Thursday, 20 July 2017

Mount by Jilly Cooper #inbetweeny

I'll start this blog with a warning, this post does contain spoilers. So if you haven't read the book then please don't read this blog, yet. Of course you should read this post just wait a little while until you've read the latest installment of Rupert Campbell Black (RCB).

Warnings out of the way I'll begin.

I was massively looking forward to reading this book having hugely enjoyed the previous ones. RCB is my (not so) secret trashy pleasure and has been for many years. This book had all the ingredients of a classic, pages of wonderfully named characters, a few tortured souls and of course RCB with all his horses, dogs and now grandchildren.

The book got off to a good start full of characters from old but also plenty of new ones to mix it up a bit. The horse's really played a starring role in this book but I also really loved Gav and at first Gala.

Yep only at first as she went strongly down hill and I bet you can guess why. RCB. Here is where I fell out with Cooper, why oh why after all these books would she allow RCB to cheat on Taggie? In these books bad guys cheat, get their comeuppence and the hard done to other half gets the hero. Here RCB was a complete shit to everyone throughout the book, Taggie got cancer and RCB lived happily ever after. How does that work?

The book was very repetitive at times,  Taggie was so overworked, Jan was always being a God send, and RCB either jetted off to China or shouted at everyone. I didn't get why RCB was attracted to Gala, after all the women who have crossed his path during the years and once Taggies cancer came to light the affair just seemed to be brushed under the carpet by everyone. Yes Gav got his happy ending but it was with Gala who we didn't like. For the first time I was dissapointed in an ending and if I'm honest the book which I haven't been before with any of the books in the series.

It was nice to see old faces reappear and Cooper has set it up brilliantly for another book - football just fits with this series but RCB really needs to buck his ideas up and Taggie needs to be given more of a role other than sticking moussakas in the freezer. My least favourite of my favourites. Which somehow makes it worse.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Long Finish by Michael Dibdin #inbetweeny

SPOILERS

I have to say this is the first crime book I have read where the detective didn't solve the murder. Not only that but in the end it was the rats who did the job.

I was interested to read this book having watched the television series a while ago. This was a story not turned into tv (or if it was I missed it) and I loved the food, Zens flu, the wine and the eccentric doctor.

It was quite funny in parts. Zen was certainly a strange one, definitely a councelling session or two needed there but the book lost me in parts and I think the title was laboured. Minot's character was particularly good, an excellent murderer but as I said at the start I found it very strange to read a book where the detective doesn't deliver the goods.

It was book number 6 in the series and I didn't struggle joining so late in the day however you glimpsed there was content in the earlier books that would have added to Zens character.

I won't rush out to buy all previous 5 books but if one landed on my lap I would give it a go. Easy to read, not too long and lovely setting.

Their Finest Lissa Evans

Another book another film deal making me think immediately of our recently reviewed Nocturnal Animals where a book that has been around for a while and has undergone a few name changes reaches a wider audience as the film hits the big screen.

The book had an original topic - England's film industry during World War 2 and I did really enjoy reading about the advertisements, Madam Tussauds and script writing.

There were quite a few characters and the book did skip around a bit between them all (a trait I am finding happening more often at the moment). A few of the group struggled with this and I must admit it did take me a while to remember who was who.

Evans characters were very likeable, particularly Ambrose however I love Bill Nighy (who plays Ambrose in the film) and I do question whether I liked Ambrose so much because I could envisage Nighy.

I found Edith and Arthurs story to be strange, the random proposal and the sudden 'Edie' moment. I also didn't believe in Catrin and Buckley and was pleased in a way with their ending.

It was predictable in parts, there were moments of humour, generally nice characters and some interesting insights into wartime London. It was also easy to read. I have to say though that the book just didn't do it for me. I can't put my finger on why, it was a bit bland, a bit slow but nothing that really justified me not liking it. A few of the group also felt this way with one person taking a particular dislike and marking it a zero. I think this was unfairly harsh but also don't think it justified the 10 another of the group awarded it.

The book ended up with a 6 overall which I think was probably about right. I won't be keeping it but if you are after a light hearted read this could comfortably help you pass an hour or two.

Next book is The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen #inbetweeny

Another weekend in the countryside, another book about rearing sheep! This was purchased from Sedburgh, England's book town apparently. I had wanted to read it for a while but high pricing on Amazon had put me off.  A trip to a cheap bookshop in Sedburgh later and I was filling the holiday houses roll top bath and diving in to both book and bath.

