Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly madly guiltySix responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

Liane Moriarty is one of those authors I have always felt slightly guilty and embarrassed not to have read.  I have seen rave reviews of her books online and there was so much hype around Big Little Lies when it came out earlier this year that I felt I had to be missing out on something.  So, I finally got my act together and got myself a copy of Truly Madly Guilty.  Why this one?  Because it was the only one available at the library if I’m honest and that’s where I was when the determination to read her at last struck.Read More »

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The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan

10240235How could one man inspire such hatred?

Professor Lars Helland is found at his desk with his tongue lying in his lap. A violent fit has caused him to bite through it in his death throes. A sad but simple end. Until the autopsy results come through.

The true cause of his death – the slow, systematic and terrible destruction of a man – leaves the police at a loss. And when a second member of Helland’s department disappears, their attention turns to a postgraduate student named Anna. She’s a single mother, angry with the world, desperate to finish her degree. Would she really jeopardise everything by killing her supervisor?

As the police investigate the most brutal and calculated case they’ve ever known, Anna must fight her own demons, prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

So The Dinosaur Feather is the oldest book I own and haven’t read.  I bought it in October 2012 and it has languished on my Kindle ever since. Inspired by reading the book that was previously the oldest unread book I owned (The Dead Room by Chris Mooney) and how I wish I hadn’t waited as long, I set myself a personal challenge this year of reading the books at the bottom of the reading pile.  This one was next on my list and, unfortunately, the results weren’t as good as I might have hoped.

The Dinosaur Feather sounds like it should be right up my street but I just couldn’t get into it.  There is a slow start, where Anna (the main character) is caught up in a dream before it moves onto pages and pages of explanation of who she is and why she was having the dream – she is due to finish her doctorate on whether birds are descendent from dinosaurs.   The pace never picks up.  I didn’t check the page count but it has to be 100 or so pages before we get to the murder Anna has to solve to prove her innocence.

Which brings me to my next problem with the book – the blurb saying Anna must “prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim”.  Neither of these things are true, unless I missed a bit of the book (it’s possible it was on a page I skimmed in order to keep going).  The detective (Soren) in charge of the investigation doesn’t think she did it and Anna’s life is never under threat.  I felt slightly cheated as a result, and even less inclined to try to like the book.

The third thing that caused me issues was Anna herself…she is really unlikeable, even her friends as good as say it.  It’s passed off as a fiery personality but it wasn’t.  She was selfish to the core, leaving her daughter at the drop of a hat and treating her friends and family like they were there to serve.  I have to say I kind of hoped she was guilty so they would arrest her – serving her right for being a pain.

Add to this a series of sub-plots around Anna’s childhood and Soren’s past and it was all very confusing and very long.  The book is over 500 pages and I felt every one.  I hate being scathing about books because I know the authors have put a lot of work into them, but here I am really struggling to find something positive to say.

The writing was o.k., though it was too wordy for me (I don’t know how much of that was down to the translation?), and I think in there was a good story if the “extras” could have been cut out – the sub-plots but also the pages and pages of the science behind bird feathers.  It didn’t add to the book and it made me want to skip ahead, never a good sign.

So, all in all, I am sorry to say, this wasn’t a book for me and not one I can recommend.

Sorry!

Emma x

not-for-me

Source: Purchased
Publisher: Quercus Books
Publication Date: 2008
Format: ebook
Pages: 536
Genre: mystery / crime
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford

29713036

You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.

You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’

When Pen leaves home, taking a bus to her new life at university, her mother doesn’t even bother to say goodbye – instead, it’s her mother’s latest boyfriend that drops her at the station.  When she arrives, fellow students can’t believe she has only one suitcase – and shows a gullibility beyond that of most new students.  You know this because she tells you, writing in a journal her psychologist has encouraged her to write.  It has all happened in the past and it is her version of events – something even she admits – though she says this version is the truth.

As a reader, you have to decide if it is – the truth – or if it’s a story to gain your trust and your sympathy, both of which Pen seems to think it’s important to gain as she slowly reveals why she is visiting a psychologist and why she is writing a diary.  The reason is death – it seems to surround her.  Her college friends died and her best childhood friend is in prison after killing a police officer.  In both instances, Pen says she is an innocent bystander but – with so much death surrounding her – you have to wonder if that is the case.

