Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

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Genre: Fantasy

Similar to: Well, it’s a retelling, so…

Could be enjoyed by: Greek myth nerds (there seems to be a lot of you out there)

Publication date: 10th April 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #15 Read a book of mythology or folklore

These are my uneducated thoughts on Greek Myths:

The Minotaur (big scary sheep thing that lives in a maze)… Poseidon (was he in the Little Mermaid? God of the sea, held a big fork)… Morpheus (know him from Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman)… the muses (Salma Hayek in Dogma). Ummmm…

So, I’m probably not the ideal target audience for a Greek myth retelling.

HOWEVER

If you’re like me, don’t be put off from reading Circe. Sure, it would have added to my reading experience if I’d been familiar with some of the characters who popped up in the book (I occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was who – Telemachus and Telegonus, come on…) but it’s a great book nevertheless.

Circe is a kind of neglected middle child (despite being first-born), standing in the shadows of her cleverer, more beautiful siblings. After a few hundred years of largely avoiding her family, being ignored and low-key bullied in her father Helios’ halls, she engages in a spot of rule breaking, gets herself banished to a remote island and starts working on finding her own power. After several mortal lifetimes worth of quietly observing the Gods, Circe realises that it is their vanity, their deceptions and their dismissal of her as nothing more than an irritating child that she can use to her advantage. She explores the land that will hold her captive and uses her infinite exile to enhance her burgeoning skills in witchcraft, finding her power in the lowly domestic setting to which she has been relegated. Along the way, Circe encounters a range of other Gods and powerful mortals, plays them at their own games and forges a life for herself, despite their incessant power plays.

I loved seeing Circe coming into her own. At first, she’s a clueless child, quietly trying to fit in with the other Gods and desperate to find her place within the family. Very slowly, she begins to wake up to her family’s scheming ways and starts to question their behaviour. But it’s her discovery of witchcraft that really sees Circe finally obtain some power. As a gardening nerd I was familiar with many of the plants that she used in her potions and was pleased to see the level of research that Madeline Miller had put into discovering their natural properties.

I was really pleased to see a female protagonist who wasn’t perfect – despite being a Goddess Circe was seen by the Gods as ugly, with a high thin voice and very little power. I loved seeing her find her strength in areas other than her looks and forging ahead with her own plans. However, I did find that the middle of the book rambled a bit. I felt like there was a very loose narrative arc and honestly, in some places I got a bit bored. But then the storyline picked back up and I was a happy little reader again.

Overall, I really enjoyed Circe. I loved the beautifully written prose, the flawed main character and the cleverly interwoven myths. I just wish she had found something more interesting to do than have a casual love affair for 100 pages!

Four “THAT’S why it’s called Hermes!” out of five.

Epic, meticulously researched fantasy. Highly recommended!

 

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Mid Month Mini-Reviews – March

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Hello bookworms!

Due to the success of my last post, I’m going to keep going with a few more mini-reviews. Look, I even made a graphic! I had no idea how fun these things were to write so I think they might become a monthly feature. Woo hoo! No more trying to drag out interesting comments about dull 2.5 star books.

Today, I’m focusing on clearing out some of my NetGalley backlog, Marie Kondo style. That “older than three months” tab does not spark joy.

 

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

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I quite liked this book – it was proper old-fashioned science fiction along the lines of Philip K. Dick and reminded me very much of Minority Report. The story centered around Lazlo Ratesic, a citizen of the Golden State and member of the Speculative Service whose job it was to enforce the Objectively So: the criminal offense of lying. The upholding of the truth requires Lazlo’s special sixth sense combined with the constant surveillance of all Golden State citizens but absolute power corrupts absolutely and when he stumbles across previously unknown truths, his reality unravels.

I really enjoyed the Big Brother overtones within the novel and it was interesting to read from the point of view of the enforcers, not the average dissenting citizen. The world building was great, very cohesive for such a bold idea and held together well. I enjoyed the questions that the book raised around morality – is it possible to be completely honest all of the time? Is freedom always such a good thing or should we appreciate the use of CCTV etc. as a protectionist measure? However, as the book went on it became a bit absurd, then a lot absurd, then descended into an ending that came so far out of left field that it could have belonged to another novel entirely. Still, I enjoyed the majority of the book very much so I gave it:

Three and a half “is honesty always the best policy?” out of five.