I was a little disappointed given the books strap line 'how I left city life behind to raise a family and a flock' to find that Owens previous life took place in Huddersfield where she left at an early age to gain experience farming. I expected a solicitor or an accountant who gave up living in London not a trainee farmer who met her farm owning husband and moved into a ready made farm. I did however enjoy the early stories of her farming experiences.

Those of you following the blog will be aware I recently read the excellent Shepherds Life by James Rebanks and where this book primarily differed was with Owens birthing stories. In the book she gives birth to 7 children non without event and I enjoyed reading them all.

In the book she clearly references the fact that her and her husband speak broad Yorkshire and I did wonder reading the book how much of the writing was her own words. There were a lot of occasions where a sentence would be said following three dots "clearly he wasn't as memorable to as she was to him..." which was quite distinctive throughout the book but equally the writing was very incongruous with the various "whoa, don't throw any more of these on t'fire till I've looked in 'em,"

I didn't necessarily agree with every aspect of Owens outlook on life and the book certainly didn't encompass the total devotion that Rebanks book oozed from every sentence. But if you're after a more light hearted, generic book about farming this is worth a browse (especially if you're in a roll top bath on holiday).

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This was described as Dickens meets Bram Stoker and liking both of these authors I had high hopes.

The book was primarily chosen for its cover - especially nice in hard back, and whereas we hit gold with the Axemans Jazz chosen solely for its excellent cover The Essex Serpent didn't live up to expectations.

I liked the Dickensian parts, there were some excellent very Dickens like characters - Charles Ambrose, the man who lost his leg (was it Tom?) and the man who lived down by the marsh with his two goats (sorry can't remember his name either). Yet parts of the book were superfluous (Naomi and her disappearance) and the book seemed quite bitty at times - going to great pains to describe the ground breaking heart surgery despite it not being a book about medicine. Perry never really delved in to Cora's backstory with her husband other than to refer to her scar and how she envied how dogs were treated. It would have been an obvious point to expand and yet again illustrated how the book didn't flow quite right. It was put out there for the reader but not fleshed out enough.

I think my main problem with the book (and I appreciate I am on my own here) was the whole Cora/Will love affair. I strongly disagreed with this right from the get go. Will was a deeply committed vicar who by his own admission was deeply in love with his wife. When meeting Cora his wife was not ill (or at least not noticeably) (not that that would make an affair ok) and he had no reason at all to look elsewhere. Its something I've found I really don't like reading about (the affair in a previous book of the month, The Versions of Us really spoilt that book for me as well) so really the book was doomed to fail from my perspective.

I also was really disappointed with the serpent, all the little shadows here and the dark mists there (SPOILER ALERT) for it to turn out to be a big old fish and a rotting boat!!! Was I the only one who thought this?

I missed the meeting but apparently those of us who read it (and there weren't many) gave it an 8 out of 10 which is quite at odds with my take on the book. I can see why the group liked it, its old fashioned, gentile and a bit different to what's out there at present which on paper ticks all the boxes for me. However not even this or the attractive cover could rescue it for me.

I forced myself to finish reading it whilst on holiday and left it on the shelf of the holiday home we were staying in as it wasn't returning to my shelf!

Next book is Their Finest by Lissa Evans who tweeted me the best tweet ever about a goldfish named Seaton Deleval, long story.

Exile - Richard North Patterson #inbetweeny

Ok I'm a couple of books behind on my blog so this is an effort to bash a couple of posts out before bedtime.

This book had been on my bookshelf for literally years and I can't remember whether it was purchased for me or whether I actually picked it up. The topic - the conflict in the middle east was something I, to my shame, only knew snippets about. The book provided a vivid portrait of Israel and its complicated politics, along with the West Bank and the Palestinian movement. I must admit I did struggle getting to grips with who was on which side but Patterson spelled it out as clearly as he could.

I guessed the twist very early on and was disappointed it took the lead character, David, some 600 pages to work it out (I won't spoil it for you) but that does lead to my other criticism of the book, it was VERY long. At times it felt like the page count (nearly 800) was needed - the trip to the middle east (although totally pointless for the trial) was really interesting to read about and the chapters involving the suicide bombers had me gripped. Yet other parts of the story dragged and I found myself having to force myself to just 'get it read' which is never a good sign.

