Tag Archives: review

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*

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.

Review Wednesday – A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone

img_1995Andy Boyd is a widower with a young son, his wife having died in childbirth. With full-time work and family responsibilities Andy’s social life has become non-existent. He is accepting of this and it’s his mum and brother who encourage him to ‘get out more.’ When he does and he meets the beautiful Anna he feels that life is giving both him and his boy Pat, another chance.

But Anna is not what she seems and even as early as their wedding night the problem begins to show. It isn’t easy reading about domestic abuse and even more unusual from the male perspective. Though it happens to many people, it is difficult, as an outsider, to understand those (both male and female) who choose to soldier on through an abusive relationship. In Andy’s case the decision to leave is made doubly difficult by the arrival of a new baby.

On top of all this, money has been going missing at the bank where Andy is a manager, his relationship with both his mother and brother are strained because of Anna’s demands and her jealousy of him spending time with them. Andy begins to keep secrets from Anna, to lie and to cover things up to keep her from flying into one of her rages. He suffers indignation for the sake of his wife and boys. And all the while he  must try to discover what has been happening at the bank.

It’s a total nightmare.

A Suitable Lie is harrowing at times and, I think, necessarly a little repetitive as the abuse and soul-searching must go on and on in order for Andy to finally make a decision to change things. His co-worker, Sheila, who has also suffered abuse at the hands of her husband and the ongoing investigation into fraud, as well as Andy’s impossible situation regarding any kind of disclosure to his colleagues make his life intolerable. Finally something has to give but there is a twist in their fate that Andy couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Enjoyable maybe isn’t the word to describe this novel, but it is interesting and insightful. At the end  I could sympathise with the way Andy chooses to explain the events to his two young children, to love and protect them at all costs but I couldn’t fully understand his own feelings. As damaged as Anna was she was also very wrong.

 

 

How Many Stars – How Do You Rate A Book?

img_1986When I post a review here on my blog I don’t give the book a star rating but when I share the reviews with Amazon and Goodreads I do.

Of course without star ratings on a huge site like Amazon it would be very difficult (or next to impossible)  for readers who are browsing for their next book to find something quickly. Without being able to see the general consensus through star ratings they would have to trawl through thousands of reviews. Clearly that couldn’t work.

Yet I am still a little at odds with myself over the awarding of stars. Quite often I have seen a book with great reviews get a one star for reasons that, to me at least, are unreasonable. Sometimes it seems to have been a technical difficulty with the download or, just as bad, because the reader didn’t agree with the outcome. Whilst, as a reader, I have a dislike of what I would judge as unlikely or rushed endings, and would make that point within a review I would never mark a review down because the main character dies in the end or doesn’t get the girl even if I personally  thought that would have been a better conclusion. After all it’s the author’s story and as long it is well executed, that is how the ending is, as far as I’m concerned. Their decision.

So, here is the thing I am getting to. I read a book last week that I thought img_1985was perfectly written, good characterisation, a clever plot and a satisfying, clever and unexpected conclusion but, guess what? I really didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t the ending, it wasn’t the middle, it was all of it.  (I should add here that a quick scan of reviews shows I am vastly in the minority)

Although I do try to read widely, I am wary of some genres, foe example, Science Fiction as there is a good chance the book won’t appeal to me, (although The Martian was one of my top reads last year). But when I picked up a book on Audible I thought I was onto a  sure thing. A small town, lots of secrets, a disagreement that leads to murder. Perfect.

I don’t want to actually review the book here, that will come later, but I do want to say that the story revolves around a nursery school, the children, the mother’s and the minutiae of their lives. There are important issues, domestic violence, broken families but there are also outfits, shoes, money and the absolutely endless  politics surrounding school life. I couldn’t bear these characters,  their self importance and their duplicity anymore than I could in real life.

Now I ask myself, what is a fair star rating for this book as far as my reading experience of it goes? I have no doubt at all of the author’s talent. The book has a strong storyline and fast, witty dialogue. I know other readers loved this book.

I am giving it a three. I couldn’t give it less because the book doesn’t deserve it and I can’t give it more because I couldn’t enjoy it.

Is that fair?