 

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

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I have to say that I really, really tried with this book but unfortunately I had to DNF it at 60% (see, I told you I gave it a good go). It’s well written but, frankly, dull. Cass is  a singer-songwriter re-launching her career after years of shying away from the public and the book flips between her life now and her back story. I initially enjoyed reading about Cass’ early life and relationship with her family but as the book progressed I felt like the action was sorely missing. Cass has a horrible relationship with her jealous boyfriend (another member of the band) but this point is so laboured and the endless chapters about yet another gig, yet another argument, yet another London flat were so repetitive and dull that I lost interest.

I feel like there’s a good story within the novel but to stretch it out over 400 pages was too much for me. When my Kindle estimated that it would still take over three hours for me to finish I made the decision that life was too short and gave up on it.

Two “MY GOD WHEN WILL IT END” out of five.

 

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

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This book is a collection of personal essays focusing on a number of taboo subjects – the alcohol addiction of Emilie Pine’s father, her own problems with fertility, the loss of children, of miscarriage, of regret and death and guilt. Whilst the book is brutally honest, it’s just… a lot. That doesn’t make it bad exactly but it does make it a difficult read. Everything is laid bare in quite a matter-of-fact way and whilst I was glad that Pine never wallowed in self-pity it was the lack of personal reflection that left me feeling a little cold. I struggled to get a handle on who she was and her lack of empathy for others or consideration of the wider issues that impacted upon her life meant that in turn I struggled to empathise with her.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that this book was enjoyable, it was a powerful read containing beautifully written prose. I appreciated the honesty of the author in tackling such difficult subjects but I struggled to connect emotionally.

Three “check your privilege” out of five

 

So, have you read any of these books? Is 60% a ridiculously long way into a book before DNFing it? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Genre: Complicated Murder Mystery

Similar to: A gothic version of “Clue”

Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who really wants something to sink their teeth into

Publication date: 8th February 2018

 

Picture the scene…

Publisher (P): Ok, tell me about this idea that you have for a book

Stuart Turton (ST): Well, it’s a Victorian murder mystery. It’s set in a crumbling gothic mansion where there’s a party taking place and the reader knows that one of the guests is the killer.

P: Pretty standard stuff.

ST: Weeeeellll… not really. I added a twist.

P: What kind of twist?

ST: The same day gets lived out over and over again, so that the reader gets to see the murder from different angles.

P: How?

ST: Well, for each day that passes, the protagonist wakes up in a different body.

P: Riiiiggghht…

ST: So they collect information from each of their host bodies.

P: Ok. That sounds a bit complicated, but as long as it’s a linear progression…

ST: It’s not a linear progression.

P: But you said…

ST: Each time one of the hosts goes to sleep, or gets knocked out, or killed, the protagonist jumps to a different host. So the timeline kind of moves back and forth.

P: But no-one knows about the hosts, so doing things out of sequence…

ST: No, there’s other characters who are stuck in the same time loop.

P: And presumably they have different host bodies too?

ST: No, I wouldn’t want to make it complicated.

P: Hmmm.

ST: Of course, the hosts know about the hosts so they can give each other information. Oh, and did I mention the plague doctor? And the footman? He’s trying to murder the protagonist by hunting him down. And when I said this was a murder mystery… there’s more than one murder. A lot more. And when I said the same day gets lived out, the hosts do have the ability to alter the timeline for future hosts.

Are you still with me?

P:…

ST…

P: You’d have to a genius to write something that complicated.

ST: BEHOLD MY GENIUS!!!

P: Ok, well as long as you don’t give it a confusing title…

So yes, anyway…

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (not to be confused with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is an entirely different book, or The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which is the same book but with a different title for US audiences) is complicated. As someone who regularly reads multiple books at once, even I had to dedicate myself solely to the novel, reading it in big chunks over a period of a few days (otherwise I kept forgetting who everyone was). Its genius is it’s intricacy though, pulling you into a web of lies, betrayal and secrets that reveal themselves slowly – sometimes even frustratingly slowly – to finally build a picture of the truth.

I loved how the book was written – the sheer scope of the thing, the numerous characters, the plotline that took so many twists and turns I had virtual whiplash. I loved the gothic sensibilities, the utterly unreliable cast of characters and the sense of tension that started on the first page and built momentum as the book progressed. I was utterly engrossed…for about 80% of the novel.

