Tag Archives: book

Review of ‘Hold Back the Stars’ by Katie Khan

Thanks to NetGalley, Gallery and Doubleday for the ARCs of this book.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting in one day. It’s an incredibly easy read. The concept is basically ‘Gravity’ but with a beautiful love story at its heart. Carys and Max are two astronauts stranded in space with 90 minutes to live and very little chance of survival. Their love story is told in flashback over the course of the remaining minutes while they try to find a way to save themselves.

It’s heartwarming and romantic and exciting. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the last third of the book which imagines what life would be like for Max and Carys if one were to survive without the other. This felt a little bit like it was filling out what is quite a simple story. However, I really enjoyed the concept of the book, liked the characters and found the slightly futuristic setting of Europia very interesting.

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Review of ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig

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

I think Matt Haig is a very talented writer. His books are immediately absorbing and they manage to combine fast-paced story-telling with thoughtful reflections on life and human nature.

‘How to Stop Time’ is a novel about how fear of the future stops us from living in the moment and how despite the fact that fear is sometimes justified we shouldn’t let it prevent us from living life to the fullest. It’s beautifully told and does not hammer home this message in a heavy-handed way, rather it is the pay-off to an engrossing story.

The novel follows Tom Hazard, a man who ages 15 times slower than normal humans and so is over 400 years old. His story is told in the present with flashbacks to his life over the past 400 years covering the loves he has lost and the pain living with the condition has caused.

I’ve come to realise that I love novels that play with the concept of time. It’s utterly fascinating and offers such interesting plot options. This book is another enjoyable addition to this tradition.

My one quibble with this book is that Tom encounters several famous people over his life including Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is my one hang up with books about time; the protagonists always seem to be present at important moments of history and meet historical figures. This might be feasible for someone with the power to travel through time, but Tom does not have this power, he just loves longer, there’s no reason why that should give him the insight to be present at these events. It’s perfectly possible to live one’s whole life without meeting anyone famous. I rolled my eyes when Shakespeare turned up, it’s such a hackneyed trope to feature him in Elizabethan themed books. However, this is a very small point and did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I’d thoroughly recommend this and Haig’s other writing for people who enjoy good story-telling, thoughtful characters and reflections on life.

Blog Tour: ‘Relativity’ by Antonia Hayes

My first blog tour! I’m not entirely certain how they work, so I’m sorry if I’ve missed anything I’m supposed to include.

Thanks to Little, Brown for giving me the opportunity to read ‘Relativity’ by Antonia Hayes and take part in the book tour. It’s a unique and interesting read and a great choice for my first blog tour!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blogs on the tour. Today’s stops on the tour are listed in the image above.


9781472151704Book details

Title: Relativity
Author: Antonia Hayes
Publisher: Corsair
Publication date: 17 January 2017
Price: £8.99 paperback


Synopsis

Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.

His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.

Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life.  When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.

Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.


hayes-antonia-credit-angelo-sgambatiAbout the author

Antonia Hayes, who grew up in Sydney and spent her twenties in Paris, currently lives in London with her husband and son. Relativity is her first novel.

Author website
Antonia Hayes on Twitter


Review (includes vague spoilers)

I almost didn’t read this book. A baby stops breathing on the first page and as a mum of a nearly 2-year-old I didn’t think I could take reading about a child being hurt. However, I’m really glad that I picked it back up and kept reading. It’s a well written and thought-provoking book and it treats its subject matter and characters with compassion and empathy.

Luckily we find out on the second page that the baby, Ethan, didn’t die and has grown into an intelligent and thoughtful 12-year-old. It’s not until the near the end of the book that we have to read the description of Ethan being hurt and by then you know how his story turns out, so it’s easier to read that section even though I still found it very disturbing.

The book is about Ethan a 12-year-old boy who was shaken by his father, Mark, when he was a baby. His father went to jail and Ethan was brought up by his mother, Claire, with no knowledge of what happened to him as a baby and no contact with his father. Mark comes back into Ethan and Claire’s life and the family have to deal with the aftermath of what happened 12 years earlier and the different types of scars it has left on the three of them.

Ethan is a very clever boy with a love and understanding of and ability to ‘see’ physics. Much of the book uses the language and terminology of physics as a backdrop to the story. My brain glazes over a bit when it comes to physics so I found this was a little barrier to full absorption in the book while at the same time I admired how intelligently it was written.

At one point I worried that the book was going to veer wildly off course. Ethan appears to be a genius with superhuman powers and is on the verge of building a time machine. I was incredibly worried that the book was going to lose its grounding in reality but luckily it gets back on track. I was also worried that the story was going to be tied up in an unrealistic ‘happily ever after’, ‘tied in a bow’ neat ending, but thankfully Hayes avoids this and goes for a more realistic possibly less satisfying ending.

