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The Blue: A Novel
The Blue: A Novel
by Lucy Clarke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.74
60 used & new from $6.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner, August 30, 2015
This review is from: The Blue: A Novel (Hardcover)
Lana and her best friend Kitty are travelling in the Philippines when they meet and join up with a group of young people who are sailing from the Philippines to NZ. Initially, everything is idyllic. The yacht sails from one gorgeous and remote island to another. They spend their days swimming and snorkelling and their nights drinking and sharing stories under the stars. However when one of them disappears at sea, everything changes. There is increasing dissension and wariness among the remaining crew members and Lana starts to wonder if she can truly trust any of them.

This is a gripping read that really captures both the highs and lows of being on a small boat with other people. In the early sections of the book I felt almost as if I were on holiday too and then as things start to go wrong, I could really feel the claustrophobia and rising tension. There is a central mystery which only gets resolved at the very end of the book (in a slightly melodramatic way I have to say), but then there's also a further little satisfying twist in the tale.

Everything is slightly dragged out, but overall this is a real page turner.

Broken Promise: A Thriller
Broken Promise: A Thriller
by Linwood Barclay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.56
62 used & new from $9.35

3.0 out of 5 stars Some great twists but there's too much going on, August 28, 2015
David Harwood is the widowed father of a nine year old son who has moved home to the small town of Promise Falls, New York. Having lost his job as a journalist, he has time on his hands to step in and help when his cousin Marla is accused of murdering a local mother and abducting her baby. He gradually learns that almost everyone in this town has a secret of one kind or another and that his own life may be in danger.

This is a readable enough thriller and it has some killer twists that you don't see coming at ALL, but there are way too many strands and quite a few of them remain frustratingly unresolved. It's clearly set up for there to be a sequel and if you are the kind of person who hated the end of Lee Child's 61 Hours (Jack Reacher) because we didn't know if Reacher was alive or dead, you will probablyl dislike the end of this book too (although the ending is very different and that is in no way a spoiler). There are a number of little mysteries along the way which we spend a lot of time on and then they are unresolved. It's annoying!

The main plot is quite intriguing and David Harwood is a likeable character. The chapters when he narrates his investigations are the most enjoyable parts of the book. However like many books in this genre, the story gets increasingly unbelievable as the bad guys start acting in ways that are less and less credible. Also, I had to roll my eyes when Marla conveniently had a condition which meant that she was unable to remember people's faces and cars.

A final minor complaint: at over 500 pages, this is a heavy book that is hard to hold. The line spacing and margins are huge - in would have been nice to reduce both slightly and bring the book down to a more manageable size.

This feels like a very whiney review! Overall I didn't mind this book, but nor did I particularly like it. It took a long time to get exciting. The final 100 pages flew past but it was a bit sluggish getting to that point. What saves it is Linwood Barclay's engaging writing style and the strength of his main character. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of excellent twists.

After the Crash
After the Crash

1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible, August 21, 2015
This review is from: After the Crash (Kindle Edition)
So the premise behind this book is that there was a plane crash in the French Alps in 1980. There is only one survivor: an infant girl. There were two babies of almost the same age on the flight, so both families immediately assume that the survivor must be their missing grandchild. One family is extraordinarily rich and the other is not. Eventually the courts award the baby to the poorer family, but both families continue to harbour doubts that the right decision has been made. A private detective is hired who spends 18 years investigating the truth and finally works it out - but we have to wait until the book's end to discover the answer, by which time we are well past the point of caring.

This is a terrible book and I only kept reading it out of sheer stubbornness. For starters, the writing style is extremely wooden. I presume that some of this stems from the translation from its native French, for example clunky sentences like: "She made a point of always using fresh ingredients: vegetables, ham, and many other ingredients that she would find at the market" or "This whole scene stank of a lie".

