Month: April 2016

The Blue by Lucy Clarke

Posted April 27, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Blue by Lucy ClarkeThe Blue by Lucy Clarke
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on July 30th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Psychological Thriller
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
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They had found paradise.What would they do to keep it?With a quick spin of the globe, Kitty and Lanaescape their grey reality and journey to the Philippines.There they discover The Blue – a beautiful yacht,with a wandering crew.
They spend day after languorous day exploring the pristinewhite beaches and swimming beneath the stars, and Lanadrifts further away from the long-buried secrets of home.
But the tide turns when death creeps quietly on deck.
A dangerous swell of mistrust and lies threatens to bringthe crew’s adventures to an end – but some won’tlet paradise go…whatever the price.

After finishing Ruby I wanted something a bit lighter to read, that still had a good enough story to keep me engaged. The Blue by Lucy Clarke seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I had read and enjoyed A Single Breath by the same author last year, so I was looking forward to this book.

It’s similar to A Single Breath in that it’s focused around the sea and set in the Southern Hemisphere – this time mainly in the Philippines. Kitty and Lana have left a mundane life back in the UK and are enticed on to a boat – The Blue – which sails around the islands, choosing where to go next by democratic vote. The lifestyle seems idyllic with the boat able to access sheltered coves and places where no-one else can reach. It seems like the girls have found paradise.

However soon it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and when a crew member goes missing, Lana begins to wonder what they’ve got themselves into.

The story is engaging, and has a decent number of twists and turns. It flashes between Lana in the current day, waiting in New Zealand for news of the crew after reports that The Blue has sunk; and Lana on the boat herself, and the events which unfolded. The story is revealed piecemeal in a rather effective manner.

However I couldn’t completely buy into Kitty and Lana’s “closer than sisters” friendship, and by the middle of the book Lana was coming across as a paranoid neurotic. I think this could have been toned down a little. That said, I did enjoy the read and it served its purpose well of being a “palate cleanser” after the slightly darker and harder-to-read, Ruby.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Posted April 24, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Ruby by Cynthia BondRuby by Cynthia Bond
Published by Two Roads on 7th May 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Pages: 330
Format: Paperback
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Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby Bell, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at,” has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city--the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village--all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Our bookgroup was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the groups to shadow this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. As part of this we were sent copies of our given book – in our case Ruby by Cynthia Bond.

I have to admit this isn’t usually a book I would have read to the end. Although the summary on the back in intriguing, I found it hard to get into the writing to begin with. The themes dealt with in this book are dark and sinister, and I found it slow to get started. But ultimately I was very pleased that I persevered and continued to the end.

The story is difficult to read in places, and isn’t pleasant in parts. But ultimately it’s about the triumph of love in helping to heal the most broken of people. How the act of doing is much stronger than words. How the delivery of a simple cake to a sad woman, incurred the wrath of a small town and age-old fears to be stirred up.

You certainly need to have a strong constitution for this book. If you have a low tolerance for some of the darker sides of life like child abuse, prostitution and the like, it may not be the book for you. But ultimately if you can persevere through these themes, the story is a wonderful triumph of love over darkness.

It will be interesting to see how Ruby fares against the competition for the Baileys prize in June. It’s certainly a worthy entrant.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Posted April 24, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan BradleyThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1) by Alan Bradley
Published by Orion on February 4th 2010
Genres: Crime, Fiction
Pages: 364
Format: Paperback
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'The eyes, as blue as the birds in the Willow pattern, looked up into mine as if staring out from a dim and smoky past... and then they died.'

England, 1950. At Buckshaw, the crumbling country seat of the de Luce family, very-nearly-eleven-year-old Flavia is plotting revenge on her older sisters. Then a dead bird is left on the doorstep, which has an extraordinary effect on Flavia's eccentric father, and a body is found in the garden. As the police descend on Buckshaw, Flavia decides to do some investigating of her own...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is best described as a cross between Mallory Towers and Agatha Christie.

Set in the 1950’s, 11 year-old Flavia, a chemistry enthusiast with a particular fondness for poisons, finds a dying man in the cucumber patch in the garden. The police are called, but Flavia decides to undertake her own investigations into the murder to find out who was responsible. The truth takes Flavia back to her father’s childhood and deep into the world of philately.

While this was a great read, to say that Flavia is precocious is a huge understatement. At supposedly 11 years old, she has a deep grasp of chemistry, human relationships and has a keen investigative eye. While I’m all for the suspension of belief while reading, there are some things which are a little hard to buy into. Had Flavia been 14 or 15, the story would still have worked as well and would have been a little more believable.

That said, it was a fun, easy read and I’ll definitely be looking out for more in the series.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)

Posted April 24, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Published by Abacus on March 24th 2005
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 933
Format: Paperback
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"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate lovefor India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

This book has sat on my TBR pile for quite a while before I decided to dive into the 933 pages of Shantaram. The book seems to divide opinion between those who loved it and those who loathed it. Unfortunately after 8 days of reading (which is a long time for me to spend on a single book) I have to say I am more towards the “loathed” end of the scale than the “loved” end of the scale!

