settling down. Their mothers, who all met through a book group when their boys were young- decide they need to intervene. They feel they don’t really know their sons as adults, they’ve lost touch with them and the way to get their relationships back on track is just to arrive for a surprise visit and stay for a week!

Now I have always been close to my mum but I know lots of men who would find this a disturbing state of affairs, so reading about how Paul, Daniel and Matt deal with it was amusing.

The book switches characters regularly, from each of the women to each of the men, and while I didn’t quite feel the individual characters’ voices coming through clearly I did get an idea of their personalities. However, I’m not really sure who this book is aimed at – women in their sixties (like the women in the book), men, women my age? Wasn’t really clear. I also felt the ending was very rushed – I was just settling in with the characters when the women returned home. Glad there was an ending of sorts but I would have liked to explore the individuals a little bit more.

that said, I did enjoy it and there were a fair few guffaw moments. It has also encouraged me to work my way through William Sutcliffe’s back catalogue!

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Book Review: Gone Girl

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Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Red this on holiday and thought it was a cracking read, though the ending was very disappointing – in fact it made me quite angry!

“Amazing” Amy, so called by her parents, who have written a series of best selling books about her, goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick is shocked by her disappearance but for some reason seems to be a compulsive liar and hen his story and alibi doesn't quite add up he is deemed to be suspect number one.

Amy had a weird habit of creating a treasure hunt every wedding anniversary, and it seems this year was no exception. As Nick untangles each complex clue he realises that all is not quite as it seems.

Lots of twists and turns in this book, which really kept me guessing.The trouble was I didn't ever warm to the characters and in fact I found myself becoming more and more irritated by them. For example, Nick, as the panic-stricken husband, never quite comes across that way and I couldn't understand why he was being so evasive if he had nothing to hide. The ending seemed like a complete cop out – but despite all that I did enjoy this a lot.

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Book Review: The Hand That First Held Mine

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The Hand That First Held Mine
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book I've read by this author. Of the others, I loved two and hated one to the extent that I couldn't actually finish it! I actually started this one several months ago and didn't get far with it, but it is my book club book for August and this time round I really enjoyed it.

There are two different story lines in this novel, though of course it's obvious that they will collide at some point. In 1950s Devon Alexandra is frustrated with her small town life and dreams of moving to London. A chance encounter with Innes, a rather dapper chap whose car has broken down, leads to Alexandra reinventing herself as Lexie and living her dream life in the city ….

Meanwhile, in the present day new parents Ted and Elina are struggling to cope emotionally following a difficult birth experience. As Elina tries to cope with the daily stuff, Ted seems to have become fixated on his past and is becoming more and more remote as a husband and father.

Gradually we learn more about these four individuals and their lives, with the reveal being not unexpected but upsetting and sensitively handled.

O'Farrell captures the four charcters perfectly and I really felt I knew Lexie, Ted, Elina and – to a lesser extent, for reasons that become obvious – Innes. This is a gentle yet thought provoking book that looks at how the pat our mother plays in our childhood can affect us deeply throughout our lives.

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Book Review: One Glass Is Never Enough

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One Glass Is Never Enough
One Glass Is Never Enough by Jane Wenham-Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've heard mention of Jane Wenham-Jones' name a lot recently – I know she does a lot of workshops and writing holidays etc. SO I thought it was time I read some of her work – and sadly I wasn't impressed. This book is about three very different women who buy into a bar. Each has their own reason for wanting to be involved with the business, but it seemed to me that one person got landed with all the work while the other two spent their time swanning round drinking the profits! Very annoying … Anyway, I didn't really take to any of the characters and did consider giving up fairly early on. I stuck with it to the end, and it did get a bit better as the characters developed – I liked the man that Gaynor (the drun) took up with (bu felt rather sorry for him for ending up with her!) I finished the book about a month ago and actually can't remember enough of it to write a proper review … obviously didn't make a huge impression on me, and I won't be rushing out to read more by this author either.

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Book Review: Pure

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Pure
Pure by Andrew Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've recently joined a book group and this was the first book to read – and I wasn't too hopeful when I read the blurb. For a start it is set in France just before the Revolution – and I have long believed myself not to be a fan of historical fiction; I also didn't think I had any interest in France! And then there was the plot itself – a young engineer is sent to clear the bodies from a cemetery in the middle of Paris and move them a new site. Hmmm. Not very exciting, I thought ..

And yes, Pure isn't an exciting book, but in its own quiet measured way it is a page turner. It's a book where the sub plot sometimes seems secondary to the lives of the characters, but even then there are as many questions raised as answers given. Every character seems to have something mysterious or undefined about them and while in some ways I was left wanting more I have a feeling that, by its very vagueness, these characters will remain with me longer than if they had been neatly whole. The business of clearing the bodies was told simply and beautifully and I was in awe of the respect shown by the crew to the task. And for me the title refers to the contrast between the purification of the cemetery site against the corruption that seems to affect everyone working on the project, from the engineer who was ordered to hide his friend's body, against his better wishes, to the miners who were complicit in the final destruction of the site.

