Category Archives: Review

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.

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.