As far as a plot goes, this sounded like a good one to me.  I was eager to read the book and imagined plenty of twists, turns, red herrings and questions – my type of story.      Unfortunately, I got so many twists I couldn’t keep up and, at least two weeks after finishing the book, I still am not sure exactly what I read or what I was supposed to get from the story.

The main problem for me was how it was told.  There is Pen in the present, talking to her psychologist and sharing snippets of her life (having moved back at home after the murders of her friends), the Pen of the past writing about her life in college, and the Pen of the past past, writing about her friend’s murdering of a police officer.  Then there’s the story Pen is telling her psychologist, which is different from her diary and which she admits isn’t the truth.  Confused?  I was.

Normally multiple threads don’t bother me and I like unreliable narrators.  I am used to books that hop between past and present or have more than one voice telling the story and I love having to find out the truth – it keeps you engaged as a reader.  Here though I didn’t know where I was in time and whether I was reading Pen’s diary or hearing her speak to her doctor.  Part of the reason was that there was no break in the chapters to let me know the voice had changed.  Text in italics or dates to head up the chapter would really have helped.  Instead, I kept backtracking to try and figure out where in time I was.

As soon as I start doing that I lose the connection to the book, it takes me out of the story, and that is what happened here.  I found that I really didn’t care, about Pen or what happened to her or her friends.  If I’m honest, even if it had been easier to follow, I may not have cared anywhere because I didn’t like any of them.  I really couldn’t find anything positive in their characters – they were all selfish and self-centred – or anyone to relate to.  I think I was supposed to feel sympathy for Pen and understand how her behaviour in college was impacted by the death of the policeman but it took so long to get to the “what happened” there that I couldn’t pull anything back.

For all that, it wasn’t all bad.  The first third wasn’t bad and I did find myself drawn in.  I did want to know what happened and did see myself enjoying the book.  However, as more secrets were revealed I just couldn’t keep up as I said and so my enjoyment turned to frustration, partly because I feel like there is a good story in here – I just couldn’t find it.  A bit of a shame but it happens and does mean that this one wasn’t for me – sorry!

Emma

not-for-me

Source: Library
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: 25th August, 2016 (first published 1st March, 2016)
Pages: 400
Format: ebook (Kindle)
Genre: mystery, thriller
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson

23510407On 7 November 1974, a nanny named Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death in a Belgravia basement. A second woman, Veronica, Countess of Lucan, was also attacked. The man named in court as perpetrator of these crimes, Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, disappeared in the early hours of the following morning. The case, solved in the eyes of the law, has retained its fascination ever since.

Maybe it’s being a child of the 70’s but I have always been slightly fascinated by Lord Lucan and the fact that he disappeared so completely after so obviously (or so I thought) killing his nanny when he meant to be killing his wife.  Maybe it’s that his name still appears in the papers, magazines and books regularly as people try and figure out just where he went after that fateful night.

Whatever the reason for my fascination I’ve never not read an article I’ve come across but till now I’ve never read a book on the subject.  So, when I came across this at the local library and given my recent interest in reading true crime books I thought I would give it a go.  I can’t say it was the best decision I have ever made, though I did learn some interesting facts about Lord Lucan and understood a little more about him and his wife by the end of the book.

Why wasn’t it the best decision?  Because the book is long, it is overly wordy and it flits around so much that I struggled to keep the story straight in my head.  Tales of Lord Lucans of the past and their own misdeeds are woven throughout – this was confusing and, at times, didn’t seem to easily link back to the period in which the Lucan I was interested in way living or his actions (though I think that was the point).

It doesn’t help that Thompson uses language that is academic at times before slipping into a conversational tone and then back again.  Her sentences can be long and I found I was re-reading some passages just to understand exactly what she was saying…and when I did understand I’m not sure I exactly got the point.  It felt like she had so many facts, so much detail, had done so much research that she was determined to get everything in regardless.  A 100 pages shorter and this book might have been a lot more interesting.

The final thing that frustrated me is that, whilst I didn’t expect to get any closer to the answer, Thompson seems to have her own opinion on what happened but doesn’t want to just come out and say it so she skirts around it.  I wanted to either be presented with the facts to make my own decision or be presented with a scenario, an argument that I could either agree or disagree with.  I got neither.

It isn’t all bad, like I said, I did find out some things about Lucan I wasn’t aware of before and I did get a feel for the life he and his friends were living – one outside of that most people were living at the time – but it just feels like it could have been so much better.  A shame but I was left feeling deflated by the book and disappointed – not for me.

