Author Archives: David Proffitt

Great Small Things

Small Great Thingsby Jodi Picoult

Reading Small Great Things made me angry!

Now I know that may not be the way you would expect a positive book review to start I suppose I really need to explain myself.

You see, if there is one thing that is guaranteed to get my hackles up, it’s blatant injustice. I am by and large a tolerant, liberal-minded person. I always look for the good in people and am willing to see the best. But when I see innocent people suffer at the hands of institutions, governments or individuals for no good reason I find myself wanting to do nasty things to those behind it all. To read or hear of people persecuted or denied their basic rights simply because of the circumstances of their birth I find totally unacceptable and it makes me very angry.

Small Great Things made me angry. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I did. The story was very frighteningly real. The plot, the narrative and the issues it raised forced me to question my own preconceived ideas about race and equality in a way I never have before.

The story centres around the death of a newborn baby, Davis Bauer following a routine procedure. When the fingers start pointing there is an inevitability about where the grief-stricken father’s finger is pointing – the nurse who he had banned from looking after him. But why had she been told not to treat young Davis? Did the family question her qualifications? Had she done something terrible? No, to the child’s parent’s Ruth Jefferson’s only crime was not being white.

The story is told through the eyes of the book’s three main protagonists: Ruth Jefferson the nurse accused of murdering the baby, her lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and Turk Bauer, the father. As they each tell the story as they see it, it becomes very clear that although each is doing what they think is right, their perceptions are very different.

Using three voices to tell the story highlights the very different life experiences and turns this from a gripping drama into something very special. We all see the world from our perspective; what this book does is give the reader an insight into someone else’s point of view.

From the initial events, through the investigation and trial to the gripping conclusion, Great Small Things is an exceptional work of fiction that reads like a true story. A great book that I can thoroughly recommend.

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Innby Daphne Du Maurier

Starting to read one of the literary “classics” always brings with it a sense of trepidation. For one reason or another, I have often been disappointed by those novels everyone tells me I ought to have read. This particular book is not one I would have normally choose to read, but I happened to pick it up whilst visiting Jamaica Inn itself on a recent holiday to Cornwall. It was just something I felt I had to do.

Right from the start, having visited the bleak and windswept setting brought the narrative to life. But even without that prior experience, Du Maurier’s vivid descriptions of the building and the desolate moorland that surrounds it provide an excellent backdrop to this gothic tale.

The book’s heroine, Mary Yellan, is a young woman plucked from her hard but comfortable life and transported into a dangerous world of smugglers and vagabonds where no one is entirely what he seems. Whilst Mary faces the challenges of adapting to her new life in the care of her Aunt Patience and her violent husband Jess Merlyn, Mary is also seen to be dealing with internal conflicts.

From the start, we are made aware that Mary does not consider herself to be a typical “woman”. She is jealous of what she sees as the freedom of men and resents her perceived delicate nature. Brought up working with her mother on their farm, Mary’s life has been tough and she is no stranger to hard work and manual labour, despite her tender age. But this does not mean that she has completely denied her feminine side.

Jamaica Inn is a captivating tale that kept me intrigued from beginning to end. There are a few twists in the tale, but nothing is wasted as the characters and events unfold in a take as dark and brooding as any ghost story.

All in all, an excellent book, but I do recommend a visit to the Inn itself.

The Ex-Files

The Ex-Filesby Jane Moore

Not to be confused with the relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Skully, Jane Moore’s Ex-Files examines relationships between people with very different characters. At a push, I could extrapolate on several similarities between the stories but that really would be pushing things a bit too far.

The Ex-Files is a rom-com, but like most of Jane Moore’s stories, there is a twist. In this case the main focus of the story is Faye and Mark’s wedding weekend. Inviting four exe’s may not have been the best idea either of them has had, but as it turns out, it was not the worst. 

Over the course of the weekend Faye, a successful model, comes face to face with an unexpected extra ex, the consequences of which will affect everyone involved.

Although the book deviates slightly from the traditional rom-com format, the plot is intrinsically the same as her other books. Whilst there are opportunities along the way for the plot to deviate, the end result is pretty much as I expected.

The Ex-Files is a quick and enjoyable read. Not in any way taxing but all the better for it. The characters are all well developed and the narrative fairly interesting. I enjoyed the book which provided some light relief.

