Category Archives: Review

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. 

One Day

One Dayby David Nicholls

Having seen the film adaptation some time ago I felt I sort of knew what to expect from Nicholls’ best selling novel. And, sure enough, what I got was a humorous romantic comedy with a generous portion of tragedy on the side, just to spice it up a bit.

One Day tells the story of Emma and Dexter over 20 years, starting with their first meeting on the night of their graduation from Edinburgh Universite on 15th July 1988. We revisit the pair on the same day each year (St Swithens Day), peeking into their lives and friendship through some testing times. 

I found I really engaged with the somewhat “whirlwind” journey through twenty years of laughs, loves, loss and failures as they navigate life after university. Their lives follow very different paths but they always, inevitably, lead back to each other. Despite the very obvious differences between them, they have an enviable bond that ensures they are there for each other, whatever happens. But underneath that platonic facade is something much deeper that both recognise bur keep well hidden, or so they believe.

Yes, it is a romantic comedy, but one with a twist. I found myself totally wrapped up in Emma and Dexter’s lives, even if at times I found myself not liking Dexter so much. I felt like a mutual friend touching base once a year.

For those who haven’t seen the film, I recommend it but read the book first. 

Second Chance To Live

Second Chance to Liveby Roscoe T Kearns

Hmm. I find myself in a quandary over this book. For one thing, I am not sure why it made its way onto my wish list. I can only think I was looking for something a bit “different” that day. If that was the case then I certainly got what I asked for. 

The premise behind the book is interesting enough, but sustaining that idea through 400 pages or more proved a little too much. In the book, Kearns questions the concept of fate and destiny which I found intriguing, but I found he laboured the point a little too much. It is about two people meeting by chance and immediately recognising a kindred spirit. Almost immediately they begin to unburden themselves, revealing their pasts and hidden secrets to someone who is, effectively a total stranger. Events in each of their pasts have set them on the path that ultimately leads to each other. And whilst I found their stories intriguing, the idea that they would tell each other these things on their second date I found very hard to swallow.

I have to say that although I found the writing itself to be generally very good, I did feel that the whole thing was overlong and in need of a good edit. There is a fair bit of repetition but for me, the biggest cuts would have to be the totally unnecessary erotic sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I am no prude, but for me, they added nothing to the thrust of the story (no pun intended!). 

One of the books most intriguing twists – and something I can’t remember coming across before – is that we never know the names of the two characters, nor where they live. Whilst they openly talk about other people and places, they remain anonymous. Kearn’s explains the reasoning for this in his prologue, he wanted to leave it to the reader to decide who these two people are. 

Not a book I would recommend to friends, but it is interesting enough if you enjoy erotic fiction with a bit of a twist. 

A Secret History of Time to Come

A Secret History Of Time To Comeby Robie Macauley

When a book has been out of print for a decade or two you have to as yourself why. Plot? Style? Or just badly written? In the case of Robie Macauley’s book, I don’t think it was any of these. I came across this book by accident and it had had several good reviews, so I thought: why not?

I have to say that I found the story, the writing and the vision all very worthy. The theme of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one, but Robie Macauly’s future Earth has a unique quality about it. There are several tales within the narrative, but the focus of the story is on two men, separated by generations and disaster. One records the days that lead to the eventual collapse of the structures that hold our society in place; the other driven by some unknown force seeks to learn what happened o the man who had gone before. 

My only real criticism of this book has to be the back story to the events that lead to the downfall of civilization. There is a reason that successful post-apocalyptic stories centre around big global events such as an asteroid strike, a global pandemic or some form of environmental disaster – the effects have to be global for the story to hold together. Macauley’s vision is based on civil unrest and the break down of all and would, therefore, be limit to a single region at the most. Trying to suggest that the civil war in the US would result in the breakdown of society across the globe is either naive or profoundly egotistical. 

However, if you are prepared to accept this admittedly rather large flaw, the book is actually a very good one.

The story is well told. There is plenty of action, some interesting ideas of how the break down might impact on those who come after. The mysterious link between the two characters is never fully explained but did add an interesting element. 

Not a bad book. Not a classic, hence it’s demise. 

Still Me (Me Before You #3)

Still Meby Jojo Moyes

The third (and final?) instalment of Louisa Clark’s journey of self-discovery.

Since her first appearance in the very moving “Me Before You”, Louisa Clark has faced her fears, horrors from her past and her own mortality. She has loved, lost and loved again, following her heart and built a new life away from the confines of the family home.

Here we find her taking up a new job in New York as an assistant and companion to the exotic and temperamental Agnes Gopnik. As she begins to settle into her new role and acquaint herself with life in the Big Apple, she also has to deal with what she has left behind, namely her new boyfriend Sam. Can a fledgeling romance survive the distance she has put between them? Only time will tell, but as she begins to make new friendships maintaining old ones in far off England do seem t be becoming increasingly difficult.

Louisa Clark is Jojo Moyes’ most endearing and captivating creation. She is something of an anti-heroine. She does not comply with any stereotypes and for me, that is what makes these books so much more interesting.

If I am being totally honest, the previous book was a little disappointing, but I think that is largely because the first was such a hard act to follow. As a conclusion to Louisa’s story, “Still Me” as something of a return to form. She has to face a number of challenges, not least of which is finding herself homeless and jobless at one point. But her positivity and belief in human nature and it has to be said, her rather unconventional sense of fashion, prove to be her salvation. In forcing Louisa to question what and who she is, Jojo Moyes throws those questions out to the reader. Do we shape ourselves to fit in with those around us, or do we go our own way?

“Still Me” is a great read. I have to admit that the more I read the more enjoy Jojo Moyes’ work. Hidden beneath the sugary romance are some interesting plots and questions that go beyond the usual romantic fiction.

The Vanishing

The Vanishingby Wendy Webb

You just know that when your hero finds themselves in a large old house in the middle of nowhere, things are going to get a little spooky. Whilst that may be a given, the intriguing twists and turns of “The Vanishing” certainly isn’t. Julia Bishop’s life is a mess. Through no fault of her own, she finds herself totally alone and facing ruin when a total stranger offers her a lifeline in the shape of a home and a job. It may sound too good to be true, and any rational person might question the offer, but with nowhere else to turn, Julia accepts and twenty-four hours later finds herself at Havenwood, the Sinclaire’s rambling family estate close to the banks of Lake Superior.

Her new job is as a companion to horror novelist Amaris Sinclaire. Once famous, she is now a recluse who the rest of the world believes to be dead. But coming face to face with a dead author is the least of the surprises that await Julia as she learns more not only about the estate but also about her own past. 

From the very first day, Julia begins to suspect that things are not as they should be. ON the surface everyone is friendly and she feels accepted as if part of the family, but something isn’t quite right. She begins to see visions that she at first puts down to not taking her medication, but then begins to believe have a more sinister origin. It doesn’t help when all she gets from those around her are platitudes and reassurances.

No one denies that the house is haunted. The question is what or who by, and what does it have to do with Julia who has never been to the house before. Or has she?

Like her previous books, Wendy weaves a tangled web (sorry about that!) that left me gripped and fascinated right to the very end. For me, The Vanishing is further proof, if it were needed, that Wendy Webb is a great storyteller and a master of the gothic horror genre.