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I’ve been a fan of Dave Gorman for a long time – his tv shows and stage shows (I’m lucky enough to have been him live) are always witty and entertaining, and his books are always a good source of amusement. In this book, he basically travels around England playing games with strangers. He plays traditional games such as Cluedo, Ping Pong, Darts and Poker, and some other games which were – to me at least – unknown, such as Khett, Kubb, Smite and erm…Rod Hull’s Emu Game (I know who Rod Hull and Emu are obviously. I did not know that there was such a game. And neither did Dave!)

Gorman is an affable and engaging narrator and while the book is not constantly hilarious, it is amusing and made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions. There is at least one episode which took both myself and Dave Gorman himself by complete surprise, and when you’ve finished the book I am sure you will know which one I mean.

Overall, a lovely read which I would definitely recommend. Also, I now would love to find a local Smite team to join!

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I think I may have found a new favourite author. After listening to and loving her novella Evidence of the Affair, this was my next audiobook of hers (I have also bought Daisy Jones and the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as physical books). This was narrated by Julia Whelan, who I think did a great job (tiny niggle: all the men sounded exactly the same, but that didn’t bother me).

The story centres on Hannah Martin, who has moved back to Los Angeles where she grew up, following a bad break up in New York. She moves in temporarily with her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s husband Mark. On Hannah’s first weekend back home, they go out to a club and Hannah meets her former and first love, Ethan. At the end of the night she has to decide whether to go home with Gabby, or to stay out with Ethan…and this is where the story splits in two, Sliding Doors style.

In the first scenario, Hannah leaves with Gabby and Mark, and is involved in a road accident which lands her in hospital. In the second scenario, she stays at the club with Ethan, and their relationship starts to develop. The two stories are told in alternate chapters, which show the differing paths that Hannah chooses and how they both unfold.

I loved the way it was told; it never got confusing, and it perfectly illustrated how the choices we make affect the courses of our lives. I liked both stories, but on balance I slightly preferred the scenario which started with her leaving the club with Gabby.

It’s difficult to say more without revealing spoilers, but I definitely enjoyed this, and if you like ‘what if’ scenarios, I think you might enjoy it too!

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Nick Hornby has always been what I would call a reliable author, by which I mean that I might not have loved everything he has written, but I have found some enjoyment in everything of his that I have ever read. But actually I did love this book, and think it is his best yet.

Set in the 1960s, it tells of Barbara Parker from Blackpool, who wins the title of Miss Blackpool, promptly decides she doesn’t want it, and heads off to London to realise her dream of becoming a comedienne like her heroine, Lucille Ball.

Before long, Barbara has become Sophie Straw, landed a lead role in a new, successful tv sitcom, and the world – or the UK at least – is at her feet. She becomes part of a close-knit team, with her co-star, writers and director and life is wonderful for a while. But as they grow older and wiser and real life starts to get in the way, they have to rethink just how long the show can continue.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this book. I liked Sophie so much – she was quick-witted, intelligent and full of fun – and I also liked the team she worked with. The writers, Tony and Bill, both gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal and both dealing with it in very different ways; the director Dennis, gentle, kind, cuckolded by his awful wife Edith; and co-star Clive, who should have been easy to dislike with his womanising, his unfaithfulness and his professional jealousy, but who nonetheless was charismatic and made me laugh.

Hornby weaves real people in and out of the narrative, and I liked this; the prime minister and Lucille Ball both make an appearance amongst others. The tone is light and humorous, but never superficial. I felt as though 1960s London was brought to life.

Definitely a thumbs up from me for this one – I highly recommend.

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This was John Grisham’s first novel, and also the first of his which I have read, although I have seen a number of films based on his works (including the adaptation of this book).

Carl Lee Hailey – a black man living in Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi – finds out that his daughter has been raped by two white men, and murders the rapists in revenge. He stands trial for murder and is represented by young lawyer Jake Brigance. The county is fiercely divided between those who think Carl Lee’s actions were justified and he should be acquitted, and those who think he should face capital punishment for what he did. The Ku Klux Klan are determined that Carl Lee must hang and embark on a campaign of harassment and intimidation. Soon the sleepy Ford County is divided into two sides, both willing to go to any lengths to win this war.

