Category Archives: Review

Straight Outta Crawley – Memoirs of a distinctly average human being

by Romesh Ranganathan

I have to say right from the start that Auto Biographies are not my usual preference. Not that I have anything against them, I just, on the whole, prefer to read fiction in my increasingly limited leisure time. That said, I have enjoyed quite a number of biographies, p[articularly when the writer is of interest to me. This particular book was a gift and I have to admit that I would not have chosen to read it otherwise. I think the idea was to prepare me for seeing Romesh on his tour in the spring so the question is, do I feel better prepared? Not really, but I do feel I understand the man behind the jokes much better.

Straight Outta Crawley is a warm and revealing peek behind the scenes of the UK comedy scene. This is not a chronological, birth to now kind of story, the narrative leaps back and forth and a chaotic but oddly logical way. In that way, it reads more like a conversation rather than a structured timeline. 

Over the past couple of years, Romesh has become something of a household name. His dry sense of humour, self-deprecating approach and distinctive appearance have made him popular on TV panel shows and the live circuit. In the book, he talks about the events that led to his turning professional, the problems he faced as a teacher and the unexpected and sudden nature of his success. 

Throughout he talks openly and honestly about his relationship with his family. It is a refreshing and honest account that I found easy and enjoyable. 

Murder on the Oxford Canal (DI Hillary Greene, #1)

Murder on the Oxford Canalby Faith Martin

Despite this being the first of Faith Martin’s books to feature DI Hillary Greene, the story opens in the middle of a personal crisis. No gentle introductions here I’m afraid. Faith throws her reader in the deep the end with everyone but the reader knowing what is going on. On the positive side the book does hit the ground running, a pace it maintains through to the end.

It is a fast-paced story populated by some interesting characters, not least of which is the aforementioned DI Greene who is struggling with some personal issues that threaten her career. He husband is dead and she is being investigated as part of the enquiry into his illegal activities. She has been forced to leave her home and is trying to cope with life on a cramped narrowboat. To top it all, she is handed a case, only to have it whipped away the moment it gets juicy.

Her investigations into the body mysteriously discarded in a remote canal lock lead Hillary and her team to uncover a drug-smuggling operation, But is the mysterious death really linked or is there something else going on?

Murder on the Oxford Canal is a little above the run-of-the-mill. It has a good plot, plenty of clues and some intriguing characters. Good, simple entertainment and worth seeking out the next instalment of DI Hillary Green’s adventures.

 

The Corner Shop In Cockleberry Bay

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bayby Nicola May

For me, romantic comedies like this are pure escapism. You know what is coming but are there for the ride, not the destination. The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay is the story of Rosa Larkin, a mid-twenties loner who unexpectedly inherits the run-down shop. She has no idea who her benefactor is or why they chose to leave the property in her hands. One thing she is certain of is that she is going to make the most of this opportunity.

Before arriving in the quiet Devon town of Cockleberry Bay, Rosa’s only friends are her long-suffering landlord Josh and her dog, Hot. Working to establish herself in her new home, ROsa makes new friends, deals with complicated relationships and finds new inner strength.

The plot is simple, the outcome pretty much inevitable, but the journey worth the fare. I really enjoyed this adventure with the troubled but undeniably intriguing Rosa Larkin. The characters are all interesting and well envisaged, the story well-paced and the style easy. A really enjoyable read. 

 

 

 

 

24/12/19 – 01/01/20

The Day That Never Comes (The Dublin Trilogy #2)

The Day That Never Comesby Caimh McDonnell

There is unrest in the fair city of Dublin. The locals are revolting, fired up by a combination of blatant injustice and police incompetence. In the middle of it all once again, and blissfully unaware of his role in the impending mayhem is Paul Mulchrone.

Fresh from his equally unintentional head-on collision with Dublin’s seedier side (The Man With One Of Those Faces), Paul just wants to patch things up with his girlfriend Bridgit and get his fledgeling detective agency off the ground.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep a young man busy, Paul is left looking after the city’s crankiest German Shephard, takes on his first job, following a particularly dodgy local businessman and tries to find his missing business partner, the infamous Bunny McGarry. 

Although his appearance in this book is minimal, Bunny McGary’s presence is felt throughout. In McGarry, author Caimh McDonnell has created one of the most unpredictable heroes in modern fiction. He may be one fo the god guys but there is almost no crime he won’t commit for the good of his friends. This time around though it is Bunny himself who needs saving from the bad guys.