Emma

Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

imageSo whilst this isn’t technically part of my Spring into Horror read-a-thon reading, as it is billed as a gothic horror, I had thought that reviewing it today would be a good way to start the week.  Thought being the operative word as a) I’m not sure I would call it a horror, gothic or otherwise and b) it wasn’t that good, which I find myself really disappointed by as I was so looking forward to it when I started reading.

It starts off really well, with the oppressive atmosphere of an overly religious orphanage and two late teens – Ruth and Nat – talking to the dead, parents of other children left to basically rot in the upstate New York childcare system. It is a way of trying to take control of their lives and hide from the fear of not knowing what comes next (they are 18 in a year and will be without any home – good or bad – at all).

Then, one day, they meet Mr. Bell – a man without a home but with a vision of the lives they can all lead thanks to Nat’s ability to see dead people…or at least pretend to see dead people because it isn’t real (or is it? the book, on this part, keeps you guessing for a while).  As with all things in this book, however, Mr. Bell isn’t quite what he seems.  And neither is Zeke, Ruth’s suitor who appears out of nowhere.  Or Ruth or Nat or the Father who runs the orphanage with religious zeal.  It’s all a bit too much.

And then it gets more complicated because Ruth and Nat’s story is in the past and it’s running alongside Ruth and Cora’s story in the present.  Cora is Ruth’s niece, pregnant and persuaded by Ruth to walk across New York state without any reasons given.  They walk and walk and come across random strangers who behave in random ways.  Not one person in this book is normal or undamaged and, again, it’s all too much.  I feel like I was supposed to get something from it, from the ways they spoke, the things they said, that I just couldn’t because I was just so confused by what was going on.

The language, which was flowery and wandered, didn’t help and neither did the characterisations…I didn’t like anybody…but my main problem was my just not understanding what was happening or why.  Characters like Zeke came, went and then came back as someone else (without a nose which was never properly explained and didn’t seem to do much for the plot).  They all spoke a certain way, meaning people blurred into one, and their motives were questionable at best when revealed.   In fact, I’m not sure why I even finished reading, other than I hate putting a book down before the end.  Maybe I should have left this one alone and I wouldn’t have felt quite so disappointed – not one for me – Sorry!

Emma

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

imageLiving in their car, surviving on tips, SCharmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

So I originally planned on posting this review on Monday.  Then I didn’t.  Why? Because I was struggling with how I felt about the novel and what I had written didn’t feel right – and it didn’t, if I’m honest, feel honest which I always try to be.

My problems started with the fact that I love Margaret Atwood.  I have read the majority of her books and I can (honestly this time) say there isn’t one I haven’t liked and a lot of which I’ve loved. That includes the Maddaddam trilogy which I know not everyone enjoyed and did, I admit, take some getting used to.  Once I’d settled into the rhythm of the first book though, the language and the imagry, I was hooked on the stories of a disparate group of people trying to survive in a world wiped out by man-made plagues and problems.

There are many of the same themes in The Heart Goes Last.  The world hasn’t been wiped out by a virus but it has been hit by the financial collapse and the central characters, Stan and Charmaine are struggling as a result having lost their jobs and home and finding themselves living in a car.  When Charmaine sees an ad for a town of Consilience where she can have a house again, clean sheets, a job in return for living an alternate lifestyle as a prisoner every other month she can’t say no  – and, because he loves her, neither can Stan.  Like his brother tells him though if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

At first, all seems well but slowly the dream becomes a nightmare.  They can’t leave Consilience and they can’t talk to the outside world.  There are people watching all the time and big, black, cars silently cruise the streets.  Big corporations with no moral compass are in charge.  Greed, lust, and power are what they care about, not helping people live better lives as they promised.  Not unless you are rich, of course, and can pay for the organs harvested from prisoners who won’t reform or the baby blood sold to make you young again.

These are all things that were touched on in the Maddaddam books and they are all things that scare me because they feel like they could be real and make me think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  The thing with this book though, was that I found I didn’t care.  I didn’t feel scared.  And that’s because I didn’t believe in any of the characters or the world Atwood had created in Consilience and beyond.  I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t.  Instead, Stan and Charmaine annoyed me. I found them weak and ineffectual.  The other central characters were just as bad, flat and stereotypical.  I really didn’t care if they did have their minds wiped because Ed, the man in charge, felt like it.

