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Review of ‘Fool Me Once’ by Harlan Coben

cover83910-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the ARC of this book.

I love Harlan Coben, he’s one of my favourite authors. His books are so fast-paced and easy to read. ‘Fool Me Once’ is not one of my favourites.

The main character, Maya Stern, is a disgraced soldier with PTSD whose husband and sister have been murdered. Due to this heavy subject matter, I felt the book lacked Coben’s usual lightness of touch and witty dialogue, which often make his books fun to read.

The book starts with Maya seeing her supposedly dead husband playing with her daughter on a recording from her nanny cam. This leads her to investigate her husband and sister’s deaths. The theme of dead people returning from the grave is one Coben uses often in his books and it will be very familiar to his fans. It always sets up an intriguing premise for a book; however, in this book it felt like a missed opportunity. It was a pleasant tease to draw you into the book but the rest of the plot did not live up to the promise of the beginning and I thought the plot completely fell apart during the final climax. I was hoping for a much cleverer and more exciting conclusion to the book.

While I appreciate a strong female lead, Maya is not a very likable character. Her parenting skills are abysmal. For example, her choice of next of kin for her daughter is an alcoholic.The book is told in third person, so she’s not exactly an unreliable narrator, but Coben chooses to omit a crucial part of her story in order to create a big reveal for the finale, so you feel a bit duped because the book would be completely different if we possessed all the facts that we should about Maya at the beginning of the book.

As always with Coben, this is an easy, fun read but it does not live up to the standard of some of his best work. If you’ve never read one of his books try ‘Tell No One’ first, it is a near perfect thriller.

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Review of ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’by Jennifer E Smith

imageThanks to NetGalley, Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ follows high school sweethearts Aidan and Clare on their last night before leaving to go to university on opposite coasts of America. They revisit places which have been significant to their relationship as they try to come to a decision about whether to stay together or split up.

I really enjoyed this as a concept for a book. It’s a dilemma which thousands of kids have to go through every year but about which I don’t recall reading before.

I did find that for two teenagers the characters had a little more prescience than I would expect. They understood how unlikely they would be to make it as a couple and the damage they could do to their relationship and their college experience by trying to stay together. I’m not sure teenagers are that thoughtful, I remember starting uni and there were loads of girls who arrived with boyfriends at home and within the first month only one of these couples were still together.

However, I do think the book captures the pain and confusion of this situation perfectly. The staying up all night talking things through is exactly what happens in these situations. I went through something similar with my then boyfriend now husband before leaving to study in America for a year in 1999 and this brought all those memories back.

Overall, I found this a sweet, enjoyable read which benefited from a simple concept and sparse narration.

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.

My day out at Hay (part two)

Last Saturday, my husband and I had our second day trip to this year’s Hay Festival of Literature. It was a fantastic day packed with diverse talks, famous faces, sunshine and ice cream! You can read my blog post from my previous trip to Hay here.

Hay Festival site

The first event we went to was probably the best event we’ve seen in the 8 years we’ve been going. It was called ‘Letters Live’ and was a celebration of two collections of letters published by Canongate; To The Letter by Simon Garfield and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. Each author gave a brief description of a letter from their collection which was then read out by a famous person including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey (Molly in Sherlock), Rob Brydon, AC Grayling, Ian McEwan and Rob Brydon.

Letters Live

It was fantastic! The letters were touching and funny and brilliantly acted. I particularly enjoyed Cumberbatch and Brealey reading letters between Chris and Bessie, two lovers separated during WWII. Also Brealey’s reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note and Cumberbatch’s performance of a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a school teacher who had burned his books were perfect. There’s a blog with some clips here, watch them, they’re fabulous, Cumberbatch is mesmerising! Also very amusing was seeing his squealing fans as he made his way through the crowds on the way out.

Next we went to see Siri Husvedt in conversation with Stephanie Merritt. I’ve not actually read any of her books, despite having owned What I Loved for ages, but it was a very interesting discussion. She’s clearly a very intelligent woman who knows heaps about psychology and art. She had some very pertinent observations on the way female artists and authors are overlooked.

Siri Hustvedt

QIFollowing that, we went to see three of the creators of TV programme QI, John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin, talking about some of the most interesting facts they’ve encountered while doing research for the programme. It was very funny, I was amazed at their ability to recall details about facts and I’m trying to remember some examples now and failing. Except for John Lloyd’s favourite fact which is that everybody expected the Spanish Inquisition because they had to give 30 days notice!

