Category Archives: Reading and reviewing

Review Wednesday – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I was drawn to this fictional account based around the last months in the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

Recently there seem to have been a number of excellent books whose narrative is set in snowy wastes and that can add great atmosphere to the story. Burial Rites is no exception.

After being convicted and sentenced for her part in the murder of two men, the authorities send Agnes to a remote farm to await her fate. The year is 1829. The family are horrified by this enforced proximity to a convicted murderer and, at first, avoid contact with Agnes as much as possible. But when the summer months give way to the harsh Icelandic winter sheer survival compels all members of the household to work together and the farmer’s wife and daughters, along with Tóti,  a young priest charged with the task of ministering to Agnes during her final days, begin to see that the story of Agnes is not as straightforward as it first may have seemed.

The ending is, of course, already known. It is shocking as is some of the background detail, like the sourcing of the axe and who should pay for the execution.

I have to say that, for me, the beautiful writing failed to bring me closer to Agnes and though I felt a deep sorrow for her she remained a shadowy figure. In contrast that bleak, Icelandic countryside was ever present. Being turned out of an isolated farmstead was nothing short of a death sentence in itself. There was literally nowhere to go, no one to turn to and only the bitter landscape for company. No wonder, in such circumstances, women found themselves bound to their home, no matter what the conditions.

Burial Rites is a good story set around true events and a memorial to Agnes whose true part in the murders is not known. I listened to the audio book and mention must be made of the narrator Morven Christie who did an absolutely outstanding job of switching between English and Icelandic pronunciation. In less capable hands the audiobook would not have had the haunting impact that it did.

 

 

 

 

Review Wednesday – Whisky From Small Glasses by D.A. Meyrick

This is the first book in the series about Scottish policeman   DCI Jim Daley and is a great start. I read several reviews prior to purchasing the book that refer to the way the Scottish accents are written phonetically and that it made the story a little more difficult to get into. I listened to the book on Audible and can highly recommend the excellent narrator who brought the characters to life for me.

As for the story, Jim Daley is sent away to the remote Scottish town (fictional) of Kinloch where a body has been found in the water. At first it seems that the case will be straightforward and Jim’s biggest headache is the grumpy local police chief. That’s not his only problem though, simmering in the background is his shaky relationship with his wayward wife who, in the midst of everything decides to pay Jim a visit at Kinloch and whilst trying to deal with this development the case suddenly becomes more complex and nasty.

I was lulled at first by the narrator’s dulcet tones and the descriptions of Scottish life into a kind of cosy mystery feel where the murderer would be the last person anyone expected; the vicar or the librarian but actually this turned out to be quite a red herring in itself. The story becomes very dark with more murder, drugs and smuggling at its heart and though not peppered with violence when it does come it is quite graphic and shocking.

This was a good introduction to Jim Daley, his personal life and I really loved the ending!

 

Children’s Corner – The Great Jumperee by Julia Donaldson

This gorgeous new book by Julia Donaldson is sure to delight little children, perfect to cuddle up with!

Rabbit is on his way home one day when he hears an alarming voice coming from his burrow,

‘I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m as scary as can be!’

Rabbit is understandably reticent to go into the burrow and cries for help. Along comes Cat who is sure she won’t be scared… she goes to the burrow and…

So it goes on, Bear and Elephant also being frightened off by the terrible voice. But then Mummy Frog comes along and all is revealed.

This is a familiar and winning format with the repetition that little ones love so much. A lovely story and most beautifully and finely illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

*Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK Children’s, Netgalley and the author and illustrator for an advance copy of this book*

Review Wednesday-Tattletale by Sarah J Naughton

I finished reading  this book today just in time for its publication and, I must say, it’s a great read.

The story revolves around Mags whose brother had fallen from a bannister and is in a coma. Very quickly the questions around ‘the fall’ come rushing in. Did he jump? Was he pushed? Or was it just a terrible accident? Mags is determined to find out what happened to Abe and her first port of call is his fiancée Jody who was with him moments before the fall.

Nothing in this book is what it seems, however and as we read from several viewpoints the mystery deepens.

