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Monday, March 25, 2019

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

A group of old friends in their thirties, who were the bright young things of Oxford University in their day, meet every year to spend New Year together.
This year, their chosen meeting place is a remote Scottish lodge house, which gets cut off from the outside world after heavy snowfall.
The group have grown apart over the years, but something is very "off" this year, and one of the group will pay for this.....with their life.

There is a definite feel of Agatha Christie about this book. The story goes back and forth between days before the murder and the days following, and the view points of a few of the different characters. Everyone has secrets and it is very difficult to guess who the murderer is.

Tightly crafted and keeps you guessing until the end.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

World Poetry Day 21st March 2019

Today, 21st March 2019, marks World Poetry Day.

I know plenty of people are put off poetry by memories of school, because the beauty of the poem often gets lost in the analysis. They decide that poetry is not for them and never look at another poem again.

If you are one of these people, do not despair! Somewhere out there is a poet whose work will speak to you and will have something to say that will resonate with your emotions - be they happy or sad, angry or calm. There really is something for everyone.

Personally, I love a bit of poetry and have lots of favourites that I like to go back to again and again.
I am fond of a bit of "olde worlde" language, such as a Shakespearean sonnet, but poetry is such a vast genre that it really does not matter if that is not your thing.

Why not try something contemporary instead, or maybe even a spoken word poet, such as Kate Tempest or John Cooper Clark.

The World is your oyster as Mr Shakespeare would say!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The True Story of the Great Escape: Stalag Luft III, March 1944 by Jonathan F. Vance

Read March 2019. Non-fiction.
Publication date: 31st March 2019.

Probably most people know something of the story behind this book, as the 1963 film The Great Escape continues to be a stalwart of the Christmas television schedules every year.

No Steve McQueen jumping the wire on a motorbike, or Donald Pleasence losing his eyesight while poring over forged documents here, but the true story behind this audacious, and largest, escape of captured Allied soldiers from a prisoner of war camp during World War II, is amazing nonetheless.

On the night of 24th March 1944, a small army of soldiers escaped from the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III, in eastern Germany. Seventy-nine made it outside the wire, but only three made it outside of Nazi Germany. Most were recaptured within days.

It is not just the size of this operation that makes it famous, but the awful fact that fifty of these escapees were tragically executed afterwards by the Gestapo on Hitler's orders, against the regulations laid down by The Geneva Convention.

Jonathan Vance tells this tale of the battle between the captured soldiers and their wardens most skillfully and he has obviously researched his subject thoroughly. I really liked that the main players are introduced by telling a bit about their background stories and how they came to find themselves in Stalag Luft III, The story of how the escape developed really draws you in too, and you hold your breath with the soldiers themselves, each time a team of guards attempts to ferret out their plans.

I did not know anything about what happened after the escape itself, other than that many of the soldiers were executed and very few made it "home", so it was very interesting to read about the events that followed - where the escapees were taken, their further adventures, the international condemnation of the executions, and the trials that followed World War II.

This book is fascinating, sad and very accessible for anyone who thinks that military history is dry as dust! This book is superb, Professor Vance!

What strikes me most about this story is the amazing courage, perseverance and ingenuity of the men who were prisoners of war in these camps. Their intelligence, inventiveness and humour under very difficult conditions was incredible and inspiring.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Read March 2019.

This book has won loads of awards, including Costa Book of the Year 2018, Waterstones' Book of the Year 2018, and is on the longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in western Ireland, and although they are both the brightest students in their year, their lives are very different. Connell lives on the local estate and is popular and well liked, but does not really feel at home in his own skin. Marianne lives in "the white mansion", is a loner, is disliked by most of her peers, and no one knows how horrendous her home life really is. Connell's mum cleans for Marianne's family and one day Connell and Marianne strike up a conversation, which begins an unusual and long lasting friendship/love affair.
As the years pass they follow Connell and Marianne from school to Trinity college, where Connell is struggling to fit in and Marianne enjoys new found popularity. They find themselves being drawn back to each other time and time again, but are they good for each other?

This is a difficult book to define. The book itself is about what it is like to strive to be "normal" and a "good person", when you feel broken inside, but the relationship between Connell and Marianne is so frustrating that you want to bang their heads together most of the time. Every time you think they have made a breakthrough, there is another misunderstanding that breaks them up. If only they would learn to talk to each other properly - or at least listen! It is exasperating!

Having said that it is the kind of book that you find you have to keep reading, even if you are not sure you are enjoying it. There is something about it that gets to you, even if it is mostly depressing.

I have seen it billed as a "book club book", which is meant to be derogatory, but I can understand why, because there is plenty to talk about here. It is definitely thought provoking.

