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Julia Flyte
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The Precipice (Mike Bowditch Mysteries)
The Precipice (Mike Bowditch Mysteries)
by Paul Doiron
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.50

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best in this series, 5 July 2015
Firstly, a warning. If you haven't read this book, do not read the Amazon book description above and do not read the synopsis on the book's dust cover. Both contain significant spoilers concerning plot elements that don't happen until more than 2/3 of the way through the book.

This is the 6th book in in Paul Doiron's series about Mike Bowditch, a game warden based in a remote corner of Maine. The series began with The Poacher's Son, but it's not necessary to have read the other books to enjoy this one and in fact this is one of the best to date.

The plot centres on two young women from Georgia who disappear when hiking part of The Appalachian Trail. Mike is called in to help with the search and is able to locate the hut where the girls spent their last night. Rumours abound about what has happened to them. Have they been attacked by coyotes? Fallen from a precipice? Or is there a killer in the area? The first half of this book is quite suspenseful with the action picking up in the second half.

One of the things I like most about this series is the incredibly strong sense of place. Real places and events are woven into the story and they give the book a feel of realism. There is an interesting juxtaposition between the beautiful wilderness and the laid back, nature-loving locals vs the presence of people with criminal pasts who are drawn to the remote region. I always finish his books a little unsure about whether I'd ever want to visit Maine or not.

Doiron's characters are also well rounded and interesting. Fans of Steve Hamilton are bound to also enjoy this series.


The Versions of Us
The Versions of Us
by Laura Barnett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Left me dissatisfied, 4 July 2015
This review is from: The Versions of Us (Hardcover)
In 1958, Eva and Jim are nineteen year old students at Cambridge. Their paths will cross one day in October, and from there this book explores three different directions that their lives might take from that day. In Version 1, Jim invites Eva for a drink. They fall in love, she dumps her boyfriend David and they end up marrying. In Version 2, they don't get together and Eva will end up marrying David. In Version 3, they get together but then Eva will go back to David. From there, the book unfolds in chronological order, with chapters alternating between the different versions right through to 2014. In every version Jim will become an artist and Eva a writer, albeit with varying degrees of success. Also, in every version their paths will repeatedly cross, with some events occurring in every one of the three strands.

This is a clever idea for a novel. Not completely original - the movie Sliding Doors and the book Life after Life explored similar territory - but still one that holds instant appeal. In one version of his life, Jim does a painting called "The Versions of Us" which he describes as being about the many roads not taken, the many lives not lived.

So a clever concept but not one that is necessarily easy to read. I struggled to keep track of which life I was in at which time - was Eva happily married or unhappily? Which man was she with? Which children did she have in this life? Around the 150 page mark I gave up on reading the book in order, and instead read each Version right through - first Version 1, then Version 2, then Version 3. Which made it a lot easier to keep track of what was happening in each strand but which also highlighted to me one of the central problems with this book, which is that none of the three versions are terribly engrossing. Unlike Life About Life for example, when Ursula's alternate lives showed different facets of life for women in the 20th century, this book just shows varying ways that two people can dance around one another's lives.

The other issue is that I never really cared about these people. In every version, Jim is a hard character to like - the only striking thing about him are his long-lashed violet eyes. Depending on the version we read, he mopes, he sulks, he's unfaithful, but he's never terribly interesting and I could never see why bright, brave, determined Eva would be drawn to him. If you think about the fact that each version only has around 130 pages to cover over 50 years, it is no wonder perhaps that characters are only sketched thinly.

I realise I'm in the minority with my dislike of this book, but it left me feeling very dissatisfied.


Girl at War
Girl at War
Price: £4.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Heartrending and amazing, 2 July 2015
This review is from: Girl at War (Kindle Edition)
Zagreb, Croatia. It is 1991 and Yugoslavia is at war with itself. Ana is ten years old and her life is about to change forever.

At first the war seems distant but gradually things change: evenings spent in bomb shelters, refugees arriving at Ana's school, food shortages. Her baby sister is seriously unwell and the family will need to take immense risks to get her the help that she needs.

Fast forward ten years. Ana is living in the US and studying at NYU. She has struggled to adapt to life in the US and has invented a false history for herself rather than telling people the truth about where she is from. Even her long-term boyfriend doesn't know the truth. Gradually she realises that she needs to return to Croatia and make peace with her past.

