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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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This is the sixth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and probably my favourite one so far. In essence, our feminist, intrepid sleuth is bored, and goes undercover at the Farrell’s Circus, where she has friends, to try and find out who is trying to sabotage the circus, and who murdered Mr Christopher, one of the acts. Phryne, so usually able to hold her own in almost any situation, finds herself out of her depth and lacking in friendship. Not to mention that she is not able to easily call on her friends and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (although Jack does take a bigger role in this book than in previous adventures). Without her usual back-up she has to rely on her own wits, but anyone who is familiar with the series knows that she has plenty of those!

Interestingly, having read other reviews of this book, it seems that people who have enjoyed previous novels in the series have been somewhat disappointed in this one. For me it is the other way around; the last few novels have been underwhelming for me, but this one was much more enjoyable. The mystery itself was not as enjoyable as Phryne’s experience of circus life. Here we meet a different Phryne – going by the name Fern, she is vulnerable, unhappy and an outsider among the circus folk, and I did enjoy reading about that. The mystery itself was an intriguing one although I felt that the solving of it was rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory – interestingly I remember thinking the same about the television adaptation of this particular book. I liked the colour, flamboyance and excitement of the circus atmosphere though, and the story whipped by quickly enough I also loved the young policeman Tommy Harris – I wish he had been a character in the television series.

Overall, if you are a fan of this series, for my money this is one of the best so far.

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There can’t be many – if any! – Richard Bachman readers who don’t know that it is actually a pseudonym of probably the world’s most successful horror writer Stephen King. In the late 70s, King/Bachman released a series of novels, focussing more on dystopia or an alternate reality than the horror for which he is best known. (Another of his novels was The Running Man – later made into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – which follows similar themes to The Long Walk.)

The Long Walk is a yearly event which takes place in America in the near future, or possibly an alternate present; the year is never stated. 100 teenage boys come together to participate in the contest, the winner of which wins whatever his heart desires for the rest of his life. The rules are simple – if you drop below four miles an hour, you get a warning. If you get three warnings, you “buy a ticket” which means you get shot dead. The winner is the last boy still walking, and the event attracts huge media coverage and crowds along the way.

I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Kirby Heybourne, and although it took me a short while to adjust to his narration, I ended up really enjoying both the story itself and the way it was told. Dystopian fiction is a favourite genre of mine, and no matter what, King/Bachman is an expert storyteller. In this particular story, lots happens and simultaneously nothing much happens. It’s a story of 100 boys, who all think they can beat the odds, but 99 of them are going to be wrong. It is told in the third person, but concentrating mainly on the character of Ray Garraty, and through him we learn not just about his own experiences, but the way the walk affects the others too – some grit their teeth and carry on, others lose their mind, others lose the will to live. It’s heartbreaking and compelling.

It makes you wonder what on earth has happened that such a gruesome event has become national entertainment – but then when you look at reality television programmes, is it really any surprise? After all, don’t people watch Big Brother to see people fall out with each other, to watch housemates get humiliated, to see people being cruel or underhand with their tactics? I remember reading about crowds of viewers chanting hateful things at people as they left the Big Brother house. What about shows like I’m A Celebrity….? The media and the viewers like to pick out certain people as villains, to be criticised and ridiculed. And look at shows like the X Factor, where people are clearly put on screen to be the butt of people’s jokes. Isn’t the whole concept of a public vote designed to reinforce how unpopular some people are? The Long Walk, and books like it just take that situation a few steps further.

If I had to criticise anything about this book, it would be that the ending felt sudden and somehow not really an ending at all. It’s open to interpretation certainly, and I’m not yet sure what my personal interpretation is. However, the journey itself kept me listening throughout, and for that reason I would still recommend this book very highly.

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Mike Gayle is known for his fiction writing, but he takes a foray into non-fiction here, and from my personal point of view, it’s a great success. Having finally decided it’s time to become a fully fledged grown-up, Gayle makes a to-do list which ends up with 1277 items (!) and gives himself a year to complete it. Some of the items are the kind of thing we will all be familiar with (such as sort out the drawer which is full of takeaway menus), and then there are a few more unusual items, one of which involves him flying to New York to buy a mug!

The book gives an insight into Gayle’s personal life, and his marriage to his lovely wife Claire. He comes across as likeable, genuine, and the sort of person who you would want to be friends with. I also felt a ripple of pleasure as Gayle lives in Birmingham, which is local to me, and there are several mentions of Wolverhampton, which is my home town.

If you are a fan of Mike Gayle’s fiction – or if you just like an amusing and daft story – then I highly recommend that you give this a go. Lots of laughs, and plenty of relatable moments make this a hugely enjoyable read.

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The word ‘legend’ is bandied about too frequently these days – I’ve seen it used to describe reality tv stars, YouTube ‘stars’ and all manner of others which in truth it should not be used for – but sometimes the word is entirely fitting and Bruce Springsteen is one of those people truly deserving of the title. Whether you like his music or not, his songs are familiar to all, for their stories of blue-collar working class families and their struggles, from the anti-Vietnam protest song Born in the USA, to the Oscar winning Streets of Philadelphia from the groundbreaking 1993 Tom Hanks film about AIDS.

