Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 20 July 2015

Six months of books 2015


I've taken part in this in previous years and it's great to see it back again. A chance to look back at the books we've read in the first 6 months of 2015, 6 books in each of 6 different categories.

Visit the home of this meme, The Book Jotter, here to find out more...


Six books I have enjoyed the most...
  1. The Golem and the Djinni - Helene Wecker
  2. The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
  3. Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel
  4. Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty
  5. Hausfrau - Jill Alexander Essbaum
  6. The Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty

Six authors new to me...
  1. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café - Fannie Flagg
  3. How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn
  4. Sleepyhead - Mark Billingham
  5. Big Ray - Michael Kimball
  6. City of Thieves - David Benioff

Six books that took me on extraordinary journeys...
  1. Inflicted - Ria Frances
  2. The Leipzig Affair - Fiona Rintoul
  3. The Golem and the Djinni - Helene Wecker
  4. Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel
  5. Dissolution - CJ Sansom
  6. The Auschwitz Violin - Maria Àngles Anglada

Six books by favourite authors...
  1. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton
  2. A History of Loneliness - John Boyne
  3. The Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty
  4. Chess - Stefan Zweig
  5. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
  6. The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry

Six graphic novels/comic book collections I enjoyed...
  1. Plumdog - Emma Chichester Clark
  2. Marbles - Ellen Forney
  3. This One Summer - Mariko & Jillian Tamaki
  4. The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman
  5. Sex Criminals - Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
  6. Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol

Six bookshops I have visited...
  1. The new Foyles, London
  2. St. David's Bookshop, Pembrokeshire
  3. Heffers, Cambridge
  4. Aldeburgh Bookshop, Suffolk
  5. Any Amount of Books, London
  6. St Ives Bookseller, Cornwall

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference 2015 - What Reviewers Want Panel

image from the RNA blog

A little while ago, I was kindly invited to join a panel of book industry folk at the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference for 2015 at Queen Mary University, London. I was delighted to be asked and though I knew I'd be anxious and nervous I also knew it would be a wonderful thing for me to try doing and I was so pleased to be given the opportunity that I seized the moment and accepted. The conference took place last week and I was getting ready to go along, sorting out what I needed etc the day before, same mixture of nerves and excitement. 

Come the evening before the day of the panel and I develop a really sore throat :( and the next morning it feels worse and I can sense a full on cold too. Sadly my plans to try and attend more of the day prior to the panel session that afternoon, and my hopes for staying to the dinner that evening, didn't seem manageable anymore, I was feeling worse, and probably only thanks to my husband aka my knight in shining armour whisking me to and from the venue for the panel event that I got there. Thankfully I did make it in time for the lovely main conference welcome by Eileen Ramsay and Jan Jones.

On to the panel itself, our session 'The Reviewers' Panel' was entitled 'What Reviewers Want - top reviewers discuss the growing importance of online reviews and give their tips for review success.' I thought the session was very interesting indeed, it was great to see so many people attending it and I really enjoyed both meeting the other panellists - Elaine Everest who runs the RNA Blog, Peter Crawshaw co-founder and director of the book website Lovereading.com, Anna James (chair of the discussion) the book news editor of The Bookseller magazine and editor of We Love This Book and books editor for Elle UK, Charlie Place reviewer from The Worm Hole blog - and hearing what they had to say as well as having the chance to speak myself. I think sometimes when you don't feel so well physically it can take your mind off your nerves a bit and I think I worried slightly less and concentrated even more on the discussion because of this; anyway, I felt braver than I thought I might have. There were some excellent questions and they prompted some interesting discussion, about how we each choose what to review, good ways to go about approaching reviewers (and not so good ways), building up relationships between authors and reviewers, how where books are reviewed and talked about has changed, the role of bloggers, Amazon reviews, Search Engine Optimisation and information gathering, and more, including how blog posts and helping support authors isn't just about reviews, but also features, book extracts, author interviews and so on. Thank you to Anna for leading the panel discussion and the audience questions so well, involving us all and keeping the session flowing.

I'm so glad I was still able to take part and I wish I had felt better, been able to stay longer and had the courage to speak to a couple more writers - there were a few people I thought I recognised from online photos but I didn't pluck up the courage to speak to anyone in the brief time I was there. It was lovely to see Sheryl Browne up in the audience and thank you for saying hi to me Sheryl, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you properly. 

