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I’ve just finished reading A Little Life, and am not sure how I feel about it. I probably should wait a few days to digest it before writing anything, but I doubt I will be any clearer in my mind then.

Essentially the story is about four college friends and their wider social circle, and it follows them throughout their lives. At the epicentre of the story and their lives is Jude St Francis. Brilliant, beautiful, talented and very very broken. Jude never talks to people about his childhood – and when we find out about it, it’s not hard to see why – but it is gradually revealed throughout the book. He has a problem with his legs, so sometimes he needs to use a stick and sometimes he needs a wheelchair. He has no biological family, and is a huge mystery to everyone else. But they love him and accept him just the same. His best friends, Willem, Malcolm and JB all have their own issues, but it’s clear that this is Jude’s story.

There were certain characters I liked; out of the four friends, Malcolm was easily my favorite – but my favorites were ones outside of the core group. Harold and Julia, the older couple who come to mean so much to Jude and vice versa were my absolute favourites.

Here’s where I feel bad though – I really really did not like Jude. When his terrible childhood experiences are revealed – to the reader at least, if not the other characters – I found it hard to imagine such a catalogue of horror happening to one person. (The author has admitted that she did not do research into this issue, and I think it does show.) And despite understanding why Jude has so many problems trusting people in later life, I found him to be tiring and exhausting to read about, and incredibly selfish. It’s hard to see why so many people loved and cared about him, or stuck around, because he generally treated most of the people who tried to help him pretty badly. I think he was supposed to be a sympathetic protagonist, but it didn’t come off that way.

The writing is often a bit overblown and too ‘wordy’ but despite this, I still kept reading and enjoyed parts of the book. If I didn’t feel compelled to finish every book I start though, I may have given up by about halfway. It’s not a book to make you feel good; in fact, it left me on a bit of a downer. There’s a lot of hype about it and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. It’s not awful, but I won’t be in a rush to read anything else by this author.

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Bill Bryson apparently wanted to write a book about baseball legend Babe Ruth, who had a phenomenal year in 1927, but then discovered so many other things that happened in America during the summer(ish) time of that year. Consequently, while the book does focus a lot on Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, it also talks about aviation, specifically Charles Lindbergh’s legendary transatlantic flight; the deeply unpleasant Henry Ford; the trial and execution of the possibly innocent Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti; the reticent president Calvin Coolidge; the beginning of the Mount Rushmore carvings; the events that led up to the Great Depression of 1929; boxing great Jack Dempsey; and the rising popularity of talking pictures, and the beginnings of popular television.

I enjoyed the book a lot – Bryson tells the story of the summer, which he extends for the purposes of the book until October, month by month. This means that he might talk on one subject and then switch to another, but in the next section, he circles back to the first subject again. I don’t mind this, but some readers might prefer a less disjointed narrative. That said, Bryson is an engaging narrator, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the amazingly talented baseball player Babe Ruth, who fortunately was one of the bigger subjects covered in the book. I definitely feel like I learned a lot, and it was all presented in an interesting way…Bill Bryson would have been a great history teacher!

My one niggle is that the book is perhaps a bit too long. It’s 600 pages, plus a bibliography, and I would suggest that a fifth or so could have been trimmed. But overall it was an enjoyable read, and I will look forward to reading more by Bill Bryson.

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In the mid 1740s, a young Englishman named Richard Smith arrives in New York, a city in its infancy, with a money order for £1000. As none of the counting houses have that kind of cash available and as there are questions surrounding his honesty and the authenticity of the order, Mr Smith is obliged to wait in New York until the money can be raised and he can be proven to be trustworthy.

The reader is also kept in the dark about Mr Smith’s intentions – we don’t know if he is honest and we don’t know what he plans to do with the money, and we only find out the truth about both questions at the end of the book. No spoilers here though!

His presence in the city divides the people who live there – some believe him and like him, others are convinced that he is a liar and a cheat – and he finds himself in some dangerous and unsavoury situations – some of his own making and others in which he is an innocent party. There are a number of twists and turns along the way.

A curious one this, for me. I really struggled with some parts of it and found it difficult to maintain interest. But other parts were fascinating and exciting and I raced through them. There is a LOT of description about New York in the 1740s, which does really help to set the scene. Spufford also employs the use of language of the era, which could sometimes mean that it didn’t flow as easily as it might have. So all in all a bit of a mixed bag. I did like the main character of Mr Smith, but most of the other characters were not particularly well developed. There is a strong female character named Tabitha, who I wish could have been pleasant as well as strong and smart. She had a much more pliant sister, and I was reminded of Katherine and Bianca from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (although Katherine is more of a sympathetic character than Tabitha, who I just found unpleasant).

