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Posts Tagged ‘secrets’

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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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27 year old Elvira Carr, lives a very sheltered with her overbearing mother; due to Elvira’s ‘condition’ (Autism, although this is never specified), her mother does not allow Elvira out on her own, other than to the local Asda, and relationships with other people are non-existent, as Elvira takes people at face value and believes what they say to be absolutely literal. Consequently her life revolves around her beloved Mills and Boon novels, and eating, learning about and collecting packets from various types of biscuits.

However, when her mother has a stroke and has to live in a care home, Elvira is forced to look after herself and engage with the world. With the help of a neighbour, she compiles a list of seven rules to help her navigate a scary world she learns that while some people are kind and willing to help, others can be cruel and ready to take advantage.

She also finds out secrets about her past which her mother had kept hidden – I don’t want to say more on this aspect as it is a fairly important part of the plot, so I am wary of revealing spoilers.

I enjoyed the book a lot. I think comparisons with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are inevitable. Both are about young women who have domineering mothers, and who have trouble fitting into society. So there are some basic similarities. Both both Eleanor and Elvira are very much their own people. I really enjoyed reading about Elvira, and as it is written in the first person, I felt that I got to know her well. There are moments of humour in the book but also some very poignant parts. I would definitely recommend this novel and will look out for more by Frances Maynard.

 

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This under-the-radar British film delivered far more than I expected, largely due to the (always excellent) Maxine Peake in the lead role.

Peake is Charlotte, for whom a bad day – where she gets passed over for promotion – turns into an absolutely disastrous and terrifying one, when she arrives home and finds her cleaner smoking in Charlotte’s apartment. This leads to a confrontation with tragic consequences.

Things go from disastrous to even more disastrous as Charlotte desperately tries to cover her tracks, and finds herself in situations she could never have imagined, and looking after a young child – something she clearly has no experience with and no clue what she is doing. Eventually she calls her estranged sister Sarah (Christine Bottomley) to help, but things get (even more) worse with the arrival of shifty security guard Roger (Blake Harrison).

I really enjoyed this film – if enjoyed is the right word. It was certainly compelling; it shocked me right from the off, and although Charlotte was initially a deeply unsympathetic character, Peake’s performance was exemplary, and showed just how an ordinary person can end up in a horrific situation.

With a small main cast (the only other major character was the baby!) and a claustrophobic atmosphere, as well as tight pacing, this film had a lot of elements that I  really like in a movie. It is undoubtedly bleak (I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls afterwards to put me back into a lighter mood!), but it is definitely worth a watch.

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Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jodi Picoult has based this novel around a hostage situation in an abortion clinic in Mississippi. It’s told in reverse chronological order, which I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but actually the format does work quite well. The story starts with the hostage situation already well underway, at least one hostage dead at the hands of the gunman, and a police negotiator desperately trying to end the situation without more harm – because his fifteen year old daughter is one of the hostages.

Each chapter starts an hour earlier than the last one, taking the reader all the way back to the early morning and showing how each character came to be in the clinic that day.

While the book does look at the abortion argument from all sides – and this is obviously very relevant to the story – and also goes into some details regarding how abortions are performed, on one level this is a story of a hostage situation that could have taken place in any public area. We get to know the various characters and peel back the layers of their lives, each chapter revealing a little more. I thought a few of the characters were very well fleshed out – Hugh the negotiator, and Wren his daughter. I really liked the feisty nurse Izzy, but my favourite of all characters was Dr Louie Ward, who I really cared for by the end of the book.

This is not my favourite Jodi Picoult novel and I’m not sure if that was because of it being told backwards as it were, but I still did enjoy it and would probably recommend it.

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I listened to this audiobook over the course of several training runs. The storyline revolves around a marriage between Simon and Marianne Wilson – and it soon becomes apparent that it is a deeply unhappy marriage and that Simon is a bully and a liar. There are no spoilers here, as this is made clear very early on in the story.

Marianne, who narrates the story, becomes suspicious when her husband mentions a woman who he works with, and immediately suspects that he is having an affair. She has had such suspicions before but this time it’s different. She knows deep inside that something is going on, and that this relationship could be the one that threatens her marriage and could cause her to lose her children. And Marianne is determined that that won’t happen.

I’ll be honest – for the first couple of hours of this book, I was tempted to give up on it. Within half an hour I had decided that I didn’t like either Simon or Marianne, and there seemed to be so much repetition in what Marianne was saying  that the whole listening experience was somewhat tiresome. This is no fault of the narrator Katie Villa, who did an excellent job, but more the writing itself.