You see, whilst it would be completely honest to say that I got lost in the book, I literally mean that I got lost. The book is so complex, the storyline so fragmented and the characters so unreliable that any sense of playing detective as a reader was utterly pointless. To me, the whole point of a mystery book is to try to work out what’s going on before you’re told by picking up on the clues and red herrings scattered throughout the text. There was none of that here. Even if I wrote the ending here now it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference because not in a million years would you get anywhere close to being able to work it out.

I think that part of the problem was the idea of inhabiting different hosts (all male, all seemingly middle class/upper working class) with little knowledge or memories of who the host actually was. That meant that the protagonist was endlessly jumping between bodies who all seemed pretty similar, but who all had predefined parts to play. You had no idea of what each host knew, where their loyalties lay or even what their relationships were with other characters. Add to that the few breadcrumbs of plot that jumped out as clues/things to remember and it was all just a bit too much. So by the time I was nearing the ending, I realised that I didn’t have any theories as to what might happen and I was passively watching the action.

Ending notwithstanding, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible, absorbing book. I loved how engrossed I became in it, how inventive and original the storyline was and joyously, unashamedly complicated it became. I would have loved a few more clues, a viable chance at guessing the ending and an easier way of telling the characters apart but I still give it:

Four and a half “not a single non-alcoholic drink throughout”s out of five..

Inventive, original and complex – make sure you keep a notebook handy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Never Dawn by R. E. Palmer

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Genre: Dystopian sci-fi, YA

Similar to: The Hunger Games mixed with 1984

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of creepy dystopian fiction with a YA feel

Publication date: 5th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #9 Read a book published prior to 1st January 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.

*Disclaimer: I was approached by the author who gave me a free e-copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review*

Noah lives on the Arc – but not that one. This Noah is stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare, where the Arc is actually some kind of vast underground bunker which houses both the factory where he works and his sleeping quarters. Noah has to spend his days in servitude to the omnipresent Mother, toiling away at his menial job in preperation for the promised New Dawn – the day that his people can walk free again upon the Earth. However, Noah begins to notice certain…inconsistencies with Mother’s doctrine. When he meets Rebekah, Noah learns that there’s more going on than he could have ever dreamed possible and together, they attempt to discover the full truth.

The Never Dawn is a very atmospheric book. The world of the Arc is depicted in minute detail and the daily tasks that the workers have to carry out are written about extremely thoroughly. The writing evokes the sheer level of drudgery that Noah and his friends have to go through every day – however, that’s at the expense of the pacing of the storyline. Some parts of the book are quite laborious to get through and I did get a bit bored in the earlier stages of the text.

There are obvious religious themes at play within the novel and I felt that this added to the creepiness and sense of unease that builds as the story goes along. There are quite a lot of odd things left unsaid for the reader to pick up on – the changing reports about the situation on the surface, the lack of adults, the degree of control that Mother had over the worker’s daily lives. As an innocent character, Noah was utterly naive to his surroundings which felt completely authentic and also gave me as a reader the ability to start to form my own opinions about what was really going on.

As the book went on, the tension built beautifully and I had some genuine heart-in-mouth moments where certain rules were being broken. I was utterly on Noah’s side and despite the book being set in a tiny microcosm I liked the way that this added to the sense of claustrophobia.

The ending was something that I struggled with, however. I really couldn’t visualise the situation that the character’s found themselves in – for once the descriptions of the scenery were somewhat lacking. It’s a shame because up until that point I’d been enjoying myself but I couldn’t quite immerse myself in the final scenes.

Despite this, I liked The Never Dawn and would be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Three and a half “Who built the Arc… NOAH, NOAH”s out of five.

Intriguing and exciting but with a few issues around pacing and world building.

 


Thank you once again to the author for giving me a free copy of The Never Dawn.

 

Mid-Month Mini Reviews!

Hello bookworms!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I seem to have created somewhat of a backlog of books to review recently and rather than drown in their vortex I’ve decided I’m going to try a few mini-reviews! This is something I’ve never done before and as someone who does like to waffle on a bit I’m not sure how well they’re going to turn out… but I’m giving them a go anyway.