Next we went to see American authors Lorrie Moore and Joshua Ferris being interviewed. Unfortunately they were being interviewed by the same man that had done a dire job of moderating Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie on my previous trip. He asks far too specific questions which don’t engender conversation between the authors. Lorrie Moore seemed particularly non-plussed by him and gave some very curt answers and eventually someone in the audience shouted out that he should open it up to questions from the audience as his questions were falling so flat. In addition, each of the authors did a reading at the beginning of the event and he let Lorrie Moore go on for waaaay too long. I felt bad for Ferris as they barely had any time to talk to him and he seemed very funny. I bought a couple of his books to read.

Lorrie Moore Joshua Ferris

Ian McEwanOur next event was Ian McEwan in conversation with a much more professional interviewer about his forthcoming book The Children Act which will be published in September. This showed how much McEwan must love Hay – to come and talk about a book which doesn’t even come out more another three months. The book is about a judge so they had a very interesting conversation about judicial ethics particularly when it comes to decisions about medical treatment of children.

Cerys MatthewsOur final event of this year’s festival was a celebration of Dylan Thomas’s poetry. There was a introduction by Peter Florence the creator of the festival and then readings of Thomas’s works by actors Jonathan Pryce, Rob Brydon, Tom Hollander and Lisa Dwan and singer Cerys Matthews who also performed one of Thomas’s poems to music. I’m not a big poetry fan, but I really enjoyed this event, there’s something special about hearing it performed aloud particularly by such high class actors. Cerys Matthews’ performance also took Mike and me back to our university days when her band Catatonia was all the rage.

Dylan Thomas event

Ice creamWhat an amazing day out! I enjoyed myself so much I even took a break from my diet and ate a yummy ice cream! I can’t wait until next year’s festival.

“Bookish”

I’ve been book blogging for just over a month now and one of my favourite things that I’ve discovered in this time is bloggers’ reclaiming of the word ‘bookish’.

When I was a child and someone described me as ‘bookish’, it never meant anything good. The connotations were all negative: nerdy, introverted, quiet, unfriendly, socially awkward, square… I could go on.

So, I love the way book bloggers have taken back this word and proudly describe their blog posts and themselves as ‘bookish’. Book bloggers revel in using this word to indicate a love of reading and books and it makes these blogs a happy and safe place to visit.

Jorie’s Top Ten Bookish Google Doodles

An amazing, original idea for a Top Ten Tuesday by Jorie.

Jorie's Reads by Starry Night Elf

Top Ten Tuesday | The Broke and the Bookish

For future Top Ten Tuesday topics & info on how to participate, click here!

Top Ten – Freebie

(Thanks for the inspiration, Google!)

1.  Rachel Carson’s 107th Birthday (May 27, 2014)

Rachel Louise Carson's 107th Birthday

2. Octavio Paz’s 100th Birthday (March 31, 2014)

Octavio Paz's 100th Birthday (born 1914)

3.  Zora Neale Hurston’s 123rd Birthday (January 7, 2014) 

Zora Neale Hurston's 123rd Birthday

4. Albert Camus’ 100th Birthday (November 7, 2013)

Albert Camus's 100th Birthday

5. Maurice Sendak’s 85th Birthday (June 10, 2013)

6. Douglas Adams’ 61st Birthday (March 11, 2013)

7. Bram Stoker’s 165th Birthday (November 08, 2012)

Bram Stoker's 165th Birthday

8. 161st Anniversary of Moby Dick

161st Anniversary of Moby Dick's First Publishing

9. Mark Twain’s 176th Birthday (November 30, 2011)

Mark Twain's 176th Birthday

10. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 160th Birthday (November 13, 2010)

Robert Louis Stevenson's 160th Birthday

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My day out at Hay (part one)

Strange book art
Strange book art

Last Saturday my husband and I drove down to Hay-on-Wye for our annual trip to the wonderful Hay Festival.

In my experience at Hay the weather is either absolutely beautiful with the sun shining and people sunning themselves in deckchairs or there is torrential rain, huge muddy puddles and posh people wandering round in floral patterned wellies which they only get out for festivals. There is no middle ground. On this occasion, it was the later. We got drenched walking from the car to the festival site. Happily we’ve been before so we knew to wear wellies and quick drying clothes!

