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26060369What’s it all about?

From the blurb:

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life. It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Will she listen?

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoyed the author’s previous novel The Girl With All The Gifts (my review is here if you’re interested) and as that had a real impact on my I was intrigued to see what he was going o do next. And in many ways it couldn’t have been more different – a psychological thriller set in a women’s prison.

What did I think of it?

I took a little bit of time to get into this novel, but once it got moving I was totally gripped. Jess is a fascinating character, a woman who has been convicted of causing the death of a young boy and who resolves to punish herself by starving herself to death but is spoken to by the voice of a young boy which gives her a purpose to live.

But what a life – a prison where violence and drugs and corruption are rife and Jess resolves to keep her head down. You can imagine how that might work out, especially when she decides to go ahead with .

There are supernatural elements obviously but this is as much about guilt and redemption; I found the characters believable and the story gripping and moving. Very much worth reading.

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25434372So, you might have noticed that I haven’t been around for a while. The simple reason for that is that I haven’t been reading. At all. My tally so far this year has been 3 books finished up to early March, one of them almost certainly started before the new year and the third (although i enjoyed it) I don’t ever get around to reviewing here. I have no explanation for this, the longest reading slump in my whole life (and believe me that represents a significant number of years!)

But I decided this could not go on and when I realised I had a day trip to Manchester (slightly over 2 hours each way not including the journey from my home to Euston) and that (for various reasons) I wasn’t taking my work laptop and therefore wouldn’t be working on the train I decided that this was a prime opportunity to pick up a physical book and get reading. And what do you know – it worked!

The Bullet is the story of Caroline Cashion, a professor of French literature who is having some physical problems – maybe RSI, maybe not – and during an MRI it is discovered that she has a bullet lodged in her neck, near the bottom of her skull. This is a huge shock as she has no memory of ever being shot and there seems to be no scar. When she confronts her family about this she discovers a number of significant facts – she is adopted, her birth parents were murdered in front of her when she was 3 years old, she was injured in the attack and apparently left for dead, and worst of all (in my mind anyway) the person who did all this was never caught. So, this being a thriller you just know what she’s going to do; yep, you’ve guessed it, she starts rummaging around and puts herself in danger. Of course. I think I might have done the same, to be fair.

I’m not going to say much more about the plot which unfolds in a very satisfying way. It moves at a fair speed and stays on the right side of being far-fetched. It is a first person narrative which for me succeeds or fails on the likability of the character and happily I liked Caroline very much, especially her interaction with her (adoptive) brothers; I have two brothers of my own and this rang true. And yes, there’s a bit of romance but at least she doesn’t rely on him to sort this all out for her (very much the opposite in fact).

So all in all a very satisfying reading experience. Recommended.

 

21840310I think that when I flagged up that I was going to read this I said that I must be the last person in the known galaxy to do so (that wanted to read it in any case) but I’ve discovered that I’m not so that’s gratifying. I have a natural ambivalence to books being touted as The Next Big Thing – yes, I want to read them because they are being raved about, but I don’t want to read them at the same time as everyone else because hype and also because I want the dust to settle and not be too influenced by the succession of reviews that inevitably follow.

I should also admit to not buying this but borrowing it from a friend who brought it all the way from Edinburgh for me (though it sat in Silvery Dude’s desk for a month before I was able to collect it due to everyone forgetting the plan for handing it over).

Having said all that, what’s The Girl on the Train all about (in case you’ve been under a rock or something)?

From the blurb:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows that it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She even feels that she knows the people who live in one of the houses.

And she makes up a life story for them and then sees something unexpected which shocks her, and then the woman who lives there goes missing and Rachel inserts herself into their lives…..

Why did I want to read it?

See above. Also, as someone who regularly commuted by train into London for many years I know the pleasure of looking into people’s gardens as you trundle past.

What did I think of it?

