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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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Slow Horses is the first in series of spy novels by author Mick Herron, all of which feature a team of misfits – MI5 Agents, who the service would love to get rid of but can’t for various reasons, so instead they send them to Slough House to finish out their time in the service doing menial and unimportant work. The leader of this group, who are disliked by MI5 and each other in equal measure, is Jackson Lamb, a lumbering, sometimes rude, but still sharp agent. At the start of the story, young agent Rivert Cartwright is sent to Slough House after a routine operation goes drastically wrong and River gets the blame.

However, the Slow Horses (Slough House/Slow Horses – get it?!) find themselves unexpectedly involved in a major news story when a young Muslim boy is kidnapped by a group of thuggish vigilantes, who threaten to behead him and stream it on the internet. Whatever orders they might get from above, there is no way the Slow Horses are going to sit back and let this atrocity happen, but things are way more complicated than they seem.

Okay, confession time. I don’t like spy novels. They just aren’t my thing and I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to buy this book – but nonetheless I thought I should give it a try…and I’m so glad that I did! Jackson, River and their various colleagues are all brought vividly to life, and if they aren’t always immediately likeable, they are certainly enjoyable to read about, and I couldn’t help rooting for them more or less from the off.

The plot itself is nice and twisty but stays on the right side of over-complicated – there were plenty of surprises along the way, but they never seemed too far fetched as to make the story seem ridiculous. The central theme – would the young kidnapping victim be saved? – trotted along well, and kept me gripped; I particularly liked that there were chapters told from Hassan’s point of view. There was also a lot of dry humour here too.

Overall, a great story with great characters, well told. I have bought the next available books in the series and look forward to reading them.

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blood-bath

This short book (I listened to the audiobook which came in at around an hour and a half) is part of a series of stories featuring Stephen Leather’s creation Jack Nightingale, paranormal detective. I wasn’t aware of that when I bought this one, but certainly didn’t feel that I missed out on anything but not having read/listened to any of the others in the series. Before I talk about this specific story, it’s worth mentioning that the print version of the story also features six other stories of the same name written by other authors. Having read reviews, it appears that the Stephen Leather one was by the far the best of them all, and so I am not particularly bothered by missing out on the others, but some readers may want to have the whole lot.

In this story, Jack and his assistant Jenny take on new clients Mr and Mrs Stokes, who have bought a hotel. However, due to the high number of suicides in the hotel over the preceding years, nobody wants to stay there and the business is losing money. Jack investigates and discovers that the suicides may in fact be murder by a malevolent supernatural force, so it is up to himself and Jenny to find out the truth.

As far as short stories go, this was…okay. Not really a horror, more of a fantasy novel, which admittedly is not necessarily a favourite genre of mine although the occasional fantasy novel will grab me. It was basically just a straight up chronological account of their investigation. I did like Jack and Jenny – both had a good sense of humour and a nice working relationship, and the story itself was serviceable even if it held no major surprises.

There were a few editing mistakes which annoyed me – one character went from being called Timothy to Thomas and back to Timothy again. Also, at the beginning of a conversation with Mr Stokes, the hotel owner says that he has no guests stopping there at that time and a minute later, during the same conversation, Jack asked him if he still had no guests stopping there. Little things like this do tend to niggle me somewhat.

I’m not sure I would be that bothered about listening to any more Jack Nightingale stories, but I also wouldn’t be against the idea of popping one on to pass the time during a long run or car journey.

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Registered dietician Laura Thomas has written this book to help anyone who has ever had issues surrounding food, body image, dieting etc. and to help them adopt intuitive eating (IE). IE is NOT another diet in disguise as a healthy eating plan, and not another way to restrict what we eat – Thomas makes it clear that that is the polar opposite of what she wants to achieve.

This book resonated strongly with me, as someone who has had a mixed up relationship with food and body image for something like 30 years. It actually made me cry at certain times as I recognised the symptoms of disordered eating which she writes about. Crucially though, for the first time, I felt like there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there IS a way to get out of this cycle, and to have a healthy relationship with food.

Written in an engaging, entertaining and accessible way (Thomas is quite sweary and so am I, so this didn’t bother me, but may be worth pointing out to some readers), there are exercises for the reader to complete and each chapter focuses on different aspects of the issues being discussed.

This is an important book, and one which I highly recommend to anyone who has ever felt bad for eating too much, gone on yet another restrictive diet to lose weight, judged foods as good as bad, and or let a number on the scales dictate how good a day they are going to have.

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emma

This was always going to be an interesting read for me in one sense or another. This books is a new version of Jane Austen’s Emma (a modernisation of each Austen novel was written for a Harper Collins series and this was the third of that series). Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but quite possibly my favourite novel of all time by any writer. I’m always intrigued by book and film remakes/reboots/reimaginings/retellings or the numerous other re-whatevers that are around so I sorted of looked forward to reading this, while also approaching with some trepidation.