I can see why Grisham is such a popular writer – his story flows easily and this is one of those books where you pick it up with the intention of reading a few pages and hours later you’re still reading. I am unsure of my feelings regarding Jake – I was ‘on his side’ re Carl Lee, but his politics in general put me off him somewhat. I did however like the characters of Lucien Wilbanks – Jake’s mentor, an alcoholic but a smart man, and Harry Rex, another lawyer who helps Jake.

Some of the scenes were disturbing, especially those regarding the KKK, and there is prolific use of the n word, which I found extremely jarring. But the story itself was gripping, and I would definitely read more by John Grisham.

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I listened to this audiobook, very well narrated by Emma Spurgin Hussey, over a few days. After a brief opening chapter by an unnamed character (all is revealed later), the story properly starts with a young woman named Vicky – who also narrates the story – going to Corfu after graduation, and deciding to stay there. She loses touch with her mother, with whom she has had a fractious relationship ever since her mother remarried and had children with her second husband. In Corfu she meets the charismatic William and falls madly in love. Before long their son comes along. But when real life and big responsibilities kick in, the bliss fades from their relationship and Vicky makes a shocking decision.

At this point the story switches abruptly to narration by a lady named Caro, who runs a holiday cottage business on a farm with her husband Gilbert and their son Fergus. She has a daughter named India, but there is clearly friction between India and her parents. I’m wary of giving away too much of the story, so I’ll just say that Vicky’s and Caro’s stories do converge, and their individual histories come to have great bearing on their current lives, and both end up fighting for their own families.

I actually really enjoyed this book. I definitely did not like all of the characters; Barbara was an awful woman, although not entirely unbelievable. I also intensely disliked India and really wanted to have someone give her some home truths. However, I loved Caro and Fergus, and felt for Vicky.

The ending was very good as it gave closure, but resisted tying everything up in a neat bow; I was expecting something different, and was pleasantly surprised.

If you like human dramas, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

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I have frequently seen The Farm referred to as a dystopian novel, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. It feels both horrific in many ways, and also extraordinarily close to reality. The titular Farm is Golden Oaks surrogacy centre, where rich women who maybe can’t have children, but often just don’t want pregnancy to ruin their figure (or they somehow feel they don’t have the time to be pregnant) pay vast sums of money for other women – typically women from a poor background – to carry their child. The Farm monitors it’s hosts every move – by video feed, ‘wellbands’ – basically a GPS tracker, and checking of their post and emails. Personal phones and computers are confiscated, and any transgression of the Farm’s strict rules result in a financial penalty, whereby the hosts lose part of their payment.

Jane is a Filipino woman, short of money and in need of a job to support herself and her baby daughter, and the Farm seems a good way to do that. But being apart from her child while carrying the child of an anonymous client takes its toll.

The books raises questions surrounding race, class and exploitation, and while I found it an absorbing and interesting read, it made me very angry at times. That’s probably the point. I liked Jane and her friend Reagan, who features heavily in the book, while I was not so keen on Jane’s aunt Evelyn, or Mae Yu, who ran the Farm for an extortionate salary. But despite the moral ambiguity of Evelyn and Mae, they were represented as believable and nuanced characters, as indeed were most of the others in the story.

So no, I would not necessarily class this is as a dystopian novel, but if you do like books in that genre, I would recommend it. Either way, it was certainly a thought provoking and emotive read.

 

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Book 6 in the Cherringham Cosy Crime Series does not disappoint. Readers (or listeners in my case) will be familiar with the format by now – something suspect happens in the village of Cherringham – which seems to have an awful lot of nefarious activity for such a beautiful picturesque place! – and amateur sleuth Sarah Edwards and retired NYC detective Jack Brennan set out to get to the bottom of things.

In this ‘episode’ Charlie and Caitlin Fox, who run Mabbs Farm, are having a run of spectacularly bad luck with livestock going missing, mysterious fires and all sorts of misfortunes. Caitlin, along with several villagers, believe that the reason is due to an ancient curse which was put on the farm, but Sarah and Jack believe the reason is a lot closer to home and decide to find out who is behind it.

As always, this was a light hearted mystery, and much to my pleasant surprise, just when I thought I had got it all worked out, the ending was a complete surprise. I really do recommend this series to all who enjoy cosy mysteries and TV programmes such as Midsomer Murders or Agatha Raisin. Excellent narration as always by Neil Dudgeon.