Surprisingly despite the page count there were a number of sections that were not covered in enough detail. Carol disappeared far too quickly, she sighted that David had always been holding back from her emotionally yet we didn't witness this and as soon as things turned slightly un-rosy she legged it despite having been thrilled to have set a wedding date only days before. David and Hana's back storey didn't cut it for me, if she was the love of his life this wasn't conveyed in the few pages that covered it and we were never really informed how David survived money wise despite having no paying clients for months on end as a result of representing a 'terrorist'. This coupled with David's casting aside of his political ambitions, condensed to a paragraph or two, could all have done with more words which wouldn't have worked as the book would then have been unmanageable as opposed to just VERY long.

I couldn't warm to Hana, I understand why she was quite self-contained but her interaction with David began to annoy me and the ending overall was a bit of a damp squib. I hated Hana's husband though, yet his ending too was a bit disappointing.

Overall it was a very difficult topic to write about, Patterson had obviously spent a lot of time researching and did offer up a picture of just how deep rooted and insurmountable the situation is. I would like to understand more on the topic but the book was too long, the twist too early given away and the lead characters just didn't get under your skin like they needed to.

Its already been removed from my book shelf!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

I had heard of the film Nocturnal Animals as it was nominated for at least one Oscar earlier this year. I hadn't seen the film however and wasn't aware there even was a book. There are in fact two books, one called Tony and Susan and one then re-released under the more eye catching name Nocturnal Animals.

It was this name coupled with the tense confrontation and kidnapping at the beginning of the book that made me instantly think there was going to be vampires. Maybe it was because I had just watched From Dusk Till Dawn but I have to confess I was excited when I thought a bit of blood sucking was going to be done. Unfortunately to my disappointment no vampires stepped forward. I wasn't the only one of the group though to initially think an american Dracula (Ray) v Van Helsing (Tony) was on the cards.

The beginning of the book (Tonys part at least) made me think of Stephen King. The family were heading to Maine, they were driving through endlessly open America and it looked like something horrible (and possibly supernatural) was going to happen to them. It was brilliantly tense and I loved it. A few people in the group found it so worrying that they either didn't read past this section or struggled through it as it made them feel uncomfortable.

It was after the fate of Tony's wife and daughter was decided that I feel the book started to fall apart. I found the police investigation ridiculous, as though it was brushed under the carpet by all except one cop who would randomly demand Tony to drop everything on no notice and travel cross country at his whim. I found the way Tony carried on afterwards to be quite, clinical? empty? I'm not sure how to describe it but it just seemed to be a series of robot motions, go stay with sister, eat, sleep, go back to work now, go attend a party. One of the group argued this was because Tony was a maths professor so his mind was very clinical and organised however his lack of emotion at any point really started to grind on me. I went with it during the car jack and when he randomly walked through the night before asking very politely if he could use the telephone but as time went on he appeared more spineless than anything and you just couldn't side with him or want him to win. A few of the group also didn't agree with Tony's affair with the student, I say affair but it wasn't really as he was of course a widow at this point. Again it just seemed cold, and unrealistic. Why were so many women attracted to him? I just didn't get it.

All the above is about Tony and there were of course two parts to the book. I found Susans family very confusing (was it the dog or her daughter who was sat on the Monopoly board?) and initially I thought there was going to be some sort of big reveal. Had Susan been in a similar situation to the car jack with Edward? Was the daughter in Tony's story really Susan and Edwards who Susan had blanked out for her sanity and Edward was trying to resurrect? Again I wasn't he only one in thinking the book could have gone down this path and a few of us thought it would have been better if it had.

The book had a very defined writing style, it was very naturalistic following the random thoughts of the particular character however I found it hard to follow and thought Wright made a mistake by having both Tony and Susan written in this style. I could understand Susan being this particular way but for Wright to make us believe we were reading a book written by Edward and then reading Susan's internal thoughts the writing style should have been more different between the two.

The ending to Tony's part of the story was also a let down. The end 'gathering scene' was just bizarre and almost comical where random women kept turning up (one conveniently called Susan just for Susan and the reader to think 'oh is this meant to be Susan?'). It was almost as though Wright wanted to create his very own Columbo/Poirot 'get them all in the room and reveal the killer but not before dissecting everyones character first' scene which just wasn't pulled off. A few of us also struggled to follow what actually happened to Tony and I confess by this point I didn't really much care.

