Category Archives: Review

Witch is How The Drought Ended (The Witch PI #29)

Witch is How The Drought Endedby Adele Abbott

Right from the top, I have to admit that this was something of an odd choice for me. Not the book itself as such, just the fact that I chose to read book #29 in a series before reading any others! The reasoning behind the purchase is lost on me now, but none-the-less, I ploughed on regardless. And to be honest, despite there being a few references and ongoing subplots I struggled with, the book itself was a refreshing summer read.

Jill Maxwell is not only a private investigator earning a good living in rural England, but she is also a witch, something that the majority of her clients know nothing about. Her cases are an interesting mix covering both worlds. She is simultaneously searching for a missing canal boat owner and investigating the mysteriously vanishing water in the fairy reservoirs. It is all in day’s work for this particular sleuth.

I found the style of writing very easy to read and the gentle humour made it a particular pleasure. In a typical PI style, the story is told in the first person and is very dialogue-driven. Ms Maxwell does not go in for long-winded descriptions or soliloquise. The writing is concise and well-paced. I particularly liked the way the mundane and magic worlds were interwoven.

All I need to do now is go back 28 books and see where it all began…

Death on the Cherwell

Death on the Cherwellby Mavis Doriel Hay

One of the British Library Crime Classics series, this 1930s crime novel is a bit of a lost treasure. Not exactly a gripping page-turner in the way modern readers would expect, it is typical of the period. What makes it stand out from the crowd is the focus on its female characters.

Set in a pre-Morse Oxford, a group of young ladies from Persephone College discover the body of their Bursar floating down the Cherwell, things begin to get very un-ladylike.

Reading Death on the Cherwell is like peeking through a window onto another world. As much as it is a crime story, there is a secondary theme of prejudice and attitudes to women, particularly in academia. Today we expect to see strong female leads, but this has not always been the case. In 1930s Britain, young ladies were not really expected to put too much effort into securing a higher education. After all, what use would that be once they had married, which was their first primary goal anyway!

Whilst Sally, Daphne, Gwyneth and Nina – our would-be sleuths in this tale – do their best to uncover the truth behind their gruesome find, the male characters, particularly the police, display an embarrassing level of condescension towards them. But this was the attitude of the time and its reflection in this work is only to be expected.

I enjoyed the book but found the plot itself a little strained at times. Like many others in the series, it is the insight into the period that makes it interesting.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)

The Three-Body Problemby Cixin Liu
Translation by Ken Liu

Before going any further I need to make one thing clear – the three bodies referred to in the title are celestial rather than biological. That said though, there is a reasonably large number of the later scattered through this very gripping and imaginative book.

I also have to say that when I purchased the book I was not aware that it was the opening volley in a trilogy. At the time I was looking for a stand-alone Sci-Fi novel by a modern author. That may sound a relatively simple thing to do but like so many things these days, it is not as easy as it seems. Science Fiction shelves of bookshops I visit seems o have more zombie and vampire stories that traditional Sci-Fi and those I do find are part of ever-growing series. I am starting to feel very nostalgic for the good old days. 

But enough of that, what about this Three-Body Problem? The story begins in 1967 at the beginning of China’s Cultural Revolution. I have to admit to being ignorant of the events of the period – Chinese history has never been high on the school curriculum and it is something that I have only ever come across references to. This is the first time I have read anything that deals with the events and looks at their implications. It is not long before the bodies begin to pile up and the characters that drive the story to emerge. 

The three bodies in question are three suns. Their orbits are erratic and unpredictable, hence the problem – how does a civilization survive the extremes created by its orbit around these bodies?

The answer is: with difficulty which is why there are looking beyond their own system for a new home. Then one day, due to events precipitated by the Cultural Revolution, their prayers are answered. What follows is one of the most imaginative and compelling science fiction stories I have read in years. The science behind this tale is second only to Cixin Liu’s natural storytelling. 

I have to say that The Three-Body Problem is not only a great piece of fiction, it also taught me a little about an important historical period I knew nothing about. I do have to say that I was very grateful for the List of Characters helpfully added at the beginning of the book. Without it would have struggled to keep track of the characters. Not there are a lot of them, I just found myself struggling with the Chinese names. 

Although I was looking for a stand-alone book, I am not in any disappointed to started on this particular trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

Perfect

Perfectby Rachel Joyce

For 11-year-old friends, Byron and James, the summer of 1972 was a landmark in their lives. It was a time of innocence, a time when all young boys should have been having adventures and enjoying the great outdoors. But for Byron and James – and their families – this was a summer of momentous change that set them all on new and very strange paths.

It all began with a traffic jam on the way to school. When Byron’s mum decides to take a short cut through the notorious housing estate she sets in motion a train of events that lead us to the second thread of the narrative.

it is 40 years later. Jim spends his days cleaning tables in the supermarket cafe and his nights slavishly following the routines imposed by his OCD. He has no friends but his routines keep him far too busy as he strives to keep himself and everyone around him safe. 

