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Julia Flyte
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Reunion (Panther)
Reunion (Panther)
by Fred Uhlman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, 23 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Reunion (Panther) (Paperback)
This is the story of the friendship between two teenage boys in Germany in the early 1930s. Hans is the son of a Jewish doctor and Konradin is the son of an aristocratic family. They bond over their shared love of coin collecting and hiking and become inseparable. Vaguely Hans is aware of the changes taking place in Germany but "the storm centre was far away" and his father dismisses the rise of anti-Semitism as "a temporary illness...which will pass as soon as the economic situation improves". A somewhat chilling observation in light of current events as I write this review.

Like "My Name is Lucy Barton", this is a novel that feels autobiographical. Every character, every interaction feels completely real and it's hard to imagine that it's not based on fact. It's not a long book, even by novella standards, but it gets under your skin. This is predominantly the story of a friendship, but the setting and the conclusion lift it to something truly powerful.


Behind Closed Doors
Behind Closed Doors
by B A Paris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth your time, 3 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Behind Closed Doors (Paperback)
I blame Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. Because of the runaway success of their thrillers, suddenly publishing companies seem to be rushing out every manuscript that comes their way. Which is why we get junk food novels like this, with cardboard characters and nonsensical premises. It's built around an intriguing sounding premise - "what if there's a gorgeous, wealthy and perfect couple but they are actually nothing of the sort, it's all a complete front?" - but there's no great substance to the book, there's nothing more to it than that and it's all just ludicrous and laughably silly. I was unable to finish it, though I will admit to being sufficiently interested to skim through to see how it ended (and the ending is every bit as unlikely and unbelievable and unsatisfying as the rest of it).

What's even worse, is that the book isn't even particularly well written. Where was the editor in this process? An example: "I couldn't help feeling disappointed when, rather than head for domestic departures, Jack led me towards the taxi rank. Soon, we were on our way into the centre of Bangkok and I couldn't help feeling excited by the hustle and bustle of the city".

I'll tell you what I couldn't help, and that is being appalled that an editor let those two sentences through. I can only assume they were rushing to get this book out and jump on the psychological thriller bandwagon and it depresses me that the cover says over half a million copies have been sold. Because this one simply isn't worth your time.


Mad Girl
Mad Girl
by Bryony Gordon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked this so much more than I expected to, 2 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Mad Girl (Paperback)
Bryony Gordon is a journalist who works for the Telegraph in the UK. She has also suffered from a number of mental health disorders since her teens: OCD, depression, bulimia, stress-related hair loss (alopecia). She has written this book to tell her story, warts and all (and there are many warts).

As I get older, I am more and more of the belief that secrets are toxic to us. Like many people I have aspects of myself that I am ashamed of, embarrassed by, think are defective. (None of them incidentally as extreme as Ms Gordon). But when you own these things and put them out there, in most cases people react by saying "me too" or "I can one up that" or even if not that, something along the lines of "duh already knew that" or "okay, well that doesn't change the way I feel about you".

So what I found particularly interesting about this book is how warm and funny and likeable Gordon is. She owns the illness that she has and the poor decisions she frankly admits that she's made and as a reader your reaction is "good for you". She shows that you can have mental illness and still have lots of friends, a successful career, a happy home life and a terrific sense of humour. While she talks about some of the things she's learned that have helped her, this isn't in any way a self help book or an attempt to portray herself as "cured". I found it moving, it made me laugh and it made me think about some aspects of myself in a different, kinder way.


My Cousin Rachel (Virago Modern Classics)
My Cousin Rachel (Virago Modern Classics)
by Daphne Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A story to keep you guessing, 30 Jan. 2017
A delicious psychological thriller, if it's fair to describe it using a term that wasn't around when it was written. Written in 1951, My Cousin Rachel still feels fresh and suspenseful. For most of the plot, you're reading with a sense of dread, but then at the very end comes a twist to make you question whether you were right in the assumptions that you were making.

The story is narrated by Philip Ashley, who lives in a grand country house in Cornwall with his adored cousin and guardian Ambrose. For health reasons, Ambrose travels to Italy to spend the winter in a warmer climate where he ends up meeting - and marrying - a distant, half-Italian cousin of theirs, the eponymous Rachel. He stays on in Italy where his health worsens and he writes ominous letters to Philip accusing Rachel of always watching him, thinks she is trying to do away with him, and saying that there is no one that he can trust.