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In Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, published in 2000, she tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.

The book opens with a report of Laura’s death by possible suicide, shortly after the ending of World War II. An older Iris, writing from the tail end of the 20th century, tells the story of her current life, and also the story of her and Laura’s lives. There is a second narrative – that of Laura’s posthumously published novel The Blind Assassin, which is about two unnamed lovers and their clandestine meetings, during which the man entertains the woman with a rather macabre and violent sci-fi story set on the planet of Zycron.

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who I love, even when I don’t love her. The Handmaid’s Tale was a solid 5/5 for me, whereas Oryx and Crake was something of a disappointment. But generally speaking I always get something from her books and rarely forget them.

The Blind Assassin was not at all what I expected and for the first part, I was not sure I was going to like it. But it kind of crept up on me and I realised that I was enjoying it. In all honesty I never really felt as though I got a handle on Iris despite her narrating much of the book. In fact, Laura was more of a rounded character – sure she was an enigma, but she was meant to be, even to those closest to her – despite being dead before the story started.

As always with Atwood, the language is intelligent and luscious, and often at times quite cutting. Nobody quite comes out of her books without some sort of mark by their name! I didn’t like the direction that Iris’ life took, but neither did she, so I imagine that was deliberate.

I would recommend this book to any fans of Margaret Atwood – although I probably don’t need to because they will have already read it. I felt always slightly detached from it; it was always a story with me on the outside looking in, instead of one of those books that you find yourself completely immersed in, but I liked it a lot for the writing and for never quite knowing where and how it was going to end.

 

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Nadia and Daniel are two commuters who get the same tube every morning (or whenever Nadia gets up on time to make it). They don’t know each other but Daniel would like to get to know Nadia so places an advertisement in ‘Missed Connections’ a local newspaper section dedicated to people who have seen someone on their commute who they would like to get to know.

And so begins a series of messages between the two, a number of failed attempts at meeting, and several near misses. Will ‘train guy’ and ‘coffee spill girl’ get it together? Read on and find out…

I listened to the audiobook of Our Stop, and thank goodness I did. Because honestly if I had been reading the physical book, I would probably have thrown it across the room in annoyance. To give them their due, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Felix Scott did a great job of narrating Nadia and Daniel, who both told the story from their point of view. I also liked the idea of it – two people meeting in what is essentially an old fashioned way; there was scope for romance, humour and surprise. But this book unfortunately did not work for me. The main problem was with the two main characters; in Nadia’s case, the author gave Nadia a highly skilled job in artificial intelligence as a shortcut to demonstrating that Nadia was an intelligent, modern and independent woman. What would have been more convincing would have been to have actually portrayed her as those things. Instead, she is shown as incapable of setting an alarm because she keeps getting drunk (you’re an adult for crying out loud – you should know how to set an alarm and get to your well paid job on time). She misreads obviously signals, and gets jealous when her best friend and work best friend grow close.

Daniel is portrayed first and foremost as a very woke (I bloody hate that expression but it’s appropriate here) and socially aware young man. So far, so good. Except that I really don’t need it ramming down my throat in every sodding scene. At one point he and his mate are discussing a TV show called Lust Villa (obviously based on the actual abominable TV show Love Island) and he is saying things like, “I just think it’s so hetero-normative.” Purrlease!!! He is almost a parody character at times, and drove me potty. And the date at the end of book was vomit inducing.

Sorry, but it’s just my opinion, and I’ve no doubt that lots of people probably loved this book, so don’t be put off if chick-lit is your thing. I listened to the end because once I’ve started a book I feel the need to finish it, but it definitely is not my thing!

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This is the fifth ‘episode’ in the Cherringham Cosy Crime Series featuring amateur detective Sarah Edwards, and retired New York cop Jack Brennan. I have enjoyed this series very much so far and this episode was just as good as the ones before it.

Otto Brendl, jeweller and puppeteer, who performs Punch and Judy shows for the annual school fair, is found dead, of an apparent heart attack. However, when Jack sees a familiar tattoo on Otto’s body, he starts to suspect that the death was not an accident, and he and Sarah delve into the man’s mysterious past.

Narrated excellently, as always, by Neil Dudgeon, this was an enjoyable slice of Cotswolds drama. I love Jack and Sarah’s characters, and look forward to the next instalment.

 

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