Review of ‘All Together Now’ by Gill Hornby

All Together NowThanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I picked up this book because I am a fan of the author’s brother, Nick Hornby, and her husband, Robert Harris, so I had high hopes of the quality of the writing. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The book follows a series of lonely misfits in a small town who come together in the community choir and improve their lives, happiness and family relationships through the power of joining in and communal support.

With a plotline treading such familiar and predictable ground, the book either needed to be exceptionally funny or have particularly compelling characters in order to be successful. Unfortunately it has neither qualities.

I didn’t really like or care about any of the characters. I thought the characterisation was poor and I couldn’t really get inside the heads of the characters; they were all a bit flat and one note.

The plot was also written by numbers with no twists or surprises and could be any number of other books I’ve read or films I’ve seen. In fact, the basic premise of an unlikely group of people drawn together by circumstance and becoming an extended supportive family is almost exactly the same as Nick Hornby’s book ‘A Long Way Down’, but his writing is much more accomplished and compelling and his observations about human relationships more piercing.

I really wanted to like this book, but it was just incredibly average and bland.

Wren’s first trip to the library

On Monday I took my nine week old daughter, Wren, on her first visit to the library. I’m really keen to instill in her a love of reading, so I’m starting her young! We went to the rhyme time session for under 5’s which is hosted free by the library every Monday. She ate and slept through the whole session but I’m hoping she may have absorbed some of it vicariously. I’m sure she will start to love it in a few months time when she’s more able to engage in what is going on.

Wren's first trip to the library
Wren’s first trip to the library

We took out her first set of library books, some Welsh language picture books for my husband to read to her, to help her learn Welsh, which she’ll have to study at school but which neither of us speak much of at all.

Wren's first library books
Wren’s first library books

In addition she had her first visit to our wonderful local independent bookshop Booka to collect my World Book Night books.

Wren's first trip to Booka
Wren’s first trip to Booka

Happy World Book Night!

This year for World Book Night I have 18 Copies of The Martian by Andy Weir to give away. I’ve failed so far as I’ve been at home all day looking after my 9 week old, but hopefully I’ll do better over the coming days!

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet as I only picked up my books a couple of days ago, but the bookseller at my collection point said it’s a great book for men, so maybe I’ll try to target men for my giveaways.

I love World Book Night! It’s a fantastic idea and great to be a part of it.

Review of ‘The Truth According to Us’ by Annie Barrows

Truth according to usThanks to NetGalley and Random House Transworld for the ARC of this book.

I really enjoyed this book. It is very much in the same vein as Barrows’ first book ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, with a historical setting, small community, loveable characters and gentle humour. However, in this novel the action is transplanted to a small town in America, Macedonia in West Virginia and the year 1938.

The novel follows characters from the Romeyn family and their lodger Layla Beck, a senator’s daughter who is forced to join the Works Progress Administration as punishment for not marrying her father’s choice of husband and is sent to write the history of Macedonia. Her arrival sets into motion a series of events which unearth long hidden secrets in the Romeyns’ past and changes their lives forever.

The main narrator, 12 year old Willa Romeyn, realises that adults keep secrets and decides over the summer of 1938 to pay better attention to what is going on around her and get to the bottom of who her father and aunt really are. Her voice is sweet and insightful and she is a joy to spend time with and witness as she unravels her family’s secrets.

Barrows does a great job of evoking a sense of time and place and creating interesting, humourous, and fully-rounded characters, who are likeable in spite of their flaws. This is a gentle, well-paced and enjoyable read for people who love character-driven novels.

Review of the ‘Lorien Legacies’ series

I’ve recently read the first three books in the Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore, here are a few brief thoughts on these books.

FourI Am Number Four
I saw the film of this book a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty rubbish, but I got this book free on iTunes so I thought I’d give it a go. As usual the book is better than the film. It’s a fairly enjoyable jaunt about an alien living on Earth in a small town in Ohio dealing with the perils of high school and first love while being hunted by an evil race of aliens who want to destroy the planet. He is number four of nine aliens who are being hunted and killed in order (don’t ask me why; it’s a thoroughly contrived premise which is abandoned in later books because the hero can’t die).