Thank you to Jan Jones for the kind welcome and for ushering me over to meet Anna and Charlie when I arrived, and a big thank you to Jenny Barden for the very kind words and for such an interesting panel. Thanks to Karen Aldous who had some kind words for all the bloggers out there (echoed by Sheryl) and who came and introduced herself to us at the end of the session. 

It was a brilliant event and I'm very glad to have been part of it and I hope I can be part of something similar again one day. From a (budding) writer's point of view the whole event  and indeed the RNA itself looks like it offers both a lot of inspiration and support plus a lot of fun.

PS As I write this the rubbish lurgy seems to finally be on its way out, yay. I really hope I didn't pass it on to anyone else. 
PPS A nice thing was that my dog had her first trip to London and went for her walkies near where myself and my other half used to both live before we knew each other, bit of romance for you :)

~~~~~

Links...


Links to some of my reviews of RNA members' books...



(Let me know if I've missed any and I'll happily add them!) Also see my Reviews A-Z page for more links to reviews and author interviews. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton




Synopsis

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.


But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .


Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?


Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.


~~~~~
Review

It's a little while now since I read this book, but like several other books I've read this year but not yet written about here, I did want to share some reflections on it, so even if this isn't a very long post, I still wanted to try and put some thoughts together, so here we are. 

I really enjoyed reading The MiniaturistI found it a quite magical, wonderful read, I felt immersed in the world created in the novel and the characters were vividly drawn and memorable. It took me away from my troubles, transported me away overseas to Amsterdam and back in time to the seventeenth century, and I really enjoyed every sitting that I spent reading it, and experiencing the storytelling. This story captured my imagination, and I thought it was a really impressive work for a first novel. 

I loved the historical detail, the atmosphere, the locations, the society and people so vividly evoked, they came to life for me and I was there with them as I read, walking beside Nella, anxious about her husband Johannes, uncertain about his sister Marin, or looking out for the Miniaturist.

The story unfolded beautifully and had me wondering and guessing as I read on, needing to know what was being hidden, where danger lay, and who would be safe. 

And I must give a mention to that special cover design, it is so beautiful, incredibly appealing and a great complement to the story itself. This book is one to treasure and it is a novel I could see myself re-reading one day, I'm sure there are fresh details and nuances that I would notice on a second reading.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Half a million...THANKS!

I just loaded up the blog to start writing a May round-up post and discovered that the total views has just passed 500,000! When I started I didn't really know if anyone else would read it and it was just a place for me to collate my little book reviews that I'd been doing for a couple of places such as newbooks magazine. It was brilliant when I started getting the occasional comment and I have 'found' many other avid readers far and wide through the blog. 

Though I haven't been able to update it as often in recent months, I am still here and keeping it going, and still reading and loving my books, and I'll be back with a review or two and some other bookish updates as and when I can. Writing reviews and other book related fun on the blog has really helped me at times when I've not felt very well and I'm glad I plucked up courage to start it when I did, after dithering about it and being very nervous.  In the meantime please visit the Reviews Directory A-Z page where you'll find around 300 book reviews to keep you going. 

Anyway I never expected to get this far so...

A massive thank you to everyone who has visited and read my book blog over the past four and a bit years, and to everyone who has supported me with it. 

THANK YOUTHANYOUTHANYOU!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Invisible Man from Salem - Christoffer Carlsson - Extract - Blog Tour




I'm taking part in the blog tour for The Invisible Man from Salem by Christoffer Carlsson today!


This is the first book in the Leo Junker series. 

It's published in the UK by Scribe Books and is translated by Michael Gallagher.

I'm featuring an extract from the book. Do visit the other stops on the tour too - see the picture above!



~~~~~

Extract from The Invisible Man from Salem...


I’m outside, standing under the overcast sky. I take several deep breaths. My head’s spinning, and I feel sick; it’s hard to breathe. It’s been so long since I thought about her. She’s been there sometimes, like a ghost. Some nights.

Julia Grimberg’s necklace was in Rebecca Salomonsson’s hand. They couldn’t have known each other. It must have been put there by whoever killed her.

And, as if I’m being watched, my phone buzzes.

not going to have a guess? writes the anonymous sender.

guess what? I write, looking over my shoulder, looking around for anyone who might be sticking out from the crowd. 

guess who i am, comes the reply.

are you the one who killed her?

no it wasn’t me

do you know who did it? 

maybe

who was it?

I can see you, Leo

~~~~~

About the novel...

