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Sarah Smith (Belfast)

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Every Last One
Every Last One
by Anna Quindlen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three little words, 17 Feb 2013
This review is from: Every Last One (Paperback)
I thought I was going to hate this book by Anna Quindlen. In all honesty for the first half I was a little bit bored and then as I'm sitting in waterstones cafe with a pot of tea trudging my way through it (ok that's a little harsh) something so shocking, so unexpected happens I gasp loudly enough that at least two people turn round to look at me. In hindsight the author had done the work in the first half to build up to the shocking thing that happens so although fairly extreme it was completely plausible, I absolutely did not see it coming though! Like my last review I can't give much of an overview of the story without spoiling it for anyone who might fancy reading it.
It's about a family, well essentially the mother of this family and how she copes when things start to unravel. I'm being very vague and I'm not making it sound like much of a story but it is, trust me the second half just knocks you right over. Also I have to warn you this book will make you cry, and I don't usually cry unless I'm really angry (which is inconvenient in an argument).


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get, gone girl, 17 Feb 2013
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
Gillian Flynn has managed to something quite impressive with this her third novel. Thrillers generally are the book equivalent of an action film; always enjoyable but without a great deal of substance. Flynn however has written a thriller with actual characters not the usual good guys, bad guys and red herrings. And she's written it well, the writing is absolutelyon par with that you'd normally find in literary fiction. The plot makes sense, the twists, the reveals they are all suprisingly believable.
I can't really give a useful synopsis without giving something away, essentially Nicks wife Amy goes missing and its sort of about the hunt to find out what happened, that's the thriller bit but it has this whole other layer to it about relationships and marriage and love and hate and everything inbetween. The twist in it really is something and Amy's a character that will loiter with me for sometime, it's excellent, and I'm afraid I can't say much else except if you like thrillers read it, actually if you like reading anything read it, it's one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year.


The Shipping News
The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars may contain seafood, 17 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Shipping News (Paperback)
There are really two main characters in this pulitzer winning novel by Annie Proulx; a man Quoyle (pronounced like coil) and Newfoundland (which is not somewhere in England, my ignorance of geography really knows no bounds, but in Canada or rather in Canada but kind of independent of it I think).
A little synopsis of the story would be Quoyle, a man who has never quite fitted in or felt comfortable in himself is living in New York with his 2 daughters bunny and sunshine and wife Pearl who he loves inordinately but it's all rather unreciprocated, when she dies (it's ok though she's entirely unlikeable). He ends up packing his life and kids up and under the influence of his Aunt Agnis moves to Newfoundland where all his ancestors are originally from. It is a rugged harsh place and it's really about how he finally finds himself at home in this bleak environment, finds friends a place in this odd little fishing community and going from a man who wouldn't set his foot on a boat to writing the shipping news for the local paper.
Newfoundland comes quite alive in your head through Proulx's portrayal and she uses a lot of wit in her writing. A warning though, if your squeamish about fish this might not be the book for you, not that there's graphic descriptions of the gutting of fish or what not, it's just that being a fishing town they eat a lot of squid and such things which isn't my idea of fun.
It's a good book well, very good really and some of the things the author touches on are dealt with very wel, Quoyle's sense of unease within himself rang very true plus it really is pretty funny.


The Small Hand: A Ghost Story
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sinister and creepy, better than I thought., 3 Feb 2013
Susan Hill, who wrote the woman in black (not that i've read it or seen the film due to my aversion to a certain Daniel Radcliffe) is the author of this little ghost story. Like Kelly Clarkson this is short and perfectly formed.
A brief synopsis would be a man, a dealer of rare valuable books stumbles across an old dilapidated house while driving to a client. Drawn to the house and its gardens he gets out and has a look around. He feels as though a child is holding his hand ('the small hand'). He leaves the gardens but throughout the novel this small hand continues to haunt him, gripping his hand in different situations trying to lead him into danger. The story twists and turns and the 'big reveal' is shocking but entirely believable.
It's a very well written book, I think one of the comments on the front from a newspaper review is that it's subtle and masterly, and that's exactly what it is. It kind of sneaks up on you, reading the first few pages I wasn't at all interested but once I got into it I enjoyed it very much. If you're in the mood for a creepy story with plausible twists and good writing to pass a rainy afternoon with you could do a lot worse than this book.


Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)
Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars meh, 3 Feb 2013
Russia to me (not that I've ever been) is a great big country full of concrete, imposing buildings, rain and an overwhelming sense of gloom. This book written by one of the great Russian authors Fyodor Dostoyevsky is much the same. The basic jist of the story is a fella kills an old pawnbrokering woman and then gets a bit paranoid/mad not I think with guilt but more about getting caught, he thinks he's not just an ordinary human but a special person who can commit a crime without conscience getting in the way and go on to do extraordinary things a bit like napoleon. The main bulk of the book deals with his thoughts and frame of mind and how he really undo's himself. There is of course other characters but he is central to the whole novel and everyone else leads from him.
My main problem was understanding who was who in this book, and yes I'm sure that makes me sound really dim but Russians have a lot of names each (well at least three) depending on the familiarity/formality with which they are talking so I did find it a bit hard to keep track of who did/said/thought what. Another small problem was that its really a bit miserable now I can be a bit miserable and misery loves company but this was a whole different level there was no light to all the dark, it was just unrelenting gloom.
The author felt like he just had too much to say, he had all these opinions on the psychology of crime and it just got rather tedious after a while reading them. That's not to say the whole novel was tedious, some sections of it trundled along nicely, some were really quite exciting and in all honesty the scene involving the murder was the only time I've read something and wanted to shut my eyes the way you would at the cinema when somethings particularly horrific, I was just sitting reading on my sofa flinching at the words!
So to sum up then, its not a bad book, and I understand why it's a classic, all the plotlines link well together and the characters couldn't be formed any better. The main characters plight makes sense and is plausible, to be fair the entire story is, and after you get used to the names it does get easier to read but it does go on a bit and I just stopped caring about halfway through. I don't know if I'd recommend it I guess I would but its not an immediately enjoyable book, you probably won't have much empathy for the characters and it takes a fair helping of concentration. It's not a likeable book but I think it's worth reading


The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Ayana Mathis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars oprah winfery can always be relied upon, 3 Feb 2013
Oprah told me to read this, actually oprah told me a while ago but this first novel by ayana mathis hadn't been released here so I waited. And I waited. And then I waited a little more until the happy moment I spotted it in waterstones last Saturday. Alas the wait still was not over as I hadn't finished crime and punishment but eventually I did. I hurtled through this book. I couldn't read it quick enough, I'd come in from work throw my stuff down, feed the guinea pig thelma and then sit enraptured on my sofa with this for hours.
So was the wait worth it? Absolutely. This book is about Hattie, a woman originally from Georgia who moves to north Philadelphia as a teenager. It is her story told via the lives of her children, all eleven of them. Each chapter deals with one or in some cases two of them and from the adults they become and the references about their mother we learn all about Hattie. It doesn't sound that exciting and I suppose it isn't exciting but it's something better than that. If a book could ever break your heart there's chapters in this that completely do, a lot of it is terribly sad but kind of hopefully at the same time.
It's by no means a long book but the amount of subjects it deals with is quite incredible, there's death, madness, homosexuality, suicide, alcoholism, racism, poverty, adultery and even though mathis might only write about them through her characters for a couple of pages it never feels like she's skimping or throwing them in for the sake of it, she writes so clearly you understand everything about these topics grasp on the characters, its really pretty powerful stuff.
This book kind of gets right to the core of you, it did me anyway and you don't come across writing this good often. I hope I come across another book as good as this one but it'll take some doing. People always say in reviews 'if you read one book this year make it this one' but I genuinely mean it this is a top read, it's my new favourite.


The Lacuna
The Lacuna
by Barbara Kingsolver
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars my new favourite book, 20 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
Once in a while you read a book and you think it's the greatest thing ever, and once in a blue moon you read a book and it gets under your skin and can change completely how you think about things. This novel by Barbara Kingsolver is firmly in the latter category for me.
It is about a man Harrison Shepherd, and it's this fictional man's life story told using his notebooks, but it's set in a world comprising of non fiction, well the authors take on these non fictional events and people at least, so you have people cropping up who you might of heard of like Frida Khalo (who from reading this comes across as my favourite woman ever), J.Edgar Hoover, Trotsky and a few others. History is not something I've much of an interest in, I certainly wouldn't seek out a historical novel but this is I guess one I read without even realising, it deals with politics in Mexico, the rise in communism, America and the whole cold war caper and to be honest those things bore me something silly but reading this I was like huh this is properly riveting! But I'm losing my way a little, the setting, all this historical basis isn't even the main part the whole story is about this man Harrison and the different things that happen and change him throughout his entire life.
Lacuna means missing piece, a page absent in a document, the something that isn't there, and there is a line in this book that I loved 'the most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know'. Anyway why I'm I telling you that, well a part of his story is missing, one of his notebooks, I'm not going to give anything away on the off chance you might decide to read this book (which you most certainly should) but the thing that we don't know is the thing that changes him the most, the most important piece. I suppose as much as this book is the story of a man and it really is everything you could want for in a story, great characters, its funny, sad, exciting, thrilling its like an HBO production of a story to put it mildly but it also leaves you with a lesson on the power words have, for good and how they can tear people and lives apart as well.
If I've ever read a book that has felt like the author has tailor written it especially for me, this is that book.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars sad, uplifting, funny, terrific!, 13 Jan 2013
This novel written by Rachel Joyce really is quite lovely. And sad. And unputdownable. The main jist of the story is that of a man Harold Fry, a pensioner living in the South of england with his wife Maureen when he receives a letter from an old work colleague, the delightfully named Queenie Hennessy. It's really a goodbye note as she is ill with cancer in a hospice up in Berwick upon Tweed which is pretty much right at the top of England. Harold takes it upon himself to walk to Queenie, because if he keeps walking she'll keep living, all whilst wearing a pair of yachting shoes and no preparation, plan or map. Through this journey we learn about Harold, his life, relationship with Queenie, Maureen, his estranged son David and more besides. There's twists and turns throughout. Things are revealed which are really quite startling and in parts it is terribly moving.
As the main character Harold is very likeable and well rounded as our the others we meet throughout his travels, I particularly liked how his and Maureens relationship changed throughout, and how it rang true to both characters. No parts of the novel felt rushed and even though what Harold sets out to do is quite extraordinary it never feels unbelievable.
All in all this is a book that is funny, inspiring, touching and in parts terribly sad. It is Rachel Joyce's first novel but reading it you would thing she's a old hand at this sort of craic.


A Visit From the Goon Squad
A Visit From the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 6 Jan 2013
I enjoyed this book very much. Whilst reading it I kept getting asked what it was about and to be honest I couldn't with any certainty say. There are a huge amount of characters in this book and the way it is written it jumps back and forward in time with each chapter with characters introduced constantly it is hard to keep track of what and who is important but after a few chapters it all gets a bit clearer. I absolutely loved how we get to know the characters in this book from different viewpoints and stages in their lives, it gives a very rounded development to them. My favourite was Sasha (because of her flaws/despite of them I couldn't be sure!) who was really the main character and I found myself smiling inanely as things progressed in the story. I would recommend this to anyone who likes reading but I couldn't narrow the field much further.


Alys, Always
Alys, Always
by Harriet Lane
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.35

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's ok but not a thriller, 6 Jan 2013
This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
Definitely a well written novel I found this just ok. Like another reviewer has stated I wouldn't really class this as a thriller but there is a certain underlying uneasiness in the tone of the story. A few bits didn't quite ring true and the speedy and tidy conclusion felt a little forced. Several of the characters could have been developed better such as Charlotte and Julia Price and brought into the story more. The main character Frances was however well rounded and held my attention but Laurence felt a bit of a stereotype much like Polly. My main qualm with the book was how quickly loose ends where tidied up it just all felt a bit hasty and much of it didn't ring true. The writing was excellent and perhaps her next novel will be a little more developed but please don't buy it if you are after a thriller.


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