Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

0007120702-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This third book in Agatha Christie’s Poirot series is actually a collection of eleven (fourteen in the American book) short stories, all unconnected save for the fact that they all relate mysteries that Poirot solved, and all are narrated by his friend Captain Hastings.

I enjoyed the book and as with all other Christie books that I have read so far, I zipped through it fairly quickly. However – and this is just personal preference – while I don’t mind reading short stories sometimes, I generally prefer a full-length novel, which gives chance for more character and plot development. That said, Christie always seems to focus more on the plot than the characters – Poirot after all remains unchanged in the three books I have read which feature him, as does Captain Hastings. And despite preferring longer stories on the whole, I would still recommend this for Poirot fans.

It’s fair to say that while most of the plots were very clever, Poirot’s ability to solve them does stretch the imagination somewhat. He manages to solve one mystery without even being there! He is laid up in bed with flu so sends along Hastings to be his eyes and ears, but it is Poirot that works out the truth behind the matter. This explains Poirot’s huge ego and arrogance, which somehow only serve to make me like him more!

In all short story collections there will be some that the reader prefers over others, and these will probably vary from reader to reader. There were none that I didn’t enjoy, but for my money the best ones were:

The Adventure of the Western Star – A film star receives demanding letters requesting a particular diamond which her husband brought her for their wedding. She enlists Poirot’s help in finding out who is behind the letters.

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan – a lady staying at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, has a beautiful and valuable piece of jewellery stolen. Suspicion falls upon the chambermaid and the lady’s own personal maid, and it is up to Poirot to get to the bottom of the matter.

The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim – a banker goes missing and Poirot is immediately on the case.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman – Count Foscatini, an Italian nobleman is brutally murdered, and the hunt is on for the only two men who could have done it. But of course the truth is much stranger than imagined…

Overall, an enjoyable, undemanding and diverting read.

 

Read Full Post »

0141188979-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This book centres around three women – Alexandra, Sukie and Jane – who live in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the early 1970s. They are all divorced and/or widowed, and they all just happen to be witches. Their close friendship is threatened by the arrival in town of the base, bawdy, but hugely charismatic Darryl Van Horne. And…that’s about it. More does happen, but the storyline here is really pretty slow, centering more on the interactions between the main characters.

I must confess that this was not what I expected it to be at all. Having recently watched the film again for the first time in years, I expected the book to be of much the same tone – quirky, funny and colourful. It wasn’t, and while it did eventually draw me in somewhat, quite often I found myself looking for something else to do rather than pick up the book, and certain parts did feel really tedious.

I didn’t find any of the characters believable, although to an extent maybe they weren’t meant to be. Indeed out of the three women, the only vaguely likeable one was Alexandra (until it was revealed that she had used a spell to kill a puppy out of sheer spite; that takes some getting past). The prose was undoubtedly eloquent in places, but I always felt that Updike was inserting descriptions where they weren’t required, and was forever flying off at tangents.

The fact that the three women were witches – and were not the only witches in Eastwick – was not treated as particularly surprising to other members of the community, although it was repulsive to some of them, and some of the things that happened because of their spells (such as unusual items coming out of people’s mouths while they were talking). There was not an awful lot of humour in the story, but a lot of simmering malice. In short, for me this book was something of a let-down. I can sort of see why some people would love it, and there were flashes of great enjoyment sandwiched between the weirdness, but as it turned out I was just relieved to get to the end of this one.

Read Full Post »

1780339526-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

Read Full Post »

1780895062-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

Lily Riser was kidnapped at the age of sixteen and held captive for eight years. This story opens with the day she makes her escape, when her captor makes a mistake which enables her and daughter Sky to run away. However, when Lily is reunited with her family and begins the painful process of trying to move on from her ordeal she realises that escaping was just the beginning…

I thought the premise of this book was really intriguing. Rather than focusing on the kidnap and ‘whodunnit’, instead we are told pretty much straight away who took Lily and the chapters, although told in the third person, then alternate between the points of view of Lily; her twin sister Abby who has been in mourning for her sister for the last eight years; their mother Eve, whose life has fallen to pieces; and Rick, Lily’s teacher who kidnapped her and is almost immediately arrested for the crime.

However, while I was really looking forward to reading this book, I found it disappointing. I finished it and it’s certainly a quick, undemanding read but to use one of my favourite analogies, it was like eating cheap chocolate – you know it’s not much good, but it’s not bad enough to not enjoy it. I spotted a mistaken in the timeline on page 2, which didn’t bode well, and things didn’t particularly improve. None of the characters seemed believable or particularly well drawn to me – indeed all of them behaved in a way which seemed entirely unrealistic, and potential plot points are dangled and then abandoned (such as Lily’s feelings towards high school boyfriend Wes). Rick is little more than a caricature, and it’s hard to believe that such a resourceful and intelligent (albeit completely evil) man would make such an obvious mistake as he did at the beginning of the book or entertain other plans which he did throughout the story. Also the writing seemed over-wrought and melodramatic, almost like watching one of those cheap made for tv suspense films.