This is another book down on my mission to read the Women's Prize for Fiction long list this year! 😁

Monday, March 11, 2019

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019

The Women's Prize for Fiction long has been published very recently and is an interesting mix this year. Women's Prize for Fiction website

The picture shows three of the long listed titles waiting in my tbr pile right now. I also have 2 e-books of long listed titles - Lost Children Archive and Ordinary People. I will aim to read and review all of these before the winner is announced in June.

I have already read and reviewed two of long listed titles - Circe by Madeline Miller and My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinken Braithwaite - on this blog. They are linked to this post, if you are interested.
Circe by Madeline Miller
My Sister, the Serial Killer

The titles in the long list this year are as follows:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn.
Circe by Madeline Miller.
Freshwater by Akwaeke.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.
Milkman by Anna Burns.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinken Braithwaite.
Normal People by Sally Rooney.
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li.
Ordinary People by Diana Evans.
Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden.
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton.
Swan Song by Keleigh Greenberg-Jephcott.
The Pisces by Melissa Border.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.

The Silver Road by Stina Jackson

Read March 2019. Published 7th March 2019.

Three years ago, Lelle's seventeen year old daughter, Lina, went missing after he dropped her off at a bus stop on the Silver Road, in northern Sweden. Three years, with no news, is a long time and the police seem to be at a complete loss.

Lelle spends the long, light summer nights driving up and down the Silver Road, searching the deep forest for signs of his daughter. He is desperate and slowing losing his grip on reality. His need to find Lina consumes him.

Almost exactly three years after Lina's disappearance, another young girl goes missing from a camping site, off the Silver Road. She looks uncannily like Lina and Lelle is convinced that the two cases are connected. He will not rest until he knows the truth.

Meanwhile, seventeen year old Meja arrives in town with her unstable mother, looking for a new start. Meja is skeptical that this latest move, in a long line of many, will bring about any great change in her life. Her mother, Silje, is a hopeless drunk, with underlying mental problems, who is always convinced that each "new man" will be the answer. Meja has seen it all before, and she is not encouraged by the sight of the latest "new man", or where he lives. It is not until she finds a "new man" of her own, the mysterious Carl-Johan, that she thinks she may have a future here - a future that promises the kind of family life she has never had. However, appearances can be deceptive.

They do not know it, but Lelle's and Meja's fates are about to become intertwined.

There is something about the Scandinavian landscape that has an affinity with a dark thriller, spawning the Scandi-noir genre, and this book exploits that feeling from the start.

Although it seems counter-intuitive that the perpetual light of the summer nights could breed darkness and claustrophia, there is something about the closeness of the forest and the psychological effect of the light that speak of madness.

Lelle is all consumed with his need to find out what has happened to Lina. His desperation is palpable, and is reflected in the brooding landscape around him, but it also drives the story. He cannot allow himself to believe that Lina is dead, because if he does, what will become of him. His search keeps both of them alive.

This is one of the best Scandi-noir thrillers I have read for a long time, and even though this is a translation from the Swedish, none of the intensity seems to have been lost in the process. There are a few red herrings along the way, and although you do start to suspect who is responsible for Lina's disappearance near the end of the book, there are still some surprises to come. The ending itself is pretty bitter-sweet and it made me shed a tear or two. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 8, 2019

100 Book Bucket List

I wonder how many people got one of these 100 Book Bucket List scratch off posters for Christmas, last year.

I have actually read 57 of these books in my life, but receiving this as a present has spurred my on to re-read a fair number of these.

So, I have scratched off the ones I know I will definitely not re-read, because I have read/re-read them recently or they are definitely children's books (17 books), or because I did not like them the first time around (4).

That leaves me with 79 books to either read for the first time, or to read again - 43 newbies and 36 re-reads. This is a lot of reading, so it will take me a while. It will be interesting to see how long this takes me!

I thought it might me interesting to share the with you the 4 books I really did not enjoy from this "bucket list":

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - I could not get past the fact that this is about a dirty old man, who kidnaps a child.

2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson - Just a load of drugged up people shouting all the time.

3. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis - The most disturbing and violent book I have ever read (and I am not squeamish).

4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville - This books is way too long and the best line is right at the beginning.

These books were not for me, but please feel free to disagree.

Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Read March 2019.

This is a fictional biography about the rise to stardom of a band called Daisy Jones and the Six, in the 1970s - the heyday of drugs and rock and roll.

It is unusal in that the story is told in the form of interviews with the band members and those close to them, and I was impressed by how well this worked. This could have come across as cold and factual, but instead it serves to really convey the self-destructive relationships and emotions between the characters very effectively. I really liked the way the different viewpoints of the characters added layers to the story, and it is a very convincing portayal of the bands of the era.

The story does inevitably get a bit bogged down in the middle, when the band is creating their albums, because there is so much about writing the fictional songs - it is very difficult to relate to the back stories of lyrics for songs you do not know. I liked that the lyrics were added at the end of the book, though.