Ambrose dies, and Rachel travels to England to come and stay with Philip, who has decided in advance that he hates Rachel. Of course when he meets her, he finds himself falling for her. Because Philip is narrating we never know what is going on in Rachel's head, whether she cares for Philip or is using him, whether she played a part in Ambrose's death or whether he had delusions due to a brain tumour.

Most of the book is about Philip and how he feels - and despite the fact that he's in his early 20s, he is a petulant child of a man. We realise that he has fallen hard for Rachel long before he does and feel a sense of dread at how willing he is to ignore all the warning bells that are ringing incessantly. I was desperately curious to find out how du Maurier would being the story together and the ending does not disappoint.


A History of Loneliness
A History of Loneliness
by John Boyne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Sad, but very very good, 20 Jan. 2017
This book made me sad, it made me angry and it made me think. It's narrated by Father Odran Yates, who has been a priest in Ireland since the early 1970s. It's a time of great change in public attitudes towards the Catholic Church as gradually stories emerge of priests abusing younger children in their care. While Odran is not directly involved, the book is about how he - and we - question what role he has implicitly played in the abuse by turning a blind eye and to what extent he shares the responsibility for what happened. It's also about how regardless of his lack of involvement, he most definitely shares in the punishment as people around him view him differently as a result of what has become known.

I was talking to a friend about this book and her reaction was along the lines of "yuck I wouldn't want to read that" - and it's true that it is somewhat confronting and terribly sad to read about but it's a tremendously readable, thought provoking and well written story which I enjoyed reading.

This is the third book set in Ireland that I have read recently and they have made an interesting group. "The Good People" by Hannah Kent is set in 1825 at a time when Irish folklore still plays a major part in people's lives but as the Church ascends it is trying to quash these beliefs. "The Wonder" by Emma Donoghue is set 35 years later and the Church has become far more dominant. "A History of Loneliness" is about the decline of the Church as people turn on it for the abuses it has permitted.


Finisterre (Wars Within 1)
Finisterre (Wars Within 1)
by Graham Hurley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and atmospheric, 15 Jan. 2017
This is a clever and atmospheric WW2 spy story although if you pick it up on the basis of the official synopsis above, you will be wondering for some time if you are reading the same book, as the main plot doesn't start to emerge until second half.

Stefan Portisch is the world weary captain of a U-boat. At the age of 24 he has had a distinguished military career and has been awarded the Iron Cross twice. When his submarine is wrecked off the coast of Spain, he is taken in by locals and starts to imagine a future outside the war. Meanwhile in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Hector Gomez is an ex-FBI detective working at the base for the secretive Manhattan Project. He is investigating the apparent suicide of one of the scientists in Oppenheimer's team. How these two men will connect is a mystery and remains one for well over half of the book.

I liked the way the book was constructed, which kept my interest up. It felt very real and well researched, to the point where I was goggling characters to figure out who was real and who wasn't. (The epilogue which implies that everyone was a real character doesn't help!). However ultimately I felt like there wasn't enough of a payoff for the long build-up. It starts out with two really intriguing storylines but bringing them together isn't easy and you can see the author's workings. I did like this book but it doesn't have the calibre of a Philip Kerr or Alan Furst novel.


The Tidal Zone
The Tidal Zone
by Sarah Moss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing but flawed, 13 Jan. 2017
This review is from: The Tidal Zone (Paperback)
Adam and Emma live in Coventry with their two daughters. Miriam is 15, principled and highly intelligent. Rose is 8. Emma works as a doctor and Adam is the stay at home parent and part-time academic. Then one day Adam gets a call from Miriam's school. Miriam has collapsed and was clinically dead for several minutes before being revived.

The Tidal Zone is about the fall out from this incident as the family - and particularly Adan who narrates the book - try to come to terms with what has happened. Woven into this story is the story of Adam's father and also the history of Coventry Cathedral which he is researching.

Sarah Moss's writing sings. One of the things that I love when I'm reading is when I come across a descriptor of something that strikes a chord of recognition. "Yes!" I think, "that's how I feel too". And I had a number of such moments. When my elder son was born he was in hospital for over 3 months and Moss really captures how it feels to go through that, little things like the way you obsess on the monitors and know the different chimes by heart and how surreal and exhilarating it feels everytime you exit the hospital and the world is still going on outside those walls. She also has a poet's eye for the world - for example there was a lovely description of ships with their "Duplo edifices of containers bringing televisions and bananas and trainers and sofas' which I was reminded of when I saw a ship in the harbour this morning. It's a beautifully written book to read slowly and savour.