Then there's the characters, who are all paper thin. Lylie, the girl at the centre of the mystery, barely features in the book. She potentially has two siblings (depending on who she is, one from each family). There is Marc, whom she has a sexual relationship with despite being raised as his sister (yuck), who spends most of the book sitting on trains and leaving panicky messages on Lylie's answerphone. The other potential sibling is Malvina, a nutcase who stalks round Paris with a gun in her handbag yelling at people. About the grandmother who raised her, we get little other than repeated references to the "magnificent plunge" of her cleavage.

And finally, the plot is ridiculous. Granted, at the time of the plane crash DNA tests to determine the child's identity were not available. However that did change, and the private investigator arranged the tests. Then for some unknown reason everyone kept the results a secret and he let both families leap to mistaken conclusions. For three years. Why? I have no idea. Nothing about this book makes any sense. I simply do not understand the rave reviews that it's getting - did I read a different book???

Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper
Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper
by Hilary Liftin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.33
67 used & new from $13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warning: highly addictive reading material!, August 18, 2015
I devoured this book in hungry gulps - it's such an addictive read. Essentially, it's a fictionalized take on the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, with just enough changes to hopefully spare the author a lawsuit. Our narrator is Lizzie Pepper, a pretty TV actress on the rise who meets mega movie star Rob Mars. Rob has a "mega watt" smile, a sibling who manages his PR, is the subject of persistent rumors about his sexual orientation and is a avid disciple of the secretive "One Cell" studio. He promptly sweeps Lizzie off her feet with a series of completely OTT dates, introduces her to a One Cell assistant/new BFF and renames her "Elizabeth". Sound familiar?

What is so enticing about this book is the idea that you could be reading what really went down in Tom & Katie's marriage (although I suspect that One Cell is significantly more benign than the COS). The way that Lizzie is wooed and manipulated is both fascinating and chilling to read. Obviously the author has used her imagination but it all feels chillingly plausible. What adds to the book's allure is that the author has co-written or ghost-written several celebrity memoirs herself, which gives credibility to the way that she discusses some aspects of celebrity - as examples, the way that stars are paid cash to wear particular clothes, the way that they manage photo-ops, the realities of press tours and how you plug the film that you aren't happy with.

A few years ago I read American Wife which was a fictionalized autobiography of Laura Bush and I found that book equally compelling. Movie Star is not the best written book I've read and it certainly won't win any literary awards, but it's addictive reading material.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2015 1:56 PM PDT

Black Rabbit Hall
Black Rabbit Hall

2.0 out of 5 stars An atmospheric story, but too drawn out with weak characters, August 16, 2015
This review is from: Black Rabbit Hall (Kindle Edition)
This is a mystery that unfolds in two timeframes. In the late 1960s, Amber and her family spend idyllic holidays at the family estate in Cornwall, nicknamed Black Rabbit Hall. However tragedy and change are just around the corner. Over 30 years later, Lorna and her fiance Jon visit Black Rabbit Hall in search of a location for their upcoming wedding. Instead of Amber's family, the house is home to only an eccentric grand old lady. However Lorna will stumble on clues that point to dark events in the house's past.

I was drawn into this book by the gorgeous cover and reviews promising me an atmospheric family mystery, but it failed to live up to my expectations. There is an interesting story at its core and this is what kept me reading, wondering how things would all pan out. But it's an unlikely and drawn out story. Fans of of Hannah Richell or Kate Morton may enjoy this, but they may also suspect that those authors could have tightened and polished it, ironed out some of the fortuitous and unlikely kinks in the story.

I also got irritated by the absence of even one character who behaved in a realistic way. Among others, I didn't buy into Caroline who has nothing more to her than being an archetypal villian, to Lorna who accepts an invitation to stay with a creepy lady that she doesn't know in a creepy house or to Hugo who has a permanent personality change overnight.