Reece Witherspoon is working with Amazon on a tv series based on this book, and I can see this working really well, because adding the music will bring the story alive.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Read March 2019. Non-fiction.

Having recently read Stephen Fry's Mythos, about the Greek myths, I was very interested to read Neil Gaiman's take on Norse mythology.

I confess to having known very little of the Norse tales, other than picking up a bit about Odin and his sons Thor and Loki, so this book was very interesting and I learnt loads about them, the creation of the World, and the other Gods and Goddesses, giants and monsters. Sadly, there are not that many tales, as many of them have been lost, so this is quite a quick read.

Interesting as these tales are, I found that they did not really speak to me the way the Greek myths did. I think this may have something to do with the fact that so many of the characters in Greek mythology have lent their names to a multitude of words in the English language. It may of course, also have something to do with the fact that many of the Norse gods/goddesses are not as personable as the Greek ones.

I do recommend this book though, if you are interested in learning something more about Norse mythology than that portrayed in the Thor films.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Read March 2019.

Set in Lagos, Nigeria, this tells the story of two sisters - big sister Korede and her little sister Ayoola.

It has always been sensible, plain Korede's lot to take responsibility for Ayoola, after all she is the big sister and their upbringing was distressing. Korede always protected Ayoola from their violent father and she is now stuck in the role of protector, whether she likes it or not.

Ayoola is beautuful, carefree, impulsive and loved by all. She relies on Korede to get her out of the messes she gets herself into. The only problem is that Ayoola is also a serial killer...

This book was a lot of fun. The relationship between Korede and Ayoola is so frustrating to witness. Korede is unable to break out of the destructive cycle forced upon her by Ayoola's murderous impulses, even when Ayoola sets her sights on the man Korede loves. The cycle seems doomed to repeat for ever.

Highly recommended. This title has just been long-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Read February 2019.

Ten strangers are invited to stay in a mansion on an island off the coast of Devon.
They are all hiding a secret and their sins will be found out.

I am a huge fan of Christie's Poirot books, and quite enjoy a Miss Marple now and then, but this is the first Agatha Christie I have read without a "resident detective". I know this is considered a classic, but for me, the lack of a Poirot or Marple did cause the story to suffer a bit. I love it when all the suspects are gathered together at the end of the story and the murderer is exposed, and I really missed that.

I find it odd that this is one of those books that often appears on the "must read" lists, as it is certainly not the best one I have read.
I think I will stick with the Poirots and Marples.

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Read February 2019. Non-fiction.

I thought I knew quite a bit about the Greek myths, but was amazed by how much I did not know after reading this excellent book. Stephen Fry writes in such and entertaining way, and his telling of these stories is very readable. There are a lot of "that makes so much sense" moments in this book, which is strange considering the weird and wonderful nature of the stories.
There are a lot of links to the development of words we use today too.

What and interesting and accessible book. I cannot wait to move on to Stephen Fry's Heroes book now, which continues on from these stories into the age of heroes.

No Tomorrow (Killing Eve Book Two) by Luke Jennings

Read February 2019.

The cat and mouse game between Eve and Villanelle, and their mutual obsession with each other, escalates.
What will happen when they finally come face to face?

This is the second, and so far, final book in the Killing Eve series, although there is certainly scope for more and I hope Luke Jennings does write more.

The first two books just about cover the first series of the BBC series of Killing Eve, so I will be interested to see where they go with it when it returns in April 2019.

I have to say that the Eve in the tv series is much more gutsy than the one in the books, and is played brilliantly by Sandra Oh. I much prefer the Villanelle from the books though, as she behaves much more consistently - the one in the tv series seems to have some pretty major lapses, when she completely forgets how to be a professional assassin, if you ask me (driving through an English village spraying bullets out of the sun roof of your van is certainly going to get noticed, believe me!)!

More books please, Mr Jennings.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Read Febraur 2019.

This is a fast read tale about a psychotherapist, who seemingly becomes obsessed with his patient - a woman who has not spoken since the murder of her husband.
The "silent patient" has been confined to an institution, after being found guilty of the murder, but did she actually commit this crime or not?

The story goes along at a good pace and has an interesting twist, that I did not see coming, which was a nice surprise.

However, sometimes a plot works better if the guilty party actually gets away with their crime, if they are being punished by the result of their actions anyway. I think that if this had happened in this book, it would have made for a more interesting ending here, although I am sure many would disagree (after all, should the guilty be allowed to get away with their crimes? Discuss...)

For me, the conclusion was too contrived and rushed, and spoiled the ending of the book a bit, but it was still a good read.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Read February 2019. Non-fiction.

I have been a long time fan of Michelle Obama. Her passion for the education of girls, her naturalness, and her sense of fun came across so well during her time as First Lady, and her husband clearly adores her.
I was therefore, really looking forward to reading her memoir and had it on my tbr list from well before publication date.

