Category Archives: Review

A Man With One Of Those Faces (The Dublin Trilogy #1)

A Man With One Of Those Facesby Caimh McDonnell

A Man With One Of Those Faces is a rare gem of a book. The combination of plot, crime drama, a cast of unlikely but wonderfully crafted characters and the unmistakable natural Irish wit make this a real treat.

Paul Mulchrone os one of life’s underachievers. OK, he’s lazy. His life is uneventful and lacking in any form of ambition of direction. That is until the day someone tries to kill him. Not the first time though; that was just a misunderstanding. But when the second attempt results in the bomb squad being called out, ambition to stay alive) and direction (anywhere but here!) are almost all he has. 

Almost, but not quite all. On the run from unknown killers the only person he can trust, all be it reluctantly, is the person who got him into this in the first place, Nurse Brigit Conroy whos love for crime novels proves to be no help at all. 

At the heart of the story is a fast-paced thriller. Stumbling across a 30-year-old crime brings all kinds of characters out of the woodwork and as DS Bunny McGary wades in with his hurling stick, it all begins to get a little messy.

Driving the story along is a humour that is distinctly Irish. here is a wonderful sense of the ridiculous and some lovely slapstick moments that kept me chuckling the whole way through.

There is no doubt that Caimh is a natural storyteller and I was captivated by both the story and the characters, particularly the unpredictable DS McGarry. I was left wanting to read more which is just as well as there are a further three books in this trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

A Glass of Blessings

A Glass Of Blessingsby Barba Pym

I have to admit to being a bit of a newbie as far as Barbara Pym is concerned, this being only the second of her books I have read. 

This is the story of Wilmet Forsyth, a bored young housewife, living in the London suburbs with her husband, Rodney, and her mother-in-law Sybil. 

She begins to attend a local church, becoming increasingly involved with the clergy and their congregation. But that is not her only distraction; she has also become the focus of attention for the brother of her closest friend. 

First published in 1958. A Glass of Blessings offers an insight into the prejudices of the time. Wilmet is bored, but there is no realistic chance of her returning to work; wives of men who work at “the Ministry” are supposed to stay at home, arrange the flowers and play hostess for dinner parties. 

Wilmet is very much a product of her times. Even her flirtations have an innocence about them.  The book itself is a joy to read, as much for the naivety of its characters as for the story itself which is light and easy going.

Pym’s renewed reputation has allowed readers such as myself to enjoy her work. Whilst they may not be challenging, what I have read so far have been enjoyable and entertaining. 

 

A Tap On The Window

A Tap On The Windowby Linwood Barclay

There is no denying that Linwood Barclay can write a good thriller. This is the fifth of his books I have read and each one has proven to be a gripping and exciting read. 

There is a sort of formula to his work which I find offers a reliability I find comforting. 

In this story, private investigator Cal Weaver finds himself drawn into a tangled web of deceit, murder and secrets, hidden beneath the thin veneer of the town’s respectability. It all begins when he receives a tap on the window of his car one wet evening. Against his better judgement Cal offers the bedraggled teenage girl a lift home and what follows leaves both of them running for their lives. 

When the girl goes missing Cal finds himself a suspect and going up against a police force that has become renowned for its disregard of procedure and rights. But this is not Cal’s only problem. The recent death of his teenage son has left his marriage on the rocks and his own state of mind in question.

From the very beginning, A Tap On The Window kept me hooked. The story is littered with clues. some of which were more obvious to me than they were poor old Cal who really should have seen what was happening much sooner.

As far as I am concerned, this book just confirms Linwood Barclay’s reputation. 

 

 

 

Paper Towns

Paper Townsby John Green

Teenagers are a strange breed, whatever their nationality or background. I know because I was one once, as was my daughter!  I have read a number of books for and about teenagers over the past few years and I have to say that John Green’s novels are the most useful in helping to understand this large and varied group. 

Paper Towns is the story of Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin Jacobson, long-term neighbours whose relationship is the central pillar around which the plot revolves. Quentin loves his wayward neighbour but Margo herself does not seem to feel the same way. Close as youngsters, by the time they face graduation from High School their relationship is distant. That is until Margo seeks Quentin’s help with revenge on some of her so-called friends. The following day, Margo has disappeared and Quentin seems to be the only person who cares about what has happened to her.

Rather helpfully, Margo has left a series of clues as to her intentions which Quentin and his closest friends attempt to follow. But the events of that summer leave all their lives changed, not always in ways they might have anticipated. For Quentin, that summer offers opportunities for self-discovery that Margo, even her absence, opens up to him.

As an observation of teenage angst and troubles, Paper Towns is one of the best I have read. It is amusing, insightful and entertaining but also tackles some interesting issues. Although Margo herself remains physically absent for the greater part of the book, her influence on those around her is profound. I enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend it. 