Susan's ending was also a let down as nothing happened! Certain members pointed out that it was all about Edward getting revenge. Flatter Susan in to reading the book and then totally ignore her, leaving her stewing as he knew so well she would. On reflection I think this probably was Edwards intention however I didn't realise this at the time of reading. I will say that the book did prompt some good group discussion which always gains a point from me when it comes to marks out of 10.

There were some quite wide ranging scores (1-9) with an average of 5. I don't think I do the book an injustice by saying on the balance the group didn't really enjoy it. It was one of those books that it you don't like any of the characters (and who was there to like?) you are going to struggle as very little (apart from the really good beginning) happens.

Next book is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Sorry The Shepherd's Life I nominated you for book of the month but failed. Sad face.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks #inbetweeny

I took this one on holiday with me as it was Easter, we were staying near a farm that would be lambing and it just felt like the right book for the right setting.

I have no particular love of the Lake District where this book is set, it's a very beautiful place but my heart lies in the highlands where I was staying over Easter. Nevertheless I was really looking forward to reading this true account of life on a sheep farm in Cumbria.

Briefly, the book is set over the period of a year describing the ups and downs of lambing, shearing, selling and wintering sheep with anecdotes and memories thrown in for good measure. I found the book really informative for me a total lay person, Rebanks style was very accessible with the right amount of detail v story telling.

I felt the book at times could perhaps have done with further editing, I'm not totally sure but it seemed as if one or two little stories should have been moved around a page or two to help with the flow and one or two of the points either introduced earlier or laboured over less. It made the book at times feel like it wasn't a cohesive piece of writing but a collection of paragraphs placed together at a later date without someone fully re-reading it.

Reading that back that looks like quite a harsh criticism and it wasn't meant to be, it was just a thought that popped in to my head once or twice whilst reading, not a major flaw and didn't stop my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

I was surprised when the word 'Oxford' was introduced given there was no hint of Rebanks being anything but a farmer and the previous chapters positively scorned school and anything other that farming. The fact that Rebanks is also now an advisor for UNESCO and has visited places I may never see in my lifetime also made me feel a little bit conned. There is no doubt he is through and through a farmer and knows farming inside out but at the start of the book it almost felt like he looked down on or thought city dwellers with their guidebooks and dogs off leads stupid. So for him to voluntarily go to university (and not just any university) just didn't seem to fit. I did feel like I had to justify my life and my love of the highlands (a little bit like I had to with A Gift From Bob) which made me uncomfortable at times.

Despite this however I really enjoyed the book, I loved Rebanks grandfather and the dedication to his father at the end, I loved the tales about his children taking their first steps into farming, the heartbreaks (foot and mouth particularly) and the general trials and tribulations around a declining way of life.

I do recommend this book, even if you're not interested in the great outdoors or farming in general. It's an excellent snapshot of another way of life, the struggles and the kinship and will be staying on my shelf alongside my '40 walks in Wester Ross and Lochalsh'

Left to Die By Lisa Jackson #inbetweeny SPOILERS

I've had this on the bookshelf for absolutely ages and in a concerted effort to get rid (or keep if good) some of the oldies, Left to Die was next on my hit list.

It seemed at first glance to be a typical American cop solves murder case but as time (and pages) went on there were a few subtle changes such as female cops and (spoiler alert) two killers.

I enjoyed Jillian Rivers story and at some points I was genuinely unsure who the killer was. I liked Zane and the way him and Jillians story panned out (although Jillians dream was very random and felt very 50 Shades of Grey as opposed to crime thriller). I was however disappointed by Jillians 'killer' I thought it the weakest part of the book. It was clever and could have been a good twist to have two killers but the reasons behind Aaron's wife suddenly deciding to kill Jillian, who was none the wiser to Aaron's deception and to try to pass it off as a serial killer seemed far fetched.

I liked Regan and her single parent to teenagers issues but thought the attitude towards her social life quite unjust and for her son to go from 'Lucky is not my real dad' to 'I'm off to live with him' too about face. Although I suppose it provides the killer with the perfect window whilst her colleagues think she is sorting her kids...

I was surprised that the killer wasn't captured by the end of the book as didn't realise this was a series. I'm not sure whether I've read a series where the killer remains the same, there are plenty where it's the same cops but one certainly doesn't spring to mind where it's the same killer. It's an interesting concept but, not realising I was slightly disappointed. Especially as I have so many books to read that the chance of me buying and reading the next one are very slim.