As the narrative swings between 1972 and the present, the connection between the two slowly begins to take shape. It is a very tragic tale but one with an all-be-it discretely hidden sense of hope. It is not an easy story. Byron in particular faces challenges that no 11-year-old should ever have to. 

If there is a villain in this tale it is Byron’s distant and domineering father. The greatest tragedy of the book is that when his young son needs support and love, his father is unable to offer it, leaving a very confused boy to make sense of the cruelties of the world on his own.

I found this to be an emotionally charged but very enjoyable book. I was just a couple of years younger than James and Byron in 1972 and have my own memories of the period that Rachal Joyce evokes very clearly. And although our backgrounds were very different, I found I had a real affinity with both boys, but Byron in particular. I could feel his frustrations. how much different his life might have been if anyone had just given him a hug and sympathised with him when he needed it.

Although not perfect, Perfect is a compelling read that will pull all your emotional strings. A great read. 

The Orphan Choir

The Orphan Choirby Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is best known for her psychological thrillers but in this novel, commissioned by the Hammer imprint, she put all her experience to good use as she turns her attention to the world of the supernatural.

The Orpha  Choir is something of a slow burner. Louise Beeston is being tormented by her party-loving neighbour Juston Clay (or, as she likes to call him, Mr Farenheit). For months Louise, along with her husband Stewart, have had to put up with having Clay’s musical choices foisted on them on a regular basis. But it is Louise who suffers the most and is finally driven to breaking point. When she contacts the Environmental Health Department things seem to improve, but not for long.

Louise’s life takes some strange twists over the following months, but it is not just Clay’s musical choices that are behind her troubles. With her son recently accepted as a border at the prestigious Saviour College School, Louise is struggling to cope and lack of sleep is not helping. There are a few interesting twists and it is clear that all is not as it seems. 

Louise and Stewart live ordinary lives in Cambridge, struggling with the usual worries – work, family, neighbours and their own relationship. It is the very ordinariness of their lives that makes the way the plot unfolds so intriguing. 

This is not a classic horror or ghost story. It is an intriguing story of one woman’s battle against forces beyond her control. I enjoyed the plot and the characters and who knows, one day we may see the movie – it is a Hammer Horror book after all.

Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missingby Emma Healey

Opening the first page on a highly acclaimed debut is always something of an adventure. Having read some good reviews my expectations were high but also tinged with a little trepidation. I have been disappointed by so many similarly praised books in the past that I am always half expecting to be disappointed.

For one thing, the premise behind the book is a little strange – an elderly lady with dementia trying to solve the mystery of a missing friend whilst at the same time trying to unravel the 70-year-old mystery of her missing sister, Sukey. Maud may have trouble remembering everyday things like why she has come to the shops or recognising her daughter, Helen, but one thing she is very clear about, her best friend Elizabeth is missing. The trouble is that no one else seems to be taking any notice of her and she can’t understand it. Woven into her frustrations over her missing friend are very clear memories of her childhood, particularly her sister and the year she went missing. Separated by a lifetime, Maud’s need to find answers to these mysteries is touching and emotional.

As Maud tells her own story, the present becomes increasingly confused and vague, but the disappearance of Sukey remains clear and very focused. For me, this is an outstanding piece of storytelling. Anyone who has lived with the realities of a loved one with dementia will understand Maud’s story and the mixed emotions of those close to her. There is no doubt that dementia is the cruellest of afflictions Having watched my mother-in-law succumb to Alzheimers, the book could have been difficult to read, but it wasn’t. Emma handles it with compassion and humour. There is a mystery to be solved, and the answer is not entirely unexpected.

Elizabeth is Missing is a unique and touching book that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. 

A Few Green Leaves

A Few Green Leavesby Barbara Pym

Having already read a couple of Barba Pym’s novels before, I picked this one up expecting much of the same. In one way I was not disappointed – Green Leaves is a simple story of ordinary folk facing new challenges told in a straightforward, matter of falk sort of way. It is the simplicity and ordinariness of the characters and their situations that make her work so captivating. There is nothing too demanding.

But ultimately I found Green Leaves rather disappointing. The plot was a little thin, the story a little meandering. The narrative tried to follow too many characters with the result that none were given the time and room to grow and develop in a way I would have expected. It is all a little too shallow for me.

Whilst I enjoyed the way the book opened a window onto a community and way of life that was under threat at the end of the 1970s when the book was written, the story itself lacked the focus and insight that made her earlier work so compelling.

A Few Green Leaves was Barbara Pym’s last novel and I really wish I could say she finished on a high, but I can’t. 

To be fair, the book is a light, gentle read perfect for a summer afternoon on the beach, just don’t expect to be swept away by it. 

Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

Morning Starby Pierce Brown

Morning Star brings to a close a trilogy that has almost everything you could ask for: mythology, action and adventure, epic battle scenes, heroes, villains, romance and political intrigue. The only things missing are fire-breathing dragons and a rusty kitchen sink. Mind you, Marsian raised Griffins are a good substitute (not for the kitchen sink!).