With all that said, there was a lot here to enjoy and I would consider reading more from this author.

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Another evening, another Campbell Scott movie. In Roger Dodger he plays against type as Roger, a sleazy, womanising ad agency executive in NYC; the film opens with a short scene in a bar after which Roger is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), who is also his boss. Shortly afterwards his awkward 16 year old nephew Nick turns up in the Big Apple looking for advice from his uncle on how to attract the ladies. What follows is a journey through a NY night out, where Roger introduces Nick to various women and imparts his own brand of wisdom on how to attract and treat ladies. Roger has no respect for women, or indeed for practically anyone. He proudly admits that his job is to make people feel bad about themselves so that they will buy into whatever he is advertising. He is basically an extremely charismatic bastard. He would be easy to hate, but there’s the thing – there are moments, just a few but enough, that you do feel sorry for him. He may not admit it to himself or to anyone else, but we can see that he IS hurt by Joyce finishing their relationship. Campbell Scott is fantastic in this movie because in the hands of a lesser actor, Roger would just be a very one-dimensional character, but there’s clearly more to him somewhere. Kudos also to Jesse Eisenberg, who embodies the nervous, slightly misfit teenager.

It’s a very talky film – lots of lots of dialogue and not an awful lot of action. Roger and Nick drift from scene to scene encountering different women but it’s really all about the words. If action is your thing then this might not be for you, but if you like dialogue-heavy films, then you may enjoy this. I also love films that take place over one night or over one short period of time, and this dilm does exactly that.

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This book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for years – fourteen to be precise!! I finally decided it was about time I read it, and I kind of wish I had picked it up earlier because it was much more enjoyable than I expected. You would be forgiven for looking at the cover and assuming that it was standard chick-lit fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but there’s more to this book than that.

The book is narrated by Sophie Applebaum, who is 12 years old in the first chapter, and the middle child in a loving family. Each chapter jumps on a few years from the one before it and the reader therefore has to fill in the gaps themselves. Additionally each chapter could be read as a standalone short story, which is the same format as Melissa Bank’s previous book ‘ A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing’.

Sophie focusses a lot on her romantic relationships, but there are also other themes at play – death, illness, lost friendships, job worries and other factors are all part of the story.

I liked Sophie very much. She was very funny, and as she narrates in the first person I have to assume that Melissa Bank is also very funny with a quick sense of humour. The character was identifiable, as were her relationships with her friends and family, especially her two brothers. The story doesn’t really build up to one event, but rather it is slices of life. The somewhat disjointed storytelling might not appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed it and will look for more by Melissa Bank – and new time I won’t leave it fourteen years to read them!

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This book tells the history of New York from the 1660s (before it was called New York) through to – almost – the present day. The last chapter is set in 2009.

It mainly follows the fictional Master family through several generations, but other families also appear throughout, with actual real life events as the backdrop. Not always a backdrop actually – the American Civil War and the War of Independence are both huge storylines which affect the main characters greatly.

The novel is over 1000 pages long, but thankfully very readable and not at all dry. If you were interested in learning the history of New York, then this would be an excellent book to read, and by inserting fictional characters who a reader can invest in, it is so much more than just a history lesson. If like me, you just love New York, then I think you would find plenty to enjoy about this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I would have liked to have had something about World War II and the Vietnam War in there, but it would be impossible to include everything, and this is very much a history of New York rather than America.

It’s very clear that Edward Rutherfurd has researched his subject extensively and as a result the reader is rewarded with a vibrant and colourful history and love letter to one of the most exciting cities on earth. Highly recommended.

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This audiobook, narrated by Todd Boyce, follows an unusual format, in that it starts at the end of the story and then goes backwards in time, with each chapter being set earlier than the previous one. It’s an interesting idea, and I’m not sure that it completely worked. The ending (or the beginning, as it were) was very satisfying and provided lots of ‘aha!’ and ‘wow!’ moments, but for the first few chapters (or indeed the last few!) it was confusing and somewhat frustrating. Jeffery Deaver has written some excellent books, and I don’t think this is one of them. It was good in the end, but I was tempted to give up on it after listening for the first hour or so.

Anyhow, the story revolves around a woman named Gabriella MacKenzie, sitting in a room with a man who is obviously there to look after her, while she anxiously awaits to hear if her kidnapped daughter Sarah has been rescued. Sarah was taken by a mysterious man named Joseph, who demands a huge sum of money and a mysterious document called The October List, which Gabriella’s boss has ownership of, and which contains details of people he had been dealing with in criminal financial activity. The boss has disappeared with the list and with Joseph’s – and several other people’s money – and Joseph wants it back. The story covers Gabriella and her new boyfriend Daniel’s attempts to retrieve the mysterious list and get it to Joseph before her daughter comes to any harm.

