read // 12

7.1.16

IT'S A BIG ONE!


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Confession time.  I have gotten myself into *such* a muddle with my book review posts, and in the interest of wanting to be able to track my reading cohesively in 2016 I've decided to condense the review posts sitting as drafts into one big finale.  I'm aware that this is a helluva long post, so I've tried to(!) strip my thoughts down to their bare bones.


I'll do better next year!

The Confabulist // Steven Galloway
Flashbacks to Houdini's life and showmanship set alongside the story of Martin Strauss, the man who's punch to the gut killed Houdini, in both present day and with him (Strauss) looking back.  I found Houdini's life fascinating and was swept up in the glamour, theatrics and conspiracies contained in this book.  The chapters were a tad long but it was fast-paced and a quick book to read.  I loved it!
Rating: 4/5

Love is Blind // Kathy Lette
This was a thoroughly 'done' plot and this version had nothing new to add.  Lette's barbs and one liners became irritating and tiresome, making every character sound the same; hostile and unbelievable.  I've avoided giving it 1* because it wasn't a truly horrendous read - it flowed well and had lots of action.  Maybe have a go if you're a die-hard chick lit fan (although be warned...there's nothing unique here!) but it's not one I'd recommend.
Rating: 2/5

A Song For Issy Bradley // Carys Bray
This one features a family recovering after youngest daughter Issy dies unexpectedly due to illness.  The Bradleys are a Mormon family who fall apart before ultimately coming back together again.  I read this on holiday and it was the best book I could have taken.  Not only did I learn quite a bit about the Mormon faith, but it also reaffirmed a lot about what it means to be a family.
Rating: 4/5

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers // Louise Candlish 
A couple ostracised from the new neighbours alongside the retrospective story of Amber Fraser - how she built up a life in the area and the events leading up to her and her husband's sudden departure.  It wasn't the most clever mystery book I've read, but it was an easy enough read which kept an element of suspense right up until the end.
Rating: 3/5

Disgrace // J.M. Coetzee
David Lurie, a lecturer at the Technical University of Cape Town embarks on a whirlwind affair with a student.  His life crumbles when he is ultimately found out and after moving to live with his daughter, they are both subject to a savage attack.  The story didn't really go anywhere, but you get to watch a character developing, changing and growing.  I'm glad to have read it, as it opened my eyes to class and racial divides which exist in the world, but it's not one I'd particularly recommend.
Rating: 3/5

The Secrets We Keep // Jonathan Harvey
The story of a family 5 years after the father walked out on them.  As is expected with any of Harvey's novels, the characters were fun but on this occasion I felt they were a little shallow, too comedic and almost caricature-like.  This one just didn't have enough bite and is fairly forgettable.
Rating: 3/5

The Color Purple // Alice Walker
Celie is born into a world of segregation, raped, separated from her sister and trapped in a loveless marriage.  This is written in the dialect that she would have spoken, so takes a little adjustment to get into the swing of reading it, and comes in the form of diary entries.  It was a really sad story, which left my questioning why the characters seemed to stay together at points.  But it was also uplifting, heartwarming and inspiring to see Celie battle against the odds to make something of her life.  There's a twist in there too!
Rating: 3/5

Chaplin and Company // Mave Fellowes
Odeline Milk descends upon London, to her new houseboat, to make her way in the world.  As a character, she is old beyond her years, socially odd and at times, obnoxious. At its heart, this is the story of her growth as a person, and her learning to become more tolerant and welcome of those around her.  The prose is beautiful: descriptive, rich and full of flourish. But I picked this book up thinking it would have a magical element of the circus woven within. I was disappointed. The circus aspect is minimal and tainted, as Odeline discovers.  This was another well-written, albeit forgettable, book.
Rating: 3/5

The Children Act // Ian McEwan
This was a well-researched book which took me back to my days of studying law at university; with plenty of mention of real life, factual case law.  Focusing on a high court judge's ruling on whether a 17 year old boy should be able to refuse life-saving surgery on religious grounds, I was slightly disappointed to find that the decision is made by roughly the mid-point of the book, and the story carried on in a direction which I wasn't expecting.  Although I enjoyed it, I felt there were aspects of the plotline which detracted from the main thread - particularly the state of Fiona's marriage.
Rating: 3/5

You // Caroline Kepnes
After serving her in his bookshop, Joe Goldberg becomes obsessed with Guinevere Beck: finding her on Google, waiting outside her house, stalking her and stealing her phone in order to track her movements and thoughts via her email account.  It's told from Joe's perspective and was really interesting to be put into the mind of a stalker who doesn't see anything wrong in his actions.  I really enjoyed this, although there were times when I found myself doubting whether the characters' reactions were too outlandish and unbelievable. 
Rating: 5/5

Never Let Me Go // Kazou Ishiguro
This is the story of a group of friends growing up in a dystopian world where they will ultimately just become Donors or Carers for the Donors.  It's split neatly into three parts; the first taking place during their time at a boarding school-type establishment called Hailsham, where they're looked after by Guardians and know a little about their destiny.  The second chunk covers their time after Hailsham, when they live in The Cottages and begin to explore their brief freedom, before the third section where our protagonist Kathy is an adult working as a Carer.  It's a coming of age novel, where the group of friends are questioning everything they've been led to believe and trying to find their purpose in the world.  It fell flat and by the end I was desperate to finish.
Rating: 1/5