There were a few odd moments. For example, Ziguerette's moment of madness seemed to come out of the blue, with no prior warning; the mysterious graffiti artists seemed to add little to the plot and the ending was very bizarre. However, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be interested in reading more by Andrew Millar. I am also now viewing historical literature with fresh eyes and won't be so resistant to reading it in future!

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Book Review: The Witches of Dark Root

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The Witches of Dark Root
The Witches of Dark Root by April Aasheim
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a fan of fantasy .. I like my novels entrenched in the real world and can’t be doing with witches, wizards or vampires (Harry Potter excluded!) so while The Witches of Dark Root, which was recommend by a friend, intrigued me I did approach it with some trepidation, and for the first few chapters my resistance to all things Magick looked set to be proved correct. Yet once I overcame my prejudice about this kind of thing, I was reeled into the storyline and enjoyed learning about the witchy sisters Merry, Maggie and Eve.

The story begins with Maggie at Wood Haven, a cultish religious community founded by her boyfriend Michael. Being completely non-religious my heart sank at this point as I thought this was going to be the focus of the book, and I was very relieved when I realised it wasn’t! Maggie discovers that Michael is having an affair with another cult member, the poisonous Leah. Coincidentally a message has come from home that her mother is ill so, with the help of her friend Jason, she decides to leave Wood Haven and pay her family a visit – the first since she left several years earlier. (By the by, I thought Jason seemed rather sweet and was puzzled why Maggie didn’t spend more time with him – they seemed perfect for each other!)

When she arrives home Maggie discovers that Dark Root, once a bustling town, has fallen on hard times, apparently because of the illness of her mother. Though she’s delighted to be reunited with her sisters (and new found niece) after so many years, Maggie is adamant this is only a flying visit …. But when it’s suggested that they organise the annual Halloween festival in an attempt to breathe new life into the town, she feels she has to stay, and when the sisters discover there’s an ancient curse on their home they learn how to use their Magick for good and overcome demons and family mysteries.

I think what worked for me in this book is that it’s not so much about witches and Magick as about family bonds and sisterly love – the Magick is just an element of their Iives rather than the focal point. In fact, despite being anti-fantasy I think I’d have liked to learn a bit more about the sisters’ abilities and how they had first discovered them! I felt the characters of the sisters came through strongly – Maggie, Merry and Eve were all very different. And I loved June Bug, though their Aunt Dora, with her strange way of speaking, annoyed me. I also felt there were characters who needed further development – Leah, for example, is key to the main plot yet never came across very strongly and bows out like a damp squib. There were also some events that should have been a big shock or surprise that were just accepted without a second thought, which struck me as a bit strange, but overall I did enjoy this book and will definitely look out for the rest of the series.

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Book Review: One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

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One True Thing
One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year I was introduced to Anna Quindlen through her book Every Last One, which was a stunning depiction of a normal, average family torn apart by a tragedy. The book affected me deeply in many ways and while I was keen to read more I felt I needed to give myself time to savour her writing rather than devouring it all at once.
And so finally I started on my second Quindlen novel, One True Thing, and it was again a moving experience – though one that wasn’t quite as satisfying overall.

One True Thing focuses on Ellen, a high achieving young woman working as a journalist in New York. Ellen’s father is an academic and Ellen has always allied with him rather than her mother, who she feels somewhat apathetic towards. She’s never understood how her mother could settle for a life of domesticity when there was so much more to be explored. When her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer Ellen rather reluctantly puts her career on hold to come home and care for her, at her father’s request. The next few months are spent talking, reading and cooking – mother and daughter form their own book group and share recipes and gradually discover they actually have a powerful bond. Ellen finds there is a lot more to her mother than she thought and realises that she made the ultimate sacrifice – her own dreams and ambitions – to raise a family and be a good wife.

Eventually cancer wins out and the family begin to deal with their grief. Ellen is set to return to her life in New York when she is arrested, accused of hastening her mother’s death with an overdose of morphine, and charged with murder. The second half of the book looks at how the family is affected by this and the eventual outcome … which I won’t give away here.

I found the first half of the book fascinating. At first Ellen is depicted as tough and hot-headed, her mother more docile, but as their relationship grows and deepens the similarities between the women are obvious. I loved hearing about the books they were reading and the food they were cooking, and seeing this beautiful loving relationship develop often brought tears to my eyes.

However, the second half of the book didnt enthrall me as much. I think the mother-daughter relationship is what’s at the core of One True Thing and once that has gone the book felt hollow and unfeeling. I found Ellen’s loyalty difficult to understand under the circumstances and didnt feel strongly enough about this rest of the characters – her father, brothers, boyfriend – to care much about them. The final denouement was shocking and unexpected and finished the book in the right way, but I was left wanting more of Ellen and her mother and less of the legal aspects.

Having said that, I did thoroughly enjoy this book, which made me think quite deeply about my own relationship with my mother (and my grandmother, with whom I would love to have had more time) and also how I interact with my own daughter. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Blood Guilt

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Blood Guilt
Blood Guilt by Ben Cheetham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is a different take on your typical crime novel. Following the accidental death of his son, police officer Harlan gets into a fight in which a man dies. Fresh out of prison and feeling the loss of his wife and his job, Harlan takes on a mission when the son of the man he killed is kidnapped. This book had some strong characters and a believable storyline and I read it in two sittings – always a good sign!

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