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Julia Flyte
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Britt-Marie Was Here
Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't win me over, 24 July 2016
This review is from: Britt-Marie Was Here (Hardcover)
I just couldn't get into this book. It felt too contrived, too "cutesy". I didn't warm to the heroine. I didn't find her world view funny or entertaining. Unlike A Man Called Ove, it didn't feel like this book had a heart. It felt formulaic and tiresome.


Night Soldiers
Night Soldiers
by Alan Furst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A book to lose yourself in, 24 July 2016
This review is from: Night Soldiers (Paperback)
Alan Furst has written fourteen books set in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. They form the "Night Soldiers" series and they are loosely inter-connected but all are also standalone novels in their own right. This is the first book in the series and it differs from the most recent books in both length and scope. It's a sprawling novel that starts in 1934 and doesn't end until 1945. It begins in Bulgaria but takes us all over Europe: Russia, Spain, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. While centered on one character, it encompasses a host of others, many of whom only have small walk on parts but a few of which will appear repeatedly over the years. It's a book that you immerse yourself in.

The main character is Khristo Stoianev, a Bulgarian who in 1934 is recruited by the Russians to train as a spy. This takes him to Moscow where he forms tight and enduring bonds with some of his classmates. Once training is complete, Khristo is sent to Spain to support the Republican efforts in the Civil War. Around him, he sees the effects of Stalin's purges as others are called back to Russia and not heard from again. Eventually he receives a warning that he will be next and opts to escape to France, where for a time he lives under the radar as a waiter at the Brasserie Heininger. However his entanglements with the Russians are not over.

One of the distinctive features of Furst's writing is the way that he introduces so many characters, gives them full back stories and then writes them out again. He's a bit like a drunk at the bar who can't stick to the narrative. I've read several reviews from people who find this irritating and if you do, then he's probably not the writer for you. Personally, I love this feature of his writing. He's not just presenting us with the story of an individual, he's giving us an entire continent in glorious panorama, richly populated with rounded and real characters. You don't get lost in a story, you get lost in a world. Yes, at times you're not sure what's happening but things always come back together. It's a masterpiece.


Truly Madly Guilty
Truly Madly Guilty
Offered by Audible Ltd

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Moriarty's best, 24 July 2016
"This is a story that begins with a barbeque". So begins Truly Madly Guilty. Erika and Clementine have been friends since school. Erika had a difficult childhood and Clementine's home and family became something of a refuge for her. Now, years later, both are married. Clementine is a cellist, married to Sam, with two young daughters. Erika and her husband Oliver are childless and fanatically tidy and orderly. They invite Clementine and her husband Sam over for afternoon tea, but it evolves into a BBQ at their neighbour's house. And at that BBQ, something will happen. An event which will be extremely traumatic for everyone who is there.

That's the premise for this book. From the start we know that something significant has happened. We know that Erika has problems remembering it, that Clementine doesn't want to think about it, that their husbands are struggling with their feelings. But it will take until over the halfway mark before we find out what happened and after all that build up and suspense the truth is more than a little anticlimatic. Even then, Moriarty teases us with the idea that there is more to be revealed, and while this is true, it's not enough and not sufficiently important. Essentially, it's a book that's structured on a flimsy base.

There are glimpses here and there of Moriarty's trademark humour and relatable characters but somehow I didn't warm to the story as I have to others that she's written.


The Crime Writer
The Crime Writer
by Jill Dawson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very clever but lacking momentum, 19 July 2016
This review is from: The Crime Writer (Hardcover)
In 1964, the author Patricia Highsmith was living in the Suffolk countryside and writing. Jill Dawson has taken this as her starting point to concoct a crime novel which is entirely reminiscent of Highsmith's own stories. It's a clever literary device and it's well executed. You don't need to be familiar with Highsmith's writing to enjoy this, but you will enjoy it far more if you are.

Patricia Highsmith is probably best known for the stories that became films (The Talented Mr Ripley, Ripley's Game, Carol) and also for writing the screenplay of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Her characters are unsettling: good people disappoint, everyone has a streak of evil. I was familiar with her writing but I knew little about her as an individual - for example, she had an obsession with snails. It's fascinating to read the author's acknowledgments at the end about the different strands of Highsmith's life and writing that inspired this novel.