Even Atwood’s language, which I normally find paints a picture for me, let me down.  It felt like she was going through the motions before beating me over the head with her message in the final pages – just in case I hadn’t understood.  This was originally a series of magazine articles I think or short stories, and maybe that was the problem.  Maybe if I’d read them as that I’d feel differently.  But, unfortunately, I don’t – which means (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) this wasn’t one for me.  Sorry!

Emma

 

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

image

Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life in London. But then a murder is committed in his flat, just days after a chance encounter with an American who had told him about an assassination plot that could have dire international consequences. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland where he will need all his courage and ingenuity to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.

In the early summer of 1914, former soldier and adventure Richard Hannay finds himself in London, without friends and bored. That is until one evening when a neighbour knocks on his door, telling him a tale of spies and espionage. The neighbour is afraid, hiding out in Hannay’s flat…until he ends up dead and Hannay finds himself on the run, accused of the murder.

Fleeing not the just the murderers but the police, Hannay heads to Scotland, convinced he just needs to stay safe for a few weeks before the secrets shared with him can be shared with the rest of the world – secrets which will either bring about a world war or end one.

It’s a story I know well because I have seen the movie The Thirty Nine Steps (both the Alfred Hitchcock version and subsequent 1958 version) many times. At the same time, it felt very different because, it turns out, the movies have taken liberties with the plot.  The core is the same though, lots of running away from the bad guys, lots of close shaves for Hannay, and way too much luck.

Coming across an acquaintance in his car in the highlands of Scotland whilst in desperate need of escape is just one such piece of luck but there are many and by the third or fourth I was getting bored. Yes, they proposed the plot forward but they also made it silly. At the same time, I know this was a magazine serial so I wonder if these were the weekly cliffhangers?

Still, knowing this didn’t help and I struggled with reading the book as a result. The writing style didon’t help either. Written in 1915, it felt like it – the language was stilted and didn’t have the flow I like. The story also didn’t hold the tension I expected – in part because he keeps escaping. It all left me disappointed I’m afraid…not one for me.

emma

p.s. On a plus note, this is my first Classic Club read for a while!

 

Eat, Nourish, Glow by Amelia Freer

25718437Way back in what seems like the mists of time but was actually only the end of October, I decided I needed to start being healthier. Over the course of the previous year, I had slowly being putting on weight – about half a stone so not a lot but enough to notice. Worse, I was feeling sluggish and tired all the time.

I was talking (o.k., moaning) to a colleague at work who said she had recently made quite a lot of changes to her diet for the same reason and she was feeling much better as a result. She recommended a couple of books, one of which was Ear, Nourish, Glow, which I found at the local library so thought I would give a go.

Freer is a nutritional therapist who has worked with a number of famous people, helping them lose weight and look good – the type of changes the press love to report on. The idea she lays out at the beginning is everybody is different and responds differently to food and being healthy is not about dieting but about changing your diet, slowly and steadily getting rid of things that make you feel, basically, like crap.  These things end up being almost everything I would say I loved – sugar, bread, pasta, dairy and alcohol – and are replaced with fruits, veggies, natural grains. As a result, you will lose weight but, more importantly, you will glow from all the good things you are eating.

To get to the glow, there are 10 easy steps – or supposedly easy. I can’t say I found them that particularly and, if I’m honest, by chapter 10 I had pretty much lost the will to live because whilst Freer starts off saying it’s up to you what you change in your diet (based on a food diary you keep in the first two weeks), she basically ends up telling you everything is bad.

To follow her simple 10 steps, you need to cut out gluten, alcohol (other than good quality red wine), salt (unless it’s pink Himalayan salt), dairy and – most importantly – sugar.  Sugar, according to Freer, is evil and the worst thing you could consume.  She might be right here, given what is in the press, and I don’t necessarily disagree with her on processed sugar but she also doesn’t seem to like natural sugar in things like fruit.

The problem is that to do what she asks you basically have to throw out everything in your kitchen and restock it with things I’m not sure the average person could afford on a weekly food shop.  Cans need to be replaced with food stored in glass wherever possible for example and juices should be blended in a Vitamix which runs at several hundred pounds.  You could use another juicer (as long as it’s cold press) but you get the feeling that – if you do – you are failing.  I am sure that wasn’t Freer’s intention but it’s how it came across because the messages kept being repeated so it started to sound like dogma.