The narration was fine and the story was clever, but as mentioned above I’m not sure I would read something else written in this format. Normally when people are introduced into a story, there is some background or information provided about them which gives the reader an idea of the role they are going to play. Not so here however; characters are introduced with no explanation of how they fit into this story. It’s kind of like piecing together a jigsaw without ever having seen the picture you’re trying to make.

So a bit of a mixed bag. If you manage to get halfway through then it’s definitely worth sticking with it, but be prepared to be a bit lost at first.

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In a nutshell: Journalist A J Jacobs decides that it’s time to get healthy, but rather than gong down the more conventional route of eating better and moving more, he decides to focus on a different part or area of the body each month and investigate how to make that particular part the healthiest it can be. This involves learning about lots of differing and (often contrasting) health theories and experiments/studies, and speaking to several experts. There’s a fair amount of quackery going on, but Jacobs takes note of everything he hears, and is prepared to give anything a try.

It’s definitely entertaining and often amusing. For my money, it was not “riotous, madcap” as one review on the cover put it, and it did not make me “laugh my ass off,” as claimed by another review. But it was engaging and easy to read – it explored the science and thinking behind the studies and claims, but did not get too bogged down in technicalities. Jacobs is clearly a huge worrier and he knows it – something that I identify strongly with – and catastrophises a lot, always imagining the worst case scenario (again – this was hugely relatable to me). He’s very engaging and very likeable, which heightened my enjoyment.

One thing to note is that Jacobs lives in New York and this book is very American leaning. Not a problem for me, but some of the things that he tries might not be so accessible to people who don’t live in such a metropolis where everything conceivable relating to health is pretty much on the doorstep!

It’s not a healthy living book, and certainly not to be taken as guidance, as he himself makes clear.

Im summary, if you are looking for a hilarious madcap adventure, then I would not say that this is it. But it was an enjoyable and if you like (mostly) light-hearted non-fiction, then you might well enjoy this.

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Last year I read ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion – a hugely enjoyable book, of which you can see my review here. This book is the follow-up, and sees Don and Rosie now living in New York, and Rosie pregnant. In addition, Don’s friend Gene has broken up with his wife and comes to New York to stay with them – which doesn’t please Rosie.

Don is shaken by Rosie’s pregnancy as it was not planned, and Rosie is worried about Don’s suitability as a father. The couple find themselves facing problems which they are not sure how to work out.

Although Don’s character has grown slightly since the first book, he is still painfully literally and brutally honest, which often leads to misunderstandings or offence. The book is narrated by Don, so we do see his point of view in a way which we wouldn’t if it were told in the third person…that said, it would be interesting to see the same events from Rosie’s side!

I enjoyed the book a lot, but probably not as much as the first one. For a while the story seemed to go round in circles, and I just wanted it to be resolved one way or the other. However, there were still plenty of humorous moments – and indeed some touching moments – which kept my interest. Overall I would say that if you enjoyed the first book, you should give this one a try.

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The Blurb

You wake. Confused. Disorientated.
A noose is round your neck.
You are bound, standing on a chair.
All you can focus on is the man in the mask tightening the rope.
You are about to die.

John Wallace has no idea why he has been targeted. No idea who his attacker is. No idea how he will prevent the inevitable. Then the pendulum of fate swings in his favour.
He has one chance to escape, find the truth and halt his destruction. The momentum is in his favour for now. But with a killer on his tail, everything can change with one swing of this deadly pendulum…

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My Thoughts

I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Luke Thompson who did a great job. The narrative hits the ground running – rather than any introductory back story, it starts slap bang in the middle of an attempted murder. When photographer John Wallace is attacked in his apartment, he feels sure that he is about to die, but manages to escape by the skin of his teeth. However, his attacker is relentless and seemingly able to track John, no matter where he hides. John has to find out who is trying to kill him, and more importantly why – but his journey will take him across an ocean and down some very dark paths.

I really liked the first part of the book – the action was fast moving and the characters were well fleshed out. However, when the story moved to New York, it faltered somewhat for me, as it began to include elements of cyber terrorism (don’t worry – no spoilers here) and it became unbelievable as Wallace seemed to be able to somehow defy numerous attempts on his life, while around him the body count continued to rise.

Hamdy definitely knows how to write an action sequence, and Luke Thompson’s narration matched the pace of the storyline. However, the second half of the story was something of a slog for me. This book is the first in a series, and although it’s easy to see where the set up for the next book comes in, there was enough closure here for anyone who didn’t want to read any more. I fall into that category – this wasn’t awful, but didn’t interest me enough to want to read any more about the Pendulum case.

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Year of first publication: 2016

Genre: Thriller, action, mystery

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