When a woman in his building is killed, Leo cannot stay away. Despite being on suspension from the force, he bluffs his way onto the crime scene and examines the body. When he notices that the woman is clasping a cheap necklace in her hand – a necklace he instantly recognises – he knows he must investigate, even though he has been warned to stay away. As a series of frightening connections emerge linking the murder to his own troubled youth in Salem, Leo is forced to finally confront a long-ago incident that changed his life forever. 
Selling over 70,000 in its first year in print in Carlsson's native Sweden and netting the coveted Swedish Crime Academy's Award for Best Crime Novel, The Invisible Man from Salem has earned comparisons to Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo from critics. Still in his 20s, Carlsson – who has a PhD in criminology – has become one of the country's most in-demand authors, acclaimed for his ability to combine page-turning prose and razor-sharp social realism.

About the author...

Christoffer Carlsson was born in 1986. The author of two previous novels, he has a PhD in criminology, and is a university lecturer in the subject. The Invisible Man from Salem has been a bestseller in Sweden, and won the Swedish Crime Academy’s 2013 Best Crime Novel of the Year award. 

It is the first in a series starring a young police officer called Leo Junker, and will shortly be developed into a three-season TV
drama by StellaNova Film. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

My (late) April 2015 reading round-up & May reading

I'm here with a very late April wrap-up, oops!
As well as struggling to post this month, I haven't been getting around the blogs I love to read much yet this month either, so apologies for that and I am looking forward to catching up on reading lots of reviews and other posts asap.  


I read these books in April:

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

The Worrier's Guide to Life - Gemma Correll

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe - Fanny Flagg

Hausfrau - Jill Alexander Essbaum

A History of Loneliness - John Boyne


Books reviewed in April on the blog: 



Book(s) of the month for April...


Amazing book, I was addicted to it, the location, the language, Anna's life, so desperate and painful, but superbly and poetically written. Definite shades of Emma Bovary.


 

(and a mention for A History of Loneliness, a very good read.)

May reading

In May so far I've read Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans, The Humans by Matt Haig, Amulet Volume 1: The Storekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi, Paris for One by Jojo Moyes, and I'm currently reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and City of Thieves by David Benioff. 

I've almost finished listening to the audio book of Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry. 

And I've been dipping into an interesting non-fiction book, All Day Long - A Portrait of Britain at Work, by Joanna Biggs.


~~~~~

What was your favourite read in April 2015?

Wishing you a great month (for the rest) of May!

~~~~~

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

My Heart and Other Black Holes - Jasmine Warga



Synopsis

Aysel and Roman are practically strangers, but they've been drawn into an unthinkable partnership. In a month's time, they plan to commit suicide - together.

Aysel knows why she wants to die: being the daughter of a murderer doesn't equal normal, well-adjusted teenager. But she can't figure out why handsome, popular Roman wants to end it all....and why he's even more determined than she is.

With the deadline getting closer, something starts to grow between Aysel and Roman - a feeling she never thought she would experience. It seems there might be something to live for, after all - but is Aysel in so deep she can't turn back?
 

~~~~~


'Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.'

I was keen to read My Heart and Other Black Holes when I found out about it, as the storyline and themes really interest me personally. I read it quickly and found the story gripping and compelling, and I felt compassion for Aysel and Roman, two young people, total strangers, who plan to take their own lives, together. 

For the most part I thought this was an excellent book; I was so glad to see something written in young adult fiction exploring difficult, complex feelings of guilt, and dealing with deep depression, and in this case focussing on teenagers. This is an impressive, moving and honest debut novel with a frank and well portrayed depiction of depression, sadness and self-blame. 

There are some excellent scenes and a real understanding and compassion of depression is demonstrated in the writing, as well as the difficulty some people can have with interactions with others, retreating into themselves so far that their outlook on the world becomes very bleak indeed, believing they are everything their illness tells them they are. The author convincingly depicts problems within different relationships, whether between siblings, mother-daughter, mother-son - so as well as depression and the individual, the novel looks at different family structures and friendships too and how they are affected. 

My main quibble was that I personally was not a hundred percent sure about the ending and whether it felt right to me, but I would definitely recommend others read this novel and decide for themselves. This story affected me in the way I think I thought the book The Fault in Our Stars would but didn't. 

I read a proof copy a while ago now and I hope when the finished book appears here in the UK that there will be appropriate help and support links at the back for the UK for anyone who might need them (as the novel is set in the USA). I do think it is important that topics like this are covered, sensitively. 

I did find parts of this story upsetting and notice my mood drop, so if you doubt your strength do think about whether it is the right time for you to read this, and whether it will help you. 

Review copy received via amazon vine