Tag Archives: NetGalley

Review of ‘All Our Wrong Todays’ by Elan Mastai

cover97841-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for the ARC of this book.

I absolutely love this book! It is without doubt the best book I have read in ages. I loved it from the first page and the rest of the book did not let me down.

The book follows Tom, a time traveller from an alternate reality who ends up in our timeline and needs to find a way to fix the world despite the fact that his life is much better in our world. It’s sounds silly and hokey when I describe it but it’s really not. It’s thrilling and exciting, complex, layered and just so much fun.

The writing is wonderful, it’s so easy to read. Mastai manages to take complicated time-travel related concepts and makes them make clear sense.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough; I’m certain it’s destined to be a modern classic.

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.

‘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!

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.

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 ‘Written in Fire’ by Marcus Sakey

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer for the ARC of this book.

‘Written in Fire’ is the third part of Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance trilogy. I’d listened to the previous two books as audiobooks as they are available free through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. I read the final part as an ebook and didn’t really enjoy it as much. I think this sort of thriller writing is better suited to being listened to in the background than having to give your full attention to it. It took me three months to plow through this book; I kept finding my attention drifting whenever I tried to pick it up. That said I did want to get to the end and find out how it finished.

The Brilliance trilogy is set in a world similar to Heroes or the X men where some people have evolved to have special powers. However, their powers are less glitzy then other examples of this genre. ‘Brilliants’,  as they are known, can do things like read peoples’ intentions, move without being noticed, weigh up the probability of occurrences or plan strategically really well. There’s no flying or time travel or anything really far-fetched. Due to the fact that their powers are quite subtle or ephemeral it makes it quite hard to imagine how the powers work and how useful they would be.

In the final part Nick Cooper, the hero of the trilogy, barely uses his power, which is reading intentions, to the extent that you can almost forget he is different. I thought Sakey dropped the ball a bit in terms of his characterisation in this final book.
The trilogy covers the tensions caused by Brilliants co-existing with normal people, which results in a bit of a civil war in this book. This premise can never really be resolved because even if you stop the war there are still going to be two groups of people and tensions will arise. Therefore, even though the trilogy ends, the story can’t really conclude and does end on a fairly predictable cliffhanger. I didn’t find the conclusion all that convincing, Sakey raised the stakes really high and then seemed to solve the problems he’s created too easily.

I also didn’t like the lead character’s dual love interests with his ex wife Natalie and new love Shannon. The fact that he didn’t just pick one woman and stick to her made his character more wishy washy and the tension that this scenario could have built was never paid off. Both women are supposed to be strong and admirable but they seemed perfectly happy to be strung along by a man openly sleeping with two women. It didn’t ring true.

I’m glad I finally made it to the end of this book and this trilogy but I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience of reading the final book. It probably would have been better as an audiobook or as a film or TV programme.

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.