I enjoyed reading this very much but I really think as a novel it wasn’t helped by the hype surrounding it. It’s very well written, has a story that really grips you but is not the great big new thing that the marketing campaign implied. The comparisons to Gone Girl (read and reviewed here) didn’t help either; I can see the superficial resemblance (multiple alternating viewpoints, unreliable narrators, people not being what they seem) but it has significant differences. It’s very British for a start (and I mean that as a good thing).

I also found Rachel, the main character, much more sympathetic than those in GG; I actually worried for her at several points in the book. I know that in real life she would be horrendously annoying and I would probably cross the road to avoid her but her vulnerability and desperate need to be involved to give herself some purpose was convincing and very sad.

I worked out who the baddie was likely to be about two-thirds of the way through but not the details of the solution so it didn’t get in the way of enjoying the unravelling of the mystery.

So, worth reading if you enjoy a good thriller but don’t get carried away by the marketing spiel.

 

 

18889526What’s it all about?

Against a background of young children turning on members of their families and killing them, Hesketh Lock is investigating a parallel series of incidents involving industrial sabotage across the world. Neither of these things make sense, but are they actually connected? What do you think? And who or what are The Uninvited?

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read two of Liz Jensen’s previous creepy novels, The Rapture and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, and enjoyed then a great deal. This sounded like it was very much in that vein.

What did I think of it?

This is the book that hopefully broke my reading slump of recent months. I found it fascinating and read it in a coupe of days which is quite something for me at the moment. Hesketh is a compelling character, a man with Asperger’s going through difficult times in his personal life and being confronted by two sets of mysteries which (not really a spoiler) are connected in a most unexpected way. How he reacts (or doesn’t) is central to the development of the story.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot other than that; how it all comes together part of the fun, if you can call the end of the world as we know it “fun”. But I have a particular fondness for books that describe the world falling apart (the literary equivalent of a disaster movie I suppose) and this very much fits into that genre, with the added bonus of really creepy children. It’s fast paced and an enjoyable read. I liked it.

IMG_0220What’s it all about?

Louis Drax is nine years old and has been prone to accidents and illnesses throughout his short life. The latest incident (plunging over a cliff on a family picnic) has left him in a coma with a mystery needing to be solved – how did the accident happen? His father has disappeared, his mother is suffering from shock and isn’t really giving a coherent account of the events, and of course Louis himself can’t tell. Or can he?

Why did I want to read it?

I do like a really good psychological thriller, and I had read and enjoyed one of Liz Jensen’s other books, The Rapture, which I reviewed here. I spotted that it is being made into a film and that’s always a bit of a hook for me (if I already own the book that is).

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed this. I liked the fact that we saw some of the story from the first person perspective of Louis himself, although it took a few pages to realise that he was already in his coma. I also liked the growing supernatural element, though I’m not sure if that’s the right word (I’ve seen references to sixth sense instead). I did like the other voice in the story, that of the doctor Pascal Dannachet who is treating Louis and gets sucked in to the mystery to his eminent detriment. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as it’s nice to see it develop in front of you but I will say that I guessed a couple of the plot points (and I never liked his mother).

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is pacily written and easy to read in the best way. I will be searching out more of her books.

13384187What’s it all about?

So imagine you’re just going about your daily business when you hear something like static, the sort of noise you get from your TV when you have all that snow in the screen. What if (almost) everyone else heard it like you, in their heads, at the same time? What if it wasn’t just noise but there were words as the experience is repeated, three times? “My Children” “Do not be afraid”. “Goodbye”. Then nothing. What do you think would happen?

That’s what The Testimony is all about.

Why did I want to read it?

I discovered James Smythe earlier this year when I read The Explorer and The Echo in rapid succession, and since then I’ve been getting my hands on the small number of other titles he has published. He’s an intelligent writer of sci-fi thrillers, cleverly plotted and proper page turners. The Testimony is the fourth of his novels I’ve read and I think one of his earliest.

What did I think of it?

