Review of ‘Top Secret Twenty-One’ by Janet Evanovich

Top Secret 21Thanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I could probably just refer you to my review of Sizzling Sixteen by the same author, because essentially all the books in this series are the same. Unfortunately, this means that all the books have the same flaws: repetitive plots and a lack of character progression. However, I did feel that this book had a slightly more cohesive and interesting storyline than the previous Evanovich book I read, with a nice side trip to New York and Atlantic City involving Russian terrorists on top of the usual mooching around looking for idiots in Trenton.

I really think that by the 21st book in this series, Stephanie Plum should have evolved a bit, but she is still bumbling around making the same mistakes, still unable to choose fully between Morelli and Ranger, the two men in her life. At one point Stephanie ponders why her life has been drifting for so many years. If Evanovich realises this problem, why has she done nothing to rectify it? I just wanted to shout at the book, ‘Maybe, if you thought about more than what the men look like and picked a man with slightly more conversational skills than ‘Babe’ or ‘You’re a cupcake’, you’d find someone with whom you had a deeper connection and you’d be able to grow up and move on with your life’.

This book could probably be condensed into a fairly interesting 50 page novella, if Evanovich cut out all the filler:

  1. I don’t need to know what everyone is wearing
  2. I don’t need details of everything the characters eat or to know every time they are hungry (which is basically all the time)
  3. I don’t need a detailed description of every turn they make on their car journey, or where they park, or what car everyone drives
  4. I don’t need a detailed description of every place they visit where they fail to find the fugitive.

I don’t often appreciate the humour in Evanovich’s books, most of the time it is too stupid and falls flat. However, there was a Despicable Me inspired section with chihuahuas referred to as minions which made me smile in this book.

There’s not much to say about this book. Fans of Evanovich will enjoy it as another standard addition to the series but it’s as lacking in substance as the other books in this series. I keep picking them up, hoping they will have improved, but they don’t and I won’t bother reading any more in this series.

Review of ‘We Live in Water’ by Jess Walter

We Live in WaterThanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I don’t normally enjoy short story collections but I decided to pick this up after seeing Jess Walter’s novel ‘Beautiful Ruins’ on so many best of 2012 lists.

I enjoyed this more than I have enjoyed the few other collections I have read, although it was a pretty miserable read. Most of the stories are quick and easy to read and, unlike my previous experiences with short story collections, I did not feel a sense of frustration when each story ended due to wanting more.

Most of the stories are set in Spokane, Washington. Even though I love Washington State, I can safely say I never want to visit Spokane as a result of reading this book! Most of the stories revolve around similar themes including fractured parent-child relationships, cheating and divorce, drug and alcohol dependency, homelessness and poverty.

There are 12 stories, all centred around loser men. I found this a bit strange until I read the 13th chapter, which is a statistical abstract about Spokane written from the author’s point of view, and I discovered that Jess Walter is actually a man – I’d assumed because of his name he was a woman.

By far my favourite story was ‘The Wolf and the Wild’, which is based on one of Walter’s real-life experiences. It is about a white collar criminal who works as a teaching assistant in a school for part of his community service. It was the only story which I felt had even a grain of happiness, even though it also emphasises the poverty and lack of male role models which many children in Spokane suffer.

I would recommend this book as it offers a window into life in an impoverished, troubled American city and its unfortunate residents.

Top Ten Tuesday: Cover trends I like/dislike

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s very fun theme is ‘Ten book cover trends I like/dislike’. I’ve decided to split my list in half; five I like and five I don’t.

Five cover trends I like

Like - illustrated covers1. Nice illustrations rather than photos/literal drawings. As you can see from my Top Ten Tuesday list of book covers I’d frame as art, I much prefer illustrations or graphic design on covers, they are just so much more eye-catching and impactful than photos and I think they show that the designer has put much more thought into how best to represent the book on its cover.

Like - integrated titles2. Title integrated into the cover design. I really like it when the designer has taken the time to think of clever ways to incorporate the title into the illustrative design of the cover, rather than just superimposing it on top of an image in a boring font.