I googled Hayes when I finished the book and found out that the book was based on her own personal experience of her boyfriend shaking her 6 week old son. When I read this I was amazed that she had been able to write such a thoughtful and generous book which treats all its characters so fairly. We are able to understand how and why Mark shook the baby and how he behaved afterwards and we witness his family treating him kindly despite his indiscretion. I found this element of the story really thought-provoking. As a mum it’s both incredibly easy to understand how someone could snap and hurt a small child and at the same time completely unthinkable. It made me question whether prison is an appropriate punishment for a momentary lapse but then consider that maybe it is if the culprit won’t admit to what they’ve done and show remorse.

I’m really glad I read this book. It seems incredibly brave that Hayes would choose to absorb herself in the traumatic events of her past in order to write this book. Due to the subject matter I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it; however I did like getting to know all the characters each of whom is a well-rounded and interesting person and it left me with a lot to think about. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book quite like this and it’s always refreshing to encounter something new.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book. It has some great support including quotes from Graeme Simsion and SJ Watson on the cover!

Review of ‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld

imageThanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the ARC of this book.

‘Eligible’ is a retelling of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in which the setting is transplanted to modern day Cincinnati. I’d forgotten this was the premise and so got quite a surprise when I started reading the book and was launched into a familiar description of the Bennet family. It was like putting on a snuggly warm jumper and settling down on a comfy sofa in front of a roaring fire to watch a favourite film you have seen a hundred times; utterly familiar and delightfully comforting.

I’m not entirely sure why it is necessary to rewrite classics in modern settings when people could just read the original novel. However, I did enjoy this book. Even though you pretty much know exactly how the story will play out it is still a fun read and is interesting to see how Sittenfeld masters some of the challenges of setting the story in the modern era. For example instead off eloping with a cad, Lydia elopes with a transgender man and the reason Jane and Bingley must get married so quickly after meeting is that it is part of a reality TV show.

The experience feels like reading a book when you’ve already seen the movie adaptation but the book’s slightly different from the film. Nothing is a surprise, but you can still derive enjoyment from it.

Probably the biggest challenge for Sittenfeld is making Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship believable and desirable, because in this modern feminist era it should no longer be appealing to have a hero who is consistently rude and patronising to the heroine. I don’t think she quite pulls it off because she overcompensates by making Lizzy even ruder to Darcy; however it does help that in a modern setting the two characters are able to act on their sexual tension and start having sex long before they fall in love with each other. This is definitely a dynamic to their relationship which makes it seem more realistic and which Austen could never have used in her original.

All in all, you should probably read the original, and I assume this retelling aims to get more people to do that, but this book is a fun read which I think does the original work justice and which I expect Austen fans would enjoy.

Review of ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

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

Hooray, I’ve finally found time to sit down and read this enormous book and finish this trilogy! It feels like an achievement because these books are so unnecessarily long.

I enjoyed the first in the trilogy but I feel like the final two really needed a thorough edit. They rely on you having such an affection for the characters that you wish to read even the most mind-numbingly dull conversations and lengthy descriptions of situations where nothing really happens. This book is definitely better than the second in the trilogy which suffered from the author wanting to show off all her detailed historical research; however it is still far too verbose and just does not get to the point quickly enough.

I often find that when you read these epic fantasy trilogies that the conclusion feels too easy and the stakes aren’t high enough and there’s never any doubt that everything will be all right in the end. This book definitely suffers from this problem. Everything plays out in quite a muted way and the problems are solved fairly quickly and easily without much tension.

The trilogy also has too many characters and they are picked up and dropped with little explanation. Characters that I thought would be important such as Nathaniel and Sophie barely feature in this book. Characters who were terrifying in the first book such ar Satu are pathetic and easily foiled in this book. It feels like the trilogy was not entirely planned that well from the first book to the last in terms of some of the characters and their development.

I also found the pregnancy and childbirth and babies storyline weak. For most women, being pregnant with twins would be a major consideration and once they were born the mother would be exhausted and able to focus on little else. However, for Diana in this book, her children always feel like an afterthought. A few days are they are born she is jetting of to other countries to save the day and leaving them in the care of others. When they are born she doesn’t even try to feed them straight away. Surely she would want to know as quickly as possible if they could survive on milk or needed blood? None of the childcare elements ring true at all. The pregnancy and children just didn’t feel as important as they should have.

I read this book fairly quickly and easily so I must have enjoyed it, but looking back on it I find it hard to express why as I’m only really coming up with criticisms of it. I think the good faith engendered by my enjoyment of the first book encouraged me to finish the trilogy. I’m glad I did even though I found this book particularly exciting or memorable.

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.