This is a frank and honestly written account of her journey to First Lady: from her childhood on the Southside of Chicago, via Princeton and Harvard Law School, working as a lawyer, meeting her soulmate Barack, and her life as a working mother. It tells of her passion for what she thinks is right, her love for her family and her hopes for the future.

I loved it.
It has left me feeling more than a little sad about the change in regime in USA though, but I guess we must think like Michelle Obama and look to hope for the future.

One Way by Jeff Lane

Read February 2019.

Following on from 11/22/63, this is another time travel adventure.
It centres around the idea that some people can "dislocate" in time if they have suffered an emotional trauma that they are unable to move on from, and are desperate to go back in time and change.
In this case, a wife (Jenny) going back in time to save her husband (Barry) from being murdered.

I came across this book after chatting with the author, Jeff Lane, via Twitter. Jeff is self-published and asks that readers give him honest feedback about his books, so what I say below has already been passed on to him and I hope he finds it useful.

I really liked the concept of this book. The idea that you could "dislocate" in time, if you had experienced a tragedy that you were desperate to go back and change is an intriguing one. Lots of possibilities here.

I did have a niggling problem with the relationship between Barry and Jenny, though. I fel that their relationship needed more development. Why did Jenny love Barry so much when he behaves like a jerk?
Jenny also comes across as feeble and weak, even though she is the real the hero of the story. Someone who has the gumption to do what she does is not going to get hysterical and faint the first time danger is on the horizon.

Jeff Lane says he is considering writing a sequel to One Way. I hope he does.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Read February 2019.

What would you do if you had a way to go back in time and stop the assassination of JFK?
Would you?
Could you?
Would the World be a better place, if you did?
Can the past even be changed?

I started reading this book, because my husband was raving about it, so it became our personal reading club book. We rarely read books at the same time, because I read much quicker than him, and normally have three or four on the go at the same time, so it was a real treat to do this.

What a book! It is a whopper, at 849 pages, but it had me gripped from page one. I had to limit the time I spent reading this, so I did not get ahead of my husband, and it was really difficult to this, because the story is so good.

I find that Stephen King books can be a bit hit and miss, and the big ones do not always keep you enthralled all the way through (for example, the book It has a pretty dull phase in the middle), but this one is a real winner.
Although it is a stand alone book, I recommend that you read It first, or at least familiarise yourself with the story, because Derry and a some of its inhabitants actually appear in this book. The story is much better if you know something about Derry.

I am always a sucker for a time travel story and this is one of the best I have read, and one of my all time favourite Stephen King's to boot.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Codename Villanelle (Killing Eve Book One) by Luke Jennings

Read February 2019.

Villanelle is a cold blooded assassin, living the high life and working for a secret organisation, called The Twelve.
She comes to the attention of the British Secret Service, after killing a Russian dissident in London.
Eve Polastri, whose job it was to ensure the dissident was protected, becomes the scapegoat for this assassination, but her instincts about the assassin mean she is secretly hired to try to track Villanelle down.
So begins a game of cat and mouse between Eve and Villanelle, but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

I missed the hype surrounding the BBC adaptation of this book, Killing Eve, when it was on last year, although I have caught up with it since and can tell you it is worth the hype. The book is good though, and you find yourself rooting for Villanelle much more that you do in the tv show.

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson

Read January 2019.

This is a Scandi-noir thriller, set in Iceland.
It follows the story of Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir, of the Reykjavik Police, who is about to take on her final case before she is forced into early retirement.
Can she solve the cold case about a missing Russian asylum seeker before time runs out?

I am partial to a bit of Scandi noir, with all the cold, dark brooding reflected in the weather and scenery.
This is fast paced and keeps you busy all the way to the shocking and unexpected conclusion, which definitely side-swiped me and I am not sure how I feel about it!

I do feel that it suffers a little for being a translation from the original Icelandic, which is inevitable, but don't let this put you off, as it really does keep you guessing all the way through.

Death Knell (Foundling Book Three) by Hailey Edwards

Read January 2019.

This is the thrid book in the Foundling series, Death Knell by Hailey Edwards.

Luce Boudrou has confronted her sisters War and Famine. Now her sister, Death, is due to put in an appearance, heralded by bodies washing up in the Mississippi River bearing gruesome messages for Luce.

The end of the World is coming and only Luce can stop it.

I thought that this would be the final book in the Foundling series, and would answer all my questions, but it is not!
There were lots Of bombshells in this episode, but so many questions still need to be answered.
I am so looking forward to more!

Step By Step: The Life In My Journeys by Simon Reeve

Read January 2019.