Like - soft covers3. Fuzzy, soft covers. This is tactile rather than visual, but I really like the increasing trend for British paperback book covers to be made from soft rather than shiny cardboard. I love to read physical books and these covers which are pleasant to touch make them even more joyful to read. These also tend to have the type of illustrated covers which I prefer.

Like - arty classics4. Arty re-releases of classic books. Classic books are so widely available that publishers have to make a real effort to make beautiful versions of these books to make you want to buy them.

Like - black and white covers
5. Dramatic black and white (and red) covers. This slightly contradicts my moan about Twilight inspired black and red covers below, but when this concept is used cleverly and originally it can be really stunning.

Five cover trends I dislike

Dislike - faces on cover1. Full faces on the cover. I like to be able to imagine the characters for myself and it’s really jarring when your imagination doesn’t match the picture on the cover. On Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 book club they have a theory that a book is literary fiction if you can’t see the full face and popular fiction if you can, so I suppose if a book features a face it usually indicates it’s lower quality, but I don’t think that always applies.

Dislike - shouty writing2. Big shouty writing. I really dislike covers which are mostly taken up by big writing, this applies most often to crime fiction, and is particularly prevalent on American versions of the covers. See the examples above comparing a couple crime books’ British editions (right) with their American counterparts (left).

Dislike - body parts3. Naked body parts – particularly bare chests on American romance covers. These covers are so unsubtle, I can’t imagine who would be happy buying a book which looked like this! British romance book covers could not be more different, they are all pastel colours, cakes, shoes and flowers.

As you can tell from items 2 and 3 on this list, I’m fascinated by how different British and American covers are.

Dislike - Twilight inspired4. Twilight inspired supernatural YA fiction covers. For a while it seemed like about 75% of YA fiction in bookshops was some ugly rip-off of Twilight – black backgrounds, red images. They’re all so samey, it’s impossible to judge their quality. More recently I’m getting annoyed by how many awful looking Fifty Shades of Grey inspired covers have started appearing everywhere.

Dislike - boring stock photography5. Boring stock photography images which don’t help you understand what the book will be about. We went to see Rosie Thomas give a talk at our local bookshop a couple of months ago and when she was asked whether she likes her books’ covers, she basically said they were awful!

Which cover trends do you like? Do you prefer British or American style covers?

Review of ‘Sizzling Sixteen’ by Janet Evanovich

ImageI’ve read a couple of books in this series previously and not really thought that much of them, but I decided to read this (which I got very cheaply from a library discard sale) because I have received a copy of Evanovich’s 21st book to read via Bookbridgr and thought I should read this earlier book first.

Every time I pick up a book in this series I expect to find something enjoyable which I missed in the previous books I read, or with the progression of the series the quality of the books will have improved. I am always disappointed. These books are just really stupid and you have to take them with a huge pinch of salt in order to read them; if you try to apply any kind of logic to any of the characters then you don’t get anywhere.

I think the main issue with this book and the series in general is that they are just so repetitive. Evanovich’s heroine, Stephanie Plum, is a bounty hunter and frankly it’s not really that interesting a job. Basically all Stephanie does is drive around hoping to stumble upon the people she is looking for, frequently stopping to buy fast food and occasionally getting herself in a dangerous situation from which she needs to be rescued by a man. Frankly, in reality if anyone ate as much rubbish as she does, she’d be the size of a house and definitely wouldn’t have 2 hot men chasing after her.

The two hot men are another of the big issues with this series; the last book I read in this series was number 7, this is number 16 and the storyline and romantic relationships have not progressed at all. Stephanie is still on again off again with Morelli and seriously tempted by Ranger but not acting on it. How long can a grown women, particularly one this inept and silly, string along two seemingly desirable men? It’s ridiculous. I hope when I read book 21 that she will have finally made a choice between the two, or they both will have realised that she is a loser and moved on.