Bruce’s autobiography is a joy to read – not only does he discuss his own working class, blue collar background, and his rise to success, he is also amazingly candid about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He talks with obvious love and gratitude about his wife Patti Scialfa and their three children, and with open-ness about his troubled relationship with his father, who nonetheless he loved and loves very deeply.

His passion for his craft comes through on every page (no surprise to anyone who has listened to his music), as well as his enduring friendships with the many people who he has played with and alongside. I loved that he was starstruck, even at the height of his own success, when meeting the Rolling Stones!

Again – this will be no surprise for anyone who listens to Bruce’s lyrics – but he is a very talented author, likeable and amusing, and unapologetic…not that he has anything to be apologetic about. I always felt that Bruce was one of the good guys, and this book reinforces that view.

If you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen, or if you just really like reading autobiographies, I highly recommend this one.

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On September 11th 2001, Lucie Jardine is in Manhattan desperate to get away from her abusive and controlling husband. Suddenly New York and the world is changed forever by the attack on the World Trade Centre, and Lucie stumbles across an an opportunity to change her life and take on a new identity. Thinking that she has found safety at last, it becomes clear that the new life she has walked into holds it’s own dangers…

I listened to this audiobook, and it did keep me going during my long runs. I found the premise very interesting, and certainly for the first part of the story it held my interest. However, I did feel that it lost its way a bit at the end, and the story finished on a disappointing note.

The book was narrated by Star Phoenix and honestly I’m not sure if I would listen to anything else she narrated. At first I thought her voice would be annoying but I got used to it when she was narrating in the third person. However, when she attempted voices, it sometimes felt like taking a cheese grater to my ears. She voices Lucie in a sing-song little girl voice, and Lucie’s husband Curtis was given an incredibly grating voice. Also there were references to Lucie’s accent having a Scottish lilt (the character is from Scotland orignally) yet she spoke in a completely American accent! Only a little niggle maybe, but a niggle nonetheless.

Overall, I think I would possibly read more  by this author, but I would rather read a physical book, or listen to a different narrator, but if you do like thrillers, this might be something you would enjoy.

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Abby Rogers is on a health kick. She’s been on them before but never really taken them seriously and they’ve never lasted very long. But when she meets Oliver (Doctor Dishy) who is a member of the local running club along with her best friend, she is suddenly motivated to take up running.

I listened to this book while out running, so the subject was highly appropriate! A large part of the storyline is Abby’s decision to run a half marathon – motivated by a far more serious reason than just her obsession with Doctor Dishy – and her efforts to get in shape for it. However, there is a lot more going on too – her web design business with her kooky employees, her friendship with best pal Jess and her initial grudging friendship with fellow runner Tom, who she meets after accidentally driving her car into him and his motorbike at the start of the story!

It’s chick-lit, which is a very hit-and-miss genre for me. And true, it’s completely and utterly predictable – I knew exactly who would end up with who, and the ‘twists’ in the story were signposted ages beforehand, but nonetheless the story is told with so much wit and good humour that I could forgive all of that and just enjoy the ride.

A few words of praise for the narrator Emma Gregory too – I truly believe that some books are better to read, and some are better to listen to. Gregory’s narration made this fall into the latter category for me – she was superb, capturing the funny moments and the more poignant moments perfectly.

Overall, a great listen, and I would definitely consider listening to more audiobooks by Jane Costello – particularly if narrated by Emma Gregory.

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Yet another audiobook! This is the first book in a series set in St Andrew’s, Scotland and featuring DI Andy Gilchrist.

Someone is killing men in St Andrew’s. All of the victims are men who are known to abuse women and all of them are stabbed through one eye and then murdered. DI Andy Gilchrist is head of the investigation, and there are plenty of potential suspects to choose from, as well as severe pressure from his superiors, the public and the press to get a result. Gilchrist has a patchy past, relationship-wise – divorced from his former wife Gail and not as close as he would like to his two children Jack and Maureen, he has had a couple of relationships since his marriage ended, but nothing permanent. Add to this the fact that his boss wants him out of the police service and times are tough for DI Gilchrist.

When I started this book, I felt that it had lots of potential and I was fairly sure that I was going to enjoy it. While I cannot fault the narrator David Monteath, who did a good job of ratcheting up the tension, I actually became disillusioned the story, the more I listened. I am not against violence or gore in books (American Psycho is, for my money, one of the best books I have ever read), the violence here just seemed gratuitous and there was too much of it. I also thought that the author possibly tried too hard to create a huge pool of suspects, and the way he finally worked out who the stabber was seemed highly unrealistic. Let’s just say it involved a cat and lots of convoluted thinking. I got the impression that everything but the kitchen sink had been included in the book!

I did prefer the parts where Andy interacts with others, such as his children and some of the witnesses in the case, although apart from Andy himself, none of the characters really made much of an impression on me.

All in all, it wasn’t terrible – the descriptions of St Andrew’s were interesting and obviously come from a place of intimacy with the area – however, I don’t think I would read any more books in this series.

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