‘All Our Wrong Todays’ by Elan Mastai

cover97841-medium.pngI’ve just finished reading ‘All Our Wrong Todays’ by Elan Mastai. I received the ARC through NetGalley so I have to post my full review nearer the publication date (2 March 2017) but I just had to say that I love love love this book! It’s the best book I’ve read in ages; funny and exciting, complex but incredibly readible. If you get the chance to read it, do it. It’s great!

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Review of ‘Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz

imageThanks to NetGalley and Orion for the ARC of this book.

I reckon Anthony Horowitz had so much fun writing this book. It was a lot of fun reading it as well; despite being slightly frustrating in the manner it holds back answers you are desperate to know.

This book has so many layers. It’s basically two murder mystery books in one. There’s a 1950’s Agatha Christie style British whodunnit as well as a modern crime thriller. In addition this book is really knowing, it’s all about the construction of a crime novel, the standard tropes and the joy of reading a cosy crime thriller.

This is such a clever book, the way the two murder mysteries link together is intriguing and the device of interjecting each story into the other at crucial points order to delay revealing the ending is infuriating but ingenious.

I won’t go into details on the plot as I don’t want to spoil this for anyone; it’s probably best read without any prior knowledge of the plot or characters.

I’ve been yearning for a really good crime/thriller read recently and this fits the bill perfectly. Plus there is no sexual violence towards women which is a blessed relief as this seems to be the theme of the vast majority of crime books and TV programmes at the moment.

I’d highly recommend this book to people who love old-fashioned crime stories but are looking for something which takes this genre and elevates it to something special. I’ll definitely read more books by Horowitz in the future.

Review of ‘Razor Girl’ by Carl Hiaasen

cover95582-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve enjoyed reading Carl Hiaasen’s books in the past, they are usually light, easy, fast-paced reads. However, this book was not my cup of tea. The plot was wafer-thin and I really didn’t care for any of the characters.

The book is about Andrew Yancy, a former policeman trying to find a missing reality TV show star in the Florida Keys. The ‘Razor Girl’ of the title is a petty criminal who Yancy hooks up with. A woman called Merry who crashes in the peoples’ cars while pretending to shave her bikini line (seriously!) in order to kidnap people to order.

There’s a fatal flaw with this book; the plot could have been resolved very quickly if Yancy would simply call the police when he encounters the main suspect in the crime. He comes across him several times and never calls the police because he is trying to solve the crime himself in order to try to get reinstated as a policeman rather than a health inspector. How he plans to do this without getting the police involved is beyond me and he just keeps putting himself and others in danger. It is stupid and illogical and just serves to draw out a non-existent storyline. It also means there’s no tantalising whodunnit as we pretty much know all along who the perpetrator of the crime is.

Other issues include pointless sub-plots. There is one about a man who makes money reinstating beaches and gets entangled with the mafia. All the plots tie together, but this storyline felt like unnecessary padding for me.

Another problem I had was the surplus of unrealistic one-dimensional, over-sexed female characters. All the women in the book are willing to sleep with any man for the slightest favour, and either criminals or money-grabbing sluts without decent occupation. There’s not one intelligent, moral, upstanding, realistic female character. It infuriated me. You can entirely tell the book is written by a man, as the women are only valued as objects of sexual desire and they all act like they’ve sprung from a 15-year-old boy’s sexual fantasy.

I know this is supposed to be a light-hearted piece of fluff but it was just too stupid for me with too many ridiculous coincidences and a really uninspired plot.

Review of “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters

cover86227-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the ARC of this book.

I wanted to read this book because I’ve heard it recommended strongly several times on separate NPR and Slate Magazine podcasts.

The book has a really intriguing premise; what would USA be like if the civil war had never happened and slavery was still legal in 4 (very stubborn) states? This premise has so much potential. Plantations are no longer beautiful white antebellum mansions but shining glass skyscrapers with underground rail transport systems and international trading; the union of the states relies on continuing compromise between trying to counteract the ill effects of slavery and conciliatory behaviour towards the slave states to prevent secession/war. It’s really hard to imagine an US where slavery still exists as a premise which is legally endorsed, but it’s really interesting to do so.

The main character is an escaped slave living in the North and making his living and ensuring his own freedom by catching other escaped slaves and sending them back South. This means he is a really complex and interesting character with guilt and conscience fighting with self-preservation.

