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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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The Van Meter family are gathering at their New England island holiday home to celebrate the wedding of oldest daughter Daphne. Patriarch Winn Van Meter should be looking forward to a joyous weekend, but he is facing it all with a kind of dread. He feels age creeping up on him; discontented with his life, and harbouring a lust for an entirely inappropriate woman, the scene is set for a disastrous couple of days. Meanwhile his youngest daughter Livia is recovering after a relationship break-up, his wife Biddy is patiently trying to ignore her husband’s erratic behaviour – and just why won’t the Pequot gentlemans’ club accept him as a member?!

I am in two minds about this book. The things I liked were: Maggie Shipstead’s turn of phrase. She has an amusingly cynical turn of phrase which made me smile in places at the absurdity of the situations. And…nope, that’s actually about all I liked.

What I didn’t like was almost all of the characters. It’s not necessary for me to like a character in order to enjoy a book, but there has to be something about them that makes me want to read about them – if not likeable, then they should be interesting. This book is told mostly from Winn’s point of view (albeit in the third person) and quite frankly he is not likeable, not interesting and ultimately pretty pathetic. I don’t think he is meant to be a likeable character, but I don’t know whether he is meant to be quite so exasperating. I am not sure in fact why anyone in his family puts up with him; he’s basically a privileged, narrow minded, self-centred egotist, complaining about how hard done to he is. Nothing is his fault, it’s always someone else to blame.

Livia was probably the second most prominent character and she wasn’t much better, although her youth and heartbreak excuse her somewhat. Unfortunately the most likeable characters – Dominique, Greyson and Biddy – are never really explored, because they are the most level headed and decent among the party, and this book is not about level headed decent people!

I realise it’s meant to be satire, but despite the eloquence of the writing, it’s not really funny enough to work. It’s not awful – it certainly held my attention – but it’s just…meh! While I realise that money and privilege does not preclude people from being depressed and unhappy, the things that were causing Winn to be miserable were so ridiculous it was just hard to feel any sympathy at all. I can see that some people might love this book – regrettably I’m not one of them.

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This was another audiobook, and the third Lucy Diamond book I have listened to. I really enjoyed ‘Sweet Temptation’ and ‘On a Beautiful Day’ so I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, while it did have a fair but going for it, it did not match up to the other two, and had I not listened to those two already, I’m not sure I would listen to any more by this author. I note that this book was written before either of the other two, so for me at least, her books get more enjoyable the longer she has been writing.

The story revolves around the three Jones brothers and their wives / partners / potential partners. The brothers’ parents Lilian and Eddie run a holiday cottage in Dorset, but it’s starting to get too much for them – and more worryingly – Eddie’s memory seems to be failing him – and they decide they might have to give it up. They hope that one of their sons might take over, but the only one who initially seems interested is youngest son, loveable but unreliable Charlie…

Oldest son Hugh is married to Alicia. Alicia is approaching 40 and feeling older – she loves Hugh, but feels as though she is stuck in a rut. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit.

Middle son David is married to Emma, but they are going through a rough time, as David has recently lost his job, and their plans to have a baby don’t seem to be amounting to much.

Izzy Allerton has recently moved to the area with her two young daughters after escaping a violent marriage and swearing off men forever. But then Charlie Jones comes into her life, and despite her instincts telling her to leave well alone, there’s just something about Charlie!

The book is mostly told from the three female points of view, in alternating chapters. I liked Emma the best but Alicia and Emma were also likeable characters. I think what put me off the book was that apart from some fairly shocking events that take place about halfway through, the whole thing is so very ‘twee’. I also found the narration a tad irritating. Jilly Bond has such an upper class English accent that it really grated – please understand I have nothing against such an accent, just that it didn’t seem entirely appropriate for this book. Also, I hated pretty much all of the character voices she did. Hugh was so incredibly posh that he was basically a caricature, and the voices of the children were awful. I’m sure she is a great narrator, but not for this particular story, which required some regional accents and those didn’t come over very well.

Nonetheless, the book held my attention to the end – I think it could have done with a bit of editing, as for some time the story seemed to get stuck – and based on the other Lucy Diamond books I’ve listened to, I would give this author another try.

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David Dow is a death penalty lawyer in Texas – this must be one of the hardest jobs to do, *especially* in Texas. He believes that the death penalty is always wrong and fights to save his clients’ lives, while acknowledging that the vast majority of them are guilty of their crimes. He freely admits that he doesn’t like a lot of his clients but he is compelled to do what he believes is right.

This book however, while discussing other death penalty cases, focuses mainly on the case of Henry Quaker, a man who is convicted of murdering his wife and children – and who was almost certainly innocent of the crime. In discussing the various measures that David and his team take to try and save Quaker’s life, some deeply uncomfortable truth about the justice system are revealed. Quaker was a poor black man with a deeply incompetent trial lawyer. Despite there being another very viable suspect, and several reasons why Quaker almost certainly did not commit the crime, the lawyer failed to disclose any of this at the trial. Indeed, the book talks about public defender lawyers who literally go to sleep in the middle of trial.

I am completely against the death penalty in any and all circumstances, so I was also predisposed to be drawn into this book (I can’t say I enjoyed it, and it’s not a book that is really meant to be enjoyed, but it needs to be read). However, whatever anyone’s views, the truths about the ‘justice’ system revealed here should make anyone feel uncomfortable about the death penalty. I felt angry and frustrated learning about how bureaucracy and red tape, the laziness of judges, the incompetence of lawyers all have more to do with someone’s fate than the evidence for or against them.

