review

The New Mrs Clifton – Elizabeth Buchan

Title – The New Mrs Clifton

Author – Elizabeth Buchan

Published – June 2017 (paperback)

Genre – Historical fiction

As we get closer to the end of the year I thought I would try to tackle some of the books I’ve started but struggled to finish. At the beginning of the week, according to Goodreads, I was ‘currently reading’ 10 books and I’m now down to 8 – woohoo!

This book I started in October of last year but put it down when I was about 100 pages in and it just wasn’t holding my attention. I  picked it up where I’d left off and remembered enough to press on without needing to go back.

The setting is London in post-war 1945 and the main characters are a trio of women – which reminded me a little of Wake by Anna Hope. Gus, who works for the British Government, returns from Berlin after the end of the war and surprises the two sisters with whom he lives by bringing with him his new German bride, Krista. The early part of the book (and where it lost me) was setting the scene of the initial reactions of the three women living under the same roof as well as providing some backstory. The point at which I picked it back up saw Gus and Krista sent back to Berlin in order to work together on an interrogation. This introduced a different dynamic that helped lift the characters for me, I would have enjoyed more of this aspect.

As the relationships develop over the first few months in Clapham, dull and dreary in the post-war period, the author also provided glimpses of the harrowing situations that Krista suffered with fragments of her backstory, beginning to explain her relationship with Gus. There are lots of other threads in the story including how the two sisters find their own ways of dealing with the losses that they both suffered in the war. It is also beautifully written and very evocative of the period.

As it happens, when I finished I looked back and re-read the first chapter which felt a bit like a prologue. It was set in 1974 and set the reader up to look for a specific situation arising. Having read the bulk of the book without this in mind I’m pleased that I had forgotten it, I would have enjoyed the whole of the book a lot less if I had been looking for the inevitable conclusion.

In the end this was an enjoyable read despite the dark setting and it took some twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Breakdown – B A Paris

Title – The Breakdown

Author – B A Paris

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

With a set of bookshelves that are just my ‘to read’ books it can be difficult choosing the next book to read, in this case I went for a book that Goodreads told me was in the running for their annual Goodreads Choice Awards in the ‘Mystery and Thrillers’ category.

On a stormy night Cass takes a shortcut home through the woods and drives past a woman parked in her car. When the news the next day is that the woman has been found dead and she also realises that she knew the woman, Cass becomes consumed by guilt.

I wasn’t hugely keen on Cass as a character. She’s suffering from memory lapses and is worried that she, like her mother before her, is suffering from early onset dementia, but her initial decision not to tell her husband what happened felt like a frustrating mistake when you’re looking in from the outside. I know authors play with ‘what if’ scenarios but as a reader I’m not keen on the plots that rely on the main character making the wrong choice at the beginning (usually keeping a secret) on which the rest of the plot depends. Despite my misgivings I couldn’t fault the writer in creating a character who felt fragile, fractured and brought to close to breaking point.

As with The Roanoke Girls it would be very easy to compare this to (in this case) a single film/play which would give away the main premise (I won’t). As it was I felt the author was trying to keep the suspense going until close to the end of the book when I had realised some (admittedly not all) of the key elements much earlier on.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

Title – The Roanoke Girls

Author – Amy Engel

Published – Mar 2017

Genre – Thriller

I have quite a lot to say about this book but I’ll try and keep it brief! Firstly a word of warning on spoilers. I’ve mentioned coincidences before and this is an example of one in my reading where I’ve read two books in quick succession which if compared to just one book most people would have a clear idea of the main plot. So stay away from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

The book is described as a thriller but I’m not sure that’s the best description. It has a mystery and there are a number of aspects of suspense but these take a back seat to the characters and more of a dark ‘coming of age’ story.

Roanoke is the house of Lane’s dreams and of her mother’s nightmares (and disappointingly it’s not the Roanoke in Virginia that I’ve been to). When Lane’s mother commits suicide Lane is sent to Roanoke to live with her grandparents, people that she didn’t know existed. Roanoke is the family home on the outskirts of a small town in Kansas – and completely different to Lane’s New York City existence. She’s welcomed to the house by Allegra, Lane’s cousin, one of the ‘Roanoke Girls’ – the young women from their grandfather’s sisters down who have lived in the house. They all have tragic stories “Roanoke girls never last long around here” says Allegra.

The story moves between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’. In ‘Now’ eleven years have passed since Lane left Roanoke and she’s pulled back by the disappearance of Allegra. In ‘Then’ we find out more about Lane’s time after her arrival at Roanoke as well as the fate of some the other girls. Both in ‘then’ and ‘now’ the central themes are Lane’s relationships, with boys and with Allegra, as well as her take on her family and the way she gains some understanding of the mother she tolerated. Lane is central to the investigation to try and find Allegra but the secret at the heart of the family eclipses this; it all plays out slowly in a claustrophobic small town setting.

In trying to avoid spoilers I’m not sure I’m giving a very good account of the book! I did enjoy this despite its dark themes. I liked Lane and I found her to be a credible, flawed character. If there was something that I struggled with it was probably the character of her grandfather, it was difficult to understand his personality and his charm, he didn’t quite jump off the page for me.

A dark and emotional read about families, secrets and small town America.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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What makes a ‘good’ book review?

