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This murder mystery is set in the small town in Giverny in France, where Claude Monet lived out his years, and where his house is still a tourist attraction today.

The mystery starts when the body of a well known philanderer is found murdered in the river. The police investigation is headed up by Inspector Laurenc Serenac, a newcomer to the village, and he is assisted mainly by Inspector Sylvio Benavides. Complications arise when Serenac is attracted to the local schoolteacher Stephanie Dupain, who is pivotal to his investigation.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Fanette, who also lives in the village, dreams of one day becoming a famous painter like Monet; a large part of the story revolves around Fanette and her various schoolfriend, who are pupils of the aforementioned Stephanie.

Finally, there is an old lady, who watches the police and the various goings on in the village from a detached viewpoint. She has lived in the village all of her life but is clearly something of a recluse, with her dog Neptune being her only companion.

The old lady’s chapters are told in the first person, but the rest of the story is told in the third person.

I had high hopes for this book, but sadly came away disappointed. The story seemed very disjointed and the police investigation seemed ludicrous. The book was originally written in French and I’m not sure if it was the translation or not, but the writing seemed very clunky and didn’t flow well. Like Bussi’s book ‘Don’t Let Go’ there is very little in the way of characterisation, but while that book did at least have a lot of action, this one seemed to stagnate in a lot of places. I kept reading until the end, as the blurb on the cover promised a huge twist. Well…..there is one and I’m not going to reveal it, but suffice to say that it was ridiculous and just made me really annoyed. Twists are great when they are revealed and then you look back and see that the clues were there all along, but this was not one of those and I ended up feeling cheated.

The one thing I did enjoy were the descriptions of Monet’s house and gardens, as well as Giverny itself. I would like to visit there one day. Other than that though, this one is a thumbs down from me.

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Originally published in Swedish, this book revolves around a curmudgeonly man named Ove, who is exasperated by – well, everything really. He just wants to be left alone in his misery and annoyance at the world, but then a young gregarious family move into the road and they are determined to befriend him. And that’s when Ove finds himself unwillingly drawn back into the community.

There’s so much more than the above to this story, but I don’t want to give too much away. I really enjoyed this story, and how it revealed Ove’s childhood and early youth, which explained why he is the way he is. His marriage to the vivacious Sonja seemed on paper like a match made in hell, but as the story progresses, the reader can see what Sonja saw and loved in Ove. He may be a grump but he has a strong sense of right and wrongs and is never afraid to stand up for what he believes in. Oh, and the cat! My favourite character of the lot!

There is lots to enjoy here, with plenty of humour, but also a lot of poignancy and sadness. I admire the author for going where I absolutely did not expect at the end, and I will definitely read more by Fredrik Backman.

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I have always enjoyed Ben Elton’s books, so I’m not sure quite why it took me so long to get around to reading this one. But I’m glad I finally did. Scotland Yard Detetice Inspector Ed Newson investigates the brutal murder of an equally brutal man who was killed in a most unusual manner. With the aid of his Detective Sergeant Natasha, who Ed is secretly in love with, he starts to connect the dots between this murder and others that have happened – and which continue to happen. Essentially someone is going round murdering bullies and is using the same methods that the bullies themselves used on their victims.

This novel was written in 2004, and the now defunct website Friends Reunited features as a prominent part of the story. Ed himself joins the site as a way of connecting with his old classmates which leads to him meeting a number of them again – some reunions being very welcome (the school beauty Christine) and others not so much.

I did work out who the killer was before the reveal, but I jumped about between a few of the characters beforehand, so although it was guessable, I wouldn’t say it was so obvious that it would mar enjoyment of the story.

It’s not out and out comedy, and there is a serious issue within the story about how bullying in youth can lead to severe problems later in life – but you can always rely on Ben Elton to make you smile and some of the dialogue exchanges between Ed and Natasha were very funny.

Just a warning to anyone who doesn’t like gore or sex – some of the murders are particularly unpleasant, and there is one fairly lengthy sex scene which is eye-poppingly excruciating, revolting and hilarious all at once.

Overall, if you have read and enjoyed Ben Elton before, I would imagine you would definitely enjoy this book. If you haven’t read anything by him before, why not give it a try?

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Audiobook narrated by Megan Hilty.

Dannie Kohan lives her life according to rules and numbers. She has a five year plan, which is all coming together nicely when her boyfriend David proposes right on schedule, and on the same day that she lands her dream job at a top lawyers firm. However, that evening she falls asleep and when she wakes up, she is five years in the future, living at an apartment in a completely different part of town – and apparently with a gorgeous boyfriend named Aaron.

Dannie again falls asleep and wakes up back in her real world with David, and dismisses her experience as a vivid dream,. But she can’t forget about Aaron, the mysterious man from the future, and when she meets him in very unexpected circumstances, things start to get complicated.

