Category Archives: Review copies

Can Anybody Help Me – Sinead Crowley – 7/10

“With consciousness came distress. Her eyes flickered open and met his. but her thirst was greater than her feat and she moved her hand feebly on the blanket, her fingers flickering in the direction of the bedside locker.”

Can anybody help me FINAL

(adapted from Goodreads) Struggling with a new baby in a new city with a new husband, Yvonne turns to an online support group for help and support. When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne is concerned but dismisses her fears. She doesn’t know the woman, after all. But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This felt quite slow to get going (despite the nearly first-page murder), as two apparently separate storylines took their time to intermingle. Once we did get going though, there was no stopping our twisty-turny plot. Relatively straightforward to children of the internet age, some of it might be confusing to older readers. I loved it.Writing? So standard, so good, right? for a police procedural? I’ve got nothing to say on the writing – nothing exceptional, but certainly nothing that got in the way or in any way detracts from the book.

As I always do, I really like the lead police character in this one; and of course she’s a single-minded five-months-pregnant go-getter determined to absolutely get this bad guy right now. Yvonne came across as a bit pathetic, but on the whole totally believable and rounded. I was unconvinced by Eamonn as a character – he seems overly charming, too nice. But for me the most skilful bit of character-building was the online chat – Yvonne’s character chatted online in a manner that fitted her offline personality, and the other online voices were easily distinguishable and well-built up.

My knowledge of Dublin is zero (never having been), and Crowley sets the scene well with the run-down estate, the dingy pub, the pleasant terrace houses, the surety of rain at an Irish funeral. There’s a smattering of Irish dialect to make absolutely sure that you know you’re in Ireland – I didn’t mind it, and I imagine it makes the dialogue more authentic. It certainly doesn’t get in the way.

And I most definitely did not see the identity of the bad guy coming. I had a couple of indications in that general direction, but it was a huge surprise to me when it was revealed. A quick, thrilling read, and a slightly scary look into online forums (fora?) and life.

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Quercus Books, 400 pages
Order Can Anybody Help Me?from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The Divorce Papers – Susan Rieger – 8/10

the divorce papers

“Divorcing clients harbour murderous thoughts, they just have better impulse control than your regular clients.”

When Mia Mather Meiklejohn is served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at her favourite restaurant, she quickly turns to her father’s preferred lawyers to represent her. The day she wants to meet, the firm’s divorce lawyers are all out of the office and Anne Sophie Diehl, a top criminal associate lawyer, takes the deposition, having been promised she’ll have to do nothing more. Mia likes Sophie and insists she stays on the case. Can Sophie get to grips with civil law fast enough to get Mia a good settlement – and before office politics drive her totally crazy?

I love an epistolatory novel. 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are some of my favourite books. Letters and depositions/meeting notes permit lots of dialogue to shine through, while characters who might (like me) prefer the written form are permitted to flourish through their own writing.

Rieger has written a set of solid, interesting characters here. Sophie is great – I recognise a certain amount of that young professional striving to impress while occasionally being pushed well outside of her comfort zone. Trying to keep her personal life on an even keel, with the help of a best friend in a totally unrelated job, while she puts in crazy hours at the office. I love her stream of consciousness memos. Mia is a great wronged wife – amusingly angry, witty, badly behaved in a highly entertaining way. Sophie’s family and friends provide a non-legal support cast who through her life into relief, as does her mentor David. Of the bit-part characters, I particularly liked Jane, the eleven-year-old “minor issue” of the dissolving marriage, and Bruce, her inordinately rich doting grandfather. Both are delicately written while funny and honest.

New Salem might as well be Rich Everyville. I don’t know where it is (outside New York, apparently), but it just seems to have a lot of rich people and their lawyers. Fine. Rieger gets away without bothering much with setting, as everything is documented rather than described. In terms of plot development it feels a bit slow – Rieger could have edited 50-100 pages out of this but I don’t mind. This is the kind of light reading you don’t really want to end. If it had been 800 pages with more turns, that would have been fine. As it is, there’s a bit of development just often enough to keep you interested, and the private life intercessions help to keep the sense of time progressing.

