Tag Archives: review

Review Wednesday – The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill

The Woodcutter is quite an epic story and not what I was expecting at all.

Wolf Hadda is raised in humble surroundings as a woodcutter’s son but he is destined for success and a visit to the ‘Big House’ on the Cumbrian estate where he lives is the catalyst for his new aspirations.

Wolf achieves everything he sets out for. He becomes a wealthy businessman, marries well and has a beautiful daughter. Then one dreadful morning everything comes to an end with a police raid. Wolf is accused of the most heinous of crimes; he is committed to jail and deserted by family and friends.

Then into the story come Alva, a pyschaitrist who is determined to help Wolf to face his wrongdoing and come to terms with it but his overriding reason to continue living is to find those responsible for his predicament and see that real justice is done.

Wolf is the most likeable of characters even though he can be ruthless when crossed. He has a wealth of down-to-earthiness that made me feel that if he was on your side he would never let you down. As in real life, other characters in the book are drawn to Wolf, despite his reputation, by what they find to be, a very genuine man,

This is a really great story, with a bit of everything thrown in and the treachery of those around him made me root for Wolf all the more.

I have to mention that I listened to this title on Audible and the narration by Jonathan Keeble was outstanding. I felt as if a whole cast of actors were involved in the performance.

Review Wednesday – To Hunt a Sub by Jacqui Murray

To Hunt a Sub gets off to a great start with the disabling of a nuclear submarine. The vessel is lost to the authorities who control its movements and the consequences for the crew are dire. Being able to locate and control the American fleet of subs would be a devastating terrorist weapon and this is what one group are attempting.

It’s been a while since I have read a book in this genre but I have read enough to know the format and was expecting a lone deniable agent out there tracking down the terrorists or a team from special ops. However To Hunt a Sub takes a different and surprising slant on this scenario into the world of academia.

Kali Delemagente (you do have to get your tongue around some unusual names in this book) is a research student who has developed an amazing programme to track the progress of early man out of Africa. I won’t pretend to understand all the tech science behind this story but it felt well researched and feasible, if not actually possible. When the true power of her research becomes evident to those who would use it for nefarious purposes Kali and her loved ones are suddenly in danger.

There are plenty of good supporting characters, good and bad and as the action hots up each must decide who to trust

This is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller, a great adventure and, a bonus for me, the first in a series.( I often seem to come into them half way through)

The next book in the series, 24 Hours, has just been published and I am looking forward to reading more about Kali and the adorable Zeke Rowe.

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?

 

Review Wednesday – The Devil You Know by Terry Tyler

img_1982The question at the heart of The Devil You Know by Terry Tyler is ‘Do we ever really know anyone, even our nearest and dearest? The answer, clearly, is no. We can’t ever know for sure what goes on in someone else’s mind but also they can never know what goes through ours and so there is a vast capacity for misconception.
The story is split into parts that go beyond viewpoint. We meet The Wife, the Colleague, The Mother etc and at first I thought each was connected to the Lyndford Strangler who is terrorising the local area  but no, each person had a separate story to tell and the links back to the crime  were sometimes direct, sometimes tenuous. This was the whole point, to keep the reader guessing and to contemplate the real identity of the killer through the eyes of ordinary people who feared him.

It took me a little while to get to know the characters of each part of the story but once I did I wanted to know how each little scenario would play out. This is a really original and clever modus operandi for a crime mystery. We peek into the lives of different groups and I was invested in every one. I loved the way the author played on the worries, fears and the shortcomings of the characters, (some of them quite sinister), making the story multi-layered.

The narrative is straightforward and fluid and the dialogue spot on.

Very enjoyable.