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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Three days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Katchadourian goes into his high school, where he shoots and murders seven fellow pupils, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. In a series of letters to her former husband, Kevin’s mother Eva recalls his upbringing and their lives together.

I’ll be honest – for the first 100 pages of this book (my edition was exactly 400 pages) I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. That said, it’s not necessarily a book that you can enjoy as such, given that it is about a school shooter. It is set in 2000, two years after the horrific incident, and while Kevin and his specific crime is fictional, it references several real life school shooters. It is a sobering subject, but despite this I have become absorbed in other books on the same subject (for example, the brilliant Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult).

Eva is frankly, not an easily likeable person – although I sense that she was written that way deliberately. Her ambivalence towards her son since before he was even born, was apparent, and she wrote about him as if he was evil from the moment he arrived in the world. The question at the heart of the book is whether someone can be born evil or if – in this case – Kevin turned out the way he did as a result of his mother’s attitude towards him.

From about 100 pages in however, the book captured and held my attention. I still did not really warm to Eva, although I did feel so desperately sorry for her. I wondered if she was a reliable narrator, and if all the horrible things that Kevin did prior to the school shooting were actually as she described them, but of course events bore out the fact that he was a cruel and reckless young man.

Eva is very verbose and rarely uses one word if she can manage to use twenty. She is also clearly very intellectual and has a superiority complex to others. But she is not without compassion, even if she is very selfish. I did not like her husband Franklin either, although admittedly we only ever get to know him through Eva’s own filter. But his blind defence of his son made me want to shake him for his naivety. (Again though, I wonder how the same events would have played out written from Franklin’s point of view.)

Anyway – it’s relentlessly bleak, but you kind of have to expect that going in. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a number of years, and I’m glad I finally did. On the whole, I would recommend it although I don’t think I would rush to read any more books by this author.

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(Audiobook narrated by Alex Tregear)

Imogen is a single mother with a demanding job, who hasn’t had a holiday in years. So when her friend Meredith wins a luxury break in Barcelona, the two of them and their other best friend Nicola decide to take full advantage. After all, Meredith is pregnant, so who knows when they will get the chance again. However, things start to go wrong from the start, with Imogen having to sort out work problems despite being on holiday and coping with her demanding mother’s phone calls. And then there’s Harry – the fellow holidaymaker who is the first man to pique Imogen’s interest since Roberto, the father of her daughter.

I have listened to Jane Costello before and have previously enjoyed her books. Initially I enjoyed this one too, but I must admit that after a while, it started to grate on me somewhat. It is narrated by Imogen, and honestly…I just wanted to shake her and tell her to stop being such a doormat. This woman is on holiday for the first time in several years, and she receives several telephone calls a day from her boss and other colleagues, expecting her to sort out a problem that was not caused by her in the first place!! And she just puts up with it.

Additionally, I had to ask just how many ridiculous mishaps can happen to one person? It made it really hard to believe in the story when embarrassments and clumsy mishaps happened to Imogen time and time again, supposedly for comedic effect.

Anyway the ending was predictable, and well signposted, but I find that’s usually the case with chicklit.

I would listen to more by Jane Costello, but that is based on my previous experience, rather than this particular read. It’s not awful but it’s certainly not great either.

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This is a collection of twelve (volumes one and two are put together here) monologues, which were performed on the BBC in the late 1980s (volume 1) and late 1990s (volume 2). Some were also performed with different actors in 2020.

All but two of the collection are narrated by female characters, and there is fairly common theme of loneliness or isolation. They are not cheerful, although they are also not without dark humour. However, they are all entirely believable – Bennett certainly knows how the human psyche works, and unlike a lot of male writers, he knows how to write women.

People’s favourites were inevitably vary but the ones I enjoyed the most were A Chip in the Sugar, A Lady of Letters and Waiting for the Telegram. However, and unusually for a collection, there are no duds here. Highly recommended.

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This is the eighth instalment in the Cherringham Crime Series, narrated by Neil Dudgeon. Our intrepid detectives Jack and Sarah find themselves investigating suspicious goings on at an old people’s home after one of their residents escapes and dies in the worst snow blizzard to hit Cherringham for years.