It starts off well, and is interesting to see how Lin (or Gregory) ingratiated himself into day-to-day Bombay (Mumbai) life. His tales of first arriving in Bombay, living in the village with his friend Prabaker and his experience living in the slums, were all really interesting accounts of the side of India I know nothing about. However, the writing is overly flowery and self-important; and full of deep, philosophical discussions allegedly had between a group of ex-pats – who make their living in the black markets of Bombay – over their drinks in a bar.

By the time the book moved on to Lin’s activities with the Bombay mafia, and then into his adventures in Afghanistan, I was beginning to lose the will to continue reading. The book seems to descend into a catalogue of his life as a hardened criminal, all the while trying to justify his actions on the basis that he hasn’t killed anyone! He seems to think he is some kind of good samaritan who is somehow removed from the activities in which he is involved, while at the same time trying to present himself as “the westerner who infiltrated the Bombay mafia”.

The author is clearly passionate about India, and about Bombay in particular. I have to admit that India isn’t a country I’ve been particularly drawn to in the past. But this is the first book I’ve read which is piqued my interest to find out more about the country, its history and its population. For that alone, it was worth the read.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (4/5)

Posted April 14, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (4/5)The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
Published by Black Swan on March 18th 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, General
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
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A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia also move on their own axes, alone with their personal tragedies. As a child Alice's overbearing father drove her first to a terrible skiing accident, and then to anorexia. When she meets Mattia she recognises a kindred spirit, and Mattia reveals to Alice his terrible secret: that as a boy he abandoned his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party, and when he returned, she was nowhere to be found.
These two irreversible episodes mark Alice and Mattia's lives for ever, and as they grow into adulthood their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But then a chance sighting of a woman who could be Mattia's sister forces a lifetime of secret emotion to the surface.
A meditation on loneliness and love, The Solitude of Prime Numbers asks, can we ever truly be whole when we're in love with another?

loved this book. The writing is exquisite and the characters are absolutely fascinating.

Mattia and Alice are two loners, caught up in their own bubbles, who manage to find solace in each other. This book charts their lives from young children through to early adulthood, and the trials and tribulations that each stage brings. Even when Mattia and Alice are apart, they seem to have a bond which can’t be broken.

I really warmed to this book, and loved the analogy of Mattia and Alice as prime numbers. Unique in their own way, but also related to those around about them – whether they wanted to be or not.

The only negative for me in the book was the ending. It’s mentioned in the blurb about Mattia’s twin sister, and how a chance spotting of a missing girl sparks a deep emotional journey. Unfortunately the ending just left me wanting on more than one front, and detracted a little from the overall beauty of the novel. It’s hard to say more without adding a spoiler, but I’d love to know what you think if you’ve read it.

Liar Liar by MJ Arlidge

Posted April 14, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Liar Liar by MJ ArlidgeLiar Liar (Helen Grace #4) by M.J. Arlidge
Published by Penguin on September 10th 2015
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Psychological Thriller
Pages: 314
Format: Paperback
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In the dead of night, three raging fires light up the city skies. It's more than a tragic coincidence. For DI Helen Grace the flames announce the arrival of an evil she has never encountered before.
Because this is no firestarter seeking sick thrills, but something more chilling: a series of careful, calculating acts of murder.
But why were the victims chosen? What's driving the killer? And who will be next?
A powder keg of fear, suspicion and dread has been laid. Now all it needs is a spark to set it off . . .

This is the fourth book in Arlidge’s Helen Grace series. This time Grace is plunged into an arson investigation. Numerous fires are being started every night in Southampton causing damage and putting lives at risk. As the nights go on, and the number of fires increases, Grace is under pressure to bring the perpetrator to justice.

I have enjoyed most of Arlidge’s books – Pop Goes the Weasel, #2 in the series, is the only exception. Liar Liar is another good, fast paced book, but I have to say it’s not quite up there with his best. The storyline is good, but I felt it tailed off a little towards the middle, and limped towards an ending that was pretty obvious way before it should have been. That said, it’s still a great thriller and well worth a read.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (3/5)

Posted April 5, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (3/5)

This novel follows the parallel lives of Sarah Grimké, member of one of South Carolina’s “elite” families; and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, a slave girl almost the same age as Sarah who is presented to her as her maid servant on her 11th birthday. Set between 1803 and 1838, it’s written against the backdrop of Northern abolition […]

Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indriđason (2/5)

Posted April 2, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indriđason (2/5)

I specifically requested this book from Read It, Swap It as it’s set in Iceland, which would let me tick off another country on my Around the World in 80 Books challenge. The book covers an investigation into the murder of Holgar, a 69 year old man who has a murky past. Lead detective Erlendur thinks that the […]

Monthly Roundup – March 2016

Posted April 1, 2016 by Babs in Monthly Roundup / 0 Comments

March has been a good month for reading. Mainly because I’m still laid up recovering from a broken ankle, which has meant lots of time to put my feet up and read! I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having so much reading time. It makes a nice change! My favourite read in March has […]