This month, I’m focusing on three books that I’ve read for the 2019 Read Harder Challenge for Book Riot. They are:

#4 Read a Humour Book

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen

I wasn’t really looking forwards to this book – to be honest, I thought it would be frothy crap – but I was pleasantly surprised at much I enjoyed it. Aisling is a small town, sensible girl-next-door; the kind of woman with a french manicure, comfortable ballet flats and a swipe of brown mascara. She’s the dependable friend who plans the itinerary, books the tickets and packs a cardigan in her handbag “in case it turns chilly later”. Aisling has her whole life mapped out (steady job, marriage, kids, house, pension, retirement plot) but when her boyfriend refuses to fit in she shocks everyone by ditching him and building a new life for herself – one that’s totally off plan.

I loved seeing the character of Aisling develop and even though at times she was utterly clueless she always remained resolutely herself. I loved how Irish the text was too – the slightly unfamiliar words and cadence added a real authenticity to the characters.  The book reminded me a bit of Bridget Jones’ Diary – it had all the same humour and warmth and it was really good fun.

Four “what on earth are presses?” out of five.

 

#14 Read a cozy mystery

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The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens and Siobhan Dowd

This was more of a middle grade mystery than a cozy mystery (which I hate with a passion) so again, I cheated a bit – whatcha gonna do? I really enjoyed this book with diverse representation, an autistic mc and some Mums who actually did stuff (even if that was getting arrested and disappearing for a large chunk of the book). The story follows Ted, a twelve year old boy with Aspergers who has to solve the mystery of a missing painting taken from The Guggenheim Museum on the day that he happens to be visiting. I loved how Ted (along with his sister and cousin) worked methodically through their list of suspects, piecing together information and drawing logical conclusions to arrive at the correct answer.

This book is a sequel to The London Eye Mystery (which I now really want to read) but worked fine as a stand-alone. It must have been really difficult for Robin Stevens to take Siobhan Dowd’s idea and turn it into a full novel but I thought she did a great job.

Four “how did I not see that?” out of five

 

#16 Read a historical romance by an author of colour

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The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

So I thought that OMG What a Complete Aisling was out of my comfort zone but The Governess Affair REALLY wasn’t something that I would ever pick up out of choice (hence why I cheated a tiny bit and chose a novella for this category). The story is somewhat predictable – an uptight, no-time-for-romance, I’ve-been-damaged-by-my-upbringing type falls in love with a headstrong woman and the usual enemies-to-lovers storyline plays out. Despite much eye-rolling from me the writing was actually very good and as a novella I quite enjoyed dipping into it for a bit of escapism. In fact, the only thing that I didn’t enjoy was the description of the tea that they drank. From a hip flask. Urgh. It reminded me of the time that I saw an American couple tip the milk into the teapot before pouring *shudders*. Sort it out Americans!

Three “that sounds like cold tea and a spam sandwich” out of five

 

So, how do you like the mini-review format? Have you read any of these books? Are you doing Read Harder 2019? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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Genre: Sci-fi, dark comedy

Similar to: A tiny bit like Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, or The Revenant but set in space

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone, even people who don’t think sci-fi is for them

Publication date: 27th December 2012

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6

I’m wandering round Poundland (gotta love a bargain) looking for a cheap notebook to, well, make notes in when I come across the “re:cover” section of books. Basically: secondhand books for a quid. And The Martian was there. So I picked it up because of the hype I’d seen surrounding it and bought it because of the blurb – essentially a man (Mark Watney) gets stranded on Mars after he has an accident evacuating the planet and his crew think he’s dead. He has to survive on his own with broken equipment, broken comms and a limited stock of food. No wonder the first line is

“I’m pretty much fucked”.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 14

I start reading.

Mark you really are fucked, you absolute spanner. There is NO WAY that potatoes would grow in such shallow soil PLUS I’m pretty sure that “compost” would need to have well rotted manure in it. Trust me, I’m a gardener.

Trusted Amazon review:

 Incorrect advice

Read book about potato growing. Potatoes don’t grow in shallow soil, even on Mars. 0/10.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 57

Ok so I’ve suspended my disbelief and now I’m hooked on the story. Like, totally hooked. I could do without some of those massive number info dumps but that’s a minor criticism. Thank god for the black humour because without it this book would be pretty dry.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 134

LOVING how pacey this storyline is. Every page is:

“I’m probably going to die!”

“So I thought about it and…science!”