And yet there were also things that didn't work for me. Firstly, Miriam's voice was just too adult for me to accept that she was 15. I know bright and sophisticated girls of that age, but Miriam was so consistently smart and erudite that it kept taking me out of the narrative. Secondly, the sub-plot about Adam's father just didn't add anything to the book for me. And finally, maybe most importantly, I got tired of Adam and his endless self-pity. I understood it, but ultimately I just wanted him to pull himself together and stop thinking that the world revolved around him.


Her Every Fear
Her Every Fear
by Peter Swanson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Follow up novels are hard to do, 13 Jan. 2017
This review is from: Her Every Fear (Hardcover)
It was always going to be hard for Peter Swanson to follow up on The Kind Worth Killing. This book isn't as good - that was a big ask - but it's a perfectly acceptable diversion that keeps you guessing as it twists and turns. Everytime I thought it was turning into a predictable story, it would give me another angle which had me guessing again.

The book opens with Kate coming to Boston from the UK, for a six month house swap with a cousin she's never met. Kate is prone to extreme anxiety - she's all panic attacks and nervous tics. So she doesn't react well when it turns out that the woman in the apartment next door to hers has been killed and it appears that her cousin Corbin knew her.

The story is told from multiple points of view - there is Kate, there is Alan who lives in the same apartment block and was somewhat obsessed with the dead woman, and later Corbin's story is also introduced. Each point of view is unreliable. Kate's anxieties and jetlag make her question what she thinks is happening. Alan seems like a nice guy, but there is something incomplete about his story. Corbin is full of contradictions. So as the reader, you keep leaping to conclusions, and then doubting them, and then changing your mind again. It reminded me of Into The Darkest Corner or Before I Go to Sleep in the way that it keeps you re-evaluating the characters and changing your mind about who can be trusted.

But. The pace is a little slow and the ending is more than a little ridiculous. It also felt like Swanson didn't know how to actually end the book, because it keeps going and you're thinking "oh there's going to be another twist, what could it be?"...but there isn't. So while I thought the first 75% of the book was gripping and clever, I felt quite disappointed in the final quarter.

I read an ARC provided by Net Galley.


The Bone Field: The heart-stopping new thriller (The Bone Field Series)
The Bone Field: The heart-stopping new thriller (The Bone Field Series)
by Simon Kernick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Kernick's best, 13 Jan. 2017
The first half of this book is Simon Kernick at his best, with an intriguing mystery and diverse characters who you know are going to link up but you don't quite know how. In the second half however it descends into nonsense and an endless killing fest. If you didn't like Lee Child's "Make Me" because the villains were so unpleasant, I'd suggest you also give this one a miss.

And the ending - a total cliffhanger, setting up a sequel - means either I have to read more of this inanity or settle for just not knowing. Either way - NOT HAPPY.


Brazzaville Beach
Brazzaville Beach
by William Boyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but ultimately left me a little cold, 8 Jan. 2017
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
I quite enjoyed this book about Hope Clearwater, a woman working in Africa on a chimpanzee research project, but I didn't love it. The fact that I didn't love it is not connected to my lack of interest in chimpanzees (it overcame that very successfully). It's a book that showcases not only what is terrific about William Boyd's writing, but also all the things that I don't like about it.

The positives: it feels very real. If you told me that William Boyd spent three years working in Africa, I'd probably believe you. Not just the details about chimpanzees and research projects but also the chaos that civil war brings. The tension that builds as Hope's observations conflict with the narrative of the research team is very real. And Hope is an interesting character, whose scientific training has resulted in the cold and detached way that she observes the people around her.

But it's her very cold and detached personality that ultimately means you don't like the book very much. She has many of the personality flaws of Amory Clay, in Boyd's "Sweet Caress". A pre-occupation with herself and a lack of empathy for anyone else. An obsession with penises. She doesn't feel like a real woman, but like a male writer's idea of a real woman. I also found the sub-plot about her marriage and how that fell apart significantly less interesting, and not really tied back to the main storyline.


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