The author also talks about his home life with his wife and young son. He has a lovely family and he acknowledges this. But there is no doubt that the job he does would have an effect on anybody, and he includes snapshots of their lives to illustrate this.

I recommend this book very highly. It is not always an easy read, but it is as compelling as any novel and the lessons contained within need to be heard.

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Another audiobook which I listened to while running. Sue and Brian Jackson’s daughter has stepped in front of a bus and lies in a coma. Brian is convinced it was an accident, but Sue believes that Charlotte intended to kill herself and is determined to find out why. As she conducts her own investigation, the story is interspersed with her diary flashbacks which reveal an horrifically abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend James. Sue believes that after 20 years, James has tracked her down and that her life – and her family’s life is in danger.

Honestly I wanted to like this book. I used to love psychological thrillers and still do sometimes, but there seems to be so many of these kinds of books around at the moment, and consequently there are a lot of cliches – and this book contains them all. James is such a monster that he ends up being a caricature, and Sue was so wishy washy that (in the present day storyline) I found it hard to feel much for her at all. Brian is a background character, who the reader never really got to know, and even though the book is about Charlotte and what may have driven her to try and kill herself, I ended up feeling that she was never a properly developed character. Maybe I’m sick of reading about abusive men and the women who forgive them time and time again – it seems to be a trope in fiction drama lately.

Certain parts of the story did keep me listening, but some situations were ludicrous and the ending was ridiculous beyond belief. I could say why, but it would mean revealing spoilers.

Anyhow, despite the somewhat scathing review, this wasn’t all bad. But it certainly wasn’t all good. I’ll probably be giving this author a miss from now on…but there are plenty of favourable reviews around for this book, so don’t let me put you off!

A note about the narration: I did think Jenny Funnell did a good job, but not good enough to cover the flaws in the story!

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Year of original publication: 2014

Genre: Psychological thriller

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Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jodi Picoult has based this novel around a hostage situation in an abortion clinic in Mississippi. It’s told in reverse chronological order, which I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but actually the format does work quite well. The story starts with the hostage situation already well underway, at least one hostage dead at the hands of the gunman, and a police negotiator desperately trying to end the situation without more harm – because his fifteen year old daughter is one of the hostages.

Each chapter starts an hour earlier than the last one, taking the reader all the way back to the early morning and showing how each character came to be in the clinic that day.

While the book does look at the abortion argument from all sides – and this is obviously very relevant to the story – and also goes into some details regarding how abortions are performed, on one level this is a story of a hostage situation that could have taken place in any public area. We get to know the various characters and peel back the layers of their lives, each chapter revealing a little more. I thought a few of the characters were very well fleshed out – Hugh the negotiator, and Wren his daughter. I really liked the feisty nurse Izzy, but my favourite of all characters was Dr Louie Ward, who I really cared for by the end of the book.

This is not my favourite Jodi Picoult novel and I’m not sure if that was because of it being told backwards as it were, but I still did enjoy it and would probably recommend it.

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I listened to this audiobook over the course of several training runs. The storyline revolves around a marriage between Simon and Marianne Wilson – and it soon becomes apparent that it is a deeply unhappy marriage and that Simon is a bully and a liar. There are no spoilers here, as this is made clear very early on in the story.

Marianne, who narrates the story, becomes suspicious when her husband mentions a woman who he works with, and immediately suspects that he is having an affair. She has had such suspicions before but this time it’s different. She knows deep inside that something is going on, and that this relationship could be the one that threatens her marriage and could cause her to lose her children. And Marianne is determined that that won’t happen.

I’ll be honest – for the first couple of hours of this book, I was tempted to give up on it. Within half an hour I had decided that I didn’t like either Simon or Marianne, and there seemed to be so much repetition in what Marianne was saying  that the whole listening experience was somewhat tiresome. This is no fault of the narrator Katie Villa, who did an excellent job, but more the writing itself.

However, about halfway through it suddenly got a lot more exciting and things started moving at a much quicker pace. I actually enjoyed the second half of the book a lot – there were two twists, one of which I guessed quite early on, and the other which I did not guess at all (always a plus in my book).

Overall I would say that this was a book of two halves, and I am glad I stuck around for the second one. If you like psychological dramas and unreliable narrators, I would give this a try.

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Last year I read ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion – a hugely enjoyable book, of which you can see my review here. This book is the follow-up, and sees Don and Rosie now living in New York, and Rosie pregnant. In addition, Don’s friend Gene has broken up with his wife and comes to New York to stay with them – which doesn’t please Rosie.

Don is shaken by Rosie’s pregnancy as it was not planned, and Rosie is worried about Don’s suitability as a father. The couple find themselves facing problems which they are not sure how to work out.

Although Don’s character has grown slightly since the first book, he is still painfully literally and brutally honest, which often leads to misunderstandings or offence. The book is narrated by Don, so we do see his point of view in a way which we wouldn’t if it were told in the third person…that said, it would be interesting to see the same events from Rosie’s side!

I enjoyed the book a lot, but probably not as much as the first one. For a while the story seemed to go round in circles, and I just wanted it to be resolved one way or the other. However, there were still plenty of humorous moments – and indeed some touching moments – which kept my interest. Overall I would say that if you enjoyed the first book, you should give this one a try.

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