“I’ll just try to use radiation/deadly gasses/fire/duct tape”

“I nearly died but it sort of worked so I did some more science and now it really works! I’ll live to fight another chapter!”

Yay duct tape indeed.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 254

Mark is such a juvenile idiot but I can’t help but love him. I’ve suspended my knowledge of plants, I may as well suspend my feminist principals too.

Hehe, boobs (.Y.)

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 345

The scientific research in this book is astounding. I mean, I have literally no idea if any of it checks out but it seems totally plausible so I’m going with it. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. It’s making up one hell of a story.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 405

Speaking of feminist principals, there’s pretty good representation of women working in science (as you would hope for a book set in the future). I feel better now about the 80085 thing earlier.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 467

Mark Watney, why aren’t you just a tiny bit depressed about what’s going on? There’s no way you can survive this. I love how chipper you’re being but you’re not really that believable as a character. Then again, it’s a lot more fun reading about an upbeat engineering genius than Marvin the Paranoid Android.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 504

I am so excited about the conclusion to Mark’s little issuettes. Yes it’s far fetched and yes I’m sure that in real life NASA would have to cut the funding but I love how this has all panned out. Brilliant stuff.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 549

I guess this is the end. What a ride! I loved every second of reading this book.

Premise: Go!

Pacing: Go!

Characters: Go!

Representation: Go!

Humour: Go!

Research: Go!

Gardening advice: Houston, we have a problem.

 

Five inconceivably home grown potatoes out of five.

Compelling, engaging, funny and ingenious; I loved everything about this book!

 

Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

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“The baby is dead, It only took a few seconds.”

Genre: Domestic thriller

Similar to: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Could be enjoyed by: The happily child free (the book hits very close to home)

Publication date: 18th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #10 Read a translated book written by and/or translated by a woman.

I’d heard a lot about Lullaby from various different sources; what with it being the genre-du-jour (domestic thriller) and the winner of the Prix Goncourt there seemed to be a lot of buzz about it. So when I saw it in the library I couldn’t wait to start reading it – and I can honestly say that the book is well deserving of the hype.

Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, is the mother of two children. Her and her husband Paul vowed not to let the kids dictate their lives but since becoming a parent Myriam has struggled with her role as stay-at-home-mum. She decides to return to work and employs Louise, a seemingly Mary-Poppins-perfect nanny. Louise is all the things that Myriam isnt; a great cook, a calm and efficient caregiver, a neat and tidy individual who leaves the apartment looking better than it ever has. But as Louise works her way further and further into Myriam and Paul’s lives, they slowly realise that no-one is perfect…

I’ve just finished reading Lullaby and I honestly couldn’t put it down. The book is super tense – claustrophobic even, written in an unusual style (you know what happens in the first few pages; the narrative then goes back to examine the events that led up to it). Even though the characters are all horrible people, you get completely drawn into their lives and I spent the whole book trying to psychologically profile them and even apportioning blame (which is a terrible, judgemental thing to do, even to fictional characters). But that’s part of the book’s charm – it forces you to look at the judgement surrounding child-rearing and it magnifies each and every lazy stereotype that we have of the clueless father, the selfish career woman, the stay-at-home mum, the immigrant domestic help, the borgeoise children, the educated liberal elite… I could go on.

I loved the different cultural norms that were explored, especially in relation to race and social status and I think that perspective could have only been written so sensitively by an author of colour. For example, at one point Myriam states that she doesn’t want to hire a nanny with the same heritage as her because their shared culture and language would create an uncomfortable intimacy. Whilst I can understand this on some level – I guess it’s a bit like employing your friends – I would never have considered the tension that this could create and blithely assumed that Myriam would want her children to be as entrenched in their dual heritage as possible. That’s another of my lazy assumptions challenged!

I listened to a podcast where Lullaby was being discussed and one of the contributors said that she had to DNF the book because it hit too close to home. I can completely understand that – the book is an exploration of imperfect family life, guilt about not being a good enough mother and having the worst thing that can happen to you actually happen – in graphic detail – so it obviously hits quite a lot of sensitive areas. There’s no doubting that it’s a disturbing read. Several scenes made my skin crawl and as Myriam starts to see Louise in a new light I could viscerally feel her revulsion.