I have always found Simon Reeve's travel documentaries to be fascinating, as he goes beyond the surface to discover what it is really like for the people living in the countries he visits. So I was very keen to read this book, which details the first 30 years of his personal life, and memorable moments from his many travels.

I did not realise how much of a struggle Simon Reeve had in his early life, and he describes his battle with depression very candidly. His journey from young scallywag to respected travel/documentary journalist certainly had its ups and downs!

There are some amazing facts in this book and many horrific details about life around the World, but there are many touching moments too. This book certainly gets you thinking about how you can make a difference.

The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Read January 2019.

My Sherlock Holmes odyssey continues with Stephen Fry's excellent reading of book number four, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which is another collection of short stories.

These are actually a little sad, as they are being narrated by Dr Watson after the supposed death of Holmes - in fact, the final tale in this collection tells the story of how Holmes is assumed to have met his death at the hands of his nemesis, Moriarty.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Holmes may return in the future...

Bone Driven (Foundling Book 2) by Hailey Edwards

Read January 2019.

This is the second book in the Foundling series, after Bayou Born.

Luce Boudrou has now discovered her true identity, and that the demon deep within her is hell bent on the apocalypse.
She swears to herself that this is not going to happen, and she does not have to let the demon side of her win, but it is getting increasingly difficult to keep the two sides of her life apart.
Things become even more complicated when she discovers a link between the unusual arson cases she is investigating and her own dark secrets.

I am totally hooked to this series. Luce and her charming band of charun are hard to resist.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough, if you are partial to urban fantasy.

Bayou Born (Foundling Book One) by Hailey Edwards

Read January 2019.

What an intriguing surprise this turned out to be.
I was expecting a Southern USA cop thriller, but what I got was actually an urban fantasy tale with demons in it!.
It reminded me a little of the Sookie Stackhouse series, which I loved.

Luce Boudrou was found, aged fifteen, in a Mississippi bayou. She has no memories, apparently no family, and she is covered in strange metallic bands, that appear to be part of her skin.
Luce is adopted by the cop that found her and she grows up to follow in his footsteps as a cop herself, albeit a cop who inspires suspicion in many around her.
Luce has no idea that her true origin is something she could never have imagined, but she is about to find out about her dark and powerful destiny, after another girl is discovered in the swamp and she has the same markings as Luce. She is also about to meet the "family" she never knew she had.

I loved this book.
There are some great characters in this book and a nice hook at the end to draw you into book two, which is called Bone Driven.

Bird Box by Josh Mallerman

Read January 2019.

This book tells the horrific tale of a world where you cannot look outside, without risking madness, violence and death.
Five years after the horror began, Malorie and her two children must risk leaving the abandoned house that has become their home, to risk a journey to find a place of safety - and their only choice is to do this blindfolded, to avoid the madness outside.

I have not read a horror tale quite like this since The Road, in the sense that I had to keep reading until Malorie and the children were safe. This is a very scary tale, full of suspense and is made worse by the fact that you never know the nature of the "monsters" that cause the madness.

I bought this book some months before reading it, after seeing it recommended on Goodreads as a great horror novel, and I really enjoyed it. It has recently been made into a Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock.

Of Blood And Bone by Nora Roberts

Read December 2018.

This is the second book in the Chronicles of the One trilogy, and had a lot to live up to after the first book, Year One.

Fallen Swift is fated to be The One, but she knows very little of the world that came before The Doom.
Now that Fallon had reached her thirteenth birthday, she must start her training with the centuries old Mallick, so she is prepared for the fight to come.

I was really looking forward to this book, because the first one was so good.
Overall, I have enjoyed it, although it does suffer a bit from being the middle book in the series - nothing was really going to be resolved in this second book - but it does set things up nicely for the final book, and there is a good twist near the end.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Read December 2018.

The majority of the Holmes and Watson tales are actually short stories.
This is book three in the Sherlock Holmes books, and it is the first collection of short stories.

There are some cracking tales in this volume, such as A Scandal in Bohemia, which introduces the elusive Irene Adler to the mix.

Kingdom Of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

Read November 2018.

This is the seventh and final installment in the Throne of Glass series.

Aelin has risked everything to save her people, but she must escape the iron coffin in which she has been trapped by Maeve, or it will all be in vain.
Meanwhile, Rowan and his Fae companions are searching for Aelin, while the rest of her loyal band are gathering allies for the final battle against Erawan and his evil army.

This is an amazing finale to the Throne of Glass series, and is a whopper of a book, at 984 pages.
I have suffered and rejoiced, in turns, with all my favourite characters in these books - and have shed more than a few tears too.
It has beena long journey and I feel a little sad that it has come to an end.

The Sign Of The Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Read November 2018.

This is the second adventure of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.
In this story they are asked by Miss Mary Marston to help her unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her father and the receipt of a valuable gift from an unknown benefactor.

