Category Archives: Book reviews

Review of ‘Before She Knew Him’ by Peter Swanson

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

I think Peter Swanson is a brilliant crime/thriller writer and I have really enjoyed all his books that I’ve read. I found this one slightly less compelling than his other books. I’m not sure why, possibly because the lead characters have severe mental health issues which can be off-putting as they act unreasonably. This behaviour helps the plot, but makes the characters less empathetic.

There are two major twists in this book, normally when reading a thriller I guess the twists, or at least have some inkling that they are coming, but these twists were a complete surprise to me. In retrospect, I could see the seeds of these twists being sewn and the fact that I didn’t pick up on them suggests I wasn’t engaged enough in the book to question the storyline or think about what was going to happen. I just let it wash over me and found it a good but not excellent read.

The book follows Hen, a manic depressive artist, who suspects her new neighbour is a serial killer. She has a history of false accusations, so no one believes her suspicions, therefore she decides to investigate him herself. The drama escalates and results in several deaths.

I’d highly recommend Peter Swanson’s books, but maybe start with another one.

Review of ‘Little Disasters’ by Sarah Vaughan

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC of this book.

I’m not sure this is the best book to be reading when you have a young baby at home, as it features one character who kills a baby and another who is suffering with maternal OCD and constantly imagines harming her baby. However, it is written very sympathetically towards mothers and gives a really good insight into how it feels to be a mother and how, even if you are not suffering with mental health issues, motherhood changes you, makes you compare yourself to others and makes you feel like you can never be enough for your children.

Despite the unnerving content, I found this book very interesting. It has a really enthralling hook, the quandary which a paediatric doctor faces when one of her best friends, who she thinks is a brilliant mother, brings her infant daughter in with a head injury and lies about how it happened. Should she report her friend to the authorities? I liked the exploration and outcome of their friendship.

There is a secondary plot line about the doctor’s neglectful mother which I thought was less compelling. It rounded out her character, but I don’t think the book would have suffered if it had been cut out.

I thought the book could have ended about 10% earlier. There is an unnecessary twist at the end which makes the story seem less grounded in realism and gives the book more of a villain character, which it has done well to avoid until then by looking at all sides of a story and understanding how difficult parenting can be.

This is a very well written book with a good insight into parenting and the affect of a traumatic birth on a mother’s mental health. I appreciated its nuanced and sympathetic approach, particularly aa I struggled with post natal depression following a traumatic birth with my first child and I am only now reflecting on how much it affected me, as I parent a second baby who was born without trauma. I think Vaughan is a very talented and thoughtful writer.

Review of Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

Anne Tyler is probably my absolute favourite author. I look forward to reading each new novel she writes. It’s hard to put my finger on why I love her writing, because very little happens in her books, there is rarely an exciting plot or much action. Instead, her books are full of beautiful observations of everyday family life and she writes characters really well. It is simply really pleasant to read Tyler’s writing, even though her books are not unpredictable or thrilling.

Nobody writes lonely, emotionally stunted men as well as Tyler, and her latest book features a classic example. Micah Mortimer is a finicky iT technician in his 40s who is ambling through life never committing to anything. The arrival of the teenage son of one of his ex-girlfriends on his doorstep causes him to contemplate what is important in his life. You might expect the boy to be his unknown son, but Tyler is never that melodramatic, instead he is the catalyst for Micah to address what he actually wants from his life.

This is a short, beautifully written novel, with a very predictable ending and is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. There is nothing groundbreaking about this book but the joy of Tyler is in her lovely prose and her ability to observe human life so accurately.

Review of ‘Rules For Perfect Murders’ by Peter Swanson

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

I think Peter Swanson must be one of the best crime/thriller writers currently writing. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three of his books that I have read.

This book is the story of man who owns a bookshop which specialises in crime books. He is visited by the FBI when it seems a murderer is killing people based on a blog list he wrote about the best murders in crime fiction. It is fun and twisty with a classic unreliable narrator. I also really enjoyed the celebration of books within the book.

I sped through this book and found it compelling and unpredictable. I highly recommend it and ‘The Kind Worth Killing’ and ‘The Girl with a Clock for her Heart’ if you haven’t read them.

Review of ‘The Last’ by Hanna Jameson

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

I absolutely loved the premise of this book, essentially a closed-house murder mystery set during a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a really exciting combination of genres. It is absolutely compelling right from the start and I didn’t want to put it down. It is written as first person past tense chronological diary entries which I find the most readable form of fiction and means the style does not get in the way of the story.

It follows Jon Keller, an American professor, who is staying at a Swiss hotel when nuclear war breaks out across the world. He and about 20 survivors remain at the hotel and he begins to investigate the death of a young girl who is found murdered at the hotel. His diary entries describe his investigations and the struggles of the survivors to continue their lives at the hotel.

The first three quarters of this book are utterly brilliant. I was enjoying it so much I knew the ending could never live up to the rest of the book. It’s rare that a mystery book this interesting has a satisfying ending and that was true of this book too; the resolution just didn’t pack the same punch as the rest of the book. In spite of that, it’s easily the most exciting and compelling book I have read in a long time.

I thought I would be looking for comforting feel-good books at this time of global pandemic but I have really enjoyed this and ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ in the past week. Maybe apocalyptic fiction makes our current situation seem less scary and strange.

Review of ‘The Boy From the Woods’ by Harlan Coben

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

Book cover

I was really excited by the opening to this book because it seemed to be a departure for Coben. It starts with the discovery of a boy living in the woods and no one knows who he is or what he is doing there. I thought the book would unravel this mystery. However, it fast forwards to when this character, Wilde, is grown up and has him investigate the disappearance of two teenagers in a very standard Cobenesque story.

