Tag Archives: NetGalley

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.

Advertisements

Review of ‘The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan


Thanks to NetGalley and Egmont Publishing for the ARC of this book.

I read the first book in this series, ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ a few years ago. I didn’t remember much about it, other than I thought it was OK.  It had a pleasant, if unlikely, book-themed Christmassy romance and I absolutely loved the cover, which is beautiful, perfect for the book and so much better than the sequel’s cover (see above for the contrast). I’m pretty partial to a Christmas-themed romance so I thought I’d give the sequel a whirl.

Unfortunately, this book is not great. It falls into the trap of so many unnecessary romance sequels in that it has to create some drama/conflict between the protagonists but doesn’t want to destroy their relationship or make either fall out of love or do anything bad, so the drama comes from miscommunication. If the two leads just sat down and had an honest, candid conversation, they would realise they are both completely on the same page. That’s one of the most frustrating premises to read and is too thin to sustain a whole book.

The one thing this book does do well is to highlight how as you get older Christmas begins to lose its magic and starts to remind you of the passage of time and the people who are missing from the celebrations. This is obviously true but not really the feeling you are hoping to get from a cosy YA Christmas romance book. You want the magic and escapism. These are missing from most of the book as for the majority of the time Lily, one of the main protagonists, is thoroughly depressed about her life. She mopes and mopes and mopes; moping white, rich, privileged teenagers with loving families has to be one of the most boring thing to read about. Your life is not that bad! You have enough money and influence to organise a private skating rink party with a hot chocolate caterer and ice dancers at a day’s notice a couple of days before Christmas, for goodness sake! Ridiculous.

This book is sadly lacking in sparkle and won’t do much to put you in the Christmas mood.

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.

Review of ‘One Of Us is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus

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

This book is a blast! I had so much fun reading it. I was so worried when it started with 5 stereotyped teens entering detention that it would be a dismal, unnecessary retelling of ‘The Breakfast Club’; but then one of the kids dies and immediately I knew I was in safe hands.

It’s a teen murder mystery set in an American high school with really likeable characters and a sweet unbelievable romance. My favourite element was the transformation of the character Addy from clingy girlfriend to independent girl who realises it’s better to be alone that be with a man who won’t let you be yourself.

I guessed two thirds of the solution to the crime but there was one element I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed the whole book and would love to read more by this author. 

Review of ‘Force of Nature’ by Jane Harper

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

I read ‘The Dry’, Jane Harper’s first book in this series, earlier this year and really enjoyed it and found it an easy and engaging read, so I was excited to get the opportunity to read the next book in this series.

I found it had the same good and bad points as ‘The Dry’. 

Plus points: I think the rural Australian setting is a really great backdrop for a crime novel; it’s a refreshing change from the standard crime tropes such as gritty urban underworld or 1920s manor house. The writing in both books is very fluid and easy to read, short chapters and well paced. The books are written without gimmicks, in third person past tense, which nowadays is actually also surprisingly refreshing. I don’t know why so many contemporary books stray from this formula, it makes for such a satisfying way to read.

Negative points: both books suffer from same major flaw which is that there is one storyline/character which feels totally irrelevant to the rest of the story and therefore it’s obvious that that plot point/character must be central to the solution otherwise why would the author include it?

This major flaw didn’t stop my enjoyment of the books but it does mean that you don’t feel quite so satisfied when your prediction proves to be correct, as it was so easy the reach that conclusion.

I’ll definitely read any more books that appear in this series, they start with really interesting premises and are fun to read. I liked the premise of ‘Force of Nature’ which is ‘5 went into the bush only 4 came out, what happened?’ as a starting point, just as I liked the ‘did this crime that clearly happened one way really happen that way’ premise from ‘The Dry’, but ‘Force of Nature’ never managed to be quite so intriguing as this premise promised.

I’m not sure about the main detective character, Aaron Falk. His character didn’t feel entirely consistent with the previous book and his relationship with his new partner Carmen seems a bit forced. I think I would have been happier had there been a bit more crossover with characters from the first book to give his character’s personal life a bit more depth.