This one is much more of an adventure story that Holmes and Watson's first outing, and Dr Watson meets his future wife along the way!

Great fun!

A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Read October 2018.

This is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes to the World.

Dr Watson takes up lodgings in a house where the existing resident is a very odd fellow - and so begins a partnership that will come to solve many tales of murder and mystery.

In The Study In Scarlet, the police are baffled by a mysterious murder, but Holmes soon puts his superior intellect to the test and discovers that this is linked to a tragic story of love and revenge.

I have always struggled trying to get into Sherlock Holmes, so have finally resorted to the Audible audio books, read by the wonderful Stephen Fry.

What a revelation! I am suddenly able to see why these stories have stood the test of time and I can see myself becoming a fan.

Holmes and Watson are such great characters, and I am really looking forward to hearing more of their adventures. I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of humour contained in this book.

The introductions by Stephen Fry are also fascinating, and infect you with his enthusiasm for the stories.

The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Read November 2018.

Four seekers of evidence of the paranormal arrive to stay at a supposedly haunted mansion. It s certainly a creepy place and things soon start to go bump in the night, but the house demands a sacrifice and not all of them will survive this visit.

The concept of a haunted/evil mansion should be thrilling, but the characters are a bit one-dimensional, and although supernatural stuff happens, the story is quite disjointed.

I know this book is supposed to be a classic in its genre, but I did not find it particularly enjoyable. I have read much scarier books.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Read October 2018.

Another winner from the pen of the talented Jane Harper. I have been singing her praises since reading her debut, The Dry, and the follow-up, Force of Nature, earlier this year, and this book is even better.

Two brothers go searching for their middle brother, after he disappears while out checking the fences on his farm. They meet up at the grave of the stockman - a landmark that goes back so far no one can actually remember the story of the man that is buried there.
On top of the grave, they find the body of their brother. How did he get there and what was he doing out in the wilderness all alone?

I wasn't sure how I would feel about the lack of Aaron Falk in this book, since he has appeared in both of her other books, but the characters in the Lost Man are every bit as good. I really enjoyed the references to the events of The Dry too - very clever!

I was glad that this book is set in the baking Outback again, as Harper manages to convey the searing heat and its influence on the relationships between her characters so well, that you almost feel you are there. I love that she carries you along with the characters, in her books, as they discover clues along the way, and you experience every twist and turn that they do.

I absolutely adored this book and cannot wait for more, with or without Aaron Falk.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Read October 2018.

Having previously read and loved Matt Haig's The Humans, I was looking forward to this one.

Tom Hazard has a condition. Unlike someone who ages prematurely, Tom ages very slowly. he may only look 41, but he has been alive for centuries.
There is a secret society that looks over those who are like Tom, and the society's number one rule is that they should not fall in love, as this is very hard when the person you love is doomed to die before you.

Unfortunately for Tom, he has been in love before and thinks he may be falling again, even if it is forbidden. Somewhere he also has a daughter, who he believes may be like him. Life is never easy for Tom and he has some difficult choices to make.

I found this book to be more of a "grower" than The Humans, but Matt Haig has a way of getting down to the essentials of what it means to be a human being that is very touching and emotional.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two at the end (a bit awkward in the optician's waiting room), just as I did at the end of The Humans.

Ancestor by Scott Sigler

Read October 2018.

This is a companion novel to Scott Sigler's Infected trilogy.
It is set between the books Contagious and Pandemic and tells the tale of the failed Ancestor project that one of the characters from Pandemic was involved in (Dr Tim Feely).
The project aimed to find and genetically enhance a common ancestor of humans, that could be used to harvest organs for transplantation. Of course, as expected, things go horribly wrong and death and destruction ensue.

Creepy and thrilling, with proper monsters that will give you nightmares.

Paris For One And Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

Read October 2018.

I loved Jojo Moyes' Lou Clark books, but I have never read any of her other books.
This one is a collection of short romantic stories, preceded by the slightly longer Paris for One, about a girl who finds herself stranded and alone in Paris when her feckless boyfriend decides it is too much effort to go with her.

Paris for One is more of a novella and I really enjoyed this one. I would happily read a full-blown novel of this story, should Moyes ever write one.
The other, shorter stories are a bit hit and miss, but I did enjoy them on the whole, and a couple even brought a tear to my eye.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book, but I think I will stick with her longer novels in future, which is really a compliment to Jojo Moyes.

Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters

Read October 2018.

Having previously read and enjoyed Sarah Waters' books Fingersmith and Affinity, it was high old time I got around reading her most famous (or is it infamous!) book, Tipping the Velvet - especially as it is the book that launched her career and it is now 20 years old!

Nancy Astley spends her days shucking the oysters in her family's shell fish restaurant, but she loves the excitement of the music hall.
One day she sees a male impersonator, Miss Kitty Butler, and falls in love. Kitty drags Nancy away from her family and onto the stage, but their love is doomed.