I thought this was fantastic. It’s worth putting it in context; I was going through a bout of illness and was stuck on the sofa and needed something diverting to help me stop feeling sorry for myself and so glad that I picked this up as it was exactly what I needed. It’s one of those narratives told in the first person by a number of different people (I think I read somewhere there are 26 narrators) with the full range of nationalities and genres and ages and experience of the phenomenon which becomes known as The Broadcast.

Of course, humanity does not behave well and instead of bringing everyone together the whatever-it-is actually tears the world apart because they don’t know what it is or where it comes from and as humans will gaps are filled in and assumptions made. So we have terrorism and ear and suicide and protests and disaster and accusations of hoaxes. And then something else is thrown into the mix and people become very very afraid. Unlikely to end well.

I was particularly interested in the people who’d didn’t hear anything and wonder what all the fuss is about. Is there something wrong with them? As you might expect others wonder about them too; if it’s the voice of God and you haven’t heard it are you going to hell?

This is a really enjoyable thriller showing how the things can fall apart all too easily. Although they are quite different books it did remind me at times of The Three which I read earlier in the year, probably because of the structure.

There are worse things to do when you are feeling poorly. Recommended.

IMG_0099What’s the book about?

As I think I am one of the very last people in the universe to read this it seems a bit redundant to talk about the plot, but just in case there is someone out there even further behind in catching up with best-sellers than I am, it’s worth explaining that this is the story of Christine Lucas, who wakes up every day with no memory of what’s gone before and has to reconstruct her past before she goes to sleep and loses it all again (hence the title). But it becomes clear that she wants to get better, is seeing a doctor and has begun to keep a journal so that she has access to things that would otherwise be completely gone, and through this process starts to question what she has been told about her life and what happened to her.

Why did I want to read it?

There was a point when you absolutely could not miss the advertising for Before I Go To Sleep, something to which I often react badly (I have spoken before about my perversity in not wanting to read what everyone else is reading, at least while they are all reading it), but I knew I would eventually succumb as I enjoy a good psychological thriller so its been lurking on iBooks for ages. The trigger to actually picking it up (if you can pick up an e-book in the traditional sense) was the trailer for the movie version with Nicole Kidman which I really fancy watching so thought I should read the thing first.

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed it. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for protagonists who share my first name (even when they are evil possessed murderous cars who are IMHO vastly misunderstood!) and this Christine isn’t that much younger than me. I liked the way she swung to and fro on whether to trust her husband, rationalising why he might tell her things that she finds out are not accurate, sympathising with his point of view in having stood by her in what she can see even in her distress are horrendously difficult circumstances. I like the way she begins to question everything, her understandable vulnerability which is necessary for the plot and which I would have found really really annoying in anyone else but her condition makes understandable.

Of course most of the fun in this sort of psychological thriller is working out what’s real and what isn’t, who to trust and who not, will she work it out and if so will she survive. I spent most of the book coming up with theories of my own about how the story would work out and reckon I was 40% right. I think the ending was a little too rushed compared to the careful groundwork that had gone before but that’s a very small quibble (and I know others have pointed that out before me so nothing new in that thought).

The only downside of having seen the film trailer is a tendency to fit the actors into the characters on the page rather than letting them come alive in my own imagination but again that wasn’t a big issue. I found the story satisfying and enjoyable, and knowing the outcome would be interested in seeing through a re-read how well (if at all) the clues were planted and why I missed them.

IMG_0215I had a lovely birthday with some fabulous presents including the following books:

  • Red Gloves by Christopher Fowler – wanted this for ages and it was possibly my present of the day
  • Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear – Cthulhu-based short stories with a beautiful cover
  • The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian – I enjoyed the Clint Eastwood film many years ago without realising it was based on the first of a series of thrillers (thanks to Anne Billson for telling me that) so thought I’d give this a try
  • Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd – looks fascinating

My brother the Stanley Scot gave me a book voucher and I have planned a spending spree with Silvery Dude at the end of February.

Looking forward to diving into all of these!