It's hard to believe that this is a first novel - it is remarkably self-assured and beautifully written. The author has lived in both the US and Croatia and there doesn't seem to be a false note in this book. It pulls you in and makes you feel that you are living through the events along with Ana. It's a heartrending, amazing book.


Summer Secrets
Summer Secrets
Price: £4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The next best thing to a holiday, 2 July 2015
This review is from: Summer Secrets (Kindle Edition)
There is something so immensely readable about Jane Green's books. They just suck me in like a Dyson vacuum cleaner and hold me tight for a day or two. Like Marian Keyes, she writes chicklit that encompasses serious subjects - in this case, alcoholism and how we make amends for our wrongdoings in the past. But she does this in a way that's still light and fluffy and the summery Nantucket setting honestly made me feel like I was on holiday while I read it.

The story is about Cat, an only child who had a difficult relationship with her father and who has always been a heavy drinker. When she meets Jason, he encourages her to go sober, but it's a lesson that won't take until she is ready to do it for herself. The book is also about her discovery of a family that she doesn't know she had, and the interactions that she has with them.

There's a lot of set up to the story and for a while it's a bit confusing. The initial chapters jump around a lot, from Cat being 19 to Cat being 29 to Cat's mother's story. It felt like Jane Green knew the story that she wanted to tell but couldn't quite figure out how to get us all the background information we needed. Once things settle down and the story progresses more simply, it becomes a lot more involving. I thought that the story was going to be very predictable, but it does have several twists along the way.

Ultimately there is nothing memorable here but it's a perfectly enjoyable distraction for a couple of days and as I mentioned above, the Nantucket setting really did leave me feeling refreshed, like I'd been away. Crazy but true.


The A to Z of You and Me
The A to Z of You and Me
by James Hannah
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feels like it's been done before, 1 July 2015
Oh man, I don't want to be the heartless person who didn't like this book, but what can I say, I'm the heartless person who didn't like this book. It's about Ivo. He's 40, he's in a hospice and he's dying from complications from diabetes. The nurse looking after him suggests that he thinks of a story from his life to correlate with a body part, starting with A ("Adam's Apple" , "Anus", "Ankle" and "Arms") and working through the alphabet. So this is Ivo's story, told in disjointed memories that gradually come together, as he thinks about Mia, the love of his life.

It took me a while to get into this book, as it seems to dance around all over the place until you have enough pieces to have some sense of the puzzle. But once I got past that stage, I just expected there to be more in terms of a payoff. Ultimately Ivo has made some silly decisions in his life that make it hard to feel a great deal of compassion for him, particularly as he is unwilling to forgive others for mistakes that he was complicit in. Remember how useless and self-destructive Dexter was in "One Day". Well Ivo is like that in triplicate. I never felt terribly connected to any of the characters in the book with the exception of his nurse, Sheila.

It's obvious how a book like this will end but I found the ending curiously unmoving. Maybe I've read too many similar books lately, but it felt kind of cliched and unoriginal. Very similar to "Before I Die" by Jenny Downham, for one.

I know this is a debut novel and I feel like James Hannah is a real talent. I would definitely read other books by him, but this one was a misfire for me.


Tightrope
Tightrope
by Simon Mawer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Almost as good as its predecessor, 29 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Tightrope (Hardcover)
This is the sequel to The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, and while it probably could be read as a standalone novel, you will enjoy it much more if you are familiar with the events and characters from the first book. (Plus, the first book is excellent, so if you haven't read it you are in for a treat. But don't read any more of this review if you intend to read the first, because it will contain spoilers).

Tightrope begins at the end of World War II. Marian Sutro was an undercover agent in France during the War and at the end of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky she had been apprehended by the Nazis. When I read that book I assumed that she would have been executed (it never occurred to me that there would be a sequel), but it emerges that after interrogation she was held in prison for several months and then sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. That experience has permanently scarred her. Suffering from what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder, she returns to the UK and tries to pick up the fragments of the life she left behind several years previously. Life in the UK seems meaningless and she struggles to adapt to a civilian existence. When her former handler makes contact and the Cold War brings the opportunity to undertake some espionage work, she leaps at the opportunity. It is only later, with hindsight, that she will realise the extent to which she is being used, but she has also acquired a skillset that her handlers may be underestimating.

Marian is an enigmatic character. The book is narrated - albeit from a distance - by a youthful admirer of hers who kept tabs on her over the years and thus we never get a firm sense of what's going on in her head, although she never fails to hold our interest. Mawer's writing is rich in precise details that bring scenes to life without slowing down the pace in any way. He also has a wonderfully rich vocabulary which I truly enjoyed. Occasionally I was driven to look up words that I didn't know: benison, integument, byssus.