The storyline is totally inconsequential and almost exactly the same as the other books I’ve read in this series. I guess Evanovich knows how to cash in on what for some people is obviously a winning formula.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Very inspiring blogger awardThanks so much to the lovely Alex  @ alexinbookland and Rachael @ The End of the Chapter for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. It’s the first time I’ve been nominated/tagged for anything and it’s very exciting!

Here are the rules for this blogger award:

  1. Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  5. Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Seven (bookish) facts about me:

I like to keep my blog posts book related, so my seven facts will all be bookish!

  1. After I left university, I worked for about 18 months at Waterstones in Newbury. As a result I am a master of ‘pyramiding’  (arranging piles of books on a table so that the bigger piles are in the middle and the smaller piles around the edge of the table) and even now 10 years later, I still feel the need to tidy up tables whenever I go into a bookshop!
  2. When I was 11, my friends and I ran a weekly book club called the ‘Literature Association’ or LA. I was the megalomaniac president and I used to write weekly newsletters on my dad’s old type-writer and make my friends sit book exams. Our club password was Erutaretil (literature backwards) and we chanted “Eru, Eru, Erutaretil” before starting our meetings!
  3. The troll under the bridgeMy favourite film based on a book is probably 10 Things I Hate About You, based on The Taming of the Shrew, which is an awful play in terms of gender politics but translated perfectly into a teenage rom-com! My husband and I love it so much that we went on a pilgrimage to locations from the film around Seattle and Tacoma in 2002, including the troll under the bridge, the gasworks park, the high school and of course the bookshop in Fremont – where my husband bought me a book for my 23rd birthday (A Friend of the Earth by TC Boyle).
  4. One of the readings at my wedding was and extract from The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman:

    My wedding“we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight”

    We were worried that the vicar would not allow us to have a reading from such an anti-religious book, but when we ran it past him and his wife, it made his wife cry and they thought it was perfect!

  5. My favourite book when I was little was Fantastic Mr Fox. My best friend and I used to dress up as Farmer Bunce and Farmer Boggis and reenact scenes from the book for our parents.
  6. StravaganzaUnlike most people, I don’t believe I have a book in me. Despite my love of reading, I’m dreadful at creative writing and find it a real chore! I much prefer consuming other people’s hard work.
  7. The book world I would most like to be able to visit is the historic Italy of Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series. I would be amazing to be a Stravagante and to be able to travel between 16th century Venice and real modern life!

I’m nominating:

Some of these may have already been nominated or already participated, but they are all fab book blogs which you should visit! 15 people seemed a bit like overkill, so I’ve picked 10:

  1. Chrissi Reads
  2. Booknerderie
  3. Mrs H Bookworm
  4. Brin’s Book Blog
  5. Read What I Like
  6. Cleopatra Loves Books
  7. It’s All About Books
  8. Bookishswint
  9. Another After Thought
  10. The Wicked Queen’s Mirror

Review of ‘The Book of You’ by Claire Kendal

The Book of YouI received this book as part of the GoodReads First Reads programme.

This book gave me nightmares. It’s brilliantly written and quite compelling, but the subject matter is horrifying. If you plan to read it, make sure you don’t read it late at night while you are on your own in your house!

The Book of You tells the story of Clarissa who is being stalked by the terrifying, obsessive Rafe. It’s divided into alternating narratives. One from Clarissa’s first person point of view, writing in her journal recording Rafe’s behaviour and addressed to him. The other is third person, describing Clarissa’s day to day life which revolves around being a juror in a rape trial.

These types of dark, chilling psychological thrillers written from a woman’s point of view about the horrifying mental and physical violence perpetrated by men are becoming increasingly popular. I think fans of Into the Darkest Corner, Before I Go to Sleep and Apple Tree Yard will really like this book. I’m not sure why these type of books are becoming so popular. They are definitely compelling but they are also really disturbing.

Reading about the powerlessness of women against obsessive, delusional and violent men is terrifying. At least these men usually get what’s coming to them at the end of the book, but not before they’ve put the woman through enough trauma to scar them for life.

