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(Audiobook – narrated by Mandy Weston and Rupert Farley)

The Joy of the title is Joy Stevens, a brilliant and beautiful newly made partner at a prestigious law firm. The story opens a short time after she has fallen – or jumped – from a high balcony at said law firm. The story of what led her to the moment of falling is explored throughout the book.

The chapters alternate from Joy’s point of view (albeit told in the third person) where the day that she fell is narrated bit by bit, while Joy’s history, marriage and the tragedy in her past is also exploited; and the point of view of various people in Joy’s life – Dennis, her husband; Samir, who works in the gym at the law firm; Barbara, her irascible PA; and Peter, husband of Joy’s friend and also Joy’s on-off lover. Their chapters are told in one-sided conversation with a counsellor who has obviously been brought in to help them deal with the shock of seeing their work colleague plummet from the balcony and the fact that she now lies in hospital, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads.

Audiobooks are never my favourite medium for consuming a book but I did enjoy this one in the most part, mainly because of the two narrators. It’s a rare book where none of the characters are likeable, but this book comes quite close to the mark. Although I could empathise to an extent with Joy’s sorrow, I still found her self-centred and in many ways unkind. However, she herself recognised these qualities in herself and at least felt some regret for them. Dennis and Peter were pretty unbearable, but that’s okay because I’m sure they were meant to be. Dennis was one of those crushing bores who nobody wants to get stuck with at a party – full of his own self-importance and in love with the sound of his own voice. Peter was an egotistical chauvinist, who treated his wife and most other people like rubbish. Possibly the most sympathetic character was the obsessive compulsive Samir.

The story unfolded fairly slowly after a somewhat eye-popping start. It’s a drama for sure, if not altogether exactly dramatic. The truth behind Joy’s fall is drip-fed and the ending of the book takes a more surprising turn altogether.

Overall despite disliking all of the characters, I did enjoy the book and found it an interesting read. It did leave me on something of a downer though, and a craving for something light-hearted and upbeat to follow up!

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One morning, mild-mannered Harold Fry receives a letter from a former colleague named Queenie, who he has not seen for some 20 years.  The letters informs him that she is in a hospice, and is dying of terminal cancer.  Harold writes a letter back, and sets out to post it, but when he gets to the postbox, he decides to keep walking on to the next one.  And then he decides to walk a bit further, and his short walk eventually turns into a journey on foot from his home in Devon, to where Queenie is, in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Though the going gets tough, Harold knows that somehow or other he has to walk to Queenie, and that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living.

I had heard so many good things about this book, and was really looking forward to reading it.  The story is lovely, although a little far-fetched occasionally.  Harold meets many other people en route to save Queenie, and he realises that like him, everyone has regrets and worries in their lives, and that sometimes what we see on the surface tells us nothing about a person.

For Harold, the journey is metaphorical as much- as it is physical.  He believes that his walk can save Queenie, but he also seems to be seeking redemption for himself. As his walk unfolds in the pages, so does his history, and we learn all about the tragedies he has faced, the situations which he wishes he could change, his regrets about his relationship with his son, and the cause of a rift between himself and his wife Maureen.

At times the book is achingly sad, and at other times oddly uplifting.  I liked it a lot, but I was not as taken with it as I expected to be. (I had read reviews from people saying that the story had caused them to re-evaluate their lives, and it had made them cry.)  Having read so many positive things about the book, I would say that this puts me in the minority as it did not move me to tears, and while I would certainly recommend it, I would not say it particularly moved me.

It’s still an enjoyable story though, and I will be looking out for more by Rachel Joyce.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This 1941 films pairs Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, in one of three films they made together. However, whereas the other two (My Favorite Wife and The Awful Truth) are out-and-out comedies, this is more of a drama, with few laughs.

When the impulsive Roger and the more sensible Julie meet, they fall in love and get married – their happiness seems complete when Julie becomes pregnant, but tragedy strikes when Julie suffers a miscarriage. However, delight, happiness, and unexpected sorrow await the Adams, and we see them navigate their way through the joys and setbacks that life brings.

This is a strange film for me, because I really believe that Cary Grant did his best acting in this film and yet it is one of his least enjoyable films (from my point of view). The start of the film is interesting enough, where we see how Julie and Roger meet, and get together. However, after about the first 45 minutes, the film really started to drag, and although it is only a couple of hours long, it felt much longer! It was definitely what I would call a plodding film, but there is no denying that there were some genuinely touching moments. Without giving anything away, there is a scene where Roger is talking to a Judge, and this was very touching and filled with emotion. It certainly showed that there was more to Cary Grant than just the suave and charming gentleman which he played in so many of his films. Irene Dunne was also terrific, showing a real range of emotions. Also worth mentioning is Edgar Buchanan, as Applejack Carney, Roger’s friend who becomes a real support to the couple.

