Category Archives: Adult fiction

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 ‘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 ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages after I started hearing people raving about it on lots of my favourite podcasts. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it because this is exactly the kind of book I love.

The highest praise I can give this book is that the voice and style reminded me of Anne Tyler who is probably my favourite author. Just as a Tyler does, Ng is able to describe the small family dramas of suburban life beautifully. She also does a wonderful job of capturing the peculiar heartbreak of longing for a child, losing a child and of actually parenting a child and how the fear of losing that child can impact negatively your ability to parent well. I felt personally touched by the stories of women suffering fertility problems and miscarriages, it’s quite rare to read about this topic in an understated, realistic way which captures this awful but normal pain.

I loved the 90’s setting of this book which meant the teenagers in this book are the same age I was at that time, so I understood all the cultural references perfectly. I could also totally picture Shaker Heights, the Ohio community where the book is set from Ng’s descriptions.

The novel follows the lives of two families living in Shaker Heights, the Richardsons and the Warrens, and how their lives intersect over the course of about a year. There’s also a really thought-provoking sub-plot about the adoption of a Chinese baby and whether she would be better off with a wealthy white family or growing up in her own culture with her struggling single-mother. This sub-plot is treated in an incredibly even-handed way.

I was slightly disappointed by the ending of the book as I hoping for a bit more face to face conflict. The book starts with the Richardson’s youngest daughter burning down their house with her mother inside and then sets out the explain the events which led up to this. I was expecting a more dramatic provocation for this dangerous and irresponsible act and I didn’t really feel that anything that happened in the book warranted this outcome. I wanted a bit more of a showdown between the characters but I suppose it is ultimately realistic and people do just move on from each other’s lives without the having the opportunity to say everything they feel to each other.

I will definitely search out more books by this author as I loved her writing style, voice and the subject matter of this book. It’s structured really well and is thought-provoking about issues without being polemical.

Review of ‘The Lost Man’ by Jane Harper

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve really enjoyed Jane Harper’s two previous books, but I think this is my favourite book by her so far. Unlike her other books, this is a standalone self-contained story of a family and the mystery surrounding the death of one of three brothers. It’s an easy, quick, engrossing read with a satisfying, if a little neat, conclusion.

In common with her previous books, this book does a wonderful job of evoking the huge landscapes and isolation of the Australian outback. I’m not sure I’ve read another author who is so good at bringing to life the landscape of a place without resorting to long, boring, florid descriptions which take you out of the story. It is such a skill to bring the landscape to life so well while always writing in service of the narrative. I love reading her books.

I really warmed to Nathan, the main character in this book, who is able to acknowledge his flaws and bad choices while still seeming somehow noble and trustworthy. His son Xander is also a really sweet and likeable character. It is really intriguing following the two of them trying to unravel the mystery of the reason behind Nathan’s brother Cameron’s death and uncovering secrets at the heart of their family.

I’d highly recommend this and Harper’s other books.

Review of Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

Thanks the NetGalley and Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for the ARC of this book.

This is the third book in the Orphan X trilogy. I’m not sure why I keep reading these books. The first one was ridiculous, the second was even more ridiculous and it’s clear from the end of this book that the series is heading into beyond ridiculous high-level conspiracy territory.

I picked up this book hoping to discover the fate of Jack which was left dangling at the end of the last book, fortunately this is disclosed almost immediately. I was also hoping this book might tie up the series and that Evan and Mia could finally settle down and be happy together and I could stop reading this series, alas this did not happen; this is clearly one of those series which is going to drag on and on and milk its premise (a silly Jason Bourne rip-off) for all it is worth.

I think I should probably stop reading the series anyway. It’s not that these books are bad; they are standard by numbers thrillers with overblown repetitive descriptions (do I really need to know the make of every gun and car?) and unsubtle emotional language; but I’m sure they meet the needs of their target audience, I’m just pretty positive that’s not me.

What’s puts me off the most is the way this book revels in its descriptions of violence, the main character Evan is basically a killing machine and in this book is responsible for at least 50 deaths and the glee the book feels when describing these is just wrong. I also really object to the awful leery language used to describe the female character Candy, she is the sum of all her physical parts and I feel queasy whenever I read a passage describing her. I really think contemporary books, even with a male focus, should do better with this.

Farewell Orphan X, may I reread this review if I’m ever tempted to pick up another book in this series.