I am in two minds about this book. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, and although I am not generally into fantasy or storylines which are entirely implausible, the dream/premonition part of the story was well done and did not bother me. I loved Dannie’s relationship with her impulsive and beautiful best friend Bella, and I also really liked her fiance David. Given that the book is narrated by Dannie, she is the character who we get to know best, and at times she irritated me, as she had such a controlling nature, but overall she was a good hearted and kind person.

The story does take a tragic turn which I won’t reveal here, and although it was very sad, it was well written. Everything that happened – apart from the dream at the beginning of course – seemed believable and I did get drawn into the lives of these fictional characters and was eager to know how the beginning of the story would tie into the end. And that was the problem for me. I liked most of the ending, but I did not like how those two particular parts of the story came together and it did spoil it somewhat for me.

There’s no doubt though that Rebecca Searle can write and can draw the reader/listener in, so although the ending left me with mixed feelings, I would try another book by her and would cautiously recommend this one.

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The Art of Fielding is an intriguing and warm book, with – for me anyway – a kind of old-fashioned feel to it. I felt like it seemed to be set in say the 1950s, rather than the modern day.

Henry Skrimshander is a star of the baseball team at Westish College and seems destined for great things. But one day he makes a throw which goes disastrously wrong, and which sets Henry’s life, and those of four others, on a very different path to what was planned. Henry’s confidence diminishes, which has an effect on his game, while his friend and unofficial coach Mike Schwartz realises that he has spent his college life helping Henry determine his future, at the cost of his own. The college president, Guert Affenlight falls hopelessly in love for the first time in a long time, while his daughter Pella comes to the college seeking to escape her unsuccessful marriage. And Henry’s charismatic roommate Owen embarks on a dangerous affair with possible serious consequences.

I really liked the book, and felt for most of the characters. I liked Henry and Mike, Guert too…Pella not so much, although I did think she was relatable. However, I ADORED Owen. He lit up every scene he was in, and was exactly the kind of friend you would want in your life.

The story itself is more a narrative of these people’s lives, sometimes unremarkable and mundane, but with the occasional significant event, as opposed to being a series of highly dramatic moments. Often the most dramatic moments happen on the baseball field and at this point I do think it’s worth pointing out that if you don’t like or follow baseball, large parts of this book might not grab you. It would be a big help if you have a least some knowledge of baseball positions etc going in.

So all in all, it’s a hard sort of book to describe, but I liked it a lot. It’s a story to savour rather than to devour, which is why I took my time with it. Very enjoyable.

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One Touch of Venus is a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Robert Walker and Ava Gardner, with support from Eve Arden, Tom Conway, Dick Hayes and Olga San Juan.

Walker is Eddie Hatch, a worker in a posh department store who is asked to fix a curtain behind which is a statue of Venus (Gardner). He impulsively kisses the statue and is astonished when Venus comes to life and starts to follow him round. Hatch is already in a relationship with Gloria (San Juan) so chaos and comedy ensue when he tries to keep Gloria and Venus from meeting, while also coming under suspicion from his boss Mr Savory (Conway) who believes that Hatch has stolen the now missing statue.

The 1980s film Mannequin clearly borrowed heavily from this film, and while I enjoyed Mannequin, I think One Touch of Venus is superior. Ava Gardner certainly is goddess-like, and Walker has a gift for physical comedy and they carry the film well together.

San Juan was great supporters were Conway and Dick Hayes (as Hatch’s friend Joe). However Eve Arden, as Mr Savory’s personal assistant stole most of the scenes she was in, with her acerbic and witty comments.

This film had slipped under my radar and I only spotted it by accident. I’m glad I did though, and would recommend it to fans of classic old movies.

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This is author and screenwriter William Goldman’s classic spoof fairy tale, which tells the story of Buttercup (the most beautiful girl in the world) and Westley (former farm boy turned swashbuckling hero) and their eternal love. Except that it is SO much more than that. There are pirates, kidnappings, death, swords, giants, princes, heroic escapes, magic and more besides. Apart from Buttercup and Westley, the main characters are Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant, not to mention the numerous others, all of whom were highly entertaining in their own right.

It is framed in an unusual way – in the edition which I read, there is first of all a proper introduction by Goldman (I often skip introductions, but this is worth reading), and then a part where Goldman himself reminisces about being a young boy who had the story read to him by his father. The conceit is that Goldman claims that The Princess Bride was written by S. Morgenstern – who is in actuality entirely fictional – and he (Goldman) has merely edited it to get rid of the boring bits, and only tell the entertaining parts. Throughout the story itself, Goldman often interrupts the narrative to explain that he has cut part of the story and gives a brief synopsis of what happened in the part that he has cut. It sounds complicated, but all makes sense when you are reading it.

I actually didn’t realise quite how accomplished Goldman was – he wrote screenplays for such incredible and successful films as All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Misery. He also wrote several novels including Marathon Man, which was turned into an excellent film. His talent is undeniable, and his originality shines through in The Princess Bride. I am not normally a lover of fantasy fiction, which is why it took me so long to get around to reading this, but I would recommend this whether it is a genre you enjoy or not.

Truly deserving of it’s classic status.