It’s not the Next Great American novel, but I loved this. The test for me of whether I’m into a book is whether I read it when I’m not on public transport – and this one I even thought about taking to bed to read. It’s easy to read (some of the extracts of the Narragansett Legal Code are not so legible) and funny. You care about the characters just enough to be engrossed but able to leave them behind.

Definitely recommended as a light and easy read any time there’s a Tube strike on.

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review. Publisher: Crown Publishing USA, 461 hardback pages
Order The Divorce Papersfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting


The Bedlam Detective – Stephen Gallagher – 6/10

“The names of the house always charmed her. They hadn’t when she’d lived here, but they charmed her whenever she returned. Prospect Place. St Cuthbert’s. Puffin. St Elmo’s. Evangeline was a city dweller now, a grown woman, and these names were her childhood.”

bedlam

Two country girls have been found brutally murdered, not far from the estate of Sir Owain Lancaster, who returned alone some years ago from a disastrous trip to the Amazon. Sebastian Becker is sent to investigate, wondering if Sir Owain needs treatment in the infamous hospital above his office – Bedlam…

Becker is a solid everyman sort of detective, sympathetic without being ingratiating, persistent without being omniscient. Some home troubles make him a slightly more rounded character but not all that much time is devoted to making him an interesting person – he is the vehicle for the story. On the other hand there is a huge amount of time and paper devoted to the tale of Sir Owain’s misadventures in the Amazon – we have his diary as well as the observations of those around him so his is really the most rounded character in the book. Which begs the question – why bother with the London side-story and the murder of the girls? If the author just wanted to tell the tale of Sir Owain’s (literally incredible) visit to South America, why not just tell it by itself?

As with all these historical endeavours, one wonders how authentic it is. Would Sebastian’s autistic son really have fared so well in 19th century London? Is the life portrayed in Bethlehem Hospital accurate (or even close to accurate)? The London of the book felt quite sanitised, compared to the bleakness of country living. There’s an assortment of bit parts which are cleverly and amusingly put together – I particularly liked Becker’s family and the country plod who is supposed to assist Becker in his investigations.

I felt that towards the end, the author was in a bit deep with the plot/stories he had constructed and it needed to be wrapped up – the episode at the country hall has heavy touches of deus ex machina to it. As I look at the slim book beside me (it’s only just over 300 pages), more and more threads of plot come back to me and it’s surprising to consider they were all included in the same novel!

Overall, an enjoyable enough mystery; a bit dark for what I’m used to, and if you don’t mind the heavy-handed wrapping up, you should find it pretty gripping.

Additional information:

Copy kindly sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks, 305 paperback pages 
Order The Bedlam Detectivefrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The River of No Return – Bee Ridgway – 5/10

“Julia sat beside her gradfather’s bed, holding his hand. The fifth Earl of Darchester was dying.”

river of no return

To call this plot convoluted is an understatement. Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, cheats death on a battlefield in Spain in 1812 by jumping nearly two hundred years into the future. He accustoms himself to life as a New York socialite and cheese farm patron, until the Guild demands their pound of flesh and sends him to confront his 19th century past. Meanwhile, when the ancient Earl of Darchester dies leaving his teenage granddaughter estate-less, and the evil cousin turns up to take over things, well… it gets messier.

It’s been a while since I read this, and the difficulty I am having in remembering anything about it belies the enjoyment of reading it. Or perhaps that’s exactly it – it’s frothier than The Time Traveller’s Wife, with a less random mechanism of time travel, and a much larger world construct which makes considerably less sense. In essence it is a love story with one protagonist struggling across the centuries and an epoch-old conflict to find the other. There is an abundance of amusing note-taking on current and past cultures, particularly class and gender structures.

