Tag Archives: 4/10

Island of Wings – Karin Altenberg – 4/10 (DNF)

“At last the firm ground of Hirta, our lost Eden!”

Neil McKenzie is a minister, called to serve the people of St Kilda, the most remote part of the British Isles, in 1830. His new and pregnant wife Lizzie follows him, despite speaking no Gaelic and having no company when her husband is away. Can they ever be happy in such an abandoned place?

The writing about nature is undeniably beautiful and skilful; I cannot imagine writing like this in my first language, never mind a second (Altenberg is Swedish). However, the book is so, so bleak and dreary. No end of childhood births, no particular plot progression within 120 pages (at which point I stopped); everything is as grey as the sky and sea which surrounds the island.

The political environs of the time were somewhat alien to me and not explained at all, so I think you need a decent background in Scottish and church history around 1830, as well as an understanding of missions.

Other reviews: Iris on Books, Vulpes Libris, Cornflower Books, Lizzy Siddal, Farm Lane Books, Cardigangirlverity (mostly all positive)

Additional information:

A Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling – 4/10 (DNF)

“Krystal’s slow passage up the school had resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.”

 

Nothing I write is going to change your mind on this book. People are going to read it because they want to read the new JK Rowling, not because reviews have said that it’s particularly good or bad. However, I would say don’t read it.

There are very few likeable characters in this novel; as a number of reviews have pointed out, the best developed characters are the teenagers that Rowling has had so much practice writing. A significant number of the adults are actually repellent. While every book needs the odd repellent character (Filch, anyone?), these ones are caricatures.

What stopped me from carrying on with this book was the way that the writing is not only adult, gritty, dark etc… it was as if Rowling was deliberately inserting adult content simply for the sake of it, to make the book not suitable for under-18s. “Hmm, this sentence is missing any mention of an R-rated body part. Where can I squeeze one in?” Yeurgh.

There is some funny writing (see quote above) and Rowling has a knack for the petty-minded empire-builder. But with a huge cast and vocab from the gutter, it’s easy to turn away.

Additional information:

The Girl on the Stairs – Louise Welsh – 4/10 (DNF)


Jane finds herself heavily pregnant in a new city, unable to communicate effectively, and with a partner who works too hard and isn’t home enough. When a girl in a red coat crosses her path and she hears raised voices next door, she becomes concerned for her young neighbour’s safety; a little too concerned for her own good.

I found the characters in this too extreme, and I suspect the author has a political agenda. The protagonist was both lesbian and pregnant, and consistently putting herself in danger with her obsession with the safety of the girl next door. She was in a foreign city; annoyed because her partner’s career had not been curtailed by pregnancy and her partner was travelling off to Vienna; her German is not very good, so she is quite isolated in her new city. Somehow, her vulnerability and difficulties were over-emphasised, and I struggled to believe her willingness to go walking about a creaky, potentially haunted apartment block in a foreign city while very pregnant.

Maybe my reaction is a sheltered one, one of a person who likes characters to fit into certain boxes, and Welsh is trying to provoke a reaction and shock the reader out of their prejudices. Well, that may be, but I don’t think I am a reader who is all that easily shocked, and this felt political. In which case – fine, but advertise it; I felt ambushed, as I did by “Christian fiction” a few times in the past where a book with a strong agenda was dressed up as a middle-of-the-road thriller.

I found all of the characters slightly overdone, like I was watching a film from the perspective of a character on drugs which amplify all the sensory inputs (that took longer to write than I intended; either you will know the cinematographic trick that I mean, or you will not!). Petra is very businessy, very German (I have a strong link to Germany. “Very German” is not a negative comment!), very unemotional. The old neighbour downstairs has hallucinatory Alzheimers. The priest is very judgemental. The girl next door is aggressive. No one is just a person who serves a plot purpose.

Berlin, as a location, is done well. The buildings with facades hiding derelict courtyards and shameful histories, the underground train stations with a slight sense of menace, the openness of residents once you get past the initial aloofness; all are captured well. What is not conveyed is the energy and positivity of the city, but you don’t want that in a horror novel, do you?!

Quite spooky. If you don’t mind the LGBT agenda smacking you over the head every few pages, and you like Gothic horror stories, this might work for you. It was too much for me.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: John Murray, 288 pages (paperback)
Order The Girl on the Stairs 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

City of Bones – Cassandra Clare – 4/10 (DNF)

““Can I help you with something?”
Clary turned instant traitor against her gender. “Those girls on the other side of the car are staring at you.”
Jace assumed an air of mellow gratification. “Of course they are,” he said, “I am stunningly attractive.””

In this first of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary Fray is happily going about her suburban New York life with her mother (squabbling) and her best friend Simon (not realising he loves her) when some demons turn up at her local nightclub. She receives a panicked call from her mother and goes into hiding with the local Shadowhunters, a group charged with killing evil daemons; but why did Clary have no idea about all of these magical groups if she is clearly a part of their world? But how can she see them if she’s not part of their world? Confusement.

Actually, as I write that synopsis I realised that Simon goes from not being able to see Shadowhunters and daemons at the start of the book, to being able to flirt/argue with them within thirty pages. So not sure what’s happened there.

I didn’t reject this quite as quickly as I gave up on Clockwork Angel, but I abandoned it for the same reasons: overdone romance and too foreign a fantastical world.

Within the first 169 pages (for thus far I did read), Clary has been totally oblivious to Simon’s enormous crush on her, found Jace both repellant and attractive, got jealous of Simon’s attentions to Isabella and defended him in a secret-crush-rather-than-old-friend way to Jace. We see the love square. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. WE GET IT. STOP HITTING ME WITH YOUR LOVE SQUARE OUCH OUCH OUCH!!!