I do have a prediction, Regans bit on the side Nate, he is either the killer or will feature more in the next book as he seemed too much of a bit character in this one and I'm sure Regans life will be pulled apart in the next one (Chosen to Die by the way) if she is in fact the star crossed killers next intended.

It was ok but didn't justify the 5 year wait on my book shelf.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Message from an unknown chinese mother Xinran

This was next to read on my bookshelf having been passed to me a while ago from my auntie. It was a thin book which greatly appealed to me following on from SPQR.

As a mother to three girls I found the stories of Chinese women killing their new born baby girls because they were not male absolutely heart breaking. This was a non fiction book and it honestly had me in tears at the thought of all those tiny babies being dumped in slop buckets or smothered by their own mother's.

I did find the structure of the book and the narration slightly weak. The arc of the book just didn't seem to fit right and the random letters at the end made me think it would have benefited from further editing.

There were some horrifically sad sad stories in this book, certainly do not read if you are feeling slightly emotional. I can't say I enjoyed the book (I challenge anyone who does) but don't think it was in depth enough to really provide the platform against the importance of a male heir, the terrible conditions in chinese orphanages and the harrowing fates of the baby girls that it should/could have been.

For that reason I don't recommend it, it left hideous images without the knowledge or impetus to do anything further. I'm left feeling uncomfortable, disturbed yet slightly helpless which is no good to anyone least of all to those poor children.

SPQR Mary Beard

A doorstop of an inbetweeny about the beginnings of Rome written by the very knowledgeable Mary Beard. I knew it wasn't going to be light reading but boy this was a slog.

I've read a fair few historical slogs in my time but at the end of most of them I felt a sense of achievement and that I had learnt something. At the end of this one I didn't feel either, just relieved it was all over. I didn't get the structure of the book and why Beard chose to highlight the points she did. The main stories I knew about Rome, Julius Ceasar, the Colosseum, Nero, seemed to be glossed over with Rome's conversion to Christianity confined to a few pages in one of the last chapters.

I appreciate that Beard came from a purely evidential point of view but the whole 'we can't prove this, we can only guess' became slightly annoying and Beard referred so much to Livy in the first part of the book that I felt like I was reading his book rather than hers. Beard clearly loved her subject and the time she had spent researching was clear to see.

I didn't enjoy the book, I don't feel like I gained anything from it (usually I quote random facts to my husband whilst reading books like this, and I didn't here, not once) and it took bl00dy ages to read. A relief to finish which is never a good sign. Only read if you are really keen.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriaty

So this was our second helping of Moriaty having read the most excellent The Husbands Secret last year. We were dead on for the Witherspoon/Kidman tv series as well which was receiving rave reviews so I was really looking forward to reading this months book of the month.

In some ways it was similar to The Husbands Secret - set in Australia, with all women lead characters whose stories interlace along that of their children. Yet it was very different to THS. There was a murder mystery element for a start that kept you guessing throughout the whole book.

Moriaty really has her finger on the pulse when it comes to school parenting politics. I loved reading about the blonde bobs, the class stuffed toy and the etiquette when handing out party invites. Her observations about Facebook, teenage angst and step families were spot on and I loved the 'forgot the family tree assignment moment' (although similar to The Easter bonnet moment in THS?).

I really like how Celestes story unfolded, and how, unusually, she fought back and wasn't just a 'little under the thumb' woman. She was intelligent (previously a lawyer before having the twins) beautiful and rich and to start with gave as good as she got. The counselling sessions she had in which she realised what her husband was doing to her was not ok were really well written as she came to the realisation that he could very well kill her in one of his rages.

I loved Madeline's character and whilst some found her annoying I would happily welcome her as a friend. You know she would have your back and lets face it who would want her as an enemy? In some ways it was Madeline I felt the most sorry for. She seemed to be the happiest at the start yet by the end her marriage seemed to be slightly broken (with Ed being devastated that she would lie and make him lie to protect her ex husband). There is a paragraph on page 440 (I checked) about how she chose to never forgive her ex husband 'he would drive her to distraction for the rest of her life and one day he would walk Abigail down the aisle and Madeline would be grinding her teeth the whole way' I loved that paragraph, perhaps my favourite in the book as I think that is exactly how I would feel if it were me.

I also liked the Abigail/Madeline storyline. I really hoped as I was reading the book that Moriaty didn't give them a happy ending as that just wouldn't have been true to life. They almost did but I think Moriaty pulled it off, just.