Overall I think both books are great and I look forward to reading any future instalments. 

Review of ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

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

This is going to be a very brief review because I really don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who might want to read it and pretty much anything I say about this book will be a spoiler.

I will just say that this is an incredibly complicated, intricately plotted and astonishingly detailed novel. I found it really difficult to get into because it throws you right into the action with an amnesiac unreliable narrator and it takes a while to get to grips with what is going on; but I’m glad I persisted because it is a thoroughly rewarding and unique read. I was not entirely satisfied with the ending but the journey was very interesting. 

I think the title is a bit misleading, I was expecting the book to be about a woman called Evelyn; however, she’s a fairly secondary character. Instead, it is told from a very buttoned-up traditional male perspective, which I found a bit off-putting to start off with. 

I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of golden age crime looking for thoroughly modern and mind-bending interpretation of the traditional 1920s crime novel.

Review of ‘A Maigret Christmas’ by Georges Simenon

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

The title of this book is a bit misleading, it comprises three short stories set at Christmas, but Maigret only actually features in one of the stories. The Christmas settings are also fairly incidental, there is nothing cozy or festive about this book, it mostly dwells on how often people commit suicide on Christmas Eve.

I’ve never read a Maigret book before and on the basis of this book, I don’t think I’ll be reading any again. I found the stories strange and stilted. The first two stories which are sort of police procedurals mostly take place in one or two rooms with the main policeman mostly just using a telephone to solve the crime rather than getting into any action.

Lots of things didn’t make sense, just one example is that department stores are open at 11pm on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day morning. This is key to the plots of two of the stories. I find it really hard to believe that a Catholic country would have such lax opening hours rules in the 1950s. Despite it being Christmas everything seems to go on as usual, except Maigret solves the crime from home rather than the office.

The first story is the Maigret story. He wakes up on Christmas Day with Madame Maigret and is visited by two ladies because a man dressed as Father Christmas has broken into one of their houses overnight. This was a really interesting, exciting premise which devolved into a mixed up, weird, detached story which I can’t even begin to explain and which was incredibly unsatisfying. I also really didn’t like the way poor lonely, childless Madame Maigret doesn’t even warrant a first name.

The second story was my favourite. It features a likeable police switchboard operator solving a crime which involves his family. It was an interesting way to tell a police story and had a sweet ending.

The third story begins with a totally incidental suicide and then follows a prostitute as she tries to look out for a drunk young woman on Christmas Eve. It was strange and bitter and fairly pointless and not at all what I was expecting from the cover of this book.

I was hoping for a festive exciting read but found this book cold and baffling.

Review of ‘The Baltimore Boys’ by Joel Dicker

image.pngThanks to NetGalley and Quercus Books for the ARC of this book.

Boy, this book is loooooong and dull. I should have enjoyed it; it features much of what I love in novels: contemporary American setting, teen romance, coming of age story, cute dog. I should have loved it, but it was so long and repetitive and the story is so drawn out that the final reveal is utterly underwhelming.

‘The Baltimore Boys’ is the story of Marcus Goldman, who incidentally is also the narrator of Dicker’s previous book ‘The Harry Quebert Affair’, and his obsession with his richer cousins and the tragedies which befall the Goldman family. It’s a thorough exploration of the dynamics of male jealously between cousins, brothers, friends etc. etc. We get it; even successful, rich, popular people can feel jealous of other people, even people they love. I found everyone pretty unlikable and found it quite hard to empathise with the rich spoiled white people and their problems

We know from the beginning of the book that something bad happens to the cousins who Marcus adores. It seems they are probably dead. I thought I would care what happens to them, that it would be some dreadful tragedy. However, when I got to the reveal at the end I was shocked we were supposed empathise with these characters who have done horrible things to each other and ruined their own lives. I definitely don’t think that was how the book wanted me to feel.

I’m afraid, I can’t recommend this book. I think Dicker’s first book was better but also found that one long, contemplative and overly drawn out, so I guess that’s just his style. They’re originally written in French or German, I think, so maybe something is lost in translation.