The rain doesn’t spoil a day at Hay; in fact there’s something quite enchanting about sitting in a tent trying to listen to a literary superstar while the rain hammers down and wind shakes the canvas around you.

This year we met up with our friends Olly and Mary. Mary was working in one of the sponsor tents so Olly had accompanied her for a couple of days. I was very jealous because they got free tickets to some of the events! It lovely to see them both although we had such a packed day of talks that I feel likely we barely had a chance to catch up with them properly.

Harkaway and Rahman signing books
Harkaway and Rahman signing books

Our first event was Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman. I picked this because I wanted to see Harkaway. I heard him on the radio when his first novel was released a few years ago and found him very funny and had been meaning to read one his books ever since. He was talking about his new novel Tigerman, happily I had received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and had just finished reading it the evening before. Read my review here. Rahman is a debut novelist, I had never heard of him before, in fact I was expecting him to be a woman! The connection between the authors’ work was quite tenuous both have background plot themes of the financial crisis and Afghanistan, although I wouldn’t say these are integral elements of Tigerman.

The event would have been more entertaining if it had just been Harkaway, his responses to questions were quick and witty whereas Rahman was a bit ponderous and meandering in his responses. Even so, it was an interesting event. Afterwards I bought a couple of Harkaway’s novels and had them signed at the bookstore. He was wearing a marvelous tiger striped tie to ‘tie-in’ with his book’s title.

Next up we went to see Cassandra Clare in conversation with her co-author and friend Sarah Rees Brennan. My poor 37 year old husband having to sit through that! I felt so sorry for him surrounded by teenage girls while two authors gossiped about how hot the characters in their books are; I really should have booked him an alternative event! However, I was quite happy.

Clare and Rees Brennan
Clare and Rees Brennan

I enjoyed listening to Cassandra and Sarah read sections from an unpublished story in the Bane Chronicles and seeing their excitement about the final installment of the Mortal Instruments series which is published today. It’s a shame there was a delay on the publishing which meant that there weren’t copies available to buy at Hay. This didn’t stop a million girls queuing to get Clare to sign her other books. The queue was so long that I went to my next event and came back to the bookshop over and hour later and they were still queuing around the corner of the tent. It was crazy! But it’s nice that Clare takes the time to talk to all the girls individually and make it worth the wait.

Fry and Fadell
Fry and Fadell

Next we went to see Stephen Fry interviewing Tony Fadell, one of the inventors of the iPod. This was definitely the highlight of the day! It was really fascinating. Fry is really interested in and knowledgeable about technology so they had an engrossing and revealing conversation.

Louisa Young's new book
Louisa Young’s new book

After that I went to see Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie. Both have written novels set during World War I. Young’s The Heroes’ Welcome is a sequel to ‘My Dear I Wanted to Tell You’ which I read and enjoyed; and Shamsie’s previous novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize, so I was interested in listening to both of them. I thought the atmosphere was a bit flat at this event, maybe these authors were a bit tired of being on the press tour or they don’t really know each other, but there wasn’t much chemistry between them. Since the Telegraph started sponsoring Hay, there have been more of these events where they pair authors up and it’s a bit like watching a tennis match as they take it in turns to answer questions. These events often don’t work as well as when the focus is on a single author; Hay was definitely better when it was sponsored by The Guardian!

Our final event was a second chance to see Stephen Fry. This time he was giving a talk about Shakespeare. I was expecting him to talk about his experiences acting on Broadway in Shakespeare’s plays; however he actually gave a lecture on love in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. He has some surprising a controversial viewpoints. For example, he is convinced that Shakespeare was gay and is certain that it was definitely Shakespeare who wrote the plays (not the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe or any of the other people that conspiracy theorists suggest).

Hay Festival site
Hay Festival site

He also said that Shakespeare knew that he would still be being read all these years later and that that does not mean he was arrogant, he was just that good. I didn’t agree with that assertion on any level, but it made me think.

A fun day out at Hay. Not quite as exciting as some previous years, but we’re going again next Saturday and I’m really looking forward to that and particularly to seeing Tom Hollander, Rob Brydon and Benedict Cumberbatch. Hopefully we’ll get to see the other side of Hay and the sun will be shining! Check back next week to hear about it in part two of my blog.