It’s such a shame – this film had the potential to be a gorgeous love story – and it certainly had its moments – but there were just too many scenes that added nothing to the storyline, and which slowed it down for me. I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t be rushing to watch it again. Despite showcasing the talents of both Grant and Dunne, this film just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Year of release: 1941

Director: George Stevens

Producers: George Stevens, Fred Guiol

Writers: Martha Cheavens, Morrie Ryskind

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi

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This book covers one single day in Paris, when three French tutors each walk around Paris with their student for that day.  Sensitive poet Nico’s student is Josie, who has come to Paris to try and mend her broken heart.  Womanising Phillipe’s student is Riley, who has moved to Paris when her husband’s job relocated him there.  She feels lonely and disconnected in Paris, and even more so when she is with her husband.  Elegant and graceful Chantal’s student is Jeremy, the loyal husband of a movie star who finds his wife’s way of life too hectic and noisy for him.

The stories of the three tutors and their respective students are all told separately, so that the book reads more like three short stories than a novel.  Apart from the fact that the tutors all work for the same language school, and that relations between the three of them are complicated (Chantal and Phillipe are in a relationship, but his constant unfaithfulness led to her ending up in bed with Nico), there is little connection between the three stories, except that at some point in the day they separately end up at the same location.

As well as learning or improving their French language skills, each student – and certainly one, possibly two of the tutors – learn somethng about love, passion and loss. 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this book – the cover image led me to believe it would be in the chick-lit genre, but I wouldn’t class this book as chick-lit.  It is easy reading, but there are some deep insights within the stories.  Paris itself is portrayed subtly but beautifully (with each story there is a map showing where that particular student and tutor walked).

There is some beautiful writing contained within the pages, especially in Jeremy’s story, while Riley’s story contained some sharp humour (and a fairly explicit bedroom scene).  However, as each character is only shown for a few hours of one day – providing little more than a snapshot – I never felt that I got to know any of them particularly well, and therefore felt unable to connect with any of them.

Overall, I would call this undemanding and enjoyable read, but I’m not sure that it’s one that will linger very long in the memory.

(I would like to thank Judging Covers for sending me this book to review.  Judging Covers’ website can be found here.  Ellen Sussman’s website can be found here.)

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This is less a novel, and not even really a collection of short stories.  Mainly narrated by a character named Roy, at different stages in his life, it is really a series of snapshots about Roy’s father’s suicide when Roy was a young boy, the events that led up to his father taking his own life, and the lasting effects it had on Roy,  Sandwiched in the middle is a longer story (about 165 pages) about an ill fated plan for Roy and his father to spend a year living on a very remote Alaskan island.  About two thirds of the way through this story is a twist that was so surprising that I had to re-read it to make sure I had seen the words correctly.  This twist didn’t fit in with the other stories at all, and actually confused me until I realised what the author was doing.

On the positive side, some of the writing in the book is eloquent and almost beautiful.  Other reviewers have likened it to the writing of Cormac McCarthy and I can see the comparison, although I certainly prefer McCarthy’s work.  However, as good as the writing is, I just felt that I could not connect with this book on any level, and actually looked forward to when I could finish it and put it down.  While I can certainly see how the longer story set on the remote island could pack a punch for some readers, I felt that maybe I was missing the point, and actually almost gave up on reading it (it was the only the fact that I hate not finishing any book once I’ve started that made me press on).

I hope that writing the book may have been cathartic for the author, whose own father committed suicide when David Vann was a young boy.  But for me, something just didn’t click, and all I was left with after finishing the book was relief that it was finished, and a general feeling of malaise.  It’s clear from other reviews I’ve read that some readers felt very moved by this story and it had a profound effect on some people.  Unfortunately, that certainly is not the case with me.  I’d probably hesitate to recommend this to anyone, but if someone did want to read it, I’d suggest that they have something lighthearted on hand to read afterwards.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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1984: 10 year old junior detective Kate Meaney spends her days wandering around Green Oaks Shopping Centre, in Birmingham, looking for suspicious activity.  Living with her disinterested grandmother after the desertion of her mother and the death of her father, Kate finds it hard to make friends and her closest confidante is her toy monkey, Mickey.