 

The Dark Forest (Rememberance of Earth’s Past #2)

The Dark Forest

by Cixin Liu

In the second of CixiinLiu’s Remembrance Of Earth’s Past trilogy, we find ourselves facing humanity’s end. The Trisolarian fleet is heading our way and it seems that the outcome of the ensuing conflict is in little doubt. With their extra-dimensional agents watching our every move and effectively putting a halt to scientific progress humanity looks set to pray for the ultimate price for being foolish enough to make its existence known. In a universe full of predators they best way to ensure survival to remain hidden. By contacting the Trisolarians humanity had made a seemingly fatal mistake.

Like the opening book of the series (The Three-Body Problem), although Dark Forest is global in scope, the book’s focus is, not surprisingly, focuses on the Chinese point of view. 

The story spans 200 years with the main characters popping in and out of hibernation. But rather than being used as a convenient vehicle to help cover issues with the plot, it is an important part of the narrative. 

Dark Forest is a clever, intense and very well-told story. There is a lot of speculative science and interesting philosophical debate throughout the book as well as some very interesting characters and one of the most imaginative plots I have read in years. The book never drifts too far from what might realistically be possible in the near future it portrays. 

Cixin Liu has proven himself to be one of the best science fiction visionaries of his generation. His depiction of the first contact between Earth and Trisolarian technologies is quite gripping and totally unexpected. His characters are well defined and engaging. 

The Dark Forest continues with the same intensity and imagination as The Three-Body Problem and I am looking forward to reading the final instalment in this gripping trilogy.

An Unsuitable Attachment

An Unsuitable Attachmentby Barbara Pym

Originally submitted in 1963, An Unsuitable Attachment was rejected by her publishers. Even after revision it failed to be accepted and marked the end of Barbara Pym’s initial success as a published author. Barbara enjoyed a second helping of success in the late 1970s but this, which should have been her seventh novel was not published until 1983.

Reading the book now I can see why it failed to excite the interest of publishers at the time. It is in much the same vain as her previous six novels but if lacks full characterisation and the premise is dated, even for the early 1960s. The story lacks focus and seems to meander about between the various characters, as if looking for somewhere to land. The central characters of the story, whose relationship inspires the title, are ill formed and lack any real depth. This is down to the fragmented nature of the narrative rather than the ability of the author. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good characters, they are just not fully realised in the way they deserve to be.

There is still plenty of gentle humour and wry observation that are the hallmark of Barbara Pym’s work and make her books so enjoyable. But, for me, it was a little disappointing. I really wanted to know more about Ianthe Bloom and her beau John Challow.

This is not one of her best works. It is a pleasant enough read but failed to capture my imagination.

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easyby Jasper Fforde

Having previously experience of Jasper Fforde through his highly imaginative Thursday Next series I was well prepared for this first look at the work of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading Police Department.

Actually, the best way to embark on one of Fforde’s literary adventures is to put your mind in to a sort of free-fall, leave all preconceptions, hang ups and preconceived logic in the locker room before entering. Believe me, the last thing you need when facing a world inhabited by the likes of DI Jack Spratt, DS Mary Mary and the late Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III is any kind of link to reality. It would just confuse things and might actually lead to psychological problems in later life. Best to play safe.

Now, you might think that any book that lists the three pigs amongst its characters would be aimed at the younger reader. You would be quite wrong. Despite the almost childish nature of some of the characters and themes, The Big Over Easy is a book for grown-ups, all be it, grown-ups with one toe still firmly holding on to childhood.

The story begins when DS Mary Mary, fresh from Basingstoke (which isn’t her fault) turn up at Reading Police HQ to take up her new role working alongside the long suffering DI Jack Spratt. We are introduced to a dysfunctional set of characters who at first glance you might hardly credit with the ability to solve a 12-piece jigsaw let alone a full blown murder enquiry. But first impressions can be deceptive, especially in a world where the measure of a policeman’s success is getting their cases published in Amazing Crime Stories. Simple solutions just don’t make the grade.

What follows is a tour-de-force of clever wit, painful puns and, surprisingly, a damned good whodunit. All of the characters are clearly drawn and easily visualised as they weave their way through a clever, although sometimes painfully twisted, plot.

For those who have already survived earlier expeditions in to the warped mind of Jasper Fforde, Big Over Easy is more of the same and you know what to expect. For Fforde virgins I suggest you make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a literary journey like to other. Put on your safety googles, dive in and enjoy.

 

The End of Temperance Dare

The End of Temperance Dareby Wendy Webb

Nestled on the shoreline of Lake Superior stands Cliffside Manor. Once a sanitorium for TB sufferers. it is now a retreat for artists. Arriving for her first day as its new Director, Eleanor Harper very quickly discovers that beneath the tranquillity lies a dark and terrifying secret.

