Category Archives: Recommended

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.

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. 

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.

 

 

 

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)

The Three-Body Problemby Cixin Liu
Translation by Ken Liu

Before going any further I need to make one thing clear – the three bodies referred to in the title are celestial rather than biological. That said though, there is a reasonably large number of the later scattered through this very gripping and imaginative book.

I also have to say that when I purchased the book I was not aware that it was the opening volley in a trilogy. At the time I was looking for a stand-alone Sci-Fi novel by a modern author. That may sound a relatively simple thing to do but like so many things these days, it is not as easy as it seems. Science Fiction shelves of bookshops I visit seems o have more zombie and vampire stories that traditional Sci-Fi and those I do find are part of ever-growing series. I am starting to feel very nostalgic for the good old days. 

But enough of that, what about this Three-Body Problem? The story begins in 1967 at the beginning of China’s Cultural Revolution. I have to admit to being ignorant of the events of the period – Chinese history has never been high on the school curriculum and it is something that I have only ever come across references to. This is the first time I have read anything that deals with the events and looks at their implications. It is not long before the bodies begin to pile up and the characters that drive the story to emerge. 

The three bodies in question are three suns. Their orbits are erratic and unpredictable, hence the problem – how does a civilization survive the extremes created by its orbit around these bodies?

The answer is: with difficulty which is why there are looking beyond their own system for a new home. Then one day, due to events precipitated by the Cultural Revolution, their prayers are answered. What follows is one of the most imaginative and compelling science fiction stories I have read in years. The science behind this tale is second only to Cixin Liu’s natural storytelling. 

I have to say that The Three-Body Problem is not only a great piece of fiction, it also taught me a little about an important historical period I knew nothing about. I do have to say that I was very grateful for the List of Characters helpfully added at the beginning of the book. Without it would have struggled to keep track of the characters. Not there are a lot of them, I just found myself struggling with the Chinese names. 

Although I was looking for a stand-alone book, I am not in any disappointed to started on this particular trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

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. 

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. 

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 Called Ove

A Man Called Oveby Fredrik Backman

Every now and again you come across a book that really says something to you, and for me, A Man Called Ove is just such a book. From the very first page, I felt I understood Ove. To many of the people he meets he comes across as a grumpy old man, but, as is often the case, there is more to him than first meets the eye.

For Ove, life is simple and made up of two types of people: those who drive Saabs, and twits. And there are a lot of twits about! 

As the book progresses we learn more about Ove’s past and the events that shaped the man he became. The biggest single event being the day he met his wife-to-be Sonja. To everyone who knew them, Ove and Sonja were an odd couple, like chalk and cheese. But to Ove, Sonja was his world and without her, nothing makes sense any more.

But with the arrival of new neighbours, Ove’s life is about to take on a whole new meaning. 

A Man Called Ove is a delightful and very moving story. Fredrik Backman has a real gift for blending humour and pathos in a totally compelling way. There is a slapstick element to the story that makes the tragedy even more profound. For me, it is one of the best books I have read this year and one I can wholeheartedly recommend. 

First Frost

by James Henry

First FrostR D Wingfield’s loveable detective DI “Jack” Frost has long been a favourite of mine, both the books and their TV adaptation. The irascible, bumbling and totally politically incorrect detective’s original appearances are a great example of how this kind of stories should be. For me, Frost’s irreverent ways, his disinclination for completing paperwork and his constant battles with authority present a character I can relate to. In this, the first prequel written by the team of James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton, we are transported back to 1981. Frost is a Detective Sergeant and already has a reputation as a good detective, even if his ways are sometimes unorthodox and his matter makes him difficult to work with. Superintendent Mullet has recently arrived at the Denton station and is determined to stamp his authority on the place. For him, Frost epitomises all that is worst about the place.

Keeping with the format that made Wingfield’s original series so popular and successful, in First Frost, DS Frost has to deal with several unrelated crimes, including terrorists, murder, bank robberies and a missing young girl. Trying to keep track of all the separate cases, whilst covering for absent inspectors and missing paperwork, Frost and Mullet clash from the very start.

The interweaving plots ensure the pace is consistent and at times as messy as the belligerent detective trying to unravel it all. The character of Frost os maintained throughout and this peek into his pre-Inspector days is a very clever way for the two writers to resurrect the grumpy old so-and-so.

I really enjoyed the story, the characters and the uncompromising way Gurbutt and Sutton kept faith with R D Wingfield’s creation. First Frost is an excellent novel in its own right, but as part of the Frost series, it is indistinguishable from the originals. A great piece of fiction very well written. 

The One Plus One

One Plus Oneby Jojo Moyes

Having previously read several Jojo Moyes books I was pretty sure what to expect – captivating characters, a great plot and quality writing. And that is exactly what I got. The plot itself is typical rom-com fodder, but the important thing is the way it is told. Jojo Moyes has the ability to make her characters come to life on the page. 

We all know how hard it can be to recover when life when knocks us down, and how difficult it can be to retain our optimism when you feel that universe is conspiring against us. But that eternal optimism despite everything life has thrown at her is what makes the leading lady, Jess Thomas, such an endearing character. Despite having to hold down two jobs to keep her and her two children fed and watered, she remains confident that things will get better. 

On the other hand, Ed Nichols has it all: the perfect job, a flat in London, a holiday home by the sea, his own company and, on the face of it, a bright future.

But all is not as it seems, and that is where the story begins. 

The One Plus One is a modern love story with just a hint of the Romeo and Juliet about it. But like all good books, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Jess’s optimism is tested to its limits by the circumstances of a life she no longer seems to have any control over. But it is that very “silver lining” approach that turns Ed’s life around. As he faces losing everything he has ever worked for, seeing at first hand Jess’s determination to do the best for her children is something of a revelation. He begins to realise that for one he has the opportunity to do some real good, to do something that will improve the life of someone else.

It doesn’t hurt that on their journey – physical and metaphorical – they find themselves growing ever closer.

For me, Jojo Moyes is one of those writers that can turn a seemingly simple tale into something quite deep and inspiring. Her characters are easily identifiable and I can’t help feeling some empathy towards them and their plights. Whilst tragedy is always at the heart of a good novel, particularly a love story like this one, humour is also a key element, and in The One Plus One Jojo Moyes gets the balance just right. It is witty, absorbing and a joy to read.