A slightly different genre for my next RIP VI read, The Rapture is a described as a psychological thriller; now I’ve never been entirely sure what that means, but I can certainly say that this was  thriller of the “will it all really happen the way she predicted kind”, with a world potentially on the brink of catastrophic disaster and only the delusions and/or predictions of a murderous teenager in an institution to warn us of what is to come.

What I don’t think it is is a “haunting story of human passion and burning faith” as it says on the back cover; it has elements of both of those things, yes, but this is more a 2012 ecological end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it story, albeit much less silly than that particular film (and you can find out what I thought about that here.) And my disgruntlement with the world of the blurb-writer goes on…..

So we have Bethany, incarcerated in a facility for the disturbed because of the brutal murder of her mother a few years before. We have Gabrielle, confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, trying to rebuild her career as a therapist. We have Fraser, a scientist who gets drawn into the story when he helps Gabrielle investigate the predictions Bethany has been making and which certainly seem to be coming true. But are they true or is everyone being drawn into Bethany’s delusions as has happened before?

There is evangelical religion in the form of Bethany’s father; what role did that play in how she is now? There are Gabrielle’s trust issues as she struggles to come to terms with her situation. There is romance and distrust and skullduggery, but most of all there is freak weather, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and at this point I want to start quoting Bill Murray from Ghostbusters when he’s trying to convince the mayor to let them sort out the Big Bad.

And that would be really unfair.

Because although this novel strays into soap-opera-ish melodrama on more than one occasion it does have serious stuff to say about how we manage our planet and the dangers of some forms of extreme religion when faced with real and practical problems. And the author doesn’t dwell on the disasters more than is necessary to give us a sense of scale and to give our heroes a real dilemma to deal with – if you think you know something terrible is going to happen but your source is frankly unbelievable and talking about it could ruin your career do you still have a moral obligation to take action?

I enjoyed this in a potboilery way, it moved along at a fair clip and I was interested in what would happen to the characters and how the scenario would play out. I’m still not sure whether I really liked any of the characters, but let’s face it, we weren’t really seeing them at their best.

This was my fourth read for the RIP VI challenge, and there is more than enough peril in this book for most readers.

I have to confess that I’m not normally one for thrillers. Not entirely sure why; it dates to before Dan Brown so I can’t really blame him, and it’s nothing to do with le Carre cos I’ve read loads of his stuff, so it may just be one of those inexplicable things.

But I heard Robert Harris being interviewed on the radio when The Ghost was about to be published and it sounded sufficiently intriguing that I bought it when it came out, and its been sitting on my shelf until I decided that I wanted a break from the beginning-of-the-year-sc-fi-fest and picked it up.

And read it very,very quickly.

So our hero is a ghost writer who normally deals with the scandal-packed lives of celebrities but is catapulted into the world of politics when the man helping a former British Prime Minister write his memoirs drowns after falling overboard from a ferry in Martha’s Vineyard. Said book has a big advance attached to it and so has to be delivered on time. Things get a little more pressured when said PM looks like he’s going to be charged for war crimes in relation to a conflict not a million miles away from what’s going on at the moment. And our hero delves more than he should and finds out stuff that he shouldn’t and, well, it all gets a bit exciting.

I couldn’t put this down. Another book that almost had me missing my stop when I was reading on the train, it’s very well written, well-paced, has you entertained as you try to work out how much of the PM is based on Tony Blair, how much his wife is like Cherie, who the other political figures might be based on. And it was timely reading given that the Iraq enquiry is underway in London at the moment and a lot of the subject matter covered in this story is being openly debated. Well, as open as any inquiry into something like this ever can be.

Polanski has directed the film version which will come out shortly (starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor) and I’ll be interested to see how that all works.

Very enjoyable and certainly recommended if you like a political thriller.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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My Dad passed away a week ago, on Friday 10 November. This is my favourite photo of him and my late Mum at a wedding in (I think) 1961. Will be heading back home to Paisley for the funeral next week.

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