2003: Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks Shopping Centre, who has few friends and suffers with a sleep disorder, is haunted by the image of a little girl with a toy monkey, which he sees on the security camera at the centre, and which invokes memories of young Kate Meaney, who went missing almost 20 years earlier.  Meanwhile, Lisa – a manager at Your Music, in the shopping centre finds a toy monkey stuffed behind a pipe in the centre, and is also reminded of when Kate disappeared.  Gradually, the truth of what happened all those years ago is revealed…

I really liked this book.  I had a particular interest in reading it as the author is local to the area where I live, and I am very familiar with the shopping centre on which the book is partly based. 

The first part of the story centred on Kate Meaney and her life.  All she wants to do is become a detective – and maybe find someone who understands her.  The only friends she has are Teresa – a schoolfriend, who for different reasons to Kate is also something of an outsider, and Adrian – the son of the local newsagent.  Kate feels largely invisible, and certainly it seems as if she is often overlooked by others.

The second part of the book shifted to life at the shopping centre, and in particular for Lisa and Kurt, who don’t know each other, but become friends.  The author used to work at just such a shopping centre, and it shows through in some of the anecdotal stories of awkward or eccentric customers, and the trivial incidents which get blown out of all proportion. There was a lot of humour in this section of the book, but also a lot of tenderness.  Both Lisa and Kurt seem to be drifting through their lives, finding little satisfaction anywhere and having let go of all of their dreams.

I thought the three main characters of Lisa, Kurt and Kate were all very well drawn, and the author seems to have a real talent for getting into the minds of these slightly off-beat characters. 

The writing also flowed beautifully and I found the book hard to put down.  Most of the chapters are short and choppy, which makes it a quick and absorbing read.  I also particularly liked the little thoughts of various anonymous people around the centre, some of which were very funny and some of which were sad or poignant.  One of the things that did jump out at me was how for some people, a huge shopping centre such as the one in this book becomes almost the centre of their lives.  It’s a social meeting place, a way of avoiding boredom, somewhere where people can become anonymous and get lost in the crowds.

The book isn’t perfect – a couple of the things that happened struck me as too unrealistic – but it was a very enjoyable read, and I will certainly be looking out for more work by Catherine O’Flynn.

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Jane Moore and Alexandra Walsh were best friends, but then Jane got pregnant when she was 17 and as her world became consumed by looking after her child, they drifted apart.

Seventeen years later, Jane learns that Alexandra has suddenly gone missing.  She teams up with her Alexandra’s heartbroken husband Tom, her own sister Elle, and their new friend Leslie in order to try and find her old friend.  Along the way, each of them learns their own lessons about life, love and family…

I enjoyed this book.  I do think that the cover and title give the impression that it might be a light and fluffy ‘chicklit’ read, and while it’s true that this is an easy read definitely aimed at the female market, the subjects of loss, grief and love run through the heart of the story.  Within the first few pages, the reader was introduced to several characters in different time periods, and I did wonder if things might get a bit confusing, but they didn’t at all, and the story then continued in chronological order.

All of the characters are well drawn, as are more peripheral characters such as Jane’s son Kurt, her mother Rose, and Kurt’s father Dominic.  My favourite character was definitely Leslie – a brittle woman who had deliberately isolated herself from others, but found herself letting people into her life.

Jane was by far the most level headed of all characters, although she had her own demons to deal with.  I found it difficult to initially warm to Elle, as she seemed selfish and brazen, but her particular story did develop well.

The story is told in the third person and we see events from the points of view of Jane, Elle, Leslie and Tom in turn.  Although they are brought together by the search for Alexandra, the book focuses on the twists and turns happening in their own lives.

This is very readable, and while it’s not the kind of book I would pick up every day, I did enjoy it.  Recommended to fans of chicklit and women’s fiction.

(I would like to thank British Bookshops and Stationers for sending me this book to review.  British Bookshops and Stationers website can be found here.  Anna McPartlin’s website can be found here.)

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Rock star Judas ‘Jude’ Coyne has an unusual collection of macabre and grotesque items – such as a cannibal’s cookbook and a letter from a condemned witch in the Salem with trials from the 17th century.  So when Jude’s assistant Danny discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, Jude knows he has to have it.  A few days later, he receives a heart shaped box containing the suit which the dead man’s ghost is supposed to inhabit.  However it soon becomes clear that this is a very malevolent ghost, with one goal – to kill Jude and anyone he cares about.  A terrifying cat-and-mouse tale ensues, with Jude realising that he has to get to the bottom of just why this ghost has a grudge against him.  But what he discovers will mean that he will never be the same again.