As usual, this is an enjoyable mystery, with some surprises along the way. The more I listen to, the more I think this would be super as a TV programme along the lines of Midsomer Murders or The Brokenwood Mysteries – quirky and generally inoffensive, but with an interesting plot running through. I don’t know how or if Jack and Sarah’s relationship status as good friends will change, but I do sense the two of them getting closer in this book. We will see…

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This is the first Ian McEwan novel that I have ever read – probably not the last, as I did enjoy it despite thinking for the first 25 or so pages that it was not my kind of thing.

Joe Rose is a successful writer, in a happy relationship with his partner Clarissa. However, their lives change when one day they witness a horrific accident involving a hot air balloon, in which Joe intervenes to try and help. Jed Parry, another man who also tries to help becomes obsessed with Joe and starts stalking him, hanging out outside Joe’s home and writing him letters, convinced that his love for Joe is mutual.

The fallout from the accident and Joe’s increasing concern about Jed’s behaviour has an impact on Joe and Clarissa’s relationship, as both she and the reader start to wonder whether Joe – who also narrates the novel – is suffering from paranoia.

This is the stuff of fast paced psychological thrillers, but in fact this book does not fall neatly into that category. The pace of the story is at times quite slow, and Joe’s narration is verbose and intellectual. As mentioned above, when I first started reading it I did think this might not be one I would enjoy, but I am glad I stuck with it, because I did find myself getting drawn in. I could sympathise with Joe, although I never really warmed to him. There were some surprises along the way, but not the sort of ‘gotcha’ surprises or twists that some thrillers deliver (which is in no way a criticism). Overall an interesting read and one I would recommend.

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This is an audiobook narrated by Patience Tomlinson.

Siblings Robert (62) and Phoebe (60) are concerned about their 85 year old father James. After a fall renders the upstairs of his house out of bounds to him, they decide they need to hire a carer for him. After a few carers come and go for various reasons, they hire Mandy – hard-working, down to earth and plain speaking (sometimes too much so). Although Mandy’s outdated and somewhat questionable views are completely at odds with those of their father, Robert and Phoebe are grateful to her for her hard work, and pleased that Mandy and James seem to hit it off, with her presence lending him a new lease of life. But then they start to get jealous of her, and suspicious of her motives. Why is she going through their father’s private papers. And why did a previous client of hers leave her a flat in his Will? Is there more to Mandy than meets the eye?

I have mixed feelings about this book. First the narration – no complaints there; Patience Tomlinson did a great job with all characters. The first part of the book – with alternating chapters told from the points of view of Phoebe and Robert – was enjoyable with some amusing moments, and some believable insights into their situation, watching their once distinguished father grow older and frailer, and seeing him much closer to his carer than he often was with them when they were growing up. There is a twist which I genuinely did not see coming, but which set up the change of direction and narrative for the next part of the book, which is told from the points of view of James and other characters (unnamed here for fear of spoilers). I did not enjoy this part of the book anywhere near as much as the first part, and the conclusion when it came was something of an anti-climax.

I don’t doubt that Deborah Moggach can write believable scenarios and characters, and her prose is very engaging but I did feel a slight dissatisfaction with this book in the end. However, I would certainly try something else by this author.

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In 1981, in Moscow’s Gorky Park, three bodies are uncovered as the winter snow thaws and Police Chief Investigator Arkady Renko reluctantly takes the case and attempts to solve the triple murder.

It rapidly becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems, and Arkady can never be sure of who to trust, either professionally or personally. The possibility of betrayal is ever present and Arkady realises that the investigation may end up costing him his life.

Well! I am not entirely sure what to make of this book. It’s a classic and I can see why. The plotting is intricate and the characterisation, especially of Arkady is very well done. Being set during the Cold War does date it, especially when it comes to relations between Russia and America, which is an important factor in this story, but that’s fine. It’s a novel set at a very defined point in the history between two countries and as it was also written in 1981, it feels authentic.

However, while the writing draws you in, it’s definitely a twisty tale which requires concentration. At one point I wished I had started taking notes, because I did have to sometimes go back a few pages and remind myself of what had taken place. So it’s not the easiest read in terms of plot, but the prose itself is a delight. If this genre is your kind of thing, I would recommend you check this out.

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I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Tuppence Middleton. I have to say that if it had been a physical book, I would probably have thrown it against the wall in frustration. Mainly due to the utter stupidity of the title character. (Yes, I’ve gone in early with my opinion on this one and you have probably guessed that I didn’t like it.)