What also kept being repeated was basically the same dozen or so recipes – meaning the book became (for me) a bit of a boring lecture on what not to do vs. what to do to feel better.  Saying that, and almost despite it, I did find that after reading the book my diet improved.  That was down to the food diary I kept in the beginning and which I found really useful.  It told me what I already knew – I eat too much rubbish when I’m travelling for work and snack too much when I work from home – but made me focus and think twice when I was about to buy a bag of crisps as part of a meal deal.

Since reading the book, I have paid much more attention to what I eat and my diet has changed.  However, I haven’t cut out things that I don’t think have a negative impact on me – like dairy – because life is basically too short to not enjoy what I eat.  As a result, though, I have probably reduced the bad fats and definitely the sugar in my diet, and I have lost weight – 4lbs so far which I’m chuffed with.  I could probably have done I without the book though – or at least chapters 2 through 10 – so overall, I have to say, the book wasn’t for me and it’s not one I can recommend.

Emma

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

902743Jonna and Mari are artists. They live together, sort of, and have for twenty or thirty years.  I say sort of because their apartments are at opposite ends of the top floor of an old building, connected by an empty attic space.  When they are working, they stay in their own homes.  When they aren’t working, they spend their time in Jonna’s apartment watching American movies (Fair Play is set in Finland) and avoiding the world or in a small cabin owned by Mari on a small island with no other inhabitants, still avoiding the world.  Sometimes, they travel, taking long trips to other countries.

Occasionally, they have visitors or meet new people who they seem to attach themselves to rather than become friends with.  Whilst excited by the new additions, each time it seems to upset the balance of their lives, the routine of their non-routine world.  There is Mari’s old boyfriend for example, who says he’s going to come camping on the island then doesn’t show up, and the young artist Jonna befriends and feeds food normally set aside for Mari until one day she doesn’t turn up anymore and Mari, who had felt like she no longer belonged, is welcome into the flat again.

Told in short chapters that are linear timewise but do not necessarily follow each other immediately, Fair Play gives snapshots into lives less ordinary than mine.  As an outsider, getting a glimpse of this world, I struggled to understand it and get a real sense of time and place.  The seeming lack of direction, the misunderstandings that were never discussed – I wondered whether I was missing something and kept going back on myself.  Then I read that Fair Play was based on Tove Jansson’s own long-term relationship and, knowing this, I started to feel like I was getting not so much a work of fiction but a glimpse of her real life and started enjoying it more as a result (though not sure why, perhaps I was no longer looking for a big idea?).

With this in mind, I found it interesting though not compelling and I did like the style of writing.  It was sparse and simple and seemed (at least to my untrained eye) well translated.  I think the problem was I wanted more, I’m just not sure more of what.  More of a story maybe and definitely more pages – this was billed as a novel but was only 84 pages long.  When it ended I felt disappointed and slightly cheated.  Which is a shame because I don’t think this was a bad book and I think other people would really like it.  It just wasn’t for me.

Emma

The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse

7575266Well, it had to happen. After not reading a book I didn’t like in all of October, barely a week into November and I found one that did nothing for me. And I’m even more disappointed because I had high hopes.

The reason, I had read Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met earlier this year and really liked it – the pace, the plotting, and the characters – and had hoped for more of the same. Sadly, it was not to be.

The Bed I Made is slow from start to finish, only picking up the pace in the last 60 or so pages, way too late for me to care I’m afraid. Lucie Whitehouse tries, and early on nearly succeeds in building up the tension, creating a career girl (Kate) who meets a too perfect man (Richard), only to discover he isn’t anywhere near what she thinks he is.

I spent the first few chapters wanting to know just what Richard was up to and why. The problem is that once Kate figures it out and heads to a bolt hole all Richard has is email and text. It just doesn’t a good bad guy make. I needed more. I needed twists, turns, and danger. Not Kate being mildly concerned but – inexplicably to me – unable to tell her best friend why.

All that said, and disappointments aired, this isn’t a badly written book. Lucie Whitehouse does a good job setting the scene and describing the island Kate has retreated to and the people who inhabit it. She has a nice, easy to read style, that keeps you turning pages. It is a shame the story didn’t do the same – meaning (no surprise) this one wasn’t for me…sorry!

Emma