The ending is not for everyone but I enjoyed the open-ended finish. Again, you’re left to draw your own conclusions and I appreciated not having any kind of moral judgement or explanation foisted upon me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lullaby and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced domestic thriller – as long as they had a strong stomach.

 

Four “The chicken carcass scene will haunt me forever”s out of five.

Thrillingly fast paced, enthralling but with just the right amount of disturbing imagery, Lullaby is a fantastic read.   

 

 

 

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J Harris

 

Genre: Adult fiction, Mystery

Similar to: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of quirky characters who don’t mind repetition

Publication date: 27th December 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #13 Read a book by or about someone who identifies as neurodiverse

Jasper is a teenage boy being brought up by his Dad after the death of his Mum some years ago. He’s autistic and also has face blindness (literally doesn’t recognise anyone’s face, only their clothing/jewellery etc.) and synaesthesia (sees colours and patterns when he hears sounds i.e. a barking dog looks like it’s surrounded by yellow french fries). When free spirited Bee Larkham moves into Jasper’s street and starts playing loud “alien” music, disrupting the peace and causing Jasper to see shiny silver shapes, he’s intrigued. When he meets her and finds out that her “colour” is a rare shade of blue (just like his Mum’s) he’s excited. And when he talks to her about his beloved wild parakeets that nest in her tree and she actively encourages them, Jasper thinks he’s made a new best friend. So why is Bee Larkham missing, and why does Jasper think that he’s killed her?

As you can probably already tell, this is a highly original book. Jasper is a great, multi-dimensional character  – an unreliable narrator whose innocent view of the world puts a very different spin on the main narrative. On the other hand, Bee Larkham is a horrible, manipulative individual. She had a terrible childhood and I’d guess that she was mentally ill but she’s literally a paedophile. A lot of people seem to have glossed over this (perhaps because a woman having sex with an underage boy is somehow seen as not as bad as a man having sex with an underage girl?) but as far as I’m concerned abuse is abuse – and there’s a lot of it in the book. However, because of Jasper’s narration, it’s all wrapped up in a kind of cozy, childlike innocence that takes away from some of the horror – but works brilliantly to amplify it when something bad happens to him.

The main plot of the book is fairly straightforward, but with Jasper narrating the action you have to very carefully read between the lines to see what’s really going on. His inability to recognise faces (even those of his parent’s) adds another layer of complexity, although this makes the story somewhat hard to follow in places and the repetition of endless descriptions of colours did get a bit tedious. I also thought that the plot could have been a bit tighter – to me, the book felt overly long and there were some slack parts during the middle chapters where nothing really happened.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the light and shade within the novel – the overall tone was lighthearted and amusing despite the dark subject matter. Jasper was totally naive to the situation going on around him but there was just enough information for the reader to be able to guess at what was really happening. There were a few red herrings thrown in for good measure too, which kept me on my toes and meant that I didn’t even begin to guess at what the final conclusion might be.

Overall, I liked The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder for it’s charm, complexity and uniqueness but there were times when the writing got a bit tedious and I disengaged from the storyline. I liked the neurodiverse representation and felt that this really added to the intrigue but the novel felt overly long and I sometimes found it hard to follow who was who. It’s a shame because this could have been an absolutely brilliant read – it’s certainly a great idea – but unfortunately the author didn’t quite pull it off.

 

Three and a half “don’t eat that pie!”s out of five.

Quirky, funny but oh-so repetitive and slow in parts.

A good – but sadly not great – read.  

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: Good Samaritans by Will Carver

“One crossed wire. Three dead bodies. Six bottles of bleach”

Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of dark and twisted thrillers

Publication date: 27th September 2018

Seth is an insomniac. Sure, he calls people late at night whilst his wife Maeve is asleep upstairs but apart from that he’s Fine. Maeve drinks a bit too much (it’s the stress of the job) but she’s basically Fine. Their marriage is Fine. They’re pretty average, really.

Ant is Fine too. He has OCD but has plenty of established coping mechanisms. He volunteers for the Samaritans, helping the people who are Not Fine. Ant isn’t one of those people.

Hadley is though.

Hadley needs help.

But when she reaches out to the Samaritans, she gets a crossed telephone wire and ends up talking to Seth instead of Ant. Hadley doesn’t know that though. Hadley thinks that she’s getting professional help. That everything is going to be Fine.