The Book of You stands apart from these similar narratives because of the clever use of the secondary story of the rape trial and the parallels between the testimony of what happened to the victim and what is happening to Clarissa in her life. The treatment of the rape victim makes Clarissa more reluctant to go to the police because she sees how the victim is doubted and treated like the rape was her fault.

If you can stomach the subject matter, this is a very well-written and captivating read, a perfect addition to this genre.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my summer TBR list

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is ‘Top ten books on my summer TBR list’.

I wrote part one of this list a couple of weeks ago when the theme was ‘Ten books that will be in my beach bag this summer‘. For that list I only picked books which I own in hard copy format. So, this week I’ve picked 10 books which are e-books or ARCs from NetGalley.

I Am Pilgrim
1. I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes
I have been really excited about reading this for months since hearing it featured on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Book Club. I’m sure it will be great but it’s over 700 pages long, so I haven’t managed to fit it in yet.
Mad About You
2. Mad About You – Sinead Moriarty
I requested this from NetGalley after seeing it featured on this season’s Richard and Judy Book Club picks. (I Am Pilgrim is also on that list).
Pop Goes the Weasel
3. Pop Goes the Weasel – M J Arlidge
Arlidge’s previous book ‘Eeny Meeny’ is also one of Richard and Judy’s picks. I have it as an audiobook, once I’ve listened to that I’ll start this. There’s quite a lot of buzz around Arlidge.
The Tightrope Walkers
4. The Tightrope Walkers – David Almond
Almond usually writes children’s books, so I was intrigued by his new book which is adult fiction.
The Beekeeper's Daughter
5. The Beekeeper’s Daughter by Santa Montefiore
I’ve enjoyed a couple of Montefiore’s romance books in the past.
6. Fallout – Sadie Jones
I’m excited about Sadie Jones’s new book, I’ve enjoyed her work in the past.
A Perfect Heritage
7. A Perfect Heritage – Penny Vincenzi
I’ve never read any of Vincenzi’s books before, but I thought I’d give this a go
We Live in Water
8. We Live in Water – Jess Walter
This collection of short stories has a beautiful cover. I’ve also got Walter’s ‘Beautiful Ruins’ to read this summer.
Before We Met
9. Before We Met – Lucie Whitehouse
Another Richard and Judy summer pick. I downloaded this because it was very cheap on Amazon.
Every Dead Thing
10. Every Dead Thing – John Connolly
We went to see Connolly at our local bookshop a few months ago. I downloaded the first 4 of his Charlie Parker books in preparation for the event but ran out of time to finish his first book and have been waylaid by other book since. I definitely want to get back to it as he was a really entertaining speaker.

What will you be reading this summer?

Review of ‘Juliet, Naked’ by Nick Hornby

Juliet NakedI listened to the audiobook version of this which is read by three narrators, one for each of the main characters. It’s very well read except for the occasional dodgy regional accent – Bill Irwin the American narrator really can’t do a northern English accent!

Nick Hornby is and incredibly readable author. I never fail to enjoy his books. He has an amazing ability to get right to the heart of human nature. His observations are spot-on and insightful, especially when it comes to feckless men and people who are obsessed by music. I really like how realistic and flawed his characters and their situations are.

Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie and Duncan, a boring couple who have been living a mundane life together for fifteen years. Duncan has an unhealthy obsession with obscure 80’s musician Tucker Crowe, which ends up driving their relationship apart. I was really glad when Annie got shot of Duncan, he is an idiot.

I found this book really came alive with the introduction of a chapter told from Tucker’s point of view. It was unexpected and rounded out the novel, which I felt would have been boring if we had just stuck with Annie and Duncan’s perspective. Tucker’s 6 year old son Jackson is a fantastic character, he is hilarious.

I love how this book is able to demonstrate the ordinariness of famous people compared with the expectations and speculation of their fans.

Juliet, Naked is not Hornby’s best book but it’s easy to read and enjoyable and I’m sure his fans would like it.