Just an average day in the office for our reluctant hero. 

Like the first instalment, The Day That Never Comes is a wonderful mix of intriguing crime drama and slapstick comedy. It has a good pace, great characters and shed loads of natural Irish wit. 

Worst Case Scenario

Worst Case Scenarioby Helen Fitzgerald

Having to deal with Glasgow’s darker characters every day has made probation officer Mary Shields a little cranky. Her inclination to drink, her lack of respect for authority and her naturally suspicious nature should probably have made her unsuitable for the role, but ironically she is good at her job. But now with her job on the line, she prepares to walk away, but not before she can clear one final case on her books.

Enter Liam Macdowall, imprisoned for murdering his wife but now out on licence and put under Mary’s watchful eye. There is an instant distrust between the two, but on the surface, it is a simple enough case, not more difficult than any of the thousands she has handled before. But things soon get messy and the result is devastating for Mary and everyone around her.

Worst Case Scenario is one of those rare books that manage to combine gritty thriller with lashings of humour. Mary is a wonderfully imagined character whose flaws are plain to see but make her all the more charming. 

Helen Fitzgerald has a reputation for writing psychological thrillers and this is certainly a prime example of the best of the genre. I was gripped from the very first page, following Mary and Liam’s relationship with growing alarm and dread. At heart, it is a very tense and dark story, but the humour that runs through it like a seam of gold elevates it beyond the run-of-the-mill. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was left wanting more.

A great read.

 

 

Saturn Run

Saturn Runby John Sandford and Ctein

It is interesting to speculate on how mankind would react to our finding evidence of advanced alien life, particularly if we found it in our own back yard. Would it bring nations together, or would it exacerbate the existing divides between us? There have been many articles and books written on the subject and first contact novels have become a favourite of mine.

Like many things, science fiction is continually evolving. Keeping one step ahead of real science is becoming a challenge for SciFi writers. For me, much of what passes as Science Fiction these days is more of a mix of fantasy and horror. Whilst there is nothing wrong in that, I still prefer the kind of stories that mix speculative science with a touch of adventure.

Saturn Run is one of those stories. The science is believable, as is the insight into the frailties of human nature. When faced with first contact and the possibility of access to new and exciting technologies, the race is on between the two spacefaring power blocks. There are the inevitable failures as existing technology is pushed to the limit in the attempt to be the first to get their hands on the alien pot of gold. But it is not just the technology that is being tested and the politicians back home attempt to manipulate events to their own advantage.

It is a good old fashioned adventure story with plenty of action and some interesting insights into the frailties of human nature. Failures and tragedy beset the two competing crews as they wend their separate ways from Earth to the rings of Saturn. Arriving at their destination is not all they expected, and neither is the events that follow.

Great plot, wonderful characters and a story with real pace and some interesting twists make this one of the best science fiction books I have rea for quite some time. Then lack of blood-sucking aliens is a plus.

 

 

 

Luck Bunny

Luck Bunnyby Jill Dawson

Lucky Bunny is on the second Jill Dawson novel I have read and I am already seeing a pattern. Not that that is a bad thing. It is a story of a strong woman looking back on her tough childhood.

Queenie Dove’s story is one of frustrated opportunities, abuse and determination. She grows up in the grim surroundings of London’s East End during the 1930’s Life is tough for everyone. Queenie is a genius but any ambitions that she or anyone es might have had for her are stifled by her would-be criminal father and her depressive mother. Her only anchor is her Nan who does all she can to protect Queenie and her brother Bobby from the worst excesses of their unsuitable parents.

With her father’s connections, it is almost inevitable that the two children find themselves on the wrong end of the law. But this in itself brings Queenie new friendships that will last a lifetime.

There is nothing fanciful in Jill Dawson’s writing. Her characters and the situations they face are believable because they are disturbingly real. Children like Queenie really did exist and to some degree still do. The events portrayed in this book can and did happen.

Queenie Dove is a strong woman molded by the opportunities and terror of the war years. Her story will resonate with many women I am sure.

Luck Bunny is full of atmosphere. The story has a gritty reality that makes Queenie’s tale believable and compelling. 