This is all set up for a really great book and if I had been asked to review it when I was half-way through I would have given a glowing review; but oh! the ending! It is so unsatisfying compared to the rest of the book. I can only assume that the people in this book got so excited by the idea that they threw away a perfectly written ending and cobbled together this one in order to make the book into a series instead of a stand-alone novel. It is such a disappointing last 10% of the book.

WARNING SPOILERS from this point.

The main character gets himself trapped in a seemingly impossible to escape situation on the be miraculously freed by an unlikely character with little explanation of how or why. Another character is kidnapped and then returned with no explanation. The plot revolves around getting an envelope with anti-slavery evidence when this is retrieved it what it reveals is a bit sci-fi compared to the est of the novel and there’s no analysis of how this revelation impacts on the country or slavery. In the last couple of pages a completely new plot about rescuing a slave from an oil-rig is introduced randomly and not concluded.

All this was so frustrating because the rest of the book is really interesting and perfectly well-written but the ending is such a let down.

Review of “Truly Madly Guilty” by Liane Moriarty

cover90282-mediumThanks to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

I absolutely loved “Little Lies”, the first Liane Moriarty book which I read. I thought the gentle humour, astute observations of everyday life, and the ability to weave together several stories was genius. I had high hopes for this author. Sadly, I find myself more and more disappointed with each new book that I read by her. I think she may be suffering from the same problem I had with Jodi Picoult – the first book seems genius, the second book is still pretty good, by the fifth or sixth book you realise they’re all the same but with slightly different window-dressing and the mystique has fallen away.

I actually found this book actively infuriating. The story revolves around something bad which happened at a barbecue. However you don’t find out what happened until well over half-way through the book and the contrivances used to avoid revealing the event are so glaring and irritating. It’s obvious from early on that the event probably involves the death or serious injury of a small child. As the mother of a small child, I don’t find that a tantalising prospect, I just want to know that all the children are OK at the end.

The book outlines how the events at the barbecue have an ongoing effect on the lives of 3 couples and their families. Moriarty always does a good job of describing complicated personal relationships and creating well-rounded, realistically flawed characters. However I found all the characters in this book so flawed and unlikable that I couldn’t really pull for any of them.

While I usually admire Moriarty’s ability to weave together intricate plots and multiple characters’ stories, in this book I felt every loose end was tied up too neatly. It felt too contrived. For example, one of the character’s mothers is scared of rollercoasters because she once read a newspaper article about 8 people dying in a rollercoaster accident, later we find out that a very minor character’s wife and son died in that accident. This is a pointless reference, and doesn’t add anything to the overall story.

Such a shame, I really wanted to enjoy this book. If you’ve not read a Liane Moriarty book before I would recommend trying “Little Lies” (sometimes also called “Big Little Lies”) first rather than this one. Also, if you like audiobooks, Caroline Lee does a brilliant job of reading the audio versions of Moriarty’s books.

‘Animal’ by Sara Pascoe

animalA few weeks ago I saw comedian Sara Pascoe talking at the Hay Festival and I’ve just finished listening to her reading the audiobook of her book  ‘Animal’. It’s a really interesting look at the history of the female body and sexuality and how these have been influenced by culture and evolution.

It’s one of those books which I wish I could feed into my daughter’s brain by osmosis. Pascoe’s thoughts on consent, body image (particularly cosmetic surgery) and a female’s ownership of her own body are the sort of important ideas which should be disseminated to help spread equality among the genders and to aid young people in understanding their bodies and desires.

I can only hope that I am open and articulate enough to protect my daughter and help her to build a positive body image and have confidence in her ability use her body as she wishes and not be unduly influenced by patriarchy or the surfeit of sexualised images of women in the media.

It’s a really thought-provoking read, which made me reconsider things about which I had previously felt complacent or been ignorant. Pascoe also reveals very intimate details about her personal life, such as discussing self-harm, abortion, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which helps lend weight to her thoughts.

Top 10 Tuesday: Underrated on Goodreads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is: Top ten books I enjoyed that have under 2000 ratings on Goodreads. It’s hard to find books with that few ratings, but here’s my list:

  1. Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish (here’s my review)
  2. The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell
  3. July by Karen Roberts
  4. Leading the Cheers by Justin Cartwright
  5. The Flower Boy by Karen Roberts
  6. A Light-hearted Look at Murder by Mark Watson
  7. Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
  8. The Knot by Mark Watson
  9. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall
  10. This Other Eden by Ben Elton

Review of ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler

cover90226-medium.pngThanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for the ARC of this book.