In the Red Rising trilogy, Pierce Brown has created a very unique future for the human race, but one both feet planted firmly in our own history and present. Inspiration for these books has come from many different sources: Greek and Norse mythology amongst the most obvious. However, I feel that the decision to make the hero Darrow of Lykos a Red in The Society’s colour-baed caste system is no accident. A Red” fighting against the system that places people depending on birth and gives privilege to a chosen few mirrors the ongoing clash between socialism and conservatism. 

I have enjoyed the previous two books and had high expectations for the final instalment. And I have to say that I was not disappointed on any level. The story continues with the same pace as Darrow, the Reaper of Mars, faces his biggest challenge yet in his struggle to bring freedom to his “people”. After the events of Golden Son, the big question was just who could he rely on/ With plenty of plot twists and some help from unexpected quarters, Darrow’s journey takes him from Mars to the moons of Jupiter before heading for the heart of the Society, Luna and Earth. As with everything he has done before, things do not always go his way as he learns the painful realities of leadership – the frustration of compromise and the pain of sacrifice. Is he willing to sacrifice thousands for the future of millions? Can he really trust those around him?

Morning Star is dramatic, exciting, compelling and insightful. Pierce Brown has created a world filled with wonder and adventure. Darrow’s story may well be over for now, but I feel there is great potential for more stories of this colourful universe. I would love to hear more about the rise of the Golds and also about the world Darrow and his band of rebels has created. A dramatic and compelling end to a well written and thought provoking trilogy. 

Something Rotten (Thursday Next #4)

by Jasper Fforde

If you are reading this but haven’t already read any of the previous three Thursday Next novels- STOP! You really shouldn’t be here. Book four is not a safe place for the uninitiated. There are all kinds of sinister traps and unpredictable plot twists that may result in a serious book related injuries. 

Something Rotten brings all the threads, plots, chronologically challenged events and Shakespeare’s favourite character (so he thinks) to some kind of conclusion.

Of course, in the world created by the at time warped but always funny imagination of Jasper Fforde, nothing can be taken at face value.

In the previous books we have seen the barriers between fiction and reality come tumbling down. Even concepts such as linear time have been challenged and found wanting. Nothing is sacred in a world where croquet attracts audiences in the millions, Shakespeare is a national hero, George Formby is the President of England and where literary crimes are investigated by a dedicated special police department.

At the centre of his, Thursday’s fourth outing is the dashing young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His appearance just as the government embarks on a campaign of anti-Danish propaganda is more than a little awkward, but ultimately the least of Thursday’s worries. Not only must she find a way to save Hamlet from a hostile merger, but she is also trying to bring back her eradicated husband whilst struggling to prevent Armageddon by ensuring that Swindon win the Croquet Superhoop. 

Something Rotten is an action-packed adventure that does not disappoint in any way. For fans of Jasper Fforde, it is just what we have come to expect. For the uninitiated (why are you still reading this?), go out there and buy the set – you won’t be disappointed. 

Artemis

Artemisby Andrew Weir

Andre Weir’s debut novel Martian” was undeniably, and justifiably, a great success. The combination of scientific accuracy, vision and natural storytelling made it one of the best new science fiction books for many years. The only problem with hitting the bullseye with a first novel is how on Earth do you follow it? The answer, it seems, is to go to the Moon.

I read Martian with no preconceived expectations other than the hope it lived up to the hype. Turning to the first page of Artemis was a whole different kettle of fish and I have to admit that I was prepared to be disappointed. As it turns out I really should have had more faith. Set in the not-too-distant future, Artemis is every bit as captivating and imaginative as its predecessor.

once again the science is well researched and very accessible and the plot is intense and unpredictable as the characters face the harsh realities of living on the inhospitable lunar surface.

However, for me, the outstanding feature of this book is its protagonist, the feisty and resourceful Jazz Bashara. Making her living in a tough and uncompromising frontier city like Artemis is never easy and Jazz is definitely the kind of girl you want on your side when things get rough. Like many of literature’s more interesting characters, Jazz is far from the traditional whiter-than-white hero. She is a smuggler, supplying all kinds of contraband to the Moon’s more discerning citizens.

Scraping a living on the Moon is not easy and for Jazz, the opportunity to earn a lot of cash very quickly is too good to turn down. But not everything, or everyone, is as they seem and getting herself wrapped up in a fight between big business and criminal gangs brings the kind of excitement she could well do without. Jazz very soon finds herself and the centre of a murder investigation that threatens not just her life, but also those of the people she loves. 

The story is told in Jazz’s own uncompromising and amusing style. Her character leaps out of the page and demands your attention right from the start. The book has a natural flow and reads as if she is there with you, telling her story over a glass or two of reconstituted beer. 

Artemis is every bit as intense and driven as Weir’s debut but is very different in many ways. In my opinion, Artemis proves beyond doubt that Andrew Weir as a writer every bit as exciting as Arthur C Clark or Niven/Pournelle at heir best – a visionary with both feet planted firmly on the ground. His books have adventure, hard science but are very character driven. Artemis is a classic in the making and a book I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has even a just a remote interest in science fiction. After all, a good book is a goood book, no matter where or when it is set.

Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.