I guessed the Saxon Banks twist quite early on. One of the dad's (was it Ed?) mentioned how he hadn't met Perry before and that sealed it for me. I didn't however guess the murderer and whilst I thought the explanation was perhaps the weakest part of the book I wasn't disappointed.

The group really liked the book, all of us which is unusual for us all to agree and most seemed to prefer BLL to THS (sorry but I'm typing on a tablet and its doing my head in). I'm still in the THS camp but I really enjoyed BLL and will happily look out for other Moriatys in the future. We scored it an 8.3

Next book is Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

Question of the month Moriaty or Witherspoon, do you prefer the book or the tv series? I've deliberately not watched the series until after the meeting so I can't answer yet but will let you know.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi

I expected to be emotionally drained after reading this one and to be honest (in a weird kind of way) I didn’t mind the thought that I would be. This was backed up by the introduction describing a brilliant young man whose writing was breath taking and whose story was devastating. Emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions was surely in store.

I didn’t mind the beginning of the book although I was slightly surprised when we delved so deeply into Kalanthi's past in what was only a slim book. I was willing to gloss over the large number of references to his search as a youth to finding the meaning of life and what makes us, us as after all this was written by someone forced to ponder that very question. I also found the medical training he did vaguely interesting, I appreciated the reverence he placed in relation to the cadaver he was required to cut open as part of his medical training.

However when it became apparent the actual portion of the book to do with him receiving his diagnosis and receiving treatment was much smaller than the preamble of his youth I was slightly disappointed. Looking back I can appreciate this might be as a result of a man who thought he had more time and therefore whose introduction was more leisurely than the following pages but it did make the book feel unbalanced.

I'm not sure how I thought the book would end, Kalanthi was always going to become too ill at some point to be able to carry on writing and the book would have to be picked up by someone (which it was expertly by his wife) however I found I wanted more depth around his cancer treatment, his diagnosis, his options. I felt that the basics weren't fully covered, maybe because he was such an intelligent surgeon talking about a subject he knew a lot about he forgot his audience might not be of similar understanding. Why couldn’t they just remove the cancer? What are mutations? I know very little about this topic (thank goodness) but wanted to know more to further my understanding. So often books about people suffering from cancer are not approached from a medical point of view, or if they are they are medical textbooks not sold in Sainsburys and certainly beyond my remit. Here was a brilliant opportunity to provide a medical viewpoint on cancer to a layman but it just didn’t compute.

So if it didn’t stack up medically then perhaps it was all about the emotional content – a highly intelligent, driven young husband and father dying too soon. But it didn’t quite stack up here either. I couldn’t relate to him and I found him very selfish to go back to work. I did understand that this was him, to loose being a surgeon was to loose himself but I found myself really annoyed that he wouldn’t seek to spend more time with his wife or his family.

One member of the group summed it up quite well by saying the forward and the part by his wife just didn’t match up with the man in the middle. The person his wife and the editor(?) described wasn’t there on the pages inbetween.

I must offset the above with the viewpoints of at least 3 of the group who in contrast thought this book was outstanding. 'One of the best books I have ever read, challenging but brilliant' was a quote from one of them. They cried, they understood his viewpoint, they backed his decisions and marked it with 9's and 10s. Scores ranged from 2 – 10 with mine somewhere inbetween. I much preferred Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, not written from a dying mans standpoint and not medical but I cried buckets and it's stayed with me for many years, something that I don’t think this one will.

Next book is Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriaty.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo (inbetweeny)

This was my first venture in to modern literature for a while and I was looking forward to it. I had previous read The Bat (number 1 in the Harry Hole series) then rather randomly, The Redbreast (number 3), Cockroaches was number 2 so I was interested to see how reading out of sequence would affect my enjoyment.

It didn't and I think on this point I am with the majority (well at least my mum who read The Snowman first then The Bat and wasn't adversely affected).

As with a lot of books that feature foreign names I struggled with the Norwegian and Thai surnames which made following the book at times hard to follow. There were a fair number of characters which didn’t help but this is a reoccurring problem I have so don't take it as a criticism of Nesbo.

I would however say there were too many potential murderers, including at least one that we had never met. The investigation seemed to skip around so quickly from one suspect to the next that (coupled with the many names I was already struggling with) made me slightly bewildered. It made for a disappointing ending as I didn’t really feel like I cared about whether the murderer got his commuppence or not. I also found I didn’t really sympathise with any of the characters (well except maybe Hole). The wife of the victim had, on the face of it, a tragic story but I read on unaffected. I didn’t get the daughter with her random staring at traffic, finding energy in the rain and attachment to Harry so I again didn’t care about her fate. In retrospect perhaps I found the characters weak, the troubled teen, the drunken wife, the henchman, all too stereotypical.

