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Marie (Manchester, UK)

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The Uninvited
The Uninvited
by Liz Jensen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The unexpected, 1 July 2014
This review is from: The Uninvited (Paperback)
Hesketh Lock is a unique figure in the world of anthropology; his Asperger's syndrome allows him to objectively analyse patterns in human behaviour that others overlook. He is never short of work as big businesses take advantage of his talents to assess their employees' habits in order to maximise their profits. While investigating an unusual case of whistleblowing and sabotage in a factory in Taiwan, Hesketh becomes aware of bizarre news reports from home. What starts as an isolated incident of parricide becomes a global epidemic as young children all over the world turn inexplicably against their loved ones. As his own stepson Freddy begins to exhibit increasingly sinister behaviour, Hesketh must use all his expertise to try to get to the bottom of this most disturbing phenomenon.

Liz Jensen has impressed me before with The Ninth Life Of Louis Drax and The Rapture. Here, Jensen revisits the dystopian, apocalyptic themes of The Rapture, but handles them in a far more understated manner. If you're looking for a straightforward horror novel with creepy zombie children and gratuitous gore you won't find it here. Instead, we explore how a community might react under pressure to a truly inexplicable and sinister global threat.

Hesketh is a strong lead character and it is easy to empathise with him. I liked that he is a well-developed character in his own right rather than simply a one-dimensional caricature of Asperger's syndrome as I have sometimes found in other novels - neither overbearingly 'quirky' nor an emotionless robot. Instead, we see how his Asperger's affects him in more subtle ways and how his analytical habits lead him to see situations slightly differently from the majority, which really added to my enjoyment of the book.

I was pleased to find that Jensen doesn't tie all the plot strings up in one neat and tidy bow. The premise is so far-fetched and outrageous that to have a flawless conclusion would have been far too convenient and implausible, in my opinion. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you're considering picking this one up, as I know many readers aren't satisfied with an ambiguous ending.

This really is a disaster novel with a difference. An unusual and thoughtful little book that I enjoyed very much.


From the Fatherland With Love
From the Fatherland With Love
by Ryu Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh and unique, 8 Jun. 2014
The plot is in equal parts absurd and chillingly plausible; the fallout from the economic crisis has well and truly shaken up the global political landscape, the dollar has completely collapsed, and it's a case of every country for himself. Japan is suffering a steep decline, effectively abandoned by former allies such as the USA. The country finds homelessness and unemployment on the rise, with vast expanses of land turned into shanty towns of citizens with nowhere else to go. Seeing an opportunity to profit from their neighbour's vulnerability, North Korea launches an invasion - initially a small band of highly trained officers take over Fukuoka baseball stadium, but before long troops have arrived in their thousands. There are small undercurrents of resistance among the local residents, but how can they stand a chance against the full weight of the North Korean army?

This is an incredibly complex book. Murakami has thoroughly explored the minutiae of this alarming situation from every aspect. We see the Japanese government as they bumble and panic to try and decide on a response to the situation that is neither too weak nor too offensive. We learn about the effects that the invasion has on small businesses, on healthcare provision, on the local media. I was amazed to realise how easy it might be for a bunch of crooks to take advantage of social security numbers and information held in goverment records to completely take over a community.

Perhaps the most interesting for me was to read about the attitudes and experiences of the North Korean soldiers on arriving in this alien environment. It was fascinating to consider how things we take for granted in a Westernised society might seem totally bizarre to an outsider. I'm not sure how realistic a picture Murakami has painted of life in North Korea - how much can we truly be sure lies behind the facade that they present to the rest of the world? - but it definitely made me pause for thought.

I really hope this doesn't make it sound like a dry political analysis because it most definitely isn't! One of the things I loved most about it was this feisty, punkish spirit behind the narrative. It's odd to describe it this way, because the premise is so disturbingly convincing and really just plain scary, but it is a fun book and Murakami's attention to quirky details repeatedly put a smile on my face. It is as fast-paced as a bestselling thriller in places, but precise and thoughtful in others. It has been a long time since I've read such an intelligent novel. I feel it's really shaken me out of a bit of a reading slump and put me in the mood to seek out more fresh, innovative stories.


Parasite (Parasitology)
Parasite (Parasitology)
by Mira Grant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, poorly-executed, 8 Jun. 2014
Mira Grant transports the reader to a near-future where modern medicine has been completely revolutionised by a genetically engineered parasite that sits happily inside the gut performing all kinds of immune surveillance. The population have taken these tapeworms on board in huge numbers, and the implants have even saved their first life. Sal, previously Sally, sustained a severe head injury in a car crash that was very nearly fatal. But just when everyone thought that hope was lost, she reawakened, and all thanks to her SymboGen tapeworm. She unquestionably owes everything to the team at SymboGen and falls into the role of their international poster girl. But she slowly develops a creeping suspicion that these parasites aren't the panacea they first seem to be...

The premise of this is really great and has the potential to raise all kinds of wider issues and questions that could be so interesting to read about. I got excited just reading the blurb. What does it mean for society if parasites stop people from getting ill any more? Are people living longer, are there overpopulation issues, will natural resources begin to get stretched? Unfortunately, Grant doesn't even begin to explore any of these wider issues and the plot is really quite basic. The idea is excellent but I didn't think it was very well-executed.

I never really grasped what the parasites were supposed to do in the first place and how they could possibly work as a cure-all implant. It didn't seem to be properly explained. This made it really difficult for me to suspend my disbelief later on. And it is certainly necessary to suspend a whole lot of disbelief. Sal's story made no sense to me - we are told about her accident six years earlier, and how she awoke a completely new person, having to even learn to speak and write English from scratch. But then here she is, having sex with her doctor boyfriend and discussing the intricacies of gene splicing. I found it all completely implausible, and to make matters worse she is a fairly bland character who I couldn't engage with at all.

I had my suspicions of what was afoot right from the beginning, but persevered thinking there would be some twist in the tale that I hadn't foreseen. There wasn't. I don't see how even the most half-hearted reader could fail to predict the conclusion. You probably don't even have to start reading the book - just five minutes musing over the premise will get you there. If you've got a tapeworm wriggling around inside you, a tiny little worm, how might it possibly decide to go about causing you serious harm? What's the most sinister thing it could do living there inside your body? If you think you've got the answer, you probably have.

I wish I hadn't made so much effort to get to the end of this book. It wasn't for me and I won't be reading the rest of the series.


Death Can't Take a Joke (Kiszka & Kershaw, Book 2)
Death Can't Take a Joke (Kiszka & Kershaw, Book 2)
by Anya Lipska
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, multi-faceted thriller, 25 May 2014
Janusz Kiszka is one of the most well-connected individuals in London's Polish community - he knows everybody's business and there's not much that slips under his radar. He dabbles in building projects and business deals here and there, but also engages in a little private investigative work when it suits him. In Death Can't Take A Joke, Kiszka happens across old acquaintance DC Natalie Kershaw, though in a more professional capacity than before. She is investigating the case of an unidentified Polish man who has jumped from a central London tower block and needs Kiszka's unique insight into the community. Janusz is reluctant to take on the task as he is otherwise occupied with digging up dirt on a nasty Ukrainian gangster who he suspects has murdered one of his closest friends. But he ultimately relents, and the two end up travelling to Poland together to uncover the answers they both need.

Janusz Kiszka is a really great protagonist and lends these books a great depth. It is refreshing to encounter such a complex character in a police procedural rather than your average world-weary middle-aged constable. He is a man of many contradictions - a burly brute, and an impressive intellect.

Kershaw, on the other hand, is a little less memorable. It is interesting to consider the difficulty that a young woman must face having to work in such a male-dominated environment as the Metropolitan Police, and the professional dilemmas that arise when one's boss is a misogynistic pig, but I found it difficult to truly care about her relationship difficulties or her wistful childhood memories.

Lipska's novels are fast-paced and tightly plotted, and kept me on my toes at all times. I was totally gripped. I really loved the insight she provides into the immigrant experience in the UK. It made me consider the factors that drive people to leave their homes, the countries they love, and seek a new life elsewhere. For someone like myself who was born in the late 1980s it is easy to forget just how much the political landscape of Eastern Europe has been transformed in very recent history. It was interesting to read about Kiszka's experiences in the Solidarity movement and the difficult choices he had to make on behalf of his country.

I'm looking forward to reading more from Anya Lipska, and I can see that this series has the potential to become a real favourite of mine.


Where the Devil Can't Go
Where the Devil Can't Go
by Anya Lipska
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

4.0 out of 5 stars A thriller with depth, 25 May 2014
Janusz Kiszka is one of the most well-connected individuals in London's Polish community - he knows everybody's business and there's not much that slips under his radar. He dabbles in building projects and business deals here and there, but also engages in a little private investigative work when it suits him. In Where The Devil Can't Go, Kiszka is approached by his priest to track down a missing young waitress. Over the course of his investigation he crosses paths with Natalie Kershaw, a young detective constable who is looking into the case of a Jane Doe washed up on the banks of the Thames. Each is as stubborn as the other, and the pair find themselves at loggerheads as they try not to admit that a little teamwork might be just what's needed to get to the bottom of both of their problems.

Janusz Kiszka is a really great protagonist and lends these books a great depth. It is refreshing to encounter such a complex character in a police procedural rather than your average world-weary middle-aged constable. He is a man of many contradictions - a burly brute, and an impressive intellect.

Kershaw, on the other hand, is a little less memorable. It is interesting to consider the difficulty that a young woman must face having to work in such a male-dominated environment as the Metropolitan Police, and the professional dilemmas that arise when one's boss is a misogynistic pig, but I found it difficult to truly care about her relationship difficulties or her wistful childhood memories.

Lipska's novels are fast-paced and tightly plotted, and kept me on my toes at all times. I was totally gripped. I really loved the insight she provides into the immigrant experience in the UK. It made me consider the factors that drive people to leave their homes, the countries they love, and seek a new life elsewhere. For someone like myself who was born in the late 1980s it is easy to forget just how much the political landscape of Eastern Europe has been transformed in very recent history. It was interesting to read about Kiszka's experiences in the Solidarity movement and the difficult choices he had to make on behalf of his country.

I'm looking forward to reading more from Anya Lipska, and I can see that this series has the potential to become a real favourite of mine.


The Headmaster's Wife
The Headmaster's Wife
by Thomas Christopher Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your average psychological thriller, 13 May 2014
This review is from: The Headmaster's Wife (Paperback)
Arthur Winthrop is a headmaster who comes from a long line of headmasters. Running the prestigious Lancaster School in Vermont is in his blood. He is relentlessly proper, so it seems inconceivable that he should ever be found wandering the paths of Central Park naked in the snow - but that is in fact where we first meet him. How did he get there? Delving into his recent past, it becomes apparent that Arthur's sanity began to crumble around the same time that he embarked upon an ill-advised affair with one Betsy Pappas, a teenage student under his charge. But as the story unravels we begin to wonder what other skeletons Arthur's closet might be concealing and whether we can trust his version of events at all.

The synopsis suggests that this might be yet another of these fast-paced, twisty psychological thrillers about a husband and wife with secrets. And while I do enjoy books in that mould, I was delighted to find that Thomas Christopher Greene has written something quite special and different. The first half had me entirely gripped to a degree that is comparable to any bestselling thriller you care to mention, yet it is written in a lovely steady and precise prose that lends it a very literary feel. Then a bombshell drops halfway through that gives the reader a completely different perspective, and it becomes apparent that this is a novel with great depth that sensitively deals with such weighty issues as loss, marital difficulties, mental health problems and parent-child relationships.

I don't want to give anything else away so will leave it at that - it's a thoughtful and surprising read which is well worth your time. I'm keeping it short and sweet, but it's not often that I sit down to write a review and can't think of anything at all that I didn't like!


I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Potential for a great movie, 8 May 2014
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Paperback)
He goes by many names, but Pilgrim will do. One of the most highly skilled spies the USA has ever known, he has travelled the world, plotted, double-crossed and killed for his country and now finds himself retired before the age of 40, having used his experiences to quite literally write THE book on criminal investigation. Retired, that is, until he hears from an old friend that a murder has been committed in a seedy New York City hotel. But this is not an everyday case. The murderer seems to have used every trick in Pilgrim's own textbook to cover up their tracks.

What follows is an epic sprint across continents whereby Pilgrim uses every trick in his arsenal not only to get to the bottom of the NYC murder but also, y'know, to save the entire world from a catastrophic biological terrorist threat. The plot is multifaceted and will make you think far more widely around events than your average spy story does. It's fast-paced, dramatic, and chilling as you consider how the events described might well be possible in reality.

While the plot is undeniably gripping and complex, this novel is by no means flawless. The whole thing could have been a little bit tighter and more polished. The timeline of events was very muddled and confusing. And I encountered one too many silly errors and poorly-researched facts that really should have been picked up in the editing process. I also think it's worth mentioning that the book has an incredibly patriotic slant which can be heavy-handed at times. Every single foreigner in the book (and not only the Middle Eastern ones) is portrayed as corrupt, stupid, or both.

I've read a few books recently that have made me think "sure, this is great, it's exciting and dramatic, but I bet it would be amazing as a movie". I had the exact same feeling after finishing I Am Pilgrim, only this time I'm thinking: "Terry Hayes is a screenwriter...why didn't he just write a movie?". I did enjoy the overall experience of reading it, but the writing didn't hold up to too much scrutiny. In any case, this is a solid and fast-paced spy thriller that would be a welcome addition to anybody's beach bag if you're after something that will sweep you away without requiring too much concentration.


Heavy Duty Clothes Rail Garment Rail 4ft Long x 5ft High SUPERIOR QUALITY
Heavy Duty Clothes Rail Garment Rail 4ft Long x 5ft High SUPERIOR QUALITY
Offered by The Shopfitting Shop
Price: £26.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Far surpasses alternative rails, 9 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Like so many other reviewers, I have been through countless high street clothes rails only to have one after another of them collapse, leaving my clothes all over the floor. The last straw came when I bought Argos' most expensive model only to have it give way after only three weeks! I decided to take the plunge and buy one of these and I am absolutely delighted with it so far. The delivery was remarkably quick. It is instantly apparent on taking the parts out of the box that they are really sturdy and not going to let you down, and when assembled the whole rail is really solid.

There is no shoe storage underneath but the rail is so strong that I have attached a hanging shoe storer and it accommodates this easily.

One thing I will say is that the instructions that come in the box are very basic (not that they need to be too complicated, it's incredibly easy to assemble) and there is a more helpful guide here on the seller's page:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aag/details/ref=aag_m_fi?ie=UTF8&asin=&isAmazonFulfilled=&isCBA=&marketplaceID=A1F83G8C2ARO7P&orderID=&seller=A1C5QPC0XI8E4O#custom
When assembling it I was alarmed to find the top rail fell much shorter than the bottom rail and I thought I'd been sent the wrong part as it looked like they'd never fit together. The link above provides more helpful instructions explaining that this is normal.


In the Woods
In the Woods
by Tana French
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, but ultimately unsatisfying, 7 Mar. 2014
This review is from: In the Woods (Paperback)
Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are the only detectives in the Dublin Murder Squad office when the case gets called through, so it's theirs for the taking. A twelve-year-old girl has been found dead on an archaeological dig site in a suburban Dublin woodland, and the case bears an unnerving similarity to another child murder in the same small town twenty years previously. Two children disappeared without a trace and a third was found quaking in his blood-filled shoes, unable to recollect anything at all about events. What nobody knows, though, is that that third little boy left town and changed his identity, later returning to Dublin...as one detective Rob Ryan. Can he stop his memories of the past from clouding his judgment in the here and now?

Tana French writes beautifully. I could immediately see why so many people gush about her style and prose. In The Woods opens with a short passage describing a hot summer's afternoon in small-town Ireland, and it just hits you in the face right from the off, wham! It's so evocative you can almost feel the sun beating down on your face. The whole novel definitely has a more literary feel to it than your average crime thriller. The plot is also well-developed with perfectly timed surprising twists and reveals to keep you gripped by developments.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this story was almost entirely spoiled by the fact that Rob Ryan is one of the most disagreeable characters I've ever had the experience of reading about! I found him unbelievably irritating and on a number of occasions was close to hurling the book across the room in frustration at his self-absorbed whining and his loathsome behaviour towards his flatmate, colleagues, parents...well, just about everyone. Usually a character with such an interesting and troubled back-story would provoke at least a little sympathy, but in this case I couldn't bring myself to care one jot about his predicaments. I'm not even sure if he was unlikeable by accident or by design - if a protagonist is intentionally objectionable I feel there needs to be some sort of delicious wicked spark to hold my interest, and that was lacking here.

It's testament to French's great writing and tight plotting that I didn't succumb to the temptation of giving up on this one. I just had to get to the end and find out what happened. If this was the beginning of a whole Rob Ryan series there's no way I would be reading more, but I believe that each book in the Dublin Murder Squad series takes on a different lead character so I am going to go ahead and give the others a try.


The State We're in
The State We're in
by Adele Parks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.80

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, light read, 24 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The State We're in (Paperback)
Jo is an incurable romantic who whole-heartedly believes in the idea of The One. Problem is, her biological clock is ticking faster every day and The One remains just an idea, a figment of her imagination. In a fit of passion (or madness) she books a ticket to fly to Chicago to sabotage her ex-fiancé's wedding. When she finds herself sitting next to a handsome stranger on the plane, she can't help confiding in him. But Dean has issues of his own to brood over. Could the pair end up helping each other out?

The book flits between the viewpoints of both Jo and Dean, as well as skipping between timelines across decades to look at their parents' stories and the way their very different upbringings have shaped their personalities. I found this to be really effective at adding substance to what could easily have been two generic and stereotypical characters. The flighty, dreamy woman with her head in the clouds, the brooding, handsome stranger. Luckily, Adele Parks avoids this pitfall and creates two engaging and likeable protagonists. I couldn't avoid becoming invested in their story.

The State We're In is a really easy read that had me hooked in from the first chapter - the pages basically turned themselves. It is very light compared to my usual reading choices, and there were places where I guessed the 'twists' that were coming a mile off, or where I felt events could be fleshed out a little more. But overall, it was enjoyable, and a perfect choice for times when I feel like reading something a little less serious. I would definitely look into Adele Parks' other work next time I'm in that mood.


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