Asking For It // Louise O'Neill
Asking For It is a young adult novel, with similar themes to those discussed in The Good Girl.  Emma O'Donovan goes to a party one night, then wakes up on her porch with no memory of how she got there.  Yet everyone else knows because it's been posted online....and what happened is pretty gruesome.  She takes drugs and is gang raped.  You find out as Emma finds out and it's horrific.  The second half of the book is the aftermath of this, leading up to Emma's court case.  Emma's not the most likeable girl, but watching her turn into a shell of herself by the second half was really upsetting.  There is no happy ending in this book, but if you're after something thought-provoking yet not too challenging, I'd definitely recommend this.
Rating: 5/5 

The Dumb House // John Burnside
The premise of this (an unnamed narrator obsessed with language and discovering whether or not it is innate) is a fascinating one and the prose was well-crafted.  Our protagonist is complex, disturbed and his behaviours are shocking.  There were events in this book which left me disgusted, especially with the calm manner in which he carried them out.  I enjoyed it, but don't feel it's worthy of the hype it received.
Rating: 3/5

Life After You // Lucie Brownlee
This book tells the true story of young widow Lucie dealing with her husband's unexpected death at the age of 36, leaving behind her and her daughter.  It's raw, it's honest and it made me cry at parts.  Detailing her journey from the moment her husband died, through the various stages of grief before somewhat emerging on the other side, Lucie writes with passion, integrity and a touch of humour, and I almost feel she could make it as a successful chick-lit author following on from this.
Rating: 3/5  

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender // Leslye Walton
Ava Lavender was born with the wings of a bird.  Her twin brother is mute, her mother is known as the daughter of a witch and her grandmother has a gift for intuition coupled with a mysterious aura leading her to be suspected of witchcraft.  I love a book spanning generations, and this one takes us back to her grandmother's upbringing in France and Manhatten right through to present day.  Ava has been kept away from her peers and home-schooled, so as she reaches her mid-teens she's keen to escape and explore the wider world.  On the night of the summer solstice celebration she does just that, with grave consequences.  The ending didn't go quite as I'd imagined, but I loved it nonetheless.
Rating: 5/5

Curtain Call // Anthony Quinn
Set in 1930s London, Nina Land is an actress who interrupts the attempted murder of prostitute Madeline Farewell.  She suspects the man responsible is the wanted Tie-Pin Killer, but can't come clean about how she saw him as she was there with married artist Stephen Wyley.  They're the main thread of the story, but there are multiple others thrown in.  Despite being the talking point of this book, the hunt for the Tie-Pin Killer didn't feel like *the* most important thing, rather the development of the various characters and all of their plotlines.  This was an authentic period drama which I can imagine translating well into a television series. 
Rating: 4/5

The Snow Queen // Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Jean Hersholt
Housed in a beautiful cloth-bound edition, with stunning illustrations, reading this took me right back to being a child.  Despite remembering the main plot, I'd forgotten so many different aspects and it was lovely to rediscover them all. 
Rating: 5/5

Picture Or It Didn't Happen // Sophie Hannah
Chloe and her daughter Freya are rescued from disaster by a man who seems too good to be true.  "Rescued from disaster" is stretching it a bit....I was expecting a bit of peril, when all he does is do them a favour and save the day.  Warned off by one of his employees who describes him as a dangerous compulsive liar, Chloe can't let it rest, and embarks on a mission to find out the truth.  This was a Sophie Hannah book which very much did not feel like a Sophie Hannah book.  I was expecting mystery, clever twists and suspense but actually got very basic chick-lit.  The ending was so unexpected that it felt like a massive red herring which tied it all up very neatly and conveniently at the end.
Rating: 2/5

The Dinner // Herman Koch
An interesting book focusing on two families whose sons have committed a terrible crime together.  This felt like a social experiment and I was surprised to learn of the differing reactions and lengths each character would go to in order to protect their offspring.  A little unbelievable at times but still compelling.
Rating: 3/5

Wonder // R.J. Palacio
August Pullman was born with undisclosed facial deformities and this book follows his transition and adjustment from home schooling to mainstream education.  I'd heard big things about this and expected an emotionally charged read.  It was touching, easy to read but failed to leave a big impression.
Rating: 3/5

Northern Lights // Philip Pullman
I feel like everybody knows the premise of this so I won't go into the plot.  I will say that I found it tricky to suspend belief in a parallel world so similar to our own, and at times was questioning how/why this book is aimed at children.  The concepts were complex and I often had to re-read sections in order to grasp ideas.  It was enjoyable (if a little exhausting!) and I'll be continuing on with the series.
Rating: 3/5

My Name is Lucy Barton // Elizabeth Stroud
I was sent an ARC copy of this book, due to be released in February.  Lucy Barton is staying in hospital for a long period of time, when her mother comes to visit.  Their relationship is strained and we see Lucy think back to her impoverished, emotionally neglected childhood.  It reminded me of The Color Purple in a way, but wasn't a book I particularly enjoyed.  The plot didn't really go anywhere and the memories seemed disjointed.
Rating: 2/5

Well done if you've made it to the end....I promise not to leave such a backlog this year!
Have you read any of these?

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