However, about halfway through it suddenly got a lot more exciting and things started moving at a much quicker pace. I actually enjoyed the second half of the book a lot – there were two twists, one of which I guessed quite early on, and the other which I did not guess at all (always a plus in my book).

Overall I would say that this was a book of two halves, and I am glad I stuck around for the second one. If you like psychological dramas and unreliable narrators, I would give this a try.

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Paul Morris is a compulsive liar – he lies about his success as a writer, the flat he lives in, his prowess with women; he lies to the people he meets, he lies to himself; he lies about his past, he lies about his future. And he manages to lie his way into a crowd of friends who he once knew briefly, starts a romance with the enigmatic Alice, and wangles his way into joining them for a holiday in Greece. But there are secrets lingering below the surface with these friends – a decade old mystery about a missing girl, and further events which take place during the holiday, all of which cause more trouble for Paul as his lies entangle him further and further into a web of deceit bigger than his own.

I really enjoyed this book, but unfortunately it’s really hard to review without giving away any spoilers. And I REALLY do not want to give away any spoilers, because this is a story with the power to really shock, if you do not know what’s coming.

The narrator is Paul himself, who is actually largely honest with the reader; he openly shares the fact that he lies to everyone else. It’s true that he isn’t very likeable, but it’s fair to say that none of the other characters are particularly likeable either. Alice is somewhat distant, and hard to read, and I was never able to warm to her. Paul’s old friend Andrew is frankly unbearable, and Andrew’s wife Tina, while nicer than the others, is basically a side character with very little to say for herself.

The build up to the climax of the story is fairly slow, but this didn’t bother me. It was well written and I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen. Small and seemingly inconsequential parts of the story did turn out to have a greater significance at the end, and I thought the ending itself was very cleverly done.

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, and don’t mind a protagonist who you probably won’t want to root for, I would highly recommend this book.

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This was another audiobook to keep me company while running. It is only this year that I have really got into audiobooks and I have discovered a curious thing – even if I don’t particularly like an audiobook, somehow it seems to keep my attention, in a way that a physical book which I wasn’t enjoying, would not be able to do. This book kind of falls into that category.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but it kind of feels like Ella Longfield’s story, as hers is the only point of view narrated in the first person. Ella is on a train journey when she overhears two young men chatting up two girls. When it becomes apparent that the two men have just been released from prison, Ella becomes alarmed and considers intervening but decides not to. However, the next morning one of the girls, Anna Ballard, has gone missing and Ella feels guilty that she did not step in.

Cut to a year later – Anna has still not been found, and Ella is full of guilt. She starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous sender, which tell her that she is being watched. Meantime, the investigation into Anna’s disappearance rumbles on, with chapters told by Ella herself (‘The Witness), Anna’s father (‘The Father’), Anna’s friend Sarah who was with her on the train (‘The Sister’) and Matt, a private detective who Ella employs to find out who is sending the postcards (‘The Private Detective’). There are also very occasional chapters narrated by ‘Watcher’ whose identity for obvious reasons, is not revealed. It soon becomes obvious that everyone connected to Anna has secrets and throughout the story it seems that any one of them could be guilty.

So far, so interesting. The premise is great – what would you have done? Would you have intervened? Would you have left well alone? Would you feel guilty in Ella’s position? And of course there is the whodunnit angle…who is sending the postcards? And what really happened to Anna?

So – there was plenty about this book that kept me listening. However, there were also things that annoyed me. Ella was not a particularly interesting narrator or main character. Can I go so far as to call her dull? (Yes, is the answer.) And considering that actually, she didn’t do anything wrong, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt, almost making the case all about her. I didn’t mind the multiple points of view that narrated the different chapters, and in fact I did particularly like Matt the private detective, albeit a lot of his personal story (his wife had a baby and he learns to adjust to fatherhood) was irrelevant. However, each chapter had a cliffhanger which was obviously a ploy to keep the reader/listener interested, but just ended up being a bit annoying and felt contrived.

The other problem was the ending. Okay, so I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the things is that I don’t believe anyone guessed, because there was absolutely nothing – no clues, no hints – given earlier on. It seems slightly unfair to keep readers guessing and then to spring a culprit on them out of left-field. The best mysteries to me are when you are surprised by the identity of the culprit but then realise that the clues were there all along.

Overall, I would say that if, like me, you are listening to this in an effort to distract you from something else, it does the trick, but otherwise I probably would not recommend it. Fans of psychological thrillers or whodunnits can find similar stories done much better.

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