And so begins a sinister tale of slow-burning revenge and possession.

Since it first opened its doors, Cliffside Manor has seen its fair share of tragedy. like all sanatoriums of the period, it had earned its label as a waiting room for death. But there was something much more sinister going on and Eleanor and her first group of artists were about to be exposed to the evil that lay beneath the surface.

They have all come to Cliffside to make the best use of its reputed quiet and solitude. But from the very beginning if was clear, at least t Eleanor, that there was more to the Manor than met he eye. Nothing, it seemed, was quite what – or who – they appeared. With plenty of twists and a sinister mystery to unravel, Eleanor and her guests work together to unravel the puzzle that has been left by the last f the Dare family, Penny. The big question is what links them all and why are they here now together?

Wendy Webb has proven herself to be a master of the modern gothic and The End Of Temperance Dare is every bit as compelling a read as her previous work.

From the intriguing prologue to its dramatic climax, The End of Temperance Dare is a shining example of the best of the genre. Webb no only comes up with great plots, she populates them with wonderful characters. The suspense is palpable and narrative unrelenting.

I admit to being a fan of Wendy Webb’s work since stumbling across “The Take of Halcyon Crane”. This, her fourth novel does not disappoint in any way. 

Meet Me In Cockleberry Bay (Cockleberry Bay #2)

by Nicola May

Here, we are, back in the Devon with the same cast of wonderful characters we were introduced to in The Corner Shop in Cocklebery Bay. It is now several months since we last saw them all and things have moved on. Now Mrs Smith – having married the love of her life and former landlord Josh – Rosa is happier than she has ever been. Her close friend Titch has just given birth (on the shop floor) to a baby boy, the shop itself is thriving and her relationship with her formerly estranged mother is going well. If only Josh didn’t have to travel to London every week for work her life would be perfect.

But life has never been easy for Rosa and even now, with everything looking rosy and bright, there is a green-eyed monster lurking in the wongs, ready to pounce. Rosa’s life-long insecurities and deeply rooted jealousy will inevitably break through all the happiness bringing all kinds of destruction with them. In a single moment of jealous rage, Rosa’s nicely constructed new life comes crashing down around her.

Meet Me In Cocklebery Bay is very much in the same vein as it’s predecessor. It is full of lovely and interesting characters, a good plot and plenty of humour. There are highs and lows for all the characters, none more so than Rosa Smith who is forced to face her demons if she has any chance of winning back her beloved Josh.

In the end, it is the friendships she has made and the love of those around her that will enable her to take her darker side head-on. With not a little help from her faithful dachshund Hot Dog.

Meet Me In Cockleberry Bay is a delightful, very funny and inspiring novel. I only hope that this is not the last we will hear from this wonderful set of characters.

 

The Humans

by Matt Haig

The Humans opens with Professor Andrew Martin walking naked through the wet streets of Cambridge. To say he is not feeling himself at that moment is something of an understatement. In more ways than one, he really isn’t himself.

The Andrew Martin that his family and friends know is no more. In his place is a very different Professor Martin for whom clothes are a mystery and food and drink sickening. Even his lovely wife and teenage son he finds repulsive.

For Andrew Martin is literally not of this world. He has been replaced by an alien sent to Earth with a simple mission – to prevent the dissemination of Professor Martin’s recent discovery by whatever means necessary. 

As a life-long reader of science fiction, I am quite at home with the concept of alien abductions, body snatchers and close encounters. They are de rigueur as far as sci-fi goes. What I am not used to is coming across these plots in a book that is very clearly not of that genre. “Humans” is not a science fiction story, just a thought-provoking and witty tale whose narrator just happens to come from another galaxy.

I have read plenty of books where we see alien life from the human perspective, but never before have I been asked to view humans from the alien point-of-view, at least not si directly.

Matt Haig’s unique approach is both funny and profound. As out unnamed alien discovers for itself, humans are much more complicated than a quick glance at our history or new headlines might imply. Certainly, there is more to humanity than conflict and greed. You just need to get up close to see it.

Although I was a little uncertain at first I very quickly realised that the odd nature of the book was one of it’s most compelling attractions. The inner conflict between the new Andrew Martin’s mission and his newly discovered humanity give the story its impetus. It is well written, very funny and ultimately revealing about human nature.

This book may not be for everyone – I know many people may find the concept of an alien amongst us difficult to deal with – but I found it very engaging and enjoyable. 

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.