Horror is not usually a favourite genre of mine, but this book was enjoyable.  The writing flowed easily and the story moved on at a rapid pace, never becoming boring, and never lingering for very long at any stage.  It is quite disturbing in parts, but never repulsively so.

Jude and his girlfriend Georgia were well portrayed – the story is told almost entirely from their point of view (although the narration is in the third person), so I did feel as if they became well known to the reader.  The only other characters who were really fully fleshed out were a prior girlfriend of Jude’s named Anna – who is significant in this story – and Jude’s two dogs Angus and Bon (and while they may be dogs, they certainly deserve to be remembered as important characters in this story).

The first two thirds of the book were probably my favourite parts – where Jude and Georgia come to realise the danger they are in, and wonder what they can do to make the danger stop.  The story did tend to sway slightly to the ridiculous in the final third of the book – Jude in particular seemed to reach conclusions and take courses of action that had no rhyme or reason to them.  However, the ending itself is very satisfying and makes up for any little niggles I may have had prior to it.  

Joe Hill certainly has a vivid imagination and I would certainly consider reading more work by him.  Recommended, especially to fans of the horror genre.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Alice Raikes catches a train from London to Edinburgh, to see her family.  But when she arrives, before she even gets out of Edinburgh train station, she sees something so shocking that she simply gets straight onto another train back to London.  Hours later, she steps out into a busy London road, is knocked over and taken to hospital in a coma.  It is unclear to observers and Alice’s family as to whether she had intended to kill herself, or whether it was a genuine accident.

Alice’s mind drifts in and out of lucidity, and she remembers the events that led up to her being in hospital – specifically her recently finished relationship with a man named John.

Meanwhile, the reader is told about Alice’s family history, and secrets and lies are revealed.

I thought this was a wonderful, emotional book, and found it hard to believe that this was a debut novel.  The narrative jumps between the first person (Alice) and the third person (where the history of the Raikes family is revealed).  It jumps about in time, so only parts of the story are revealed at any one time, but these parts all come together gradually to form a whole picture.

I really came to care about Alice and various members of her family.  They were so very well drawn, with their various strengths and flaws, and it was easy to invest in these characters. 

It became fairly obvious what it was that Alice saw at the station, but I feel that this was probably the author’s intent, as there are several large clues planted throughout the book, and the secret is actually revealed with just short of 100 pages left.  However, there were plenty of shocks, including one that left me open-mouthed, because I simply had not seen it coming.

The writing is eloquent, and while this isn’t a light read, it certainly didn’t feel like a slog either.  I found the book hard to put down, because I really wanted to see how it all turned out.  Things weren’t all neatly wrapped up at the end, but I think that this was a strength, because to have finished the story in that way would have been to lessen the impact of what went before it.

Definitely recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Set in the 1870’s, Selina Dawes finds herself imprisoned at Millbank Prison. Selina is a medium who insists that a spirit committed the crimes for which she has been incarcerated.  When Margaret Prior becomes a visitor at the prison, in a role which sees her befriend prisoners and try to offer support to them, she finds herself drawn to Selina, to an extent which seems beyond her control. As their bond gets tighter, events start to hurtle out of control…

Sarah Waters is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.  The story drew me in slowly, but surely.  The main narrator is Miss Prior, and the book is interspersed with short accounts of events leading up to the incident which led to Selina’s imprisonment; these parts are narrated by Selina herself.  Miss Prior has herself suffered a great loss, and illness and depression are part of her recent past.  As much as she helps Selina cope with prison life, Selina helps her to cope with her own life, living with her stifling mother.

The characters are distinctive and believable with human strengths and flaws which were easy to recognise.  All were very well drawn.

The story unfolds beautifully at a pace slow pace, which nevertheless does not fail to hold the reader’s attention.  The ending was a genuine surprise, and one which I could not have predicted – here I could not help but to feel what Miss Prior felt.  It is was a pleasure to be genuinely shocked by a story’s conclusion.

As always, Sarah Waters captures the atmosphere and surroundings of 1870s London, and the setting is brought to life through her words.  This book doesn’t have the Dickensian feel of Fingersmith, nor the bawdy sauciness of Tipping the Velvet (both of which books I thoroughly enjoyed), but is rather more subtle.  It works beautifully and is further evidence to show what a talented writer Waters is.  I found myself wanting to keep reading, as I was eager to know what would happen next.

I would recommend this book very highly – I don’t think you will be disappointed!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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