In fact, the mystery of the boy from the woods is not actually resolved in this book, which is very unusual for Coben who usually ties up all his story threads in a neat bow at the end of each book. This made me wonder if this is the start of a new series following this character, or maybe I missed a clue I should have picked up on.

My favourite part of this book was that it has lawyer Hester Crimstein as one of the main characters. She often pops up in Coben’s other books, particularly his Myron Bolitar series, and it was nice to spend some time with this character and find out more about her. I also particularly enjoyed one scene where presidential candidate Rusty Eggers spins some bad news and coordinates his team’s Twitter ‘bot’ reaction, which I thought was a good insight into the current ‘fake news’ era when politicians seem to be able to get away with anything.

I’m a big fan of Coben and enjoyed this book, but I have read so many of his books now that I don’t find much original or surprising in his new books. Instead, they are like settling into a nice comfy pair of slippers and are comforting in their familiarity. Coben is a really reliable author, all of his books are well-crafted and readable and sometimes something expected, unchallenging and familiar is exactly what you want to read, especially at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. I look forward to Coben’s new book every year.

Review of ‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

FC8FA8C5-3398-445F-9B54-3FDC537D9E34.pngThanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’m a bit sad about this one. I had heard so much positive buzz about this book, how funny and original and outstanding it is, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately,  however, that was not my experience.

Less follows protagonist Arthur Less as he travels the world in order to avoid having to attend his former lover’s wedding. I found it meandering and melancholic and simply lacking in anything to really capture my attention. The sudden happy ending, in contrast to the rambling story, felt rushed and unearned. The main character should have had to work for it and we should have seen it happen.

The writing style was overly flowery and off-putting, and sometimes quite irritating. There were moments of humour, but not enough to warrant the high levels of praise this book has received. It took me about 6 weeks to plough through it.

 

Review of ‘Crossfire’ by Malorie Blackman

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

I loved the first few books in the Noughts and Crosses series, especially the first. However, after reading this, I wish that Malorie Blackman had stopped after the initial trilogy. I was really disappointed.

I did not realise when I started reading this book that it was part of a new series rather than a standalone book, if I had known, I may have paused before reading this. It does the most frustrating thing that books in a series can do; it builds up the background, the plot and the characters slowly and just as you are beginning to get interested in the characters and the plot feels like it has actually got started, it just stops with a ‘to be concluded’. It’s like reading half a book and then just stopping. There is no conclusion, no satisfaction.

I don’t mind reading a book in a series if at the end of a book there are a few loose ends for future books to deal with but this book simply stops, there is no resolution to any of the plot strands. It feels like one book has been divided in two just to sell more books and make more money.

In addition to the ending, I didn’t feel like the rest of the book lived up to Blackman’s previous books in this series. I found it hard to care about characters I had previously liked such as Sephy and Callie and I really didn’t care for the new young characters like Troy and Libby. I’ve seen lots of reviews describing this book as a searing indictment of today’s society and the current political situation in Britain and America, but I just didn’t see that. It felt muddled, all the characters are really flawed and I couldn’t really tell what point the book was trying to make. Maybe if I’d got to read the second half of the story, it would have been clearer, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I think the swapping of the races so that black people are the dominant race, which worked so effectively in the earlier books adds nothing to this book, and actually serves to confuse who we should be rooting for.

If you are planning to read this, I’d probably wait until the next book comes out to avoid the frustration of the ending.

Review of ‘Run Away’ by Harlan Coben

800B2634-497B-4999-AA7F-45C0241302C0Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the ARC of this book.

I love Harlan Coben books and always look forward to a new one. They are always a quick entertaining read with thought-provoking family quandaries.

This one is one of Coben’s stand alone books, although it does feature a couple of recurring characters from his other books just as a wink to his regular readers. It was, as expected, an easy, enjoyable read, but I didn’t find it one of the best examples of his work. I was more than half way through the book when I realised I was still waiting for that intriguing hook that most of his books have to make you interested.

I think I have probably just read too many of Coben’s books now, so the themes are very familiar and they are not as surprising or fresh as they were when I started reading his books. I still enjoy his voice and find the books a good read but they just lack the fizz and surprise elements they used to have for me and are beginning to feel quite formulaic.

I think the unique hook for this book was supposed to be figuring out the connection between the murder of several men who have all recently used a DNA service, but this never quite sparked my interest as a mystery. There’s also the question of what has happened to the lead character’s junkie daughter, but I didn’t care much for this mystery either and it is resolved by exposition at the end of the book and not really through the main action of the book.

Still, I would wholeheartedly recommend Harlan Coben’s books to anyone, especially people who are new to his work, they have a real treat in store. I wish I could discover him for the first time again.

Review of ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig

157E2264-0100-471F-921C-CCA5EB98C754Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books for the ARC of this book.

I wish Matt Haig’s series of kid’s books about the origin and early years of Father Christmas had been around when I was a child. I would have loved them! ‘Santa Claus the Movie’ was my favourite film and these books would have been right up my street. This series would make a fabulous Christmas present for a 9/10 year old. The stories are fun and the illustrations are humourous and enhance the stories well.

I listened to the first book in the series ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ as an audiobook. It’s exquisitely read by Stephen Fry. I thought it was an enjoyable tail but slightly trailed off into a bit too much exposition at the end. This book, the second in the series, is plotted much more tightly and is a great festive adventure. Christmas is in danger because Amelia, the girl who most believed in the magic of Christmas, is losing her faith, and trolls are attacking Father Christmas’s home Elfhelm. On Christmas Eve Father Christmas sets out to Victorian England to save Amelia, the elves and Christmas.

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read it with my daughter when she is old enough, I’m sure she’ll find it a magical experience.