 

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I think I may have found a new favourite author. After listening to and loving her novella Evidence of the Affair, this was my next audiobook of hers (I have also bought Daisy Jones and the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as physical books). This was narrated by Julia Whelan, who I think did a great job (tiny niggle: all the men sounded exactly the same, but that didn’t bother me).

The story centres on Hannah Martin, who has moved back to Los Angeles where she grew up, following a bad break up in New York. She moves in temporarily with her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s husband Mark. On Hannah’s first weekend back home, they go out to a club and Hannah meets her former and first love, Ethan. At the end of the night she has to decide whether to go home with Gabby, or to stay out with Ethan…and this is where the story splits in two, Sliding Doors style.

In the first scenario, Hannah leaves with Gabby and Mark, and is involved in a road accident which lands her in hospital. In the second scenario, she stays at the club with Ethan, and their relationship starts to develop. The two stories are told in alternate chapters, which show the differing paths that Hannah chooses and how they both unfold.

I loved the way it was told; it never got confusing, and it perfectly illustrated how the choices we make affect the courses of our lives. I liked both stories, but on balance I slightly preferred the scenario which started with her leaving the club with Gabby.

It’s difficult to say more without revealing spoilers, but I definitely enjoyed this, and if you like ‘what if’ scenarios, I think you might enjoy it too!

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1947: Tommy Elliot, widowed when her husband was killed during WWII, runs the family seat Kings Harcourt. Life is tough for Tommy and her family and when a particularly harsh winter cuts them off from the rest of the world, things only get tougher. Her brother Roger has returned from the war with his friend Fred, who stirs long forgotten feelings in Tommy. And then there is Barbara, an old acquaintance of Tommy’s who causes trouble when she comes to stay.

Present day: Caitlyn and Patrick have a happy marriage albeit is on his terms. But they love each other, and Patrick is the one person in Caitlyn’s life who has always been immune to the charms of her best friend Sara. But when tragedy strikes, she starts to uncover hidden truths which lead her to question whether she ever really knew her husband at all. Seeking solace in an old manor house, Caitlyn tries to piece together the truth.

I am in two minds about this book. There were plenty of things I liked about it – I always enjoy a dual timeline, because I like seeing the two threads come together. The writing flowed and it was on the whole an undemanding read.

On reflection I think I preferred Tommy’s story, probably because I really liked Tommy and her sister Gerry. They were both intelligent and resourceful and battling against the conventions of the day.

Caitlyn’s story initially really intrigued me. However, I thought it was stretched out – Caitlyn could have got the answers she wanted a lot more easily and quickly, but she seemed to choose the most circuitous route. Also the denouement of her story when it came was ludicrous. Not only was the truth she was searching for completely unbelievable, but the method of her finding it was also ridiculous. I actually didn’t like Caitlyn much – she was pleasant, but such so subservient to everyone around her.

Overall this is the first book that I’ve read by this author, and I rattled through it, so I must have enjoyed it somewhat – I really struggle to pick up books that I am not liking. Would I read another one by this author? Yes, probably but it won’t be next on my list.

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Lucy and Gabe meet in New York on September 11th 2001, the horrific events of that date causing both of them to want to do something meaningful with their life. Eventually they start a relationship and over the next 13 years, they enter and leave each other’s lives on several occasions, although their choices take them in different direction. However, they are drawn to each other and seemingly unable to forget each other. The book is narrated by Lucy and she is talking to Gabe, although their current (2014) situation does not become clear until the end of the story (although I guessed at what would happen and was more or less correct).

I am in two minds about this book. As I always do when I finish a book, I go online to look at other reviews and it seems that this story polarises readers – most seem to either love it or hate it. Without wanting to be contrary, I am torn. On the one hand, I do think the writing itself was absolutely lovely, eloquent and almost poetic at times. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by the author Jill Santopolo, and I thought she did an excellent job. I would probably read another book by Santopolo, based on the writing alone.

However….the character of Lucy irritated me SO MUCH!! She and Gabe had a relationship of a little over a year, and during the next twelve years she met and married Darren and had a family with him. Nonetheless, even though Gabe would go months or years without contacting her, he would sometimes email her right out of the blue and she would drop everything to go and see him. I think we were supposed to see Gabe as deep and introspective, but actually he just seemed selfish and thoughtless. At one point he does an exhibition of his photography in a New York gallery, and when puts photos of Lucy in it without asking her permission or even telling her – this, after she has been married to Darren for several years and has children. When she asks him why she would do that and put her in such an awkward position he says he didn’t ask her because he thought she would say no. THAT’S EXACTLY WHY YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO ASK!! Seriously, this guy would drop her like a hot potato and then pop back up when it suited him. He was undeserving of her adoration and it frustrated me that she warbled on and on about him, often to detriment of her marriage.

So, a mixed bag for me – it kept me entertained during long runs, which is the main reason I listen to audiobooks, but it also annoyed me. I would probably recommend it based on the amount of great reviews it has – clearly a lot of people do love this book – but based on my own opinion I would recommend waiting for this author to write something else.

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