My favourite part of this book is the road trip that the lead character John and his best friend Sam take to Athens, Ohio, because I spent a year of university in that town so I was able to picture it exactly and it’s always exciting reading about places you know, especially ones as obscure as Athens, Ohio!

The first two thirds of the book are pretty slow, developing the relationships between John and his girlfriend Sarah, friend Sam and mentor Henri. The last third is action packed with a dramatic climax when the Mogadorian baddy aliens attack.

Mostly it’s a fun read. I gave it three stars out of five and it might have got four stars if not for the inexplicable change of heart by the human nemesis at the end of the book. His character completely changes without any explanation in the narrative for this transformation, it’s unnecessary and spoils the end of the book a bit. Also, as with the majority of YA fiction it’s written in the present tense, which I detest!

sixThe Power of Six
This book picks up where the last left of following John, Sam and alien number six on the run from the government and the Mogadorian. It also has a second narrative from the perspective of Marina, alien number seven who lives in a convent in Spain and also comes under attack by the Mogadorian.

This book isn’t as fun as the first, it feels a bit like series filler, introducing new characters of aliens numbers 7, 9 and 10 and not really progressing the story too much. However, it is still light and easy to read and if you like a bit of teen angst mixed with sci-fi battles then you’ll probably enjoy it.

I listened to the audiobook and found that the voices didn’t really match the characters. John is read by a middle aged man rather than a teenager and the actress playing Marina has a really annoying voice when doing the people with Spanish accents.

NineThe Rise of Nine
I begun to get bored with this series during the third installment. It has the feel of a series which is going to be dragged out to get the most money from book purchases rather than one which is designed to create the best narrative possible.

This book introduces alien number eight, but it takes the full book for all the aliens to finally come together in a battle against the Mogadorian Voldemort, Setrakus Ra. This really feels like filler and it’s quite frustrating waiting for all the aliens to meet up. Plus the human hero Sam doesn’t even feature in this book, so you have to read the next one to find out what’s happened to him.

I also felt that the sci-fi element began to outweigh the teen angst element in this book and it spoiled the equilibrium between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind aliens with special powers but teleportation and secret caves in Everest began to take this too far, I prefer it to be routed a bit more in reality. Otherwise the author can just keep coming up with more and more fantastical elements to get himself out of corners he’s written himself into.

Again I listened to the audiobook version and had the same reservations about the age of the narrator reading John.

I’m not sure I’ll bother with the rest of the series.

Review of ‘Love Hurts’

Love Hurts coverThanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the ARC of this book.

‘Love Hurts’ is an anthology of mostly extracts from young adult novels with a few original short stories by YA authors all based loosely on the theme of love. Authors include Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and David Levithan.

I’m quite surprised that this book is being sold as a full price book. I would expect it to be given away as a free sampler or sold for a token price as it is basically just a shopfront for promoting existing YA novels. It’s aim is to get you to buy more books by these authors.

I’m not really into anthologies. I find I either love the story and I am frustrated that I can’t read the full book or I’m unengaged and want to skip to the next extract. There were also quite a few extracts from good books which I have already read such as ‘Noughts and Crosses’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘The Northern Lights’, which I skipped over.

There were two extracts that I genuinely enjoyed and which had the desired effect of making me intrigued enough to consider buying the full novel: ‘You Against Me’ by Jenny Downham about a love affair between the sister of an alleged rapist and the brother of his victim; and ‘Forbidden’ by Tabitha Suzuma about an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister. I thought these were unusual premises for books and the extracts seemed well written and piqued my interest.

I think if you are going to buy a YA book, you’d be better off picking one of the featured books and buying and reading that rather than spending money on this book, as I didn’t really get much out of it. However, the cover is beautiful.

Review of ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ by MJ Arlidge

Pop goes the weaselThanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I read ‘Eeny Meeny’, the first in this series, last year and was intrigued to find out how the author would continue the series, as the storyline and crime in the first book were very personal to the main detective, Helen Grace.

