Tag Archives: reviews

Review of ‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

FC8FA8C5-3398-445F-9B54-3FDC537D9E34.pngThanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’m a bit sad about this one. I had heard so much positive buzz about this book, how funny and original and outstanding it is, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately,  however, that was not my experience.

Less follows protagonist Arthur Less as he travels the world in order to avoid having to attend his former lover’s wedding. I found it meandering and melancholic and simply lacking in anything to really capture my attention. The sudden happy ending, in contrast to the rambling story, felt rushed and unearned. The main character should have had to work for it and we should have seen it happen.

The writing style was overly flowery and off-putting, and sometimes quite irritating. There were moments of humour, but not enough to warrant the high levels of praise this book has received. It took me about 6 weeks to plough through it.

 

Review of ‘Crossfire’ by Malorie Blackman

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

I loved the first few books in the Noughts and Crosses series, especially the first. However, after reading this, I wish that Malorie Blackman had stopped after the initial trilogy. I was really disappointed.

I did not realise when I started reading this book that it was part of a new series rather than a standalone book, if I had known, I may have paused before reading this. It does the most frustrating thing that books in a series can do; it builds up the background, the plot and the characters slowly and just as you are beginning to get interested in the characters and the plot feels like it has actually got started, it just stops with a ‘to be concluded’. It’s like reading half a book and then just stopping. There is no conclusion, no satisfaction.

I don’t mind reading a book in a series if at the end of a book there are a few loose ends for future books to deal with but this book simply stops, there is no resolution to any of the plot strands. It feels like one book has been divided in two just to sell more books and make more money.

In addition to the ending, I didn’t feel like the rest of the book lived up to Blackman’s previous books in this series. I found it hard to care about characters I had previously liked such as Sephy and Callie and I really didn’t care for the new young characters like Troy and Libby. I’ve seen lots of reviews describing this book as a searing indictment of today’s society and the current political situation in Britain and America, but I just didn’t see that. It felt muddled, all the characters are really flawed and I couldn’t really tell what point the book was trying to make. Maybe if I’d got to read the second half of the story, it would have been clearer, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I think the swapping of the races so that black people are the dominant race, which worked so effectively in the earlier books adds nothing to this book, and actually serves to confuse who we should be rooting for.

If you are planning to read this, I’d probably wait until the next book comes out to avoid the frustration of the ending.

Review of ‘Run Away’ by Harlan Coben

800B2634-497B-4999-AA7F-45C0241302C0Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the ARC of this book.

I love Harlan Coben books and always look forward to a new one. They are always a quick entertaining read with thought-provoking family quandaries.

This one is one of Coben’s stand alone books, although it does feature a couple of recurring characters from his other books just as a wink to his regular readers. It was, as expected, an easy, enjoyable read, but I didn’t find it one of the best examples of his work. I was more than half way through the book when I realised I was still waiting for that intriguing hook that most of his books have to make you interested.

I think I have probably just read too many of Coben’s books now, so the themes are very familiar and they are not as surprising or fresh as they were when I started reading his books. I still enjoy his voice and find the books a good read but they just lack the fizz and surprise elements they used to have for me and are beginning to feel quite formulaic.

I think the unique hook for this book was supposed to be figuring out the connection between the murder of several men who have all recently used a DNA service, but this never quite sparked my interest as a mystery. There’s also the question of what has happened to the lead character’s junkie daughter, but I didn’t care much for this mystery either and it is resolved by exposition at the end of the book and not really through the main action of the book.

Still, I would wholeheartedly recommend Harlan Coben’s books to anyone, especially people who are new to his work, they have a real treat in store. I wish I could discover him for the first time again.

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.

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 ‘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.