I feel Nesbo did try to create shock factor via paedophilia and politics, however I know nothing about Norwegian politics and, like the characters, this didn’t really affect me as perhaps other books have. I'm also slightly confused as to why a Scandinavian crime writer famous for their Scandinavian crime would base the first two books outside of Scandinavia.

Two questions please if anyone can help me - is Liz in later books and where does Tom Waaler appear in Cockroaches? I seem to remember (and it has been a while) that in The Redbreast Hole has a female sidekick who I sensed at the time the reader was supposed to know more about. I presumed that this was because I had missed a book but now reading Cockroaches I'm not too sure. I also seem to remember Waaler is set up to be Hole's arch enemy (perhaps his Nemesis?!) in future books and read a throw away comment somewhere that this is the book we first meet him. I can't remember this happening, can anyone shed any light as to when this occurs?

Overall I was disappointed in the book. I will however be reading Nemesis (number 4) as I feel number 3 really set the scene for a cracker, watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte (the book that wasn’t reviewed!)

We had a choice of two books to kick off 2017. Wuthering Heights, as one of the group really wanted to read it and Agnes Grey the alternative as most of the group had already read Wuthering Heights and weren’t bothered about reading it again.

Turns out only one person read Wuthering Heights for the meeting and was bitterly disappointed by a) the lack of anything happening and (mostly) b) Heathcliff. I think visions of a brooding Aidan Turner were expected. Poldark Heathcliff is not!

Wuthering Heights was therefore swiftly glossed over and Agnes Grey was put forward. It’s a very thin book which was refreshing given that most books of this era I believe are too wordy. Pretty much all of the group were able to read it quickly which always gets bonus points from me.

I read Grey off the back of David Copperfield and Bess of Hardwick so was slightly put off at the thought of having to read another similar book but the lack of pages really helped. I enjoyed the book, it was gentile if predictable but again the lack of pages worked here to its credit. You didn’t feel as though you were wading through 500 pages just to get to the ending you picked out on page 203.

I did wish it had lingered slightly longer on Greys experiences of being a governess, a different angle when so often the lead character is a lady who does very little but attends balls and sits practising the piano until handsome if unattainable Lord identified on page 203 is suitably snared. I would happily have read more detail, in fact would have read a whole book on this subject should it have continued. Instead the two boy pupils were packed off to boarding school never to be seen of again and we were left with a lead character taking country walks and attending church (well she was a governess not a Lady so ball attending was out of the question).

It is quite easy to criticise the book however I found it comforting and above all enjoyable. Here is the tale of a heroine who, despite her family's wishes, ventured off in to the unknown to carve out a living for herself and when it didn’t work brushed herself off and tried again. She persevered even when her pupils were positively horrible and she didn’t complain. Not a bad message to have in a book and for that it got my vote.
It averaged a 6.8 out of 10.

Next book is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth - Mary S Lovell

I read this straight after David Copperfield and although I enjoyed David Copperfield I was concerned that going from one doorstop to another with a notes section amounting to about 50 pages might be too much. As a biography it certainly was the most factual book I had read in a while however where many biographers fail Lovell succeeded in presenting dates and facts without being tedious or dry.

Lovell was clearly on Bess's side showing her as a caring, generous, shrewd business woman and why not? Evidence was presented to back this viewpoint which opposes the perhaps more established portrait of a hard hearted, calculated, money grabbing woman who only married for financial gain.

Even though I consider myself relatively well read on the Tudors I learnt so much both about the era and of Bess herself. I want to see Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall and I'm not a 'visit old houses owned once upon a time by a now dead person' sort of girl (I'm turning an old person, help!). Did you know she was related to Georgiana Cavendish the Duchess of Devonshire who in turn was the great great great great aunt of Princess Diana? – Keira Knightly/The Duchess for any of you Hollywood fans out there.

I had actually read Philippa Greggory The Other Queen about Queen Mary's imprisonment and didn’t twig that Bess was the same person. The books are completely different, one being more story, the other a bibliography but I liked both the same. After all what is history but one persons interpretation of events, some more embellished than others? Having said that I did find this a refreshing change to my standard historical novels and I enjoyed the central character not being royalty. The royals (and there were a few) were merely side characters, Bess was the star of the show from start to finish.