‘Vinegar Girl’ is Anne Tyler’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. I was really excited to read this book as Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors and ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (another retelling of the play) is one of my favourite films. It also has elements of the film ‘Greencard’ which I also love.

However, I found the book somewhat underwhelming. I think it’s probably because Tyler has a near impossible job. Shakespeare’s source material is so flawed from a modern feminist perspective that it would be wrong to fully reproduce a story where a woman is ‘tamed’ aka ‘abused into submission’ by her husband. Therefore, Tyler backs down from the harshest elements of the story and the result is a bit fluffy and more chick-lit than I would expect from Anne Tyler. The book doesn’t have the depth of character which Tyler usually masters.

It feels a bit light-weight. The story follows Kate (the shrew) who is asked by her father to marry his foreign lab assistant whose visa is running out. She’s not really that shrew-like as she goes along with this plan fairly easily and it all works out happily in the end. The book doesn’t really include much of the other storyline of the play where suitors vye for Kate’s sister’s attention, retaining only the dubious tutor. As a result it’s probably a little short on plot.

However, it is an easy, quick, inoffensive read which may be a good introduction to Shakespeare for younger readers who are not confident enough to tackle the source material directly.

Review of ‘Shadow of Night’ by Deborah Harkness

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

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now. I read the first in the trilogy ‘A Discovery of Witches’ in 2014 and loved it, but shortly after I finished it I found out I was pregnant and my ability to focus on long novels vanished, so I failed to start the next book which I had been so excited to read.

It’s taken me a long time to plow through this book, it is sooooo long and such a little amount happens. The previous book ends with [spoiler alert] the two main characters Diana and Matthew travelling back in time to the Sixteenth Century with two aims: 1. find a witch to help Diana learn how to do magic; and 2. find a copy of an old book. The book is 630 pages long and we do not meet the witch until half way through and the book is not discovered until the final quarter of the book and even then they do nothing with it.

I spent the whole book waiting for something dramatic to happen but really nothing does except for a couple of pages where Diana’s life is under threat from Matthew’s sister. Any exciting action, such as [spoiler alert] Matthew stealing the book from an emperor, happens off the page. The rest of the book is just the author enjoying being in a historical setting and having Diana meet lots of real life historical figures, most of whom I had never heard of. It’s pleasant enough to read but just isn’t compelling and the central relationship between Diana and Matthew, even though they embark on a sexual relationship for the first time, is just flaccid.

It’s such a shame because I loved the first book, but this one is just rambling and could easily be condensed into 50 pages which actually advance the story. The rest is just historical filler. I may be proved wrong when I read the next book, maybe there’s a load more relevant stuff happening which I didn’t pick up on but will come back into the story, but it didn’t feel like it.

The other issue I had was the time travel. Diana and Matthew spend 7 months in the past and we’re supposed to believe that they don’t irrevocably change the future so that the world is completely different when they go back to the future? They don’t seem at all careful not to change things. It’s impossible to believe that past Matthew will never run into someone they influenced while they were in the past who asks ‘what happened to your wife Diana?’ or ‘I thought your were supporting the witches now, why have you changed your mind?’ when he will have no idea what they are talking about. It just doesn’t make sense. I hope this is addressed better in the next book and not glossed over.

I’ve invested so much time in this series that I’m definitely going to read the next book. I hope I’ll enjoy it better as it’ll be set in the present and hopefully will have more plot tension as it has to conclude the story.

 

 

Review of ‘Nobody Told Me’ by Hollie McNish

Nobody Told MeIt’s impossible to express how much I love this book! Every new parent should read this book. Hollie is able to put into words every emotion I have felt since my daughter was born 15 months ago but which I am not eloquent enough to articulate myself.

I wonder if my brain chemistry has fundamentally changed since becoming a mum because I would never have dreamed of reading a book combining memoir and poetry before she was born but this was now the perfect book for me and I can’t remember enjoying a book this much in years.

In fact, everyone should read this book, especially new and expectant mothers (and their partners if they wish to be able to understand and empathise with what it’s like for the woman!).

Thanks so much to Hollie McNish for writing this book and helping support mothers of all ages to process the overwhelming emotions which come with becoming a parent for the first time.

My book reviews