Similarly, we’re in New York, in a club. But these kids are 16, please explain how they’re in a dodgy nightclub? Then there’s frantic running back to the apartment… But Clary stops at the red light? Really?

Oh and Clary thinks that Switzerland is between Germany and France. And no one, not even Shadowhunters FROM EUROPE, corrects her. Excuse me while I sob quietly in a corner.

I did keep reading it in little spurts after I’d given up on it but I thought I was just resuscitating a dead beast, so I gave up.

No thanks.

Additional information:
Copy borrowed from Mini-me.
Publisher: Walker, 485 pages (paperback)
Don’t order from Amazon, but if you must, I would appreciate it if you used the City of Bones (Mortal Instruments) link*
* 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 costs.

The Golden Pig – The Penny Brothers – 4/10 (DNF)

“Hymie Goldman was a detective of no fixed abode, hairstyle or opinions; they all came and went like the north wind.”

Hymie Goldman, the “defective detective” of the cover, has been hired by a traffic-stopping blonde to retrieve a supposed family heirloom from her thieving sister: a golden pig. Hymie only just manages to avoid the bailiffs and death on the same day as he undertakes his mission, aided – or perhaps hindered? – by office apprentice Janis and pizza baron Benny.

I wanted to love this. I love detective stories, humour, and people behaving not as they should in north London (why is it always north London? Someone find me a book set south of the river). The humour in the first few pages made me chuckle. However, after a while the unusual writing style wore thin; the Penny brothers took turns to write this novel in parts, trying to out-do one another with ridiculous plot and ever more disasters for poor Hymie. The result, while yielding an unexpectedly consistent writing style and humour, feels like a boisterous puppy, wanting laughter for every sentence and sprinting off with the plot in uneven bounds. I have to confess, this book has confirmed to me that I shouldn’t be trying to read self-published books; others might have the patience to read through the difficult writing, but I have realised I like my reading more polished.

Rhian at It’s a Crime suggested that the humour may particularly appeal to men over 40, with which I agree – I also think the intensity was simply not directed at someone who wants to read the book in one or two sittings. Readers with only fifteen minutes to read at a time might have far more success with this lively and amusing debut.

Additional info:
This  copy was sent for review by the Self-Publishing Magazine, where a slightly different and shorter version of this review will appear.
Publisher: Matador, 187 pages
Order The Golden Pig 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 giveaways.

A Cold Heart – Jonathan Kellerman – 4/10 (DNF)

“The witness remembers it like this:…”

The LAPD are perplexed when a middle-aged blues guitarist and a promising young artist with a druggy past are murdered in quick succession. Petra Conner, reserved detective with a recent break-up, and Alex Delaware, ex-police psychologist, are both intrigued by the cases and feel duty-bound to follow them up.

This had the potential to be a great thriller – two sort-of linked cases, both of which are pretty cold, with tenacious investigators, and all sorts of crazy characters lurking on the sidelines. The main characters are strong, tough people with recent  personal relationship issues but no bizarre behaviour which can be so limiting in police procedurals.

HOWEVER.

The two main characters (ignoring Milo, who according the blurb is the lynchpin but I didn’t even know who he was when I read the blurb again to do this review) are so similar, with such similar recent relationship troubles, and both perspectives are told in the first person singular, that I actually got the characters mixed up and was really confused when they seemed to be hanging out with people they didn’t know.

Ergo – narrative weakness. And when the plot hadn’t grabbed me by page 100 enough to overcome the extremely confusing double/same character issue, on the DNF list it went.

Additional info:

This was a personal copy from Bookmooch.

Publisher: Headline, 401 pages (hardback)

Order A Cold Heart from Amazon*

* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this, which goes towards giveaways.

The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans – 4/10

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts.”

Grace and Judith take their horses out on a snowy New York morning. A collision with a sleep-deprived trucker leaves one pair dead and a girl and horse fighting for their lives. Annie becomes convinced that her daughter’s fate is inextricably linked with the fate of her horse, and tracks down a horse whisperer to heal the crippled equine.  Soon it’s not just the girl and the horse whose futures are linked…

Yes I know this is chick lit of the greatest degree – ponies, cowboys, “the massive Montana sky”… Skipping right along:

It is very obvious after about page 100 that it is Annie with whom we are supposed to sympathise – this is Annie’s story, not Grace’s. Grace becomes a truculent, wilful child who is irritating to her mother – instead of the scarred survivor we should see. Annie – well I have no patience with characters who commit adultery, so… I was never going to like her. Evans does convey a very credible character though – she is stressed, trying to do a good job (eventually, just trying to keep her job), doesn’t understand why her child is resisting her helpful efforts, feels guilty for not being around more… I didn’t really understand her relationship with Robert (Grace’s dad) – there is an explanation of how they have got to where they are, but he seemed to just fade out of the picture once Annie and Grace went to Montana.

I quite enjoyed Tom’s back-story and his reticence with actual humans, but could I shake the idea that his name was Robert Redford (I saw the film maybe 8 years ago?)? No. As a reviewer on Bookmooch pointed out, this book was written for film – there’s pathetic fallacy and dark foreboding everywhere.

As for plot… the accident and the recovery are really a shell into which to tuck Annie and Tom’s romance and Annie’s reawakening as a country girl (or some sort of pretence thereat). And I don’t get on brilliantly with this romance business, so to me it was all just a lot of talking and stuff.

Maybe 4/10 is a bit harsh – it achieves what it sets out to do. I just don’t feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, like I did in Love Verb, intrigued by the interpersonal drama like I did in Touching Distance, or blown away by language and situation like in Bel Canto.

Additional info:
This was a personal copy from a big box purchase.
Publisher: Corgi, paperback, 479 pages.
Order this 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 giveaways.
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