After a pull-you-in start Tattletale was a little difficult to settle in to. The viewpoints chop and change and there are also flashbacks which made me backtrack a couple of times to establish who was who. But ultimately I was hooked and ready for the ride. None of the characters are wholly likeable but I think that is because, like Mags, I was suspicious of all of them and their motives. The converted church which is the main setting for the book and where Abe lived is a great, atmospheric location.

If anything, for me, the ending was a little drawn out with the author, perhaps too eager to tie up every loose end but as she had created a very convoluted plot better that than to leave questions unanswered.

With more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing, Tattletale is a good story and a satisfying read.

*Many thanks go to Orion Publishing Group, Netgalley and the author for an advanced copy of this book*

Review Wednesday – Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Annie grows up in a truly nightmarish situation. Her mother is a serial killer, her young victims brought to the family home where they are murdered. When Annie can stand by no more she takes the most decisive step of her life and goes to the police. This is where the story starts.

Whilst waiting to attend her mother’s trial Annie is protected with a new identity, a foster family and a new name, Millie. But nothing is easy for Millie, her new school, the well-meaning though already dysfunctional family who take her in and her past, never very far from her thoughts.

As the date of the trial draws nears tensions arise, at home, at school, even with the one new friend Annie has made. Her ‘step’- sister, Phoebe is certainly not her friend, making life at school and at home almost intolerable with her name calling and taunts.

The title of the book, Good Me Bad Me, is a tantalising one. Has Annie/Millie told the entire truth about what happened in that house of horrors? Perhaps not. Having shown her strength in going to the police, is she her own person or a chip off the old block?

After reading the book I have concluded a little of each. Surely we are all a product of our upbringing to some extent? When that upbringing is bad an individual may be consumed by that badness and become part of it but many break away, taking with them the scars, perhaps even benefiting from them as a reminder of what they do not wish to be.

At the heart of the story is a young teenager desperately seeking the stability of family life. moral dilemmas and extreme actions scream to be justified but, of course, they can’t be.

The writing style of this addictive read is short and choppy, sometimes effective, sometimes not so for me, but I always wanted to read on and the ending, the way paved throughout the narrative, was expected but surprisingly executed. 

A fast and effective read!

Review Wednesday – Salisbury Square by Geoff Le Pard

img_1997Set in London, Salisbury Square is a story that nevertheless unfolds a million miles away from the city many visitors know; The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, cruising on the Thames… this is a different London.

Jerzy Komaza is also a visitor but he is Polish, he speaks no English and he’s on the run. After all the years of abuse, Jerzy finally had enough of the way his sister suffered at the hands of their father, back on their Polish Farm, and he killed him.

Now Jerzy has fled with a promise of work if only he can meet up with his cousin Jan in Salisbury Square. Immediately things begin to go wrong, Jan is nowhere to be seen and, when he sees she is in trouble, Jerzy goes to the aid of a young drug addict, Suzie. He is drawn into a new life of workgangs and drugs and acts of violence.

The story is told from several viewpoints and the cast of important characters is quite large. They take a little getting to know but soon the links between them begin to become obvious, their lives entwined in ways even they are not aware of. Told in short chapters the pace quickens towards an end that is surprising, original and somewhat inevitable.

Salisbury Square is a story of lives gone wrong and the far reaching effects on family and friends. It’s about people who care and people who don’t.

A gritty, interesting and, at times, poignant read that left me with lots to think about and to be thankful for.

* Many thanks go to the author who provided a copy of this book with no obligation to review*

 

Children’s Corner – Spider School by Francesca Simon

img_1996Spider School is written by the author of the hugely popular Horrid Henry series and illustrated by the brilliant Tony Ross.

kate wakens on her first day at a new school. It’s a big day and she doesn’t want to go, so much so that she gets out of the wrong side of bed and this is where the trouble starts.

Kate is late and she can’t find her school clothes. Her mum is less than helpful and bundles her off in old clothes leaving her at the gates to find her own way to class. There are no toilets, the teacher is a gorilla who likes to read comics and the dinner lady is serving spiders for lunch.

Load of silly fun here and a perfect ending as, after running home to bed, Kate gets out of the right side and finds herself in a lovely school full of nice kids and teachers – and no spiders for lunch.

This is an early reader that, I expect,  will appeal to a lot of five and six year olds who are not so keen on princesses and fairy castles.