Anyway…to condense the storyline for anyone who is not familiar, Emma Woodhouse is a privileged young lady who gets pleasure from trying to organise her friends lives and relationships, and fancies herself as an expert matchmaker. However, her meddling is about to result in a few life lessons learned for Emma…

Honestly, having finished this book I am  not sure WHAT to make of it. I definitely didn’t hate it – McCall Smith has a gentle and genteel style of writing, which makes it easy reading, and this book more or less stays true to the original storyline. However, it never really sits well in the modern age. The characters still seem stuck in the original era, but whereas in Austen’s novel, there is sparkling wit and humour, and Emma seems quite a modern young lady, here she seems old-fashioned and something of a snob. Austen wrote that Emma was a heroine who nobody except herself would like (I actually love Emma’s character, flaws and all) and McCall Smith seems to have actually created this very Emma. There is nothing particularly warm about her, nothing to make the reader understand her or root for her, and attempts to remind us that it is set in the current day – mentions of modern technology, modern transport etc – do seem awkwardly shoehorned in, just to remind us that this is indeed a modern retelling. Thus, even if you take this as a novel on it’s own merits and try to block out thoughts of the original, it still doesn’t quite work.

I would have liked more Knightley in this one – he barely features – and less padding at the beginning; at almost 100 pages in and Harriet Smith still doesn’t warrant a mention!

So overall an interesting experience. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to Austen lovers, unless like me, you’re curious to see how the story sits in a modern setting.

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As a schoolboy, Ben Smith was a victim of relentless and vicious bullying, which affected him so much that he attempted to take his own life twice. Carrying his experiences through to adulthood, he suffered from severe depression and a crushing inability to reveal his true self to others. His saviour was running.

So when Ben wanted to take on a challenge to raise awareness of bullying and also raise money for two anti-bullying charities, it was to running which he turned. The challenge he decided on was to run 401 marathons on 401 consecutive days. Yes, you read that correctly!

Selling his house and all his possessions to fund the project, Ben set out on his odyssey throughout the UK running a marathon every single day. It changed his life, but as news of his challenge grew, it also changed the lives of many others. People would turn out not just to support Ben, but also to run with him – sometimes the whole 26.2 miles, sometimes a portion of it. Several people ran their first ever marathon alongside him.

This books tells the remarkable story of the 401 challenge, and it’s an absorbing and inspirational read. Not so much a running book as a lesson that if you really want to achieve something – and you are prepared to work damned hard at it – you can and will do it. Rather than a day to day retelling, each chapters covers chunks of the time, and as well as Ben’s back story, which is told alongside the story of the marathons, there are contributions from his partner, family, friends and other people who ran with him or were inspired by him. This meant that as a reader we see Ben’s experiences through other people’s eyes, and see just what an effect it had on those around him.

It’s an honest account of the good times, but also the bad times – you simply cannot take on a challenge of that magnitude without it affecting you, and Ben is quite straightforward about the physical, mental and logistical issues which the challenge threw at him and his team. Ultimately though, this is always a story of hope, dedication and a little bit of craziness. Engaging throughout and thoroughly enjoyable whether or not you are a runner.

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This book is set in Dooling, West Virginia, but the events of the story are happening throughout the world.

A new global phenomenon which comes to be known as Aurora is affecting women as they sleep. They become cocooned in a web like structure, and if anyone tries to remove the webbing the women become uncontrollably violent. As women fight to stay away, inevitably they all (almost all anyway) fall asleep and the men are left to run things by themselves. It’s not long before they revert to their primal instincts.

In Dooling Correctional Prison however, there is  a new inmate named Evie Black, who is able to fall asleep and wake up normally, and opinion is divided over whether she needs to be studied in the hope of finding a cure, or whether she is a demon who needs to be killed.

I half wish I hadn’t chosen this book as my first book to read this year – I think it’s going to be hard for other books to live up to it, because quite honestly I LOVED this. It’s not a horror story, it’s more of a dystopian novel – and if there’s one genre guaranteed to get me interested, it’s dystopian fiction. The book raises the question of what the world would be like without the input of women, and while it’s fictional of course, so we cannot really know the answer, in this story at least, it’s not pretty!

As is normal with Stephen King (I’m not familiar with Owen King’s work, but after reading this would like to seek more out), there is a huge cast of characters, but I felt that they were all brought to life admirably and the distinct personalities shone through. There is the age old battle between good and evil, although both sides see themselves as good and the other as evil, and the suspense is maintained throughout.

I would say that this is a thoughtful and intelligent novel. Don’t be put off by the size – at just over 700 pages, it’s a big brick of a book – if this is a genre or theme that interests you, or if you have previously enjoyed Stephen King, I cannot recommend this highly enough.

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A disparate group of five students are given detention and only four of them walk out alive. Somebody killed Simon Kelleher while he was in the room and as the investigation gets underway, it turns out that each of the other students had something to hide…and Simon not only knew all of their secrets, but was planning to reveal them on his on his gossip app.

Although this book is marketed as Young Adult, I am certainly WAY past that category and I really enjoyed it. People like me who remember classic 80s movies may well remember The Breakfast Club, and it is difficult not to draw comparisons between the premise of that movie and the initial backdrop to this book. However, the story here is a lot darker – as all four students are investigated for the murder, it turns out that each of them had reason to want Simon dead.

I really enjoyed the story, and while I have no intention of revealing the ending, I will say that it came as a complete surprise and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.

If you like mysteries and dramas (this is more of a drama than a thriller), then I would recommend this book, no matter what your age.

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