Spoiler alert: everything is most decidedly Not Fine. At all.

What follows is a complex, tangled plot full of lies, sex and death – all of the good stuff. The characters are all messed up in their own unique ways which makes four somewhat unreliable narrators. There’s only one trustworthy voice – Detective Sergeant Pace – but he’s so woefully behind the action that he serves more as an anchor point than anything else. Good job too, because without him you’d be forgiven for assuming that the plot was some kind of fever dream.

The storyline is utterly addictive. There were red herrings and plot twists left, right and centre and although the book is graphic, violent and dark it never felt gratuitous – even the sex felt authentic. There’s an odd sense of humour running through the narrative that kept even the murder-y bits light and meant that I got wrapped up in the plot without getting bogged down by the difficult content. This is definitely the kind of book that you try to read under your desk at work – just as you think you’ve worked things out, along comes another curveball!

The characterisation in the book really was excellent. Again, having four flawed narrators could have become very confusing but each had such a distinct voice that it was easy to follow what was going on. I loved how the female characters had their own agency and thought that they were both very well written. All of the characters were complex individuals with their own good and bad points – and it’s testament to the author that I ended up rooting for the bad guy, even though they were horribly psychopathic.

The only thing I can criticise Good Samaritans for is one tiny little word that kept popping up – Warwickshire. You see, I’m from Coventry – which coincidentally is where one of the characters lives. From several references throughout the text, Coventry and Warwickshire were used to denote broadly the same location which would have been fine if Coventry was in Warwickshire – but it isn’t. So every time there was a reference to location, it grated on me a bit. (Sorry Will).

Minor issues aside though, Good Samaritans is a fantastic book that really keeps you on your toes. I loved the overall tone, the pace, the dark humour and the sheer complexity of the plot. Highly recommended!

Rating: Four “Lock the door, we live near some weird people” out of five

A chilling, clever thriller that’s deliciously dark and twisted. 

Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

 

Genre: Literary fiction

Similar to: A slower version of The Essex Serpent

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a dash of magical realism

Publication date: 17th January 2018

 

This is an awkward post to write. Initially, I LOVED Once Upon A River – like, sent out a tweet that the author liked about how much I was enjoying it – but once I got into the book…well… I got a little bogged down.

Let me explain…

It’s midwinter in England, in the old Swan Inn on the banks of the Thames. Stories are being told by candlelight by the village locals. Suddenly, a man bursts through the doors, heavily beaten and holding what appears to be a doll. But when the villagers try to help him, they realise that he’s holding the body of a drowned girl. They lay her to rest in a room on her own but hours later – a miracle! – she stirs and seems to come back to life. So starts a tale of intrigue, deception and magic, heavily laden with folklore.

So far so good.

But when the entire book is based around who is the girl  in an age when no-one could tell for sure, I felt like I was literally getting caught in the weeds.

Luckily, Once Upon A River is beautifully, magically written. The prose is lyrical, flowing, well… like a river. However, it also meanders about, with a huge cast of characters forming a number of slower moving tributaries that feed into the main narrative flow. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me but it took a while to understand. It also made the pace of the book s-l-o-w… really slow. Occasionally, the storyline was so stagnant I thought we’d veered off course into an oxbow lake. The gorgeous writing just about managed to pull me through the silt though.

The book is also incredibly atmospheric. I could literally see the characters (there’s pages and pages of descriptive text) even though they’re numerous and somewhat similar. Combined with the writing style this made the novel far more engaging but after a while, instead of gliding effortlessly through the prose I felt like I was drowning in it. I got somewhat swamped by the side stories and exhausted by the sense that I was treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Oddly, the narrative picked up pace towards the end – to the point of feeling a little rushed – which I found quite jarring. I didn’t fully understand the ending (I sensed some kind of moral message but couldn’t quite decipher it) although I appreciated how the author tied all of the narrative threads together. I hated the idea that getting married and having a baby would make everything better though.

Overall, this was a very difficult book to review. I can completely see why some people (a lot of people) have given it five stars – it’s an easy book to immerse yourself in. However, I struggled with the slow pace and the lack of action. Whilst I quite enjoyed reading Once Upon A River, I didn’t love it – but I’m sure plenty of other people will.

Three “the words LITERALLY washed over me”s out of five.

Beautifully written and highly original but a little slow for my taste.

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!