Having read ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, I think it would have been better if the author had left ‘Eeny Meeny’ as a stand alone book. i really don’t think Helen Grace is interesting or sympathetic enough to warrant a series, and a lot of the time I really dislike the choices she makes. For example, after hearing a witness provide her with a statement about child abuse, rather than returning to the police station to write up this evidence, she visits her dominator to be whipped in order to regain control and release stress; this really doesn’t ring true. I would imagine that a woman who spends her working life investigating horrible sexual crimes, prostitution and murder would choose to stay as far away from these things as possible in her personal life.

I really dislike the way this series focuses on a revels in details of sexual violence, particularly towards women. I feel like the author describes these things in an unnecessary gratuitous fashion to give people vicarious pleasure rather than for the sake of a really great narrative. The portrayal of the vulnerability of women is quite disturbing. Even though the murderers are women, they have been pushed into their crimes as a result of the horrible violence they have suffered and are therefore victims rather than empowered. Even the heroine Helen Grace has suffered sexual assault in the past.

I really hope Southampton doesn’t really have the horrible dark underbelly of prostitution and violence depicted in these books; they have an unrelentingly pessimistic view of the world. I hope that in future books in this series, Arlidge chooses to focus on different types of crime and murder, because the current focus on gratuitous violence and sexual crimes is really unpleasant to read.

Review of ‘The Stranger’ by Harlan Coben

I always enjoy reading Harlan Coben’s books, particularly his stand alone books as the storylines are usually less formulaic than his Myron Bolitar series.

‘The Stranger’ is a standalone book about a man who is approached by a stranger in a bar who tells him that his wife faked a pregnancy and miscarriage 2 years earlier. When he confronts his wife with this information she vanishes. His search for her reveals the usual Cobenesque twists and turns, deceit and secrets with a final dramatic climax.

It’s very easy to read, quite enjoyable but not one of Coben’s absolute best books. I think probably when you’ve read all his books they begin to lose impact a bit because they do tend to tread the same ground but with slight variations on the same themes. However, it was definitely a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

I thought that the storyline based around a group of people who blackmail people over things they have ordered on dodgy websites was not very believable. The baddies seemed too omniscient. Plus, as usual with Coben, the plot relied on severa unrelated bad events all coinciding rather fortuitously. However, if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s a fun read.

Review of ‘The Rosie Effect’ by Graeme Simsion

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I read and loved the ‘The Rosie Project’ last year, so I had really high hopes for this sequel. Unfortunately this book did not live up to my expectations. Whereas in the first book I found Don and Rosie, the principal characters funny and unique, in this book I simply found them irritating. In the last book they brought out the best in each others’ characters whereas in this book they bring out the worst, as a result this book lacks the charm of the original.

‘The Rosie Effect’ follows Don and Rosie a year into their marriage, living in New York and expecting their first baby. Having just been through a pregnancy myself, I found this book so frustrating. Pregnancy is an exciting and joyful time that should bring the prospective parents closer together, but Don and Rosie spend the entire pregnancy making each other stressed and unhappy due to their inability to communicate. What was in the first book a sweet and offbeat romance is in this book a dysfunctional marriage. Obviously the book has a happy ending, but the large majority of the book is taken up by misunderstandings and misery and the end cannot make up for the preceding negativity.

Last year I went to see Simsion talk about ‘The Rosie Project’. He explained how it was years in development, starting as a screenplay and creative writing thesis. I think that is probably why the first book is so well written. In contrast this book must have been written very quickly for a fast release off the back of the success of the first book, and I think it shows; it’s a far less well written and entertaining book. For example, Don is supposed to have thoroughly researched pregnancy foods and sets up a meal for Rosie where one of the dishes is liver, which is actually a food which you are advised not to eat when you are pregnant. This shows a lack of research which undermines Simsion’s characterisation of Don. This is still a very easy read and in places is humorous and made me smile, but it just didn’t live up to the heights reached by the first book.