Nancy finds her life in tatters and it takes a downward turn into prostitution and as a kept woman, but she will find true love and herself in the end.

Despite its saucy reputation about Nancy's lesbian/crossdressing adventures, this book is about so much more. I am always impressed by Waters' ability to draw you into the contradictions and repressed sexuality of the Victorian age.

I actually found this book rather touching. This is a great and absorbing read and I can highly recommend it.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Read September 2018.

What happens when your very American Asian boyfriend takes you home to Singapore for the summer and you find out he is the heir to a fortune, with a nightmare family? Mayhem ensues....

This is a good fun romp through the lives of the super rich Asians of Singapore, and I quite enjoyed it.
I really rooted for Rachel and Nick against his awful snobby relations and will be interested to see the movie adaptation.

A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Read September 2018.

This is book one in The All Souls Trilogy.
The concept of this book is great. A powerful witch called Diana Bishop turns against her heritage to pursue an academic career, until one day she uncovers a bewitched book that has been hidden for centuries.
Now other witches, demons and vampires want the book and Diana must reconcile herself with her witch heritage and learn to control her powers, all while falling into forbidden love with a vampire.

Sounds promising, right?
However, I really struggled to get through this book. Diana is so insipid and annoying - she spends so much time denying her powers, when she really needs to be working on them for the battles ahead. In addition, the forbidden vampire, Matthew Clairmont, is so over-protective that he becomes very irritating after a while.

This could have been great, but I really did not enjoy it. I am not sure if I will ever get around to reading the other parts of the trilogy.

The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells

Read September 2018.

My second reread of H.G. Wells this year is the seminal War of the Worlds.

This is a book that everyone knows something about - ie. Martians try to invade the Earth, but are eventually beaten by the tiniest of micro-organisms, that they cannot even see.

This is a classic of the genre, but it does not hold up so well as The Time Machine, because it is difficult to imagine a world where people are so blissfully unaware of what is happening just along the road from them in this day and age.

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Read August 2018.

This is a cracking fantasy debut novel about a band of half-breed orcs, called The Grey Bastards.
The Bastards and their fellow half-breed bands, living in The Lots, are seemingly there to protect humankind.
However, Jackal and his friends from the Bastards learn the truth behind their existence, and they must decide where their loyalties actually lie.Oh, and they ride hogs!

This book is epic and I loved it. This is a kind of mix of Stan Nicholl's Orcs books (also great) and the fab Raymond E. Feist.
It contains a well drawn fantasy world with men, orcs, elves, monsters, half-breeds and magic. The characters are great and I can't wait for book two, The True Bastards.

Proper grown up fantasy for adults.

The Psychology Of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Read August 2018.

Four female scientists invent a time travel machine, which will make them famous. One of them, however, mysteriously suffers a breakdown which could put the whole project in peril.

50 years later, time travel has become big business. The granddaughter of the pioneer who had a breakdown, knows very little about her grandmother's involvement, but her interest is piqued when she receives a message from the future.

I must admit that I was not sure I would like this book when I started reading it. The timelines jump around a lot and there are multiple characters to keep track of - some of them even the same people at different ages! The comparison to the much lauded Station Eleven also was a bit off-putting, as I found that book somewhat soulless and disappointing.

However, I found myself slowly being drawn into the web of threads that Kate Mascarenthas has skillfully written and found it hard to put the book down at all after a little while. You simply have to keep reading, until all the threads come together, and come together in a very satisfying way they do.

I love a time travel story and have read a lot of them, but nothing quite like this before. It really makes you question how time travel might affect a person's mental health and what sort of person they might become once the future (including their own fate) holds no mystery for them. The story is about the changes wrought on the characters themselves and what this leads to. There is plenty to think about here and it is one of those books that will leave an impression long after you have read it.

This is an intriguing book and is very cleverly crafted. The female characters are strong and drive the story, incuding the romantic element, which is very refreshing.

The Infected Trilogy by Scott Sigler

Read August 2018.

Ther are three books in this trilogy: Infected, Contagious and Pandemic.
Most of my immediate family became hooked on these books when we were on holiday last year, so we shared the horror together.

In Infected, an alien plague starts to turn people into homicidal maniacs and incubators for some pretty unpleasant "babies".
Perry is one of these unfortunate hosts, but he decides to fight back. "Perry is having a bad day!" became the catch phrase for that holiday.

In Contagious, Perry teams up with Dew, Margaret and Clarence to fight a new threat, after the infection mutates into something new.

In Pandemic, the alien plague has one last stab at humankind, and it is a big one, which will wipe out millions worldwide.

If you like your horror gritty, gruesome and fast-paced then I can highly recommend this trilogy.

Breakfast At Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Read August 2018.

