Friday, 13 October 2017

Devil's Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

I really loved Andrew's previous book The Loney, so I was very much looking forward to reading this new one. I'm not really sure how I feel about it. Slightly disappointed, in that it doesn't have the same impact of being unnerved as with the first one. That's not to say that the writing is badly written - he writes impeccably well. It's just that for the first half of the book, I skimmed many pages and really, when I got to the end, the pages I'd skimmed could really have been cut out altogether. I wasn't drawn into the story as much as with The Loney, and only really enjoyed about the last half or even quarter. That's probably because that's where most of the action was - the rest was a large amount of descriptive text of surrounding landscapes, nature and historical characters, which I wasn't really interested in. There was also a lot of jumping around timewise, and sometimes I found myself reading a paragraph and not knowing if we were still in the past or back in the present.

John and his new wife Kat travel from Suffolk to John's dad's farm near Lancashire, where every year they go through a ritual of rounding up the sheep from the moors and bringing them down to the farm out of the harshness of the winter weather. They then put on a sumptuous feast and call the Devil in to fill his stomach with food and wine so that he'll go away, sleep and forget to take sheep or cattle. This is called Devil's Day. However, this particular year, things have happened within the village which have caused fear and tension amongst the neighbours, and John and Kat's first Devil's Day together will be one they will never forget.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe

I always look forward to a new Nina Stibbe novel. I know it's a perfect treat waiting to be read. She always makes me laugh, enough to make me want to be her best friend! Creepy!

In this little gem of a book, Nina lets us into her own world of Christmas, and sets out dos and donts of this festive period. Need advice on a tree? A turkey? The perfect present? Whether to throw a party? Well all this and more can be found within the pages of this hilarious autobiography/short story/advice book! 

The only downside - it's too short!! I want more! Thank you Nina for  yet again bringing a smile to my face.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

Sam is a teacher in the UK, and Dennis is on death row in the U.S., convicted of the murder of a young girl 20 years previously. His case has always been in the media, as there are many who believe he is innocent. After the end of a relationship, Sam fills her time trawling through all the sites and messages about Dennis and his case, and starts to write to him. Months later she's on a plane to visit him in prison, and before long her life takes a very different turn.

I enjoyed reading this book, though I found Sam's character rather unnerving. She's obviously an educated young lady, but she's also naive, paranoid and jealous - not exactly ideal attributes in life, especially when you start a relationship with a convict. Perhaps it's those that need help themselves, who offer help to others? I wasn't sure whether we should feel sorry for her, or be frightened of her. I think the surroundings she found herself in were such that they changed her completely.

A great book for those who love easy-to-read thrillers. You're never quite sure which way it will go until you actually reach the end.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Seventy-year-old Fredrik Welin lives on one of the islands making up an archipelago off the coast of Sweden. He lives alone in a big old house built by his grandfather. His wife has died. He  has a daughter, Louise, but she's a traveller and rarely divulges her whereabouts, or indeed any facts about her life, to her father.

Fredrik is woken late one night by a searing light - his house is on fire. He only has time to save himself and nothing else. By the next day the house is burnt right down to the ground.

Over the next few months we learn more about Fredrik - his life on the island, his daughter and her secrets, his relationship with a journalist, and also about Jansson the postman, who not only delivers all the mail by boat to the islanders, but reads all of it too. We also follow the investigation into the fire, as suspicions arise as to who or what caused it to start.

In 2015 Henning Mankell died from cancer. This was his final piece of work. He was a very popular author of Swedish crime fiction, most notably his character Kurt Wallander, played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh in the English-language tv drama series. 'After the Fire' dwells on loneliness, loss and death. When I was reading the book, I was picturing everything in black and white, just like the cover, as nothing in the book seemed to evoke colour or happiness. I don't know whether this is because of Mankell's state of mind while writing the book, or whether all his crime books have a similar feeling. He also draws on incidents from his own life to include in the book, one of them being when Fredrik travels to Paris and memories rush back to him of when he was there as a young man and arrested during the student uprising in 1968. Mankell himself lived in Paris starting out as a writer, and himself took part in the student uprising. 