I do think the book could have been slightly shorter and it did take a while to read but it was really well researched about a topic the author was passionate about that was punctuated with so much more than dates bringing the people and the time vividly to life. Worth a try if you are thinking about reading a bibliography for the first time but be warned it does take a little effort.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Big Review of the Year 2016

Sorry, sorry, sorry its 13th January already and this far in people couldn't care less about what happened last year but a Big Review we have always had and a big review we will always have (13 little days and only a lunch hour to squeeze in 12 books will get in my way.)

We kicked off with A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Taylor. 7 out of 10
I have to confess I had forgotten all about this one and before I read back my review the words 'house, family and American' were all that jumped out at me. The characters lacked inner monologue which whilst being very true to life left the reader feeling like they were reading without a purpose as nothing ever went further than skimming the surface.

Februarys book was For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway. 3 out of 10
This was chosen following on from Mrs Hemmingway being reviewed the previous year. The difficult language (I obscenity in the milk of your____ ) made it hard to follow and very little actually happened. Looking back however despite it being almost a year since I read it I can remember it well - the cave they lived in, the forest, the planes flying over the valley - as opposed to A Spool of Blue Thread or even some books coming later in this review where I grasp at remembering anything.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro was next up. 5.5 out of 10
Very Tolkein esque with much debate about how memory makes us who we are but it lacked the lightbulb moment (anyone got what it was about yet) and fantasy never goes down well with the group.

The very lovely A Man Called Ove - Fredrick Backman was Aprils book. 8.6 out of 10
I cried (so did others in the group), I loved it (as did others). Read it

The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett came next. 7 out of 10
A literary Sliding Doors that was filled with an overall sadness and grief. Most of us found it difficult to keep track of the different versions and the many characters but it set it's self out as different from its competitors.

Locally based In a Dark Dark Wood - Ruth Ware was Junes suggestion. 5 out of 10
Point horror for adults that ended up only loosely being set in Northumberland. As one of the group so excellently put it "shit, entertaining but shit"

The eagerly awaited Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee followed with a 6 out of 10
It was written before To Kill A Mockingbird and was hard to follow at times but there were glimmers of the masterpiece that would follow. Loved Scout's pregnancy, hated the changed Atticus

One Night in Winter - Simon Sebag Montefiore. 7/8 out of 10
Loosely based on a true story illustrating how quickly the truth can be twisted. It was really 2 books in 1 and was disappointed at the end in relation to the 'first' book. However the message - love in its many many forms survives was a good one and much preferred than the message in The Versions of Us. New scoring system gave it a 7 and an 8 mean, mode and median

A blast from the past Judi Blume with In The Unlikely Event came next and I cant find a score for this one - anyone??
A surprise hit for me, skipped about between characters but I loved it and found the plane scenes genuinely tense.

The Axemans Jazz - Ray Celestin was Octobers book. 8 out of 10
This book split the group. I was firmly on the 9 out of 10 side and the second book is now on my shelf waiting to be read. Excellent front cover.

The Aftermath - Rhidian Brook followed with 7 out of 10
Really split scores on this book (5-9). I found it predictable with too many characters and issues being squeezed into too few pages. It was also very forgettable - I couldn't remember reading it until I re-read the review and this was only from November.

We rounded off with The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay. 5/6 out of 10
An Agatha Christie style whodunit set over Christmas. Better than last years offering but only just

Overall not a great year for the books we reviewed, we did however follow a stonking year (2015) so was always going to struggle.

The Highest scoring book of the year goes to...... A Man Called Ove (very well deserved).
Axeman's Jazz came a close second however really split the group unlike Ove which consistently had high scores.

The lowest scoring book of the year was............ For Whom The Bell Tolls - it tolled for Hemmingway (see what I did there? Sorry!)

The most forgettable book of the year.............. Aftermath
Yes I didn't remember A Spool of Blue Thread however considering Aftermath was only read 2 months ago and I am already forgetting it speaks volumes

Book of the year..................................................................................... OVE of course. It is lovely, touching, grumpy, sad and one that will stay on my bookshelf for a long long time.

So that's 2016, let's make 2017 a literary smorgasboard of fantasticalness.

Happy New...... yeah yeah I get it, 13th, I will shut up now.