The plot of The Crime Writer (somewhat ironical given that Highsmith hated to be described in that way), concerns her relationship with two women. There is Sam, her elegant and unhappily married lover, and there is Ginny, a pushy yet evasive young journalist who comes to interview her. When a murder is committed, it will impact on all of their lives.

I really liked the writing in this book and I thought that the plot was very clever, but it also felt very disjointed. The crime felt almost secondary and I wanted it to have more focus. Ultimately I just found this a little dragged out and lacking momentum.


The Pursuit Of Happiness
The Pursuit Of Happiness
by Douglas Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars I didn't care about the characters, 19 July 2016
Sara Smythe and Jack Malone meet at a party in New York, 1945. It's what the French call a "coup de foudre" - an instant attraction. For both, the other will be the love of their life. However the course of true love will not run smoothly, and circumstances will keep them apart for a large part of their lives.

Their story is bookmarked by the story of Jack's daughter Kate. Aged only 18 months when her father died, she barely knew him and had no awareness of the impact that Sara had on his - and her - lives.

Douglas Kennedy specialises in writing books from the female perspective. Usually his heroines are prickly and difficult people and Sara and Kate are not exceptions to this rule. Both are judgemental and righteous and hard to like. They are both lumbered with self-destructive brothers to boot. Set against the backdrop of post-WW2 and the McCarthy era US, this is an interesting story that moves at a good pace and keeps your interest, but ultimately it fails to make you care about any of the characters nor to sympathise with the choices that they make.


Widowmaker (Mike Bowditch Mysteries)
Widowmaker (Mike Bowditch Mysteries)
by Paul Doiron
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.78

4.0 out of 5 stars A solid addition to a great series, 8 July 2016
This is the 7th book in Paul Doiron's series about Mike Bowditch, a game warden in Maine. (In Maine game wardens are more policeman than park ranger: full law-enforcement officers with all the powers of state troopers). The series began with The Poacher's Son, but they also work as standalone novels, so you don't have to have read the others.

This is a great series. It reminds me in many ways of Steve Hamilton's series about Alex McKnight, which I also loved. If you haven't read any of Doiron's books, give them a go!

In Widowmaker, Mike is approached by the beautiful and evasive Amber Langstrom, who asks him to help find her son Adam, who has gone missing. Adam, now in his early 20s, had recently been released after serving a jail sentence for statutory rape after a relationship with a 16 year old. Amber also claims that Adam is Mike's half-brother - that the two shared a father. Mike agrees to look into Adam's disappearance, a search that takes him back to the area of Maine that he grew up in. It's a remote part of the world, one where people feel able to take the law into their own hands.

Mike is an interesting and complex character who has evolved over time. The books also have an incredibly strong sense of place. While Doiron explains in his author's note that most of the locations are fictional, they are clearly inspired by real places. I always finish his books a little unsure about whether I'd ever want to visit Maine or not.

Widowmaker is not the best in the series but its still a solid and enjoyable story. There are a couple of slightly unresolved (not critical) threads that perhaps will be picked up in subsequent novels: I hope so.


Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)
Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just okay, 5 July 2016
Hmm. I loved The Taming of the Shrew and I love Anne Tyler's books, so this one ought to be a no brainer for me, but despite its brevity I found it slow going. It reads more like a fairytale than a serious novel - and by fairytale I mean stereotypical characters, a too-familiar arc (okay, that was probably unavoidable) and a "they all lived happily ever after" style ending.

In Vinegar Girl, Katherina the Shrew is Kate, aged 29 and drifting through life as an assistant in a preschool centre. She is the kind of woman who doesn't suffer fools, a "vinegar girl" vs her "sweet" sister. She lives with her father, an absent-minded professor straight from Casting Central, and her 15 year old sister. Her father's research assistant is nearing the end of his three year visa, so he hatches a plan for Kate to marry Pyotr so he can get a Green Card and remain in the US. Kate's initial reaction is a mixture of scorn and disbelief, but gradually she starts to see the idea as a way of breaking free from a life that isn't making her happy.

