Tag Archives: reviews

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.

Review of ‘To Kill the President’ by Sam Bourne

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

Warning: contains spoilers

I really enjoyed this very timely thriller which follows various employees of the White House involved in plotting and attempting to prevent an assassination attempt on a president clearly based on Trump.

The plot is a little far-fetched and too easily resolved; however I really enjoyed the portrayal of the worst case scenario Trump presidency. From almost starting a nuclear war with North Korea, to banning abortion, and deporting pretty much anyone Latino to Mexico; there was so much that rang a warning bell with the real-life Trump presidency. It was really interesting seeing the parallels between the plot and real life and where the author envisions the Trump presidency might go.

You can’t help but sympathise with the Republican insider career politicians who begin to see an assassination attempt as their only option to undermine a president who is dangerously out of control and for whom every scandal seems to slip like water off a duck’s back. Although, in reality assassination would only worsen the problem as it would make him a martyr for his cause. In the end, in some epic wish-fulfilment, the president is felled by a much simpler Nixon-style scandal. I can only hope Trump is brought down by his own actions so easily and America comes to its senses before he can do any more lasting damage.

I’d definitely be interested in reading this author again. Although I did find his lead character Maggie Costello a bit flat. In particular, her sexual desires and feelings seem to be clearly written from a male perspective. At least he tried to have a female lead, which is rare in this kind of political thriller.

It was really fun to read a thriller so rooted in the current political context and so pertinent to our times. The cover is great too!


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.


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.


Review of ‘Plum’ by Hollie McNish

imageThanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for the ARC of this book.

I love love love Hollie McNish’s poetry. I thought that ‘Nobody Told Me‘ was an absolute masterpiece and I have really enjoyed reading ‘Plum’.

I love McNish’s point of view and wish my brain worked like hers. All her references resound with me and she perfectly puts into words thoughts and feeling I have had and makes me think more deeply about important issues. I love the train of feminism which runs through many of her poems and her poems on parenthood often bring me to tears. She is brilliant!

‘Plum’ is a collection of McNish’s poems cleverly interspersing current work with poems she wrote as a child and teenager. It’s a really thoughtful and entertaining read. I am so jealous that someone could be such a great poet aged 8!

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone.


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


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.