This book doesn't have quite the same breathless menace that its predecessor does, but it still crackles with a quiet tension. Marian is a character who only comes alive when she is in danger. She's not always likeable - she is willing to use or manipulate everyone in her life - but she is endlessly fascinating. The book also beautifully captures the claustrophobia of the Cold War.


The Sudden Departure of the Frasers
The Sudden Departure of the Frasers
Price: £3.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 24 Jun. 2015
I really enjoyed this. A little bit Liane Moriarty, a little bit Gillian Flynn, it's a cleverly composed story that reveals its secrets gradually. It wouldn't surprise me to see this in the next batch of Richard & Judy recommendations: it's right up their street.

The story is about a couple who buy their dream home in an upscale London suburb. Christy and Joe have had to stretch themselves financially to buy it but even so they know that they paid well under market value. The previous owners, Amber and Jeremy Fraser, had completed a spare-no-expenses renovation and then abruptly moved out only four months later, leaving without a word goodbye to their friends or neighbours. It is clear to Christy that there are deep divisions within the street but none of her actively unfriendly neighbours will talk to her about what happened.

The chapters alternate between Christy's story and Amber telling us her story from when she moved in 12 months earlier. At some stage it emerges that Amber is writing her account as part of a counselling process, but why?

I was completely hooked into this book and as intrigued with the charismatic Amber as everyone else in the street is. The way that it's written means that the reader knows more than Christy does, but sometimes Christy stumbles onto clues that don't sit with the story that we are being told. At one point I did feel that the story was being dragged out a little too long, but maybe that's just a reflection of how my curiousity kept building and building. This is a fantastic holiday read.


The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in the Red Coat
Price: £1.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Every parent's nightmare, 17 Jun. 2015
Clearly by the two star rating, I didn't like this book. It's about an eight year old girl called Carmel who lives with her mum Beth. The two attend a storytelling festival and Carmel disappears. The book then covers what happens next to each of them as Beth gradually finds a way to move forward in her life and Carmel has a new life with her abductor. The story is alternately narrated by Beth and then by Carmel.

One of the reasons why I didn't like the book was very emotive. Having a child abducted by a stranger is such a frightening concept and the way that Carmel's captor was able to immediately win her trust and overcome her questions about why she was with him really disturbed me. So I suppose that's a unfair reason to dislike it, but I was also very disengaged in Carmel's subsequent story, which often seemed to be written in a way to keep the reader guessing about what was really happening. And the ending felt like a total cop out and was wrapped up much too neatly and quickly. I felt really let down that I had invested so much time reading about these people and then I didn't get to find out how things resolved themselves.

What I did really enjoy and admire was the way we were taken through the arc of Beth's story, from raw anger and shock and grief to gradually finding a way to move forward, never forgetting or failing to grieve her daughter but equally finding impetus for growth from what had happened.

Reading this book I couldn't help but think about poor little Madeleine McCann (if she is alive) and the other less high profile children who go missing every year. I hope they all get happy endings.


Disclaimer
Disclaimer
Price: £6.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever book about a buried secret, 12 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Disclaimer (Kindle Edition)
Catherine is a successful documentary filmmaker, happily married with a grown son. However she has a secret: a dark incident from when her son was a child that she has never told anyone. One day she picks up a book that's lying around the house and is horrified to discover that it is a fictionalised version of her story. At the beginning of the book, the disclaimer "any resemblance to persons alive or dead..." has been menacingly crossed out in red ink.

Who knows her secret? Who wrote the book? How did it get into her home?

From this terrific opening, the book develops gradually. Perhaps too gradually initially - for around the first third of the book it felt as if we were treading water as we rehashed the same territory over and over. But once the secrets start to be revealed, the pace picks up significantly. For a while I wondered if this was just a book about two unpleasant people, one desperate to wreak revenge on the other, but I'm pleased that the characters are more nuanced than that. The final reveals and the way that the book comes together are very satisfying.

A clever book and a great debut that will appeal to fans of The Kind Worth Killing or The Liar's Chair.


Reasons to Stay Alive
Reasons to Stay Alive
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small, but perfectly formed, 10 Jun. 2015
A brave, honest, optimistic, elegant and uplifting account of the author's battles with depression and what worked for him. Very moving.


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