I found the first half of Vinegar Girl pretty irritating. Anne Tyler loves to write about quirky families and this one had quirks in spades: a daughter named Bunny, a daft meal schedule, a refusal to dress conventionally. Basically, no one in this book behaves like a normal person, even if the emotions that they feel are recognisable and relatable. Towards the end I warmed to Kate and Pyotr, but I felt that the story had failed to do them justice.


Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle 9)
Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle 9)
by Stella Rimington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (Mostly) Credible and Topical, 2 July 2016
This is Stella Rimington's ninth novel featuring the clever and resourceful MI5 intelligence officer Liz Carlyle. I enjoy this series although Rimington is at best a workmanlike writer. However what she brings to the table, as the former Director General of MI5, is an understanding of how Government intelligence operates and how investigations are undertaken. So as a reader you kind of look past the obvious villains and sometimes clunky dialogue and instead enjoy the way that information from intelligence "traffic" is pieced together, that surveillance is undertaken and operations are structured.

The events of this book take place several months after "Close Call" and Liz Carlyle is still in mourning after the loss of a man she loved. It's a topical story that incorporates references to Brexit, cyber attacks and Alexander Litvinenko. Liz has been transferred to the counter-espionage division (focusing on foreign agents operating on British soil). She receives a tip that undercover Russian agents are working to undermine and destabilise the leading opponents of Putin in the UK. It's a vague tip which doesn't easily translate into actionable intelligence, but it's Liz's job to find any agent or agents who are in the UK. At the same time, there are reminders closer to home that employees of MI5 and MI6 may also be targeted as sources by Russian intelligence.

If you enjoy this series - as I do - you'll also enjoy Breaking Cover. It features a host of familiar characters and it gives a sense of how MI5 might be operating in the face of today's intelligence challenges. What it lacks in the complexity of a le Carre or Cumming novel, it makes up in credibility. Just don't expect to be gasping "wow, I didn't see that coming!"


Blood, Wine and Chocolate
Blood, Wine and Chocolate
Price: £6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars I'm not sure what genre I would classify this book as, 29 Jun. 2016
Vinnie has grown up on the fringe of a London mob. His father was a mobster and his boyhood friend Marcus was a future crime boss. Vinnie however dabbles in small crime, selling counterfeit goods at a London market. When he witnesses a murder, he and his wife Anna are re-settled in New Zealand as part of a witness protection programme. They buy a vineyard on idyllic Waiheke Island where they can pursue their joint passions for wine (Vinnie) and chocolate (Anna). However when their wine starts to meet with international acclaim, they come to the attention of the very people that they are trying to hide from.

I really wasn't sure what to make of this book. It's a very uneasy combination of a dark London gangster thriller and an upbeat comedic tale about wine and chocolate. The best way I can describe it is is Simon Kernick paired up with Nicky Pellegrino to write a novel. One moment a gangster is breaking someone's kneecaps, the next we are getting mouth-watering descriptions of chocolates. The plot and the tone just don't work together.


The Dry
The Dry
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really, really good, 27 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Dry (Kindle Edition)
Aaron Falk grew up in Kiewarra, a small town in rural Australia. When he was 16, his girlfriend Ellie was found drowned and he and his father were run out of town. He never returned. Twenty years later, having forged a career with the Federal Police, he sees a news story that Luke Hadler, his best friend growing up, has killed his wife and son in a murder-suicide. He returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. The local policeman has doubts about whether Luke was actually responsible for the killings and asks Falk to stick around and assist in the investigation. He agrees to do so, despite the fact that there is still considerable ill will in the town towards him.

This is a terrific crime novel. Really, really good. It's full of atmosphere and all the claustrophobia of an isolated small town. The characters are believable. The dual mysteries (both who killed the Hadler family and also Ellie's death twenty years prior which may or may not have been suicide) unfold gradually and keep you guessing. It's reminiscent of the excellent Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher in tone and setting, but also feels like an early Gillian Flynn novel.

My only complaint is the way that the book comes together. I have no issues with the solutions, which are clever and believable, but the way that they come out feels too contrived. Any book that relies on a character finding a long-lost diary is a bit of a let down. Also, the abrupt ending felt a little like Jane Harper just decided that she'd had enough and it was time to send the book off to the publisher, stat.

Nevertheless, a good 90% of this book is close to unputdownable. Read it!


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