Circling the Sun: A Novel
Circling the Sun: A Novel
by Paula McLain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.70
77 used & new from $13.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, colorful and immensely readable, August 13, 2015
I had never heard of Beryl Markham before picking up this book, but what a fascinating life that woman lived! Born in England but raised in Kenya by her father who was a horse trainer, Beryl rubbed shoulders with the Happy Valley set, was close friends with Karen Blixen (the author of Out of Africa), possibly had an affair with Queen Elizabeth's uncle and was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. Add to this colorful life some truly intoxicating descriptions of Kenya and you have a "can't put down" book. I loved reading it and now I am dying to read more about that period in history and of course to re-watch Out of Africa (although Beryl does not figure in it).

This is an immensely readable book - we are swept along by Beryl's eventful life and if anything, the flaw is that so much happened to her that it might have been better to leave some for a sequel. The book only focuses on 11 years of her life. Her aviation career only takes shape very near the book's end and adds little to the story. Wikipedia also tells me some tantalising facts about her life which didn't make it into the book - for example several affairs, including one with Antoine de Saint Expury. Instead, Circling the Sun is centered on the great love of her life (and also of Karen Blixen's): Denys Hatton.

While Beryl is fascinating, I didn't always feel that I fully understood her and I couldn't quite decide if I liked her or not. Apparently Ernest Hemingway described her as "very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch", and there is enough suggestion in here about why he might have felt that way. She seemed to be someone who used and discarded the people around her and she didn't exhibit much loyalty to her friend Karen. Her relationship with the Duke of Gloucester is written in an ambiguous way, which I thought was a cop out of the part of the author - this isn't a biography, so make a decision about what you think happened!

The Fishermen: A Novel
The Fishermen: A Novel
by Chigozie John
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.62
65 used & new from $12.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This reader struggled, July 31, 2015
This review is from: The Fishermen: A Novel (Hardcover)
We are in a small Nigerian town in the mid 1990s. Life is governed by uneasy blend of modernity and tradition. The locals attend church weekly but also honour the ways of the traditional gods. The local dialect has no word for "scientist" so that is a word that must be said in English.

Ben is the fourth son in a family of six. He and his three older brothers roam the town and one day while fishing in the local river they have an encounter with the town's madman who tells them that the oldest boy will be killed by his brother. This sets in motion a chain of events that will split the family apart.

When I'm rating books I always have a slight dilemma: should I rate the book based on how well it is written or by how much I enjoyed it? If it's the former, I'd give the book 4 stars. The writing is simple and yet full of imagery and you really understand what it would be like to live in that town at that time. But if it's the latter, I'd rate it 2 stars. I struggled with this book - I appreciated it but I didn't enjoy it. I was all set to abandon it halfway through when it was announced as being longlisted for the Booker prize, and then I felt obliged to see it through. Hence I have settled on 3 stars.

In many ways, it feels like a Shakespearean tale - there is violence and madness and intense grief. Parts reminded me of MacBeth, other parts of Hamlet. But it's also a uniquely African story. It's my failing I'm sure, that I found it slow moving and I kept wanting to shake some sense into the characters.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 28, 2015 4:30 AM PDT

The Book of Lost and Found
The Book of Lost and Found
by Lucy Foley
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from $3.14

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric and very readable, July 29, 2015
Alice has grown up knowing that her mother, the famous dancer June Darling, was an orphan, but after her mother's death she discovers that June's birth mother had once sent June a letter. Curious to find out more about her family heritage, she decides to try to trace her grandmother. Her quest will lead her to Corsica, Paris and New York. Her story entwines with that of Alice and Tom, who first meet as children during an idyllic summer in Cornwall in 1913.

This is a very readable book. It's a debut novel and in feels in many way like a cross between Mary Stewart's Greek novels and Kate Morton's historical sagas, with a pinch of The Nightingale thrown in for good measure. I have to say, it doesn't really throw up any surprises or significant twists along the way. I guessed very early on how things would pan out and I wasn't mistaken. But this didn't stop me enjoying the journey. Maybe it's because I'm coming off two books about major pandemics killing off the majority of the world's population, but this was just a gentle, sweet, engaging book that was very easy to read. The pace is slow, but also steady.

