Tag Archives: contemporary life

Review of Hardback Edition #Still Me by #Jojo Moyes #bookreview #bookblogreview #Brainfluffbookreview

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I loved the first book in the series, Me Before You – see my review here – and when I mentioned to my lovely mother that I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of reading this offering, she sent it to me as a present.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . . She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London. She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down. Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt. Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.

I enjoyed the previous two books in this series – particularly that first amazing book, so does this one live up to the dazzlingly high bar set by the worldwide success, Me Before You? Frankly, no. But that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable, worthwhile read anyway. Let’s face it, Me Before You is an extraordinary tour de force and it’s unreasonable to expect many of those to the pound from a writer even as talented as Moyes.

Lou, as ever, leaps off the page in all her quirky oddness, working in New York as an assistant, waiting hand, foot and finger on Agnes, the second wife of Leonard Gopnik, an insanely rich banker. It was a fascinating ringside seat into the world of the super-rich as Lou scurries around to smooth Agnes’s way as she struggles to negotiate the social scene where wealthy wives are expected to spend their days attending charity events. As you may expect, given this is Lou, the job and her long-distance relationship with the gorgeous Sam doesn’t go according to plan…

Once again, I found this remarkably difficult to put down as Moyes provides a warm-hearted insight into the faultlines of modern life – this time on the other side of the Pond – without any sentimentality. Indeed, her observations on social injustice and the inherent indignity of growing old in a society where youth and beauty are highly prized, are sharply pointed. Lou once more finds herself thrown back on her own resources when it all hits the fan and her plans fall in a heap. One of the refreshing aspects of this series is the strength and comfort that Lou’s family provides, even when they are unable to support her materially in any way.

As for the romance threading through the story, it is both funny and touching by turns as you’d expect from Moyes. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I’m hoping that in due course, Moyes gives us another instalment from Lou Clarke’s life. Recommended for fans of contemporary life and romance.
9/10

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

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This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

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I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

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What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

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This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.

Review of Us by David Nicholls

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I’ve heard a lot of good things about this author over the years, and when I came across this book in Waterstones, I opened the first page, read it and wanted to read more. It’s radically different from the majority of the books I read – would I enjoy it?

usDouglas and Connie, scientist and artist, and for more than twenty years, husband and wife until suddenly, their marriage seems over. But Douglas is going to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, by organising the holiday of a lifetime. He has booked the hotels, bought the train tickets, planned and printed the itinerary for a ‘grand tour’ of the great art galleries of Europe. What could possibly go wrong?

This is a roller-coaster of a book. As you might imagine from the blurb there are all sorts of opportunities for farcical mishaps that had me sniggering into the night. Except… I really, really cared about David. And Connie and even – eventually – Albie. So that while I found myself laughing on one page, the next one brought a lump to my throat. This book is funny, but humour can be cruel. We laugh at people more often than we laugh with them and although Douglas offers himself up as the butt for many jokes he tells against himself, this is far more than a mere farce. It is a tale of a relationship that has weathered both triumph and tragedy.

As he faces losing Connie and Albie, Douglas takes us back to when he first met Connie, the early days of their relationship, their deepest joys and the worst calamities that engulf them. Douglas is the main protagonist and tells the story in first person. I fell in love with him during the book, despite his unfailing ability to put his foot in his mouth and his lack of emotional intelligence. This is the man who superglued his small son’s Lego figures so they wouldn’t come apart and become untidy… This is also the man who walked his feet to ribbons searching for said son to try and undo a mistake he made. Douglas is flawed, human and valiant. There is a dogged determination that has him put his head down and battle on when the going gets tough. I stayed up far later than I should, to discover whether he prevails.

The ending is interesting. I certainly didn’t see it coming and it left me unsettled with a sharp realisation as to why I generally read books set thousands of light years away, or in fantastical worlds as far away from here and now as I can possibly get. But it’s a book that won’t leave me alone. I find it creeping into my hindbrain when I’m not thinking about my own work. That Nicholls is a writer at the top of his game goes without saying. The story is perfectly pitched, with just the right mix of humour and heartbreak.

Am I glad I read it? Oh yes. I keep nagging Himself to read it, as I want his opinion, too. And you – I’d like you to read it. Let me know what you think about it. Because I reckon it’s one of my outstanding reads of the year. And there isn’t a dragon or alien in sight…
10/10

Review of Wild and Free by Wendy Holden

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Several of my students recommend Wendy Holden’s books with affection, so when I spotted this offering on the shelves I scooped it up. Would I also enjoy the humour?

wild&freeWild & Free is the festival du jour. Everyone piles through its gates – and Cupid lies in wait to sprinkle a little midsummer madness on them all. Teacher Ginnie is desperate to forget her crush on headmaster Mark, and hopes glamping might do the trick. But Mark is also heading for Wild & Free to re-form his college band – desperate not to be seen by anyone he knows.

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m prepared to divulge, but you get the idea. What you may not appreciate from the blurb is the large cast of characters Holden throws into this giddy mix of confusion and general mayhem. Ginnie and Mark are clearly the main love-crossed couple and the ones I cared most about, although there are four other romantic encounters charted in the book. The festival also attracts a man experiencing a mid-life crisis; youngsters trying to establish a business; youngsters wanting to get smashed off their faces; a band of thieves; a wannabe author desperate to get her book idea recognised; an author desperate to get wider recognition for his book… and no, I still haven’t come to the end of the plot strands weaving through this busy book.

So does Holden pull off this attempt to depict the festival experience? Anyone who has ever attended any sort of festival will recognise the sheer disorientating blast of sensory overload described so vividly in Wild and Free. Her cast of characters are generally overwhelmed by the sheer sprawling enormity of the event – a reaction I certainly recognised from my own limited experience. This aspect of the book was the most successful – the festival was a bit like the enchanted wood in Midsummer Night’s Dream where everyone who plunged in was confounded, confused and changed by the experience.

Holden’s writing style is punchy, slick and pacey. She manages to pack a lot into a book running out at just over 450 pages. Whether she effectively brings all the storylines she is juggling to an entirely satisfactory conclusion is more debatable. This is a feel-good comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is absolutely fine by me. It’s not a genre I read extensively, but I enjoyed most of the sub-plots running through the story – and the main romantic story was written with conviction and skill. I really cared for both Mark and Ginnie and wanted them to get together.

Inevitably with such a large cast of characters, some worked better than others. The teenager, Guy, didn’t convince me, and neither did Jude, the thief. This wasn’t a dealbreaker, though. There were so many others to entertain, these failures didn’t jar as much as they might have. What grated more, was Holden’s irritating trick of suddenly planing the edges off some of her spikier characters in the interests of an upbeat ending. There were two gloriously chippy females I was thoroughly enjoying as they stomped through the book, creating mayhem around them. And I was disappointed to see both of them suddenly turned into a shadow of their former stroppy selves in the interests of a tidy ending. I would have far preferred to have them march off into the sunset, still driving everyone around them into an imminent nervous breakdown.

Overall though, Holden mostly pulls this off. Free and Wild is a madcap farce that whisked me into the weird world of festival-going, while putting a smile on my face. I now know why my students are so fond of Holden’s work and if you feel the need for a bit of light relief, go and track this down. It’s fun.
7/10