But in the end, nothing is resolved, and the characters are boilerplate romance standards – she is beautiful and independent but hamstrung by the conventions of the time, he is handsome and dashing and sensitive etc.

It was only as I googled for a picture of the cover to insert into this review that I discovered that the title of the book is the name of a Western film starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. I assume that the allusion is intentional, but I cannot figure out why.

Borrow, read on a plane, leave on the plane.

Copy kindly provided by LoveReading.co.uk and the publisher in return for an honest review, so long ago that I have given up ever reviewing it for LoveReading.
Publisher: Penguin, 546 pages (hardback).
Order The River of No Returnfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Looking for Me – Beth Hoffman – 7/10

“Charleston was a unique place – one where it seemed as if two different worlds not so much collided but gracefully slid up beside each other and decided to just get along.”

looking for me

Teddi Overman loves her family, but she ran away from home and her mother’s dreams of secretarial school to build a life for herself restoring antiques in Charleston. Every time she returns home, she can’t help believing her brother, long disappeared and assumed dead, is still living in the beautiful nature around the family farm. Now grown-up and cleaning out the family property, she finds clues that maybe not all is as it appears.

This is a sweet, easy-reading piece of fluff. I whipped through it on a flight; while there is an ongoing background mystery as to what has happened to Teddi’s brother, really it’s a few months in the life of an antiques restorer. There are a couple of gently recurring arcs in the story, such as the adventures of Miz Tule Jane Poteet, the antique-focussed kleptomaniac, and Olivia, Teddi’s icy friend.

On a more serious note, Hoffman writes serious emotion well. She handles grief and loss very well and sensitively, as well as the itchy feet of a teenage girl wanting to make her way in the world, refusing her mother’s more sensible plans. Teddi’s conflicted feelings with her mother – devotion, with an undercurrent of resentment and impatience – are clear but heartfelt.

I loved the sense of Charleston conveyed – I’ve not spent much time in the USA but this sleepy, elegant, slightly behind the times but better for it, feeling is exactly what I imagine of the non-industrial South, and now I sort of want to go for a visit. Which is high praise for a location in a book. Equally, the nature around the novel’s other main setting, a farm in Kentucky, is also pictured well, the feeling of untouched nature slowly being encroached upon by city campers.

Definitely worth a read, particularly if you are looking for something relaxing. Come back Friday for a Q&A with the author!

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Viking
Order Looking for Mefrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

A couple of recent DNFs

Someone Else’s Wedding – Tamar Cohen – 2/10 (DNF)

someone else's wedding

Description from the blurb, because it’s very clever:

Mr & Mrs Max Irving request the company of:
Mrs Fran Friedman, mourning her empty nest, her lost baby, the galloping years, and a disastrous haircut.
Mr Saul Friedman, runner of marathons, avoider of conflicts and increasingly distant husband.
The two Misses Friedman, Pip and Katy, one pining over the man she can’t have, the other trying to shake off the man she no longer wants.
At the marriage of their son James Irving, forbidden object of inappropriate and troubling desire.

I never got off the ground with this one. I found Fran self-indulgent, self-pitying and the mystery of her relationship with the groom was very strange. Surely they should be totally different generations? Saul and the daughters were interesting characters and Cohen comes out with a spectacular turn of phrase every now and again, but I got really tired of Fran’s voice. DNF, and sharpish.

I don’t know whether this is just a piece of anti-romance snobbery I have – I just can’t be dealing with people’s nonsense.

(review copy from Doubleday, affiliate link to Amazon in case it looks interesting)

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout – 2/10 (DNF)

Burgess boys

Jim and Bob Burgess have escaped their Maine upbringing to Manhattan; of the three siblings, only sad single mother Susan is left, struggling with her teenage son Zach. When Zach is caught goading local Muslim Somali refugees, high-powered lawyer Jim won’t give up his exotic holiday and sends tender but ineffectual Bob home instead. Old tensions rise unbidden…

This is written in that ethereal style of much successful contemporary literature – vignettes and snapshots of sad lives, tangled by some bizarre event (it takes quite an imagination to leave a frozen pig’s head outside a mosque…). I didn’t like it in A Visit to the Goon Squad, and I didn’t like it here. If you like this style of writing, this book may hold a lot more promise for you because I didn’t think it was badly written, I just don’t like that style of writing!