Two parts particularly stood out for me. The scenes in Corsica are a delight to read. I felt like I could smell the fragrant, herby air and see the shimmering blue sea. There is also a segment later in the book which is set during Paris during WW2, and I also found that quite absorbing and surprisingly moving.

I did feel that the author wrapped things up a bit too quickly. How June's mother tracked June down was not explained and I also would have liked slightly more resolution in terms of what happened next. But overall, I did like this undemanding, atmospheric story.

Station Eleven
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.09
89 used & new from $7.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books of the year, July 27, 2015
This review is from: Station Eleven (Paperback)
On a snowy night in Toronto, the famous actor Arthur Leander is appearing on stage as King Lear. He's been feeling unwell all day and shortly into the play he collapses and dies from a massive heart attack. The following day, his obituary will appear in the NY Times, but already by then the news of his death will have been eclipsed by the outbreak of an extremely aggressive strain of influenza with a mortality rate close to 100%. Within weeks, the majority of people on the planet are dead.

Station Eleven follows two people who were in the theatre that night. The first is trainee paramedic Jeevan Chaudary who attempts to save Arthur's life. Later that night, Jeevan is alerted by a doctor friend about the flu's arrival. He immediately stocks up on food and essential supplies and holes up with his brother in his brother's apartment. The second is Kirsten Raymonde, a child who has a small part in the play as one of Lear's daughters. She is the main focus of the book and we next meet her 20 years later, when she is part of a small troupe of actors and musicians who travel through the tiny settlements of survivors and perform for them. Their motto is a line from Star Trek: "Survival is Insufficient".

The book moves forwards and backwards in time, as we learn Arthur's back story and also the fates of Kirsten and Jeevan as well as a couple of other characters who are closely connected to Arthur. It left me with a satisfying feeling of how we are all interconnected. I couldn't help feeling that if Krzysztof Kieslowski were still alive, he'd be the perfect person to direct the film of this story.

I am so glad I didn't let the fact that this book has been billed as "science fiction" put me off. (It won the Arthur C. Clarke award as the best science fiction novel of 2015). Obviously my idea of science fiction is wrong because it makes me think of space travel and alien creatures - neither of which, thankfully, make an appearance in this book. Evidently it is the fact that it is a speculative (near) future that puts it into the science fiction genre, although if that's the case I'm not sure why books like "The Road" and "The Chimes" aren't classified as science fiction? Or maybe I'm just displaying my ignorance... In any case, this is the kind of book that gets under your skin. I felt so immersed in this deserted world that it almost came as a shock when my reading was interrupted by a helicopter flying over my house. This is one of my favorite books of the year, perhaps of all time.

Death is a Welcome Guest: Plague Times Trilogy 2
Death is a Welcome Guest: Plague Times Trilogy 2

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, July 26, 2015
This is the second book in Louise Welch's trilogy about a modern day plague but it's a standalone novel in almost every way so you don't need to have read the first book (or could read it after reading this one). A new and unidentified virus, known as "the sweats" or V596, has swept across the globe and wiped out the majority of the population within a very short time.

This book focuses on Magnus McFall, a London-based comedian from the Orkney Islands, who is on the verge of making a career breakthrough when he is arrested after a drunken altercation in an alleyway. He is in prison as society begins to fall apart. Realising that he will die if he stays there, he teams up with his cellmate and they manage to find a way out. But the outside world is rife with dangers and in many ways, illness is the least of them.

If books could win awards for cinematography, this one would be a contender. Louise Welsh paints chilling images of prisoners slowly starving as no one comes to feed them, trains ground to a halt in the underground, rats running rife, bodies lying in the streets where they fell, the internet non-existent and the airwaves falling silent. I can't wait to see how she brings things together in the third instalment - there is a tiny clue at the very end of the book which made me gasp.

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