 

Watch Me Disappear

Watch Me Disappearby Jill Dawson

Watch Me Disappear is a haunting and at times disturbing tale. Tine Humber returns to her native Norfolk for her brother’s wedding only to reawaken tragic memories she has fought long and hard to suppress.

Thirty years previously, in the summer of 1972, her childhood friend Many Baker disappeared. No trace was ever found of the 10-year-old and now, as Tina begins to reassemble the fragmented memories of that long-ago summer, she begins to see events more clearly. But with the new clarity dawns a certainty that the truth behind Mandy’s disappearance may be much closer to home than she had dared to believe.

Her questions threaten to tear her family apart and bring to the surfaces memories and feelings they would all rather forget.

I found this book a little disturbing in places, dealing as it does with a subject most of us would much rather not contemplate. It reminds me that sometimes, true horror and real monsters are with us every day and not just between the well-crafted pages of a Stephen King novel.

The plot is slow-burning leaving the reader plenty of space to consider their own speculations about what happened Mandy on that summer afternoon. It also offers an interesting view of the remote and often-overlooked corner of England.

Jill Dawson is a skilled storyteller. She brings not only her characters to life but also the period itself and the innocence of youth. This is the first Jill Dawson book I have read and I am sure it won’t be the last.

 

Foreign Fruit

Foreign Fruitby Jojo Moyes

One of the things I like about Jojo Moyes’ books that you never know what to expect. There is no formula, but there are patterns to her writing that give the reader hints as to where the story is going. She also has a way of capturing different ears that give her books a realm feeling of authenticity.

Foreign Fruit is a story in two parts, separated by a lifetime. the adventure begins one summer on the sleepy seaside resort of Merham. It is the 1950s and the stark greys of the war years are making way for the more colourful and glamourous times ahead. Caught up in this these changes are Celia and Lottie, two teenagers who find themselves drawn to the enigmatic and controversial new owners of Arcadia, a grand Art Deco house on the seafront. The events if that summer shape he lives of everyone concerned. Lottie in particular, a former evacuee who has remained with her foster family ever sine, faces challenges and decisions that will haunt her for the next 40 years.

Moving forward to the present day, Arcadia once again the centre of attention in for the residents of the town. And once again it is “outsiders” who are threatening the very fabric of Merham society. Enter the enigmatic Jones, a London businessman who plans to turn Arcadia into a retreat for is City friends and clients. It is a simple plan, but once his newly separated designer, Daisy Parsons arrives to oversee the building work, the sparks begin to fly. Has Daisy taken on more than she can chew? Not only does she have to look after her four-month-old daughter on her own, but she must also deal with recalcitrant builders and a volatile and vocal local population, whilst also coming to terms with the fact that her daughter’, father has walked out on them with no warning.

Past and present collide in this tale of jealousy, love and betrayal. This is Jojo Moyes doing what she does best. Jojo Moyes can evoke the feelings and realities of two very different periods with ease. I have to admit that I have yet to read a Jojo Moyes book that did not live up to expectations. She writes with a style that is easy and captivating, her characters are true to their setting and the stories consistent with the characters. It is always a please to set out on a new adventure with her. 

 

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbeyby Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s books are like dear old friends. Not the kind you spend every weekend with, but the one whose company is no less welcome and warming fr its infrequency.

Northanger Abbey is a particular favourite of mine, mainly because of the style. It differs from her other works in that she uses direct author intrusion to speak directly with the reader. It is clear that she is telling you a story and often takes control of the narrative. Despite this change in style, it loses none of the wit and observational skills that are very much the hallmark of Austen’s work.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen’s would-be heroin Catherine Moorland sets out on her first adventure beyond the family home. She is t spend 6 weeks in Bath with her neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen. Catherine is determined to find adventure but her hopes are dashed as their lack of acquaintances leaves them sidelined from society. However, two chance encounters soon end this initial isolation and propel Catherine into a series of events and friendships that offer more opportunity for adventure than she could have hoped for.

Catherine Moorland is an innocent propelled into society she cannot fully comprehend. The direct honesty she is used to has not prepared her for the deceitful and ambiguous nature of those who claim her as their friend. She thinks the best of everyone but she soon begins to realise that not everyone is as honest about their feelings as she is.

Whilst it might not be to everyone’s taste, Northanger Abbey is a pastiche of the gothic tales of the time and is a book I enjoy revisiting.