Even though the book is quite long, and many chapters are about the minutiae of Fredrik's life - his shopping, his daily ablutions, his trips and falls, his musings on life and death - it's never dull or boring, it subtly pulls you into the story of a lonely man living in a lonely environment.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

Emily Barr is a prolific writer of adult fiction. Her first young adult novel, The One Memory of Flora Banks, was published to critical acclaim in December 2016. This is her second young adult novel, and I think it may be my favourite.

Ella Black lives in Kent with her parents and her cat, Humphrey. She has two best friends, Lily and Jack. But Ella has a secret - sometimes when she least expects it, loud ringing noises flood her head and even though she tries to fight it, she can't stop letting Bella through. Bella is the psychotic side of Ella and makes her do mean things.

One day at school, after being rude to her teacher, Ella is called to the head's office where her mother is anxiously waiting. Ella is immediately removed from school with no explanation, but it's not back home where her parents are taking her. What happens next will turn Ella's life upside down.

Chapter One of the book is titled '40 days until she dies', and all the following chapters count down the days to this event. But who is being talked about? Whose life are we counting down the final days of?

This was such a page turner - I read it in a couple of days. It was fast-paced and full of action and adventure. Ella is brave and fearless, even when facing the most frightening scenario. Move over Flora, there's a new girl in town!

Smile by Roddy Doyle

Victor Forde lives on his own in a sparse apartment in Ireland. He used to be married to Rachel - businesswoman turned popular TV presenter - but that is now over, and the main focus of his life is his time spent in his local pub, Donnelly's. It is there that he meets a man who appears to know him well, even though Victor can't place him at all. The man, Fitzpatrick, tells him they used to go to school together and seems to know a lot about their time there, especially the teachers - one in particular, Murphy, who used to tell the schoolboy Victor that he liked his smile. For Victor used to attend St Martin's CBS, a Christian Brothers school in Ireland, where they were taught by monks. It is the memory of what the monks did to the young boys - Victor in particular - that would forever haunt him. Who is this man Fitzpatrick, and why is he so uncouth and imposing, dredging up horrible memories for Victor?

There are few laughs in this book, some of it uncomfortable reading, partly because of the feeling of dread in the chapters about school, and partly because you know this sort of thing was actually happening in real life. Fitzpatrick is not a nice character, and every time he makes an appearance in the pub, you just wish Victor would walk away and ignore him, but it's like a magnet, drawing them together. The ending of the book is quite a shock, in fact it had me slightly confused, and I felt I should read the book again to make sense of it. 

Even though she plays a small part in the book, I loved Victor's mother, she was such a caring, adorable woman. This could be because the only other female character in the book was Rachel, the ex-wife. She came across as a domineering, controlling woman, and I felt that Victor was made out to be a victim in his marriage as well as in his school and in the pub. 

Roddy Doyle often writes about uncomfortable subject matters - marriage breakdowns, domestic abuse - and most of his fiction is set in Ireland (being Irish born and bred himself), so the overall feeling of the book is true Roddy.

Friday, 1 September 2017

The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius

What a wonderful story! A murder mystery for children like no other - the main character, Sally Jones, is a gorilla and she is a true delight. There are beautiful illustrations at the start of each chapter, and a detailed map on the inside front and back covers - no-one can resist a map!

The story is set in Lisbon in Portugal in the early to mid 1900's. Sally Jones is an engineer's assistant to the 'Chief' Henry Koskela on the vessel The Hudson Queen. However, following their refusal to take on board a certain consignment of cargo, one man ends up dead and Henry Koskela is charged with his murder. Sally Jones knows he is innocent and sets out to prove it. Her journey takes her to India and back, and along the way she meets many colourful characters - some who want to help her, but many who don't.

The story is jam-packed with adventures, it is such a page-turner. A marvelous book with a truly original heroine.