Freya Miller has money problems after her husband first left her for another woman and then died. She has to move out of the house and find somewhere cheaper to live for her and her five year old daughter Skye. When she is approached by stranger named Dr Marsden in a coffee shop and offered an apartment in the Kensington based Adder House, which he owns, she thinks it’s too good to be true. Freya can not dream of being able to afford such a fabulous home, but Dr Marsden says she can live there for whatever she can afford, however little.

At this point, alarm bells would be going off ALL OVER THE PLACE for me but Freya, apparently just can’t believe her luck. When she moves in, there are red flags everywhere – such as mysterious noises in her flat, furniture being moved around and the Marsdens wanting to install a spy camera right inside her flat. You would think she would get out straight away, right? But nope. She just keeps banging on about how this is a fresh start for herself and Skye, and my eyes just kept rolling almost out of their head.

Anyway, the ending was partly predictable and partly frankly ridiculous. So utterly daft as to be almost funny. If it was a film it would definitely come under the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

Tuppence Middleton’s narration was….okay. When she was voicing Freya she was fine and any annoyance I had came from Freya’s unbelievable stupidity. However, Freya’s daughter Skye is quite a prominent character and unfortunately the voice Middleton used for Skye was annoying beyond belief.

As you may have guessed I didn’t enjoy this book. I’m not even sure why I stuck with it. There were plot holes and unexplained plot threads. Still every book teaches you something and this taught me not to read anything else by this author.

Sorry if this review sounds harsh, but it’s rare that a book annoys me this much.

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This is the story of two very different men who went to the same prestigious school, but years later neither of their lives have turned out the way they were expected.

Since the incident that caused James DeWitt to suffer a severe brain injury, robbing him of his job, his friends and his girlfriend, James lives back at home with his parents and spends his days watching DVDs.

Meanwhile, Danny Allen, former scholarship pupil at the school and destined to have a successful and industrious career, has more or less given up on life. He is a recovering alcoholic, with a failing relationship and no job. It is only when he is told that he needs to find employment or lose his benefits that he ends up working in a care home, where he encounters James and they strike up a friendship.

I’ll leave the description at that, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

The story is narrated by James and Danny, with each taking alternate chapters. I really liked the book and found it to be an undemanding read, despite the subject matter. Mike Gayle has always written enjoyable novels, but usually on a much lighter note. Here he delves into more serious issues, such as learning to live with a brain injury which meant that James had lost his independence, and Danny struggling as he blamed himself for a tragic event in his past. I think I could see where the book was going and the ending was no real surprise; however, it is not a thriller or a whodunnit and every ending doesn’t need to have a twist.

If you are a fan of Mike Gayle or authors such as Nick Hornby, I would certainly recommend this book.

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This is the second Jackson Lamb thriller, set in the world of MI5 and espionage. In truth, Lamb is just the head of an ensemble cast, each of whom has their own role to play in these novels.

Lamb’s team are affectionately nicknamed Slow Horses by the powers that be at MI5. Partly because it’s a play on the name of the building called Slough House where they work, and partly it’s because they are all considered subpar – for differing reasons – and are put into this team to quietly spend the remainder of their career carrying out mundane and unimportant tasks, being no trouble to anyone or anything.

However, Lamb is not as acquiescent as they would like, and cannot resist when he gets a sniff of a mystery. When he hears that a former colleague and spy, named Dickie Bow (really!) has died, he thinks there is more to it and this sets him and his team on a trail leading back to the Cold War.

I’m not sure what it is about these novels that I enjoy so much. I generally do not like spy novels because they almost always seem to have unnecessarily convoluted plots and it’s not a genre that interests me. However, Mick Herron’s writing is such a pleasure to read, and his characters are all so real and believable, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well as it’s predecessor Slow Horses, which is the first in the series.

It is a fairly complicated story with lots of strands, but they are all explained well without patronising the reader. The characters, including the overweight, chain smoking, heavy drinking, farting belching and insulting Jackson Lamb are a pleasure to spend time with, and there are a few big surprises along the way.

Although you don’t need to have read Slow Horses to understand and enjoy this book, I would recommend it as it gives background to some of the characters on the team. As for myself, I look forward to reading the next ones in the series.

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