(review copy from Simon & Schuster; affiliate link to Amazon)

Fear not, this isn’t all I’ve been reading recently – more positive reviews soon!

Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie – 7/10

“Of course, what I didn’t realise then is that grief, like the seasons, is cyclical. I would just start to feel open to life again, then find myself thrust back under the water, drowning in loss.”

closemyeyes_paperback_1471111733_300

Geniver Loxley lost her daughter Beth in a stillbirth eight years ago, and has been struggling ever since. When a stranger turns up on her doorstep, claiming that Beth is still alive and that there was a huge conspiracy to have Geniver believe that Beth is dead, and then that stranger is killed in a hit-and-run, Gen can’t help but cling to the thread of hope, and, terrified of the violence seeking to catch up with her, she starts to try to track down her daughter.

This is a very tightly written thriller; McKenzie steers Geniver neatly down the line between compulsion and madness, between paranoia and reasonable fear. Like Geniver, the reader never knows whether her husband is involved or not, whose information she can trust, or whether Geniver is actually mad. The voice of a child weaves through the story, popping up intermittently, and remains a mystery until the end – enough to keep the reader looking for the next interruption. It reminded me a lot of Louise Douglas’ The Secrets Between Us, although the characterisation is tighter and the mystery/madness angle more delicate than in TSBU.

In a sense, there is a little too much background information on the main characters: so much time and so many words are spent on Art’s background, his rise to money and fame – it’s clear that he is desperate to succeed at all costs. Similarly, we spend just a bit too time in Geniver’s reproductive doldrums; as if a stillbirth wasn’t traumatic enough, she hasn’t fallen pregnant since and remains single-mindedly focussed on Beth, excluded from her friends’ worlds of muddy football kit and birthday parties. In some ways, her exclusion from the world of a mother calls into question her suitability to take charge of a child, should Beth be found alive.

I’d figured out that the villain must be one of three people, given the assortment of red herrings, and was gratified to discover that one of them was the main villain, with a lot of help from a second one! There’s a really chilling ending to this one, after the big climax/shoot-out/confrontation which we all knew was coming, which I didn’t expect and which ends the reading experience with quite a cold, brutal feeling – as if the rest of the book wasn’t brutal enough!

A well-paced, enthralling debut – I look forward to more of McKenzie’s work.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 390 pages (paperback)
Order Close My Eyesfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Simple Saturday – Manuscript Found In Accra part III

Previous entries: 1, 2

Coelho_ThereisOnlyMo#C92D90
Unlike the previous two of these koans, I pretty much agree with that one. I’ve seen it referred to in The Lady of the Rivers, the idea of a cycle of fortune. Sometimes one is at the top, sometimes at the bottom. It always changes.

Thoughts?

Simple Saturday – Manuscript Found In Accra part II

Last week’s entry

Coelho_LoveisPriceless_webMy cynical world view disagrees with this one. Yes, love may be, like the Mastercard adverts, priceless, just like the Beatles told us, but I think even the most hopelessly romantic among us would agree that there is a cost to any love.

Thoughts?

Simple Saturday – Manuscript Found In Accra part I

Paolo Coelho’s latest is sitting on my desk waiting to be read, but the publisher has kindly sent through a couple of graphics to go with the book, which I’ll be posting on Saturdays for a few weeks.

Coelho_OnlyDifference_WebThis is a really tricky koan for me, because I love to see things neatly tidied away and smooth and uniform, but I sort of understand where it’s coming from. Thoughts?

 

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