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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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In this book, author Suzanne Morrison tells the story of how, aged 25, she went to Bali for two months for a yoga retreat – hoping to find the answers to life’s philosophical questions, such as is there a god? and also hoping to find her direction in life. She is preparing to move from her native Seattle to New York with her boyfriend, but there is another man who she just can’t stop thinking about, she is concerned about how much she will miss her family, and hopes that the retreat will provide the answers. (Almost) inevitably things do not turn out how she expects – the yoga instructor who she idolises turns out to have feet of clay and an ego, Suzanne struggles with having to give up alcohol, cigarettes and sugar, and is horrified to discover that her yoga friends all drink their own pee and insist she should do the same. And then there’s the whole issue of household items becoming possessed and needing exorcisms…

I really enjoyed this book, and I think my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I personally love yoga, but you definitely don’t need to practice yoga to read this. It is mostly told in diary form, although at the beginning of each chapter, Morrison writes from the present day (the retreat was in 2001) and reflects upon her current life. There are some extremely funny moments – who wouldn’t share her horror at discovering that it’s not coffee that her flatmate is downing every morning?! But there are also some more serious moments, as Morrison questions her faith or lack of, her relationship with boyfriend Jonah, and her purpose in life. She is witty and engaging and I think I would probably like her very much in real life.  I also liked her yoga buddies, especially Jessica and Jason (her flatmate and neighbour). The one person who came out of the book quite badly was the yoga teacher Indra, who to my mind was everything that puts some people off trying yoga. As just one example, the guilt that she piles onto Suzanne and Jessica because they – horror! – had a coconut vanilla milkshake, was completely unreasonable. If I joined a studio that was run by people like Indra and her partner Lou, I’d probably be cancelling my membership pretty quickly!

Lots of laughs and plenty to think about here – I would definitely recommend this book, especially to people who do have their own yoga practice.

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The Hartes and The Golds have lived next door to each other for years. The two couples are best friends, and their children – Christopher and Emily – grew up together, and eventually fell in love. Life is seemingly idyllic for the families, until the night where Emily is killed from a gunshot to the head, and Chris tells his parents that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Neither family wants to believe this could have happened and both want to know the truth. But as the police investigation begins, both sets of parents have to question how well they really knew their children at all.

As is almost always the case with Jodi Picoult, this book is compelling reading, and held my interest throughout. There are two timelines – the one in the past which builds up the history of Chris and Emily’s relationship, and the one in the present day, which focuses on the police investigation and the discovery of what really happened that fateful night.

As it transpired, I actually found myself disliking both sets of parents and feeling more sympathy towards the Chris and Emily – Emily in particular, not only because she dies at the very start of the story, but also because she actually seemed the most likeable character of all. I did enjoy the character of Jordan McAfee, Chris’s attorney and his assistant Selena. I was not particularly able to warm to Chris but I had to remind myself that he was a privileged (read, spoiled) teenager, going through an incredibly tough process. There were a few things that jarred with me – Emily’s mother Melanie mistakenly believes at one point that her new neighbours are a gay couple and wonders what kind of neighbourhood she and her family have moved to. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a reflection upon the character of Melanie herself however, I also felt that Emily and Chris were almost pushed together because it was what their parents’ wanted, not necessarily what they themselves might have wanted.

Nonetheless, if you want a story that moves along at a good pace, despite alternate chapters set in different timelines, and one that that will keep you guessing as well as presenting the reader with a moral dilemma, then I would probably recommend this book. It’s not Picoult’s best (my own lowly opinion would rate that as the excellent Nineteen Minutes) but it’s still an absorbing story.

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In this fourth instalment of the Miss Fisher series, Phryne is driving in her car when her windscreen is shot out. When she gets out of the car, she sees a young man who was also shot and who dies in her arms. Outraged, Phryne determines to find the guilty parties. However, she also takes on another case, that of missing schoolgirl Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, and Miss Fisher’s two adopted daughters Janie and Ruth are able to help out with this matter.

The investigations take our intrepid investigator – along with her friend and maid Dot, and the rough but reliable Bert and Cec, not to mention her butler and chef Mr and Mrs Butler, into the dark world of anarchists and psychics, and as usual there is danger everywhere.

Lots of humour along the way of course, and Phryne naturally finds time to indulge in a little dalliance with a mysterious man named Peter Smith. Anyone who has read any of the series will be familiar with the style and will know what to expect from Phryne. I have to say that while the books are thoroughly enjoyable, I don’t think that they are actually really well written and on this occasion, the adaptation is better than the book. No Jack Robinson in this story, which is a shame, but we do get to meet Hugh Collins, who is a regular in the TV show.

Overall for an undemanding and quick read, this fits the bill.

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This book takes the reader through a number of lifetimes experienced by one dog. When we first meet him, he is a stray struggling to stay alive with his mother, brother and sister. After a too-short life, he finds himself reborn as a Golden Retriever who finds a loving home with a young boy called Ethan. Bailey – as Ethan names him – and the boy are inseparable, and Bailey is amazed when at the end of a long happy life, he finds himself reborn again with a another new owner. The story takes us through the dog’s four lives, each one teaching himself new, and each time wondering what his purpose in life really is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not least because I am dog crazy…I would have a houseful of dogs, if we only had the space and time to devote to them. I really enjoyed reading about things from the dog’s point of view, and found myself both laughing and feeling sad at different points in the story.