 

Exit West

Exit Westby Mohsin Hamid

Over the past couple of years, I have become quite a fan of Mohsin Hamid. His books are insightful and entertaining. His reputation as a writer of great fiction is well established and well deserved, so I embark on each new book with high expectations.

Opening in an unnamed city, presumably in the middle or far east, Exit West is a love story with a hint of science fiction/fantasy. As their lives are shattered by war and intimidation, Saeed and Nadia meet at college and soon become lovers. Whilst their relationship blossomed, stories began to circulate of mysterious black doors appearing all over the city, offering an opportunity to start a new life elsewhere. That is where the science fiction comes in. Individuals passing through these doors are transported, via a companion doorway in another location. 

Saeed and Nadia are amongst those who pay to use one of these doors to escape from the death and destruction that surrounds them. Looking for a new life leads the couple to make several such trips, taking in Greece, London and California. 

Each of the places they visit offers a mix of opportunities and troubles. As the number of these black doors grows, the number of travellers grows with them, bringing with it increasing pressure on the points of arrival. 

The subject of immigration is a very relevant one at the moment and this book taps into that, but from the point of view of the immigrants themselves. Saeed and Nadia face many difficult decisions and their relationship is tested many times before they eventually find themselves somewhere to call home. 

Although this book is very different from his previous works, it does share their intriguing insights into human nature. His characters are all well-formed and very easy to feel empathy for. Leaving your home behind to step into the unknown is a daunting prospect and would test the resilience of any individual doing so. In Exit West, Hamid asks some very difficult questions about not only immigration but also about tolerance and acceptance. 

I admit that I was not sure about the concept of the doorways. Not that I have any issues with the idea of instantaneous interdimensional transportation. As an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, these concepts are not new to me, but I have never come across them in the context they appear here. I can see that many of Hamid’s regular readers might find the idea of the doorways distracting and off-putting. For myself, they were simply a convenient device to enable the more intense and intriguing examination of human nature and xenophobia.

Mohsin Hamid’s standing as a great writer remains undiminished. An interesting, insightful and novel that only goes to prove what a good writer he is. 

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Harold Fry #2)

The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessyby Rachel Joyce

This book comes as a companion to Ms Joyce’s previous work, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and it is Queenie’s opportunity to tell her side of the story.

In the first book, we followed Harold Fry as he walked from his South Devon home to see his old friend Queenie Hennessy in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold’s motivations were at time unclear and the unfolding of his story left a lot of unanswered questions. In telling her side of the story, Queenie is able to provide some of those answers.

Love Song starts at the same point as its predecessor, with a letter from Queenie telling Harold that she is dying of cancer. They have not seen or communicated with each other for over twenty years and this sudden and unexpected letter is the catalyst that kick-starts Harold’s long journey, both physically and metaphorically. 

Queenie has no preconceived intentions when she writes the letter; she simply wants to say her goodbyes. When she learns of Harold’s pilgrimage she is persuaded by one of the staff of the Nursing Home to write down the things she needs to tell Harold in the form of a letter. 

Reflecting on the time they spent as work colleagues, it turns out that there was more going on than Harold realised. But as anyone who has read the first book will be well aware, Harold Fry is not the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. Queenie, however, is quite the opposite and is able to offer more of an insight into Harold’s family life than he knows himself. 

Whilst Queenie’s story is intriguing and touching, for me it lacks the simplicity and good humour that made Harold’s story so enjoyable. I enjoyed to book but now as much as I had hoped. Sequels can often be disappointing, failing to match the original, and in this case, I have to admit that it I was disappointed. Not that this is a bad book – it is a very touching and compelling tale with some interesting characters. Queenie’s fellow residents at St Bernadine’s Hospice provide much of the book’s humour as they follow Harold’s progress. 

The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy is a good companion but does not in my view stand up on its own, you need to read both books to get the whole story.

 

 

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry #1)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryby Rachel Joyce

Recently retired brewery rep Harold Fry lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen in their South Devon home. He is a man of routine and simple pleasures with no discernable ambition other than to make other people happy. He never goes anywhere or does anything. Not, you might think, the most likely type of character to be the hero of a book. And if it had not been for the letter, you would be right. For Harold, the note he receives from along forgotten work colleague, Queenie Hennessy is the unexpected catalyst that changes everything.

It is not the letter itself, or its contents, that turn Harold’s life upside down. 

He had only left the house to post his short and simple reply, but as he walked down the roads to the post box, something changed within him. He continues past the post box, starting on a journey that would change not only his life but those of his wife, Queenie and many others who take inspiration from this strange man’s pilgrimage.

Not that he sees it that way. For Harold, it just something he has to do. 

What makes his journey so different and inspiring is that he is doing it on foot. Walking six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed would be a challenge for anyone, but for a 65-year-old man who, on his own admittance does not walk, wearing only a pair of yaughting shoes and with no map, compass or phone, this trip was never going to be easy.