This is the story of the socialite traveller, Holly Golightly, immortalised by Audrey Hepburn in the film of the same name.

I have been meaning to read this book for many years, as the cutesy Hollywood version of this tale has never rung true with everything I have heard about Truman Capote, and now I know why.

Capote's Holly Golightly is a true free spirit and is certainly not waiting to be rescued by a man.
She is more gritty and real and goes her own way. This Holly's happy ending is very different from the Hollywood version and I find it difficult to imagine Audrey Hepburn as the Holly in the book.

I think it is best to keep the two Hollys completely separate. Stick with the Audrey Hepburn version if you like the romantic Hollywood stuff, and go for the book version is you like gritty realism.

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Read August 2018.

Chasing Fire is just the kind of Nora Roberts that I like. Although her out and out romance books do nothing for me, I do enjoy her thrillers (with a bit of Montana romance thrown in!).

This one follows the lives of the Missoula smoke jumpers - the hot-shot fire fighters that tackle forest wildfires in western USA.
Rowan Tripp has been fighting wildfires since she was eighteen, following in the footsteps of her legendary father, but since the accidental death of her partner, she's not so sure of herself anymore.
Enter rookie cop and wannabe smoke jumper, Gulliver Curry. Rowan is suddenly thrown off balance and when a dark force threatens, she needs to be able to rely on Gull when it counts.

This book was a bit of a slow starter, but liked the strong women characters, and it was good once the story got going.
I learnt a lot about the brave souls that fight forest wildfires. Respect to those brave men and women.

Day Of Th Dead by Nicci French

Read August 2018.

This is the eighth and final book in the Frieda Klein series and it was much anticipated by those of us who have followed Frieda through the horrors she has endured, since the deranged murderer Dean Reeve entered her life ten years ago.

Frieda has worked on a number of cases, trying to help the police solve some pretty gruesome crimes over the years, but now she is forced into hiding to await the return of her nemesis. Not even her loyal friends can know where she has gone, because it would put them in danger.
Will Frieda survive the final showdown?

I enjoyed this final book in the series (although the new character Lola was very annoying) and it was great to have all the threads finally tied up. It was lovely to return to old friends and I will miss them, especially the chaotic, but charming Josef.

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

Read July 2018.

Nolan Moore, amateur archaeologist and host of the tv series, The Anomaly Files, arrives in the Grand Canyon with his team to search for a lost cave filled with hidden treasure. Nolan wants to hit the big time and is desperate for his tv series to be a hit.

The team discover that the cave does indeed exist and is filled with weird and wonderful treasures, but when they find themselves trapped, events take a horrifying turn.

This book was so much fun that I read it in only a couple of days. It is fast-paced and full of suspense, with great characters.
Kind of an Indiana Jones meets The Descent meets Evolution story.
I loved it and would really like to read more adventures in The Anomaly Files.

Death Of A Clone by Alex Thomson

Read July 2018.

An intriguing space thriller/murder mystery, based on a mining asteroid populated with human clones. Leila's sister, Lily, is murdered and she decides to try to track down the murderer herself, just like the detectives in the old novels that she loves.
However, Leila uncovers much more than the truth behind Lily's murder. In fact, she discovers the truth behind everything..

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was interesting how well an Agatha Christie type whodunnit translated to the sci-fi genre.
There is the possibility of a sequel here too that I would be happy to read.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

Read July 2018.

I found got around to reading the simmering, Southern play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which you can't help read while picturing the iconic Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, as Maggie and Brick.
This is the famous story of repressed sexuality, sexual tension and sibling rivalry that set Broadway alight in 1955.

A total classic. Interestingly, there is an alternate ending in this edition, too.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Read July 2018.

Eleanor had an unconventional upbringing, to say the least, and she struggles with social interaction. She simply does not know how to say the right thing and tends to just come straight out with what she is thinking.
Eleanor is stuck in her own little world and thinks that she is absolutely fine.

Then Raymond enters her life, when he starts working in the IT department at her workplace. Raymond forces Eleanor to become involved in the lives of others, when he insists that she helps him to save an old man who has fallen over on the pavement.

From this day forward, Eleanor begins to see what this human interaction thing is all about. Her journey is not a smooth one, but her life will ultimately change for the better.

This is a lovely story about kindness and saving others from isolation. It is gentle, heart warming and beautifully written, and the relationship between Eleanor and Raymond is particularly touching.

Bad by Chloe Esposito

Read June 2018.

This is book two of the adventures of Alvie (which conclude this year with the final installment, Dangerous To Know).

Alvie's story continues with her search for Nino, the assassin, after he left her high and dry (and without knickers!) at The Ritz.
What follows is another killing spree across Rome, and on to London, via Romania.

I loved the continuation of Alvie and Nino's story and did not see the ending coming at all.
I am really curious to know how Alvie's story will end.