If I’m honest, I would have to say that it’s a lovely story, but the writing is a bit simplistic – however, that might be a deliberate thing given that the narrator is a dog, with of course, a dog’s view of the world. I liked how, especially in the segment where Bailey and Ethan live together, Bailey would describe things that happened without really understanding them, but it was clear to the reader what the situation was.

I’d recommend this book, especially to dog lovers. It’s an undemanding and enjoyable read.

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In 2009, journalist Susan Mauhart came to the realisation that her three children – and herself – were over-consuming screen media (tv. computer games, and predominantly the internet). In fact they were positively inhaling it. Fed up of conversations with the backs of their heads, and not being able to do anything as a family because all they all wanted to do was get back to their screens, she imposed a six month moratorium on all screen related media. This book is a journal of those six months as well as studies and observations about the effect of media – particularly social networks – on individuals, and the knock-on effect on family.

The effect on the family are perhaps not unexpected. After the initial shock, the family began to spend more time together, enjoyed lingering family meals where they would talk – genuinely talk – about their day, and they took up new interests (or resurrected old ones). But despite being able to guess pretty much how the family dynamic would change, this book did make it’s point very well. And bear in mind this experiment was in 2009!! Facebook was big but only five years old – and MySpace was still hugely popular. Twitter was just three years old, and neither Instagram nor Pinterest had even been invented. So as obsessed as Susan’s three teenage children – Anni, Bill and Sussy – seemed to be, it was probably nothing compared to the kind of thing you see everywhere today – people of ALL ages walking round, head down, glued to the phone. People sitting in restaurants together, but both distracted by their own screens. Even the rate of people getting knocked over in traffic has risen year over year since 2013, because of what is known as the ‘head-down generation’ – people crossing the road while looking at their screens instead of traffic.

So this book does provide food for thought, taking into account the effect of too much screen time on babies and toddlers as well as older children and teenagers. I personally found Maushart’s writing style to be witty and engaging, and this made it an easy read. As she herself observes, when writing about social media, everything is out of date almost as soon as it’s printed, and this is writing about something that happened eight years ago, but the point it makes is still valid.

For anyone interested in the effect of social media, I would recommend this book.

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The world is burning, civilisation is collapsing and the human race is in danger of being wiped out…a mysterious disease known as Dragonscale is sweeping the planet – nobody knows how it started, but everyone thinks it will end with the destruction of mankind. The disease starts out as swirling patterns on the sufferer’s skin, and eventually those with it burst into fire and are literally burnt to death. It doesn’t take long before vigilantes roam the streets killing those affected in an attempt to rid the world of the disease.

Harper Grayson finds out that she has Dragonscale at roughly the same time as she discovers that she is pregnant. Her husband Jakob abandons her, and in fear of her life, Harper flees to try and find a place of safety. She is taken under the collective wing of a group of fellow sufferers who have set up their own community known as Camp Wyndham, where they believe they have found a way to, if not cure Dragonscale, at least control it and even use it to their advantage. One of the group is John Rookwood, known as The Fireman. Enigmatic and single-minded, John protects the group and has special skills of his own for using Dragonscale to defend his community. But danger and hysteria lurk within the camp…

I had previously only read one book by Joe Hill – Heart Shaped Box – which I thought was okay but not brilliant. I would probably not have bothered with any more of his novels except that dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels always intrigue me, so I gave this one a try. And wow! am I glad that I did!!

It’s a big brick of a book, at just shy of 750 pages. Sometimes I can get a bit impatient with such long books, but I seem to have got lucky with a couple this year (earlier in the year I read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which I also loved), including this one. The writing is engaging and there’s always something to tease you into reading just one more chapter, and oh go on there, just one more…

Some scenes were particularly poignant – crazy as it sounds, one of the scenes that sticks in my head is when Harper gets brief access to the internet after weeks of having none. She goes to Google only to find that it is no longer there.

There’s a lot of characters in the book – some I loved, and some I absolutely detested, as I am sure was the intention of the author. Harper was a feisty heroine – the best sort actually, as she only realised her own strength of character when the chips were down.  found her obsession with the film Mary Poppins a bit odd but I’ll let it go!! The Fireman was exasperating and antagonistic, but fiercely protective of those he cared about, and his bravery knew no bounds.

The story seemed to move quite quickly for me – that is there was always something happening and it didn’t lag at all. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I liked it although I know some reviewers were disappointed.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels. It’s well worth your time reading!

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This instalment of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series opens with the elderly lady detective’s friends Colonel and Mrs Bantry awakening to the distressing news that there is a body in their library. And indeed there is – a young lady who neither of them have ever seen before.

After calling the police, Mrs Bantry calls upon Miss Marple to help with the investigation and that wily old lady picks through the various clues and red herrings, to get to the truth of the matter…

The first thing I would note about this story is that, as in The Murder at the Vicarage, Miss Marple is little more than a background character for most of this book. Indeed, the majority of the detective work is done by the police, who have numerous potential murderers to investigate.

The second thing I would note is that…this does not matter one jot! I enjoyed the book and I thought the mystery was very well put together. I am not going to give anything away, but I will say that I did not guess the culprit, and there were other twists – one in particular – which I also did not see coming.

Another solid instalment in the Marple series – I look forward to reading more!

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