“The Unlikely Pilgrimage…” is a touching and entertaining tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery. Through the people he meets and recollections of his own long-buried memories, Harold learns again what it means to love and be loved.

The highs and lows of Harold’s journey are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I coldn;t help but have some sympathy for the poor man. I felt I understood his confusion and frustrations, although I like to think that I could get my own life in order without all the blisters and nights spent on park benches.

A thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking book. 

Missing You Already

Missing You Alreadyby Pauline McLynn

I always enjoy Pauline McLynn’s books. I like the gentle humour she brings to what are often challenging and emotional subjects. In Missing You Already, McLynn’s heroine Kitty Fulton faces the break down of a long-term relationship and the problems of dealing with her mother’s fight with Alzheimer’s.

Hardly what you would expect from a respected comedy actress, but that is what I find so appealing about her work.

Watching a loved one with Alzheimer’s slowly fade away is heartbreaking. Anyone who has had to cope with what has to be the cruellest of all illnesses will understand the pain and anguish Kitty faces as her mother drifts away from her. Whilst it does seem a rather odd choice of subject, and a very difficult one, McLynn seems to be at her best when confronting things no one else really wants to talk about. And of course, there is humour to be found in even the most tragic of circumstances. What comes through in this story is an incredible optimism and a wicked sense of humour that keeps the story buoyant and light.

Of course, there is a romantic twist to the story, although not in the typical rom-com style. Kitty has to deal with a lot of baggage from her past before she can consider making any new plans for her future. 

For me, this is one if Pauline McLynn’s best, with a page-turning combination of tragedy, humour, heartbreak and joy. An excellent read from an outstanding writer. 

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Meby Ian Fleming

I am not sure why but when I read the James Bond series back in my youth, this particular episode eluded me. Anyway, a bit late but I have now rectified that and can happily say that I have now read them all – the Fleming novels at least. So far I have only managed one on the newer novels (Colonel Sun) and was not impressed.

Back to The Spy Who Loved Me. As with all but a couple of the Bond stories, the book and its film adaptation are about as alike as Blue Cheese and black puddings. I don’t even want to think about the film version of this which is, if memory serves me right, appaling. 

James Bond is probably one of literature’s most well known and enduring characters. But the books, particularly Fleming’s original series, portray a man far removed from the screen Bond we see today. 

In a deviation from his usual style, this particular adventure is told in the first person, but not by Bond. Instead, this is very much Vivienne Michel’s story, with Bond not making an appearance until page 108 (of 172). By then Vivienne has told us her life story and found herself, through no fault of her own, at the mercy of two thugs whos intentions are all not too clear. 

Bond, as expected, saves the day, but even then he is on the periphery. There are no spies and actually very little in the way of adventure. This is primarily the story of a young Canadian woman and her failed romantic and career choices. It is very much the odd book out as far as I can see, and although I enjoyed the story itself, I can’t consider it to be a serious part of the Bond canon.

 

Eligible (The Austen Project #4)

Eligibleby Curtis Sittenfeld

Pride and Prejudice is one of the great classics of English literature and undoubtedly Jane Austen’s most loved novel. Revisiting the Bennet family as part of the Austen Project is no easy task, But Curtis Sittenfeld takes on the challenge with some relish it seems. Not only does she transpose Austen’s most dysfunctional family into the twenty-first century, but she also manages to relocate them several thousand miles to the North American city of Cincinnati. Now I have to say that I was immediately put on my guard but such a bold move. The Bennet’s and their friends have always seemed to be the most English of communities. How could they ever be American? But once you begin to look at the characters, their lives, their prejudices and the social circles they move in, they just don’t exist in the UK anymore, but it seems they are alive and well and making a nuisance of themselves in Cincinnati. 

In their new surroundings, Liz is a magazine writer and Jane is a yoga teacher. They both live in New York but have returned to their hometown following their father’s recent health scare. Once they are back home the book follows the themes and general plot of the original story, but in some unexpected ways. Whilst the fundamental characters remain the same, the prejudices they face are very different indeed from those envisioned by Jane Austen in her original book. This new version tackles everything from class to racial and gender issues. In many ways it is like a mini soap opera with a whole host of twists and turns.

Whilst I enjoyed this modernisation of one of my favourite books, I did find it a little uncomfortable at times and through it lacked a little of the clever observational wit that made the original so endearing – and enduring. Of the books in this series, this is the one I felt the least connected with. Whilst the characters by and large remain true to Austen’s original creations, the twists ion the plot I found too far removed. That is not to say I didn’t like the book – I did. Sittenfeld is an accomplished and compelling writer but I sometimes felt she had her own agenda that had nothing to do with Austen’s classic. Although I haven’t read any of her other books I am sure I will before too long.