As has become the norm for almost any psychological thriller in the last couple of years, this book has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. This should have rung alarm bells for me because I thought that both of those books were completely over-rated, but beware – even if you loved those novels, this one is nothing like them.

So overall, I would give five out of five for the idea behind the story, but probably only 1.5 out of 5 for the execution. Disappointing.

 

Read Full Post »

0007120869-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This is the second book in the Miss Marple series and it takes on a bit of a different format. The premise is that every week, a group of friends including an author, a clergyman, an artist, an actress, a doctor, a solicitor, a retired police commissioner and a Colonel and his wife, and of course, Miss Marple herself, meet up and discuss mysteries and crimes which they have come across in their lives. They each know how their own stories turn out but the challenge is for the others to guess the truth. Naturally, and despite their initial dismissal of Miss Marple as a naive old lady who has led a sheltered life, it is she who works out all the mysteries before anyone else is able to do so.

The format deviates in the last story of the book, where Miss Marple requests the assistance of the former police commissioner to uncover a murder and stop a miscarriage of justice.

I’m not generally a huge fan of short stories but I did enjoy this collection. My favourites were probably The Blue Geranium, The Bloodstained Pavement and The Companion. Each story shows off Christie’s talent for plotting, red herrings and drop feeding clues, and the reader is shown more of Miss Marple’s quick and clever mind. I didn’t feel that we really got to know the rest of the characters in any great fashion – they were all painted with very broad brush strokes – but these stories are far more about the mysteries than the narrators.

Overall, a very enjoyable and easy reading collection. I look forward to continuing my quest to read through the books of Agatha Christie.

Read Full Post »

Black Swan Green is a fictional village in Worcestershire where in 1982, 13 year old Jason Taylor lives with his parents and sister. This book, narrated by Jason, tells the story of a year in his life. It’s a tumultuous year – Jason is clearly intelligent and sensitive,  but he’s also a young boy with a stammer, picked on at school and unable to pick up the subtle hints of disharmony in his parents’ marriage.

But Black Swan Green is also a very funny book, in parts anyway. Jason is an engaging narrator and entirely believable. The events he describes are things that we will all be familiar with and take on huge significance in a young mind. It’s less of a flowing story, more joined up snapshots of a year in the life. Each chapter concentrates on a different main event, but they all string together nicely.

I felt for Jason, partly because he was so believable. I wanted him to be able to go to school without fear of what the bullies would do next (and boy did I want those bullies to get their comeuppance). I wanted him to get the girl, to overcome his stutter (or more importantly overcome the misery it caused him). The other characters are beautifully drawn as well – I enjoyed the chapter about his visiting cousin Hugo – handsome, charming and loved by all, but who’s true colours are revealed, to Jason at least.

As someone who was also a teenager in the 1980s, this book resonated with me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for it’s humour, truth and beautiful writing.

Read Full Post »

159058385x-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This book introduces The Honourable Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective – except to those of us who discovered Phryne through the television series adapted from the books. Having loved the show, I decided to start reading the books and see how they compared.

In this first Miss Fisher novel, Phryne catches a thief at a dinner party and a couple there are so taken with her quick thinking and detection that they ask her to travel from her home in London to her native Australia; they believe that their daughter Lydia is being poisoned by her husband and wish Phryne to investigate. However, when Phryne arrives she discovers that things are far more complicated than they first seem, and also gets involved with tracking down an illegal abortionist. Busy she may be, but our indefatigable detective also manages to find time for a fling with a Russian dancer!

This book was highly enjoyable in many ways – Kerry Greenwood has an amusing turn of phrase and is very good at picking the humour out of any situation and relaying it to the reader. Given the subjects covered in the book, this is no mean feat! In all honesty the plot is a little bit clunky and gets a bit tied up in itself – it felt like there was maybe a bit too much going on, and the poisoning case was actually less interesting than the search for the illegal abortionist. However, it is the first book in the series and does a good job of introducing us to several characters who (as viewers of the show will know) become regulars in the storylines; Phryne’s maid Dot; the two cab drivers Bert and Cec; and of course Detective Inspector Jack Robinson – although for those viewers liked me who adored the chemistry between Phryne and Jack, well sorry to disappoint but there is absolutely no romance between the two in the book series, and Jack is actually very different to his on-screen incarnation.

Phryne Fisher is a delightfully almost-but-not-quite over the top creation, with charm and more than a touch of impish sauciness. Based on the first book, I can only say that despite it’s flaws, I’m really looking forward to reading more in the series.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »