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Julia Flyte

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The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keeps you turning the pages, 15 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
If you enjoyed Into The Darkest Corner and Before I Go To Sleep, this may be your favourite new book. It's an accomplished thriller which is narrated in turn by the central three female characters. It falls short of being truly great: the outcome is too easy to predict and the pace is slightly sluggish. But it's still a terrific holiday read which I read in just two sittings. It feels like watching an escapist movie.

The main narrator is Rachel. Her marriage split up two years ago when her husband left her for another woman. She's an alcoholic, she's lost her job and obsesses over Tom, her ex. Sometimes she drinks to the point of blacking out and this makes her an unreliable narrator. From the train everyday she sees a house with a young couple living in it. She fantasises about these people she doesn't know: she gives them imaginary names and daydreams about their perfect marriage. When the woman (Megan) goes missing, Rachel realises that some of the things she has seen from the train may hold the key to finding Megan.

I liked the way that the book was structured and the fact that Rachel's memories are somewhat unreliable adds to the mystery. The book is partly narrated by Tom's new partner, Anna, and there are intriguing disparities between her and Rachel's accounts of events. (The third narrator is Megan, filling in her back story.) However I did get a bit tired of reading about Rachel reaching yet again for a bottle of wine or waking with a hangover. I guessed how the book would pan out quite early on and it's made very clear around the 70% mark - at that point it really needed to be sped up. It doesn't quite deliver on the promised tension and it falls short of being the new "Gone Girl" that it's being hailed as.

The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden
Price: £3.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong sense of place, 28 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Winter Garden (Kindle Edition)
Following on from Black Roses, this is a book about actress and clandestine spy Clara Vine who is working in Berlin in pre-WW2 Germany. It's October 1937 and Clara's career is on the ascendant: she is about to take on her first leading role. She is disturbed to hear about the murder of a woman whom she once knew and further disturbed to hear that her own name is being bandied about as someone potentially suspicious. Clara is advised to lie low, but there are secrets that need to be investigated...

I do enjoy this series, which like the books of the author's husband (Philip Kerr) feature a mix of fictional and real life characters, such as Goebbels, Himmler, the Mitford sisters, the Duke of Windsor and Charles Lindbergh. It has a strong sense of place and you feel like you are getting a view into how it might have been to live in Berlin at that time.

Jane Thynne's writing style is a little wooden: perfectly readable but I would have liked her to assume a little more intelligence on the part of the reader rather than spelling everything out for us. There is a pleasing mystery at the book's centre however. I enjoyed this foray into pre-war Berlin. If you haven't read the first book in the series, there is enough background information given to bring you up to date.

The Escape (John Puller Series)
The Escape (John Puller Series)
by David Baldacci
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One for Baldacci loyalists only, 21 Dec. 2014
There are times in my reading life when I wish I had a time travel machine. If I did, I would go back four days in time and never start reading this idiotic book.

I am not a great fan of Baldacci's formulaic writing style, but I did enjoy Zero Day - the first book featuring Special Agent Jack Puller. It read like a shameless Lee Child rip off, but was no less enjoyable for that. Puller reappeared in The Forgotten, this time investigating the death of his aunt. Again, the writing was taut, the suspense built over the course of the book and it was a more than passable beach read.

The Escape is an entirely different style of book. It doesn't feel like it was written by the same person as the first two books in the series, though it feels very similar in style to the woeful "True Blue" churned out by the Baldacci factory in 2009. (If you share my theory that there are in fact several writers who assist Mr Baldacci, this would make perfect sense). All traces to Lee Child are gone, and instead we have wooden characters who speak in explanations, who are unable to pick up on obvious clues but can wrap their heads round complex and unlikely scenarios in seconds and who occasionally get tears in their eyes in lieu of feelings.

The book actually starts quite well, with John Puller's brother Robert breaking out of a maximum security prison. Puller is asked to investigate his brother's disappearance, presumably because the authorities hope that his brother will attempt to contact him. However as Puller starts to look into the case, he finds out things about his brother's conviction that he didn't previously know and he begins to wonder whether there is more to the break out than meets the eye.

So the first third of the book has a reasonable degree of suspense but then it just goes silly and proceeds to get sillier by the page as the coincidences fly thick and fast, the body count mounts and character motivations get flimsier than a square of cheap toilet paper. By the end of the book I simply did not care about any of these people and I all I know is that I don't want to read another Baldacci book as long as I live.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2015 6:54 PM GMT

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.49

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Went over my head, 8 Nov. 2014
This is a collection of ten short stories written by Hilary Mantel between 1993-2014. They have all been previously published in newspapers or magazines and some have appeared in short story collections. They are extremely diverse in setting and nature. All but two are written in the first person and most (but not all) centre on women.

I should preface this review by saying that I have an inherent prejudice against short stories. Reading them always feels to me like speed dating - you put all this effort into wrapping your head around someone new and then they are yanked away from you and you have to do it all over again. They also highlight - to me - what a lazy reader I am. I kept finishing a story, realising that I simply hadn't been paying enough attention and having to backtrack to look for the clue about what was going to happen.

What I did like, very much, about this collection is the wonderfully descriptive way that Mantel immerses you wherever she wants you. There is one story about a writer arriving at an unpleasant hotel late at night and you can just feel how sordid and grubby the rooms are. Another story, Comma, is about two girls who roam the countryside around their homes and spy on their neighbours and once again you absolutely feel the heat, the tickly grass, hear flies buzzing lazily past. The Margaret Thatcher story is set in a genteel street in Windsor and I could see it in my mind, so beautifully was it described to me.

However to me this book felt like a triumph of style over substance. Again and again - ref description of myself above as a lazy reader and take note - unreliable narrator here! - I would finish a story and go "huh". Either "huh, didn't get it" or "huh, was that it? " There were a couple of exceptions - oddly enough, generally the shortest in the book - but for the most part they felt like slices of lives that went nowhere. And I kept wondering "what was the point of that story?".

Smarter and more intellectual people than me have raved about this collection, and I am sure that they are quite correct and the failing is mine. Speed dating is clearly not my thing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2015 11:33 AM GMT

by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.49

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The magic gets lost along the way, 7 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Emma (Hardcover)
This is a retelling of Jane Austen's book, transported to the present day. Alexander McCall Smith would seem to be the perfect person to rewrite Austen - they both share a fascination with people's behaviours and attitudes and a delight in little observations about the way that people act. The first part of this book is quite delightful, but somewhere along the way it starts to drag, though I had a hard time figuring out why that was.

One issue is that this seems to fall into a halfway zone between a faithful retelling of Emma and a story in its own right. It has an odd timelessness to it and doesn't really feel like a modern story or something that would happen now. But a greater issue is that Emma never becomes terribly likeable and her eventual love interest George Knightley has no personality whatsoever. I just didn't care about any of these people, I didn't like any of these people and I didn't believe in any of these people.

Having said that, it has its charms. McCall Smith's gentle humour and subtle moralising is present throughout and very enjoyable to read. It's a light read and interesting to see the decisions that he made on how to adapt elements of Austen's original story to our times.

The Possibilities
The Possibilities
by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teeters between heartbreak and comedy, 4 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Possibilities (Hardcover)
Like The Descendants, this is a book about families and grief and finding out how well you really know - or don't know - people. It's a easy book to read, peopled with richly fleshed out characters.

Sarah St John is mourning the loss of her 21 year old son Cally in a ski accident three months ago. She raised him as a solo mother and he has always been the centre of her life. Now he is gone and she is struggling. She tries to go back to her job as a reporter, but finds it near impossible to focus on the job. When she meets a young woman called Kit, new possibilities start to open up in her life and for the first time she starts to sense how she might be able to move forward again.

I particularly liked the first half of this book. It pulled me in immediately. I love the way Kaui Hart Hemming's writing teeters between heartbreak and comedy. She also has a great knack for writing dialogue that makes you feel like you are hanging out with these people, shooting the breeze and laughing at their jokes. I did feel that some of the momentum was lost as the book went on, as if the author knew where she wanted to start from and where she wanted to get to but wasn't 100% clear on the journey between the two. But having said that, it's still a solid four stars from me.

Saving Grace
Saving Grace
by Jane Green
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jane Green is back in form, 4 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Saving Grace (Hardcover)
There is something very easy about reading jane Green's books. She tells you exactly what everyone is thinking and spells out back stories so you never really have to work as a reader. I was talking to a friend today about her books and we agreed that they are the perfect first read on a holiday, when you're just starting to unwind and want something mindless. Her last book was a disappointment but with Saving Grace she is back in form. Her books will never be epic literature but they are still enjoyable. I spent most of today at my son's side while he had some medical tests and this was the perfect distracting yet undemanding companion.

Saving Grace is about Grace, an avid cook married to Ted, a famous author. They have been together for many years and to all appearances their relationship is perfect. Privately, Ted has anger management issues but Grace works around these and is always the loving spouse. I thought this was going to be what the book was about and I was starting to dislike Grace and her doormat-like behaviour intensely, but then the story takes quite a different turn and becomes far more interesting. Grace hires a new assistant who seems at first to be a Godsend, but gradually Grace begins to wonder if things are what they seem to be - or maybe it is Grace who is losing her grip on reality.

It takes quite a while to find its momentum but the second half of the book gets quite exciting. It reminded me of A Special Relationship and although the stories are different, if you enjoyed this book I'd suggest you would probably enjoy that one too.

The Midwife of Hope River
The Midwife of Hope River
by Patricia Harman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable, 23 Oct. 2014
I have to say, this book has a terrible title and one of the worst covers I've ever seen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It's the (fictional) story of Patience Murphy, a woman who comes to rural West Virginia at the start of the Great Depression to work as a midwife. As we will learn over the course of the book, she is running from problems in her own life. The book is about her work as a midwife and the way that she integrates herself into the local community. Racial tensions and the impact of the depression are explored and you get a feel for life in that part of America at that time. The author - herself a retired midwife - gives a compelling portrayal of Patience's work and the babies that she delivers.

I would never have picked up this book if it hadn't been for reviews on Amazon, but it grabbed me from the first page and I really enjoyed reading it. I do think it was fractionally too long and that there were parts when Patience felt more like a modern day character than a woman living at that time, but overall I found it immensely readable from beginning to end. There is a tag on the front cover of the edition that I read which says "if you like The Help, you'll love this". They are quite different books and set in different times and places, but yes it has a similar relentless readability that at the same time teaches you about a way of life that has changed significantly.

There is a sequel of sorts in the works (centering on one of the lesser characters, Becky) due for release in 2015, and I look forward to reading that and hopefully also finding out more about what becomes of Patience.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
by Joshua Ferris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts so well but then loses its way, 14 Oct. 2014
I am struggling to write a review of this book. I am struggling to even summarise the plot. It's about Paul O'Rourke, a misanthropic dentist in his late 30s. His childhood was traumatic and his three serious relationships have all ended in disaster. He has a fascination with religion and a yearning for the sense of belonging that it represents, but he is also a devout atheist.

One day Paul discovers that someone has set up a website for his dentistry practice. Whoever has done it knows things about him that he has never shared with anyone. Gradually, "Paul O'Rourke" builds an online presence, mostly talking about a long ago people called the Amalekites who appeared in Genesis as arch enemies of the Jewish people. He is also contacted by someone who insists that he is in fact a descendant of the Amalekites himself.

This is a very uneven book in tone. It starts out being quite light-hearted, even laugh out loud funny. Paul is prone to very long rants about what he sees as being the problems in the world. At times paragraphs can go for five pages in length. I kept skipping through these and then realising that a revelation was buried in the middle and having to go back and re-read sections. I really enjoyed the first third of the book.

However then it gets bogged down with the history of the Amalekites and Paul's thoughts on religion. I read a review online where the reviewer said that they gave up on it around page 175, and there were several moments after that when I thought wistfully how much time they had saved. The parts I liked the most were the impact of everything that was happening on the people that Paul works with, but this was only a small part of the story.

I didn't hate this book, but I am baffled by a world in which this makes the Booker Prize shortlist and The Goldfinch doesn't even get nominated. For me, this book was entirely forgettable.

The Devil in the Marshalsea
The Devil in the Marshalsea
by Antonia Hodgson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too uneven in pace, 8 Oct. 2014
We're in the Marshalsea, a debtor's prison in Georgian London. A grim environment, where you can pay to live in better conditions or be consigned to the "Common Side", where food is scarce, disease is rife and violence erupts frequently. Tom Hawkins is sent to prison after falling behind on his debts. He is befriended by Samuel Fleet, a man feared by half the prison and suspected of the recent murder of his roommate, Captain Roberts. When Tom is given the Captain's former bed, everyone expects him to be Fleet's next victim. But Tom is not convinced that Fleet was the killer, and soon is is charged with finding out who was.

As the author explains in the afterword, the novel was in part inspired by actual events and many of the characters were real people who lived in the Marshalsea at that time (1727). She has lovingly done extensive research into what life in the prison was like and that comes through with lots of details and atmosphere. Yet I couldn't help feeling that the research bogged the novel down in parts. For example there is one incident when a character is thrown into solitary lock up where the dead bodies are stored. It felt like the author really wanted to let us know about how that was done, rather than something that arose naturally within the plot. Likewise the hero's excursions into the Common Side felt less than credible, and more about telling us about life in the prison.

This is a murder mystery, but it is erratically paced and some of the red herrings are simply too crimson to be credible. There were sections where I could hardly put the book down, but there were other parts that plodded. I also found it hard to forgive the author for removing one of the most interesting characters from the story. In short, I found the historical setting fascinating and some of the characters terrific, but it was simply too uneven in pace and suspense for me.

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