My blog started out as a series of posts of my book reviews and despite dabbling in one or two other types of content it remains primarily a review site. English (especially literature) wasn’t something I chose to pursue as a subject at school or later so beyond the odd exercise to write about a book in my teens I’ve never been taught how this should be done. When it comes to writing a review I know that I don’t necessarily have the right terms of reference or terminology to summarise some of the aspects of what I’ve read or perhaps even the knowledge to identify specific features. You can probably tell this from my earliest posts, I’d like to think that over time I’ve got better, or at least have more of a clue about what I’m doing. But I’m not sure that I’ve grasped it completely yet. Does it matter as long as I’m posting about the books?

A review in The London Review of Books could be 2,500 words long and in a newspaper or magazine it might be 500 or even down to just a series of short quotes. Until I ended up particularly behind with my reviews this year I’ve tended to find 500 words is about right but have been trying to write shorter reviews in order to catch up (and perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing) but obviously length isn’t necessarily a sign that a review is better or more comprehensive just because it’s longer.

I often see people sharing reviews on twitter or facebook as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ but, in general, these seem to be ‘positive’ rather than incisive reviews. So what does a good review mean to you? Whose reviews do you admire and why? I’d really like to know other blogger’s/reviewer’s thoughts.

 

 

The Other Woman – Laura Wilson

Title – The Other Woman

Author – Laura Wilson

Published – Oct 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

The question is how to review the book without giving too much away. So the title tells you that there is another woman involved, the two-page first chapter takes place six months after the main story opens and tells the reader that at some point in the book someone will die. And there we have it because much more and I will spoil the book.

The main character is Sophie and she is the epitome of the smug, wealthy woman often found in these thrillers, she has it all but doesn’t seem to realise it. Being suspicious of her husband Sophie gets herself into a situation that offers both tension and farce. Event spirals out of control and the more she tries to make things better the worse they become. The more farcical aspects deliver some black humour, although there was nothing to laugh about and often I felt like shouting at Sophie! Needless to say that the more the events resemble a farce the less realistic they seem but when engrossed by the book – who cares! It had me absolutely gripped, the pace is unrelenting. I was so invested in the character that when I wasn’t reading I found I was feeling guilty and it took a while to realise that it was being driven by what I’d been reading.

And all the time you’re still wondering ‘so whose death is referred to in the first chapter’! The plot throws all sorts of things at you but I didn’t suspect the ending until very late on when it became inevitable and it was only on the last page that you were sure of what had happened.

I’ve had a quick look on Amazon and this really seems to be a ‘marmite’ book that’s dividing readers. I would say give it a try.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Ragdoll – Daniel Cole

Title – Ragdoll

Author – Daniel Cole

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

Another short review – this time a debut from Daniel Cole which was published at the beginning of the year.

I have to confess that it was a while before I started reading this book because the ‘blurb’ put me off. The premise is described as “A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’.” It reminded me of the The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi or perhaps something worse but I’m glad that it eventually made its way to the top of the TBR.

Along similar lines as Pendulum this is a (loose) police procedural which has the ‘race against time’ aspects of a thriller. The pace moves the story forward but it’s probably not for people who like their crime fiction or police investigations to be realistic. If you can suspend disbelief it is definitely worth a read.

The book will probably be most memorable to me for the lead character of Detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes ‘Wolf” Fawkes – a true maverick policeman in the best traditions of crime fiction. Also drawn into the investigation is Wolf’s ex-wife, a journalist and this provides the reader with some thought-provoking moments about what getting a story may be worth.

The gruesome and graphic nature of the ‘body’ at the centre of the investigation might make it appear as if the author was using this to make up for a deficit in the plot or writing but this isn’t the case and fortunately the author was also smart enough to mix in humour to lighten the mood occasionally.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Kill Me Twice – Simon Booker

Title – Kill Me Twice

Author – Simon Booker

Published – Aug 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I have about 20 books to review and 42 days until the start of next year, as I’d like to ‘clear the decks’ before the New Year (and of course I’m still reading) shorter reviews are going to be the way forward.

Kill Me Twice is the sequel to Without Trace, the book that introduced us to investigative journalist Morgan Vine. Trying to build a normal life for herself and her daughter, Lissa, Morgan is searching for the next miscarriage of justice to tackle. She is drawn to the case of a young woman serving a sentence for the murder of her boyfriend; ‘Arsonist Anjelica’ is being held at HMP Dungeness, on Morgan’s doorstep, and the shared experience of being a single mother attracts Morgan to the case. But there is one overriding  reason that makes Morgan really believe in Anjelica (no spoilers but the cover may give you a clue…). In trying to help Anjelica (not always successfully) Morgan also uncovers some unethical practices at the prison that she can’t ignore.

The story delivers on the expectation Booker created in the first book. Morgan remains a feisty and headstrong character that won’t let go once she gets her teeth into a story. Yet again her relationship with Lissa (and Lissa’s own behaviour) also influences the course of the story. I’m not a fan of series where the protagonist is always in peril but while that is the case here and Morgan finds herself the target of attacks, it isn’t contrived but fits with the story. This is also a book which draws on the harsh and remote location of the Dungeness coastline – something which is creating its own niche corner of the crime fiction market.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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