Archive for the ‘4 stars’ Category

Review: Knife Edge – Fergus McNeill

Knife Edge by Fergus McNeill

Title: Knife Edge
Author: Fergus McNeill
Publication date: 1 September 2013
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-444-73966-4
Length: 406 pages
Genre: Mystery
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
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Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

He didn’t intend to let her get so close. But now that Kim’s become important to him, Robert Naysmith decides to tell his girlfriend his deadly secret. He wants her to recognise the power he holds.

He hopes he won’t have to kill her.

Detective Inspector Harland hasn’t forgotten the serial killer who got away from him. But with nothing to go on, he fears he will never bring him to justice. Until he is seconded to investigate the brutal murder of a woman in her Bristol home. A random attack, a murderer who has carefully covered his tracks . . . alarm bells start ringing.

Then Harland meets Kim. One last game of life and death is about to begin.

My thoughts

Fergus McNeill has been on my ‘top 10 favourite crime writers’ list ever since I read his debut, Eye Contact, last year. Needless to say the sequel, Knife Edge, was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I’m glad to say that McNeill didn’t disappoint. While Knife Edge seemed a bit slower paced than its predecessor, all in all I really enjoyed it.

The book pretty much starts where the previous one ended so it won’t make much (if any) sense if you haven’t read Eye Contact yet. Serial killer Robert Naysmith is on a holiday on a remote island and, seeking recognition, he is just about to tell his girlfriend his deadly secret. How do you go about confessing such a thing? How will Kim react? Will she try to get away or will she stay with him? These are the questions Knife Edge focuses on while it follows Kim’s journey after Naysmith’s revelation.

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Review: Ostrich – Matt Greene

Ostrich by Matt Greene

Title: Ostrich
Author: Matt Greene
Publication date: 27 August 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780345545213
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: NetGalley
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either. Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):

It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery. It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2). It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents. It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)). It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.

And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.

My thoughts

Writing about people suffering from serious illnesses is a difficult thing to tackle but Matt Greene does a brilliant job in his debut novel. Ostrich tells the story of Alex, a young boy who has brain tumour and suffers from epilepsy which, despite the fact that he’s smart and seems to be among the best pupils at school, inevitably makes him feel like an outsider. Through the course of the book Alex undergoes brain surgery, falls in love (even if he doesn’t know this at the time), gets behind the wheels of his dad’s car for the first time, albeit illegally, analyses internet porn, tries to get to the bottom of his hamster’s odd behaviour and, with the help of his friend Chloe, devises a plan to find out what happened to his parents’ marriage. At first glance, it may seem like a simple story, a bitter-sweet saga of a young boy and everything he goes through in his early teens. It’s only when you read the last lines that you realize Ostrich is in fact a lot more complex than you have imagined.

I’ve always loved coming-of-age novels and this book was no exception. Although it took me a short while to get used to the language (Alex is very fond of science, grammar, and using lots of brackets, you see) and Alex’s narration, it was impossible not to be charmed by his personality and his witty remarks. And this is one of the reasons why I loved this book. With hindsight, it’s quite a sad story but without being sloppy or making you reach for your tissues every two seconds. In fact, Alex’s jokes (“I can swear in sixty-seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten up in sixty-four countries.” is one of my favourites) and all the hilarious things he and his friend Chloe are up to make for quite an entertaining read. I do love a tear-jerker, don’t get me wrong. But books which can address difficult subjects while bringing a bit of humour into the plot always feel a bit more special – and that’s how I felt about Ostrich as well. It’s not simply a story of a boy with a serious illness. It’s so, so much more than that.

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Review: Lost and Found – Tom Winter

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

Title: Lost and Found
Author: Tom Winter
Publication date: 21 February 2013
Publisher: Corsair (Constable & Robinson)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781472101594
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Author
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Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository
Rating: 4 / 5

In a nutshell

It started with a letter…

Carol is married to a man she doesn’t love and mother to a daughter she doesn’t understand. Crippled with guilt, she can’t shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.

Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turns up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

My thoughts

Lost and Found has been among my most anticipated books of 2013 and I knew I’d have to read it the minute I saw the synopsis. I seem to have a soft spot for bitter-sweet and touching stories and it definitely seemed like one. A few chapters in, however, I realized it is in fact a bit different from what I expected – but not in a bad way. Not at all. I actually found it really hard to put it down and, had it not been for me being ill at the time, I would have probably read it in one day.

The reason why I was taken by surprise, I suppose, is that I expected some sort of a love story or a story of a beautiful friendship. A tear-jerker, basically. I mean, it sounds like one, doesn’t it? And while it is a sweet and occasionally moving book, I would have never predicted how funny it actually is. As odd as it may sound, for me most of the humour came from the protagonist, Carol, who’s been trapped in an unhappy marriage for most of her life and her husband, Bob. Man, they’re a hilarious duo. Bob is one of those guys who don’t have the faintest idea about the fact that their marriage isn’t working or in fact, hasn’t been working for a long time. He lives in denial. On top of that, he acts like a big kid. Which, under normal circumstances, would really annoy me. And of course it’s a sad situation too, isn’t it? Living your life in a monotone way and with someone you shouldn’t have married in the first place. Yet, through Carol’s sarcastic thoughts and comments, somehow it all became entertaining.

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Review: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe – Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Agatha Christie

Title: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication date: 14 October 2010
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780007120895
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Mystery
Age group: Adult
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | AwesomeBooks | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Even the great detective Hercule Poirot harboured a deep and abiding fear of the dentist, so it was with some trepidation that he arrived at the celebrated Mr Morley’s surgery for a dental examination. But what neither of them knew was that, only hours later, Poirot would be back to examine the dentist – found dead in his own surgery.

Turning to the other patients for answers, all Poirot finds are darker questions…

My thoughts

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is another gripping story from the Queen of Crime and one I really enjoyed. I have to admit, it wasn’t one of my all time favourite Christie books (although I still think that it would be near impossible to write anything better than And Then There Were None), but the ending – or rather the way the murder has been planned and carried out –  was genius and it still blew me away.

The set-up might be familiar to avid readers of Christie’s books: we’re in a dentist’s office, in a completely average house in central London. A house from which there is only one exit. There are no other entrances or hidden passages. None. And since no one could have entered the house without a key or being let in by the doorman (who was a hilarious character, by the way), we have a limited number of possible suspects. We’re sure right from the beginning that the murder must have been committed by either Mr Morley himself, or someone who had an appointment for that day. Including, of course, Hercule Poirot. The police seem to think it was suicide but Poirot can’t help wondering: why would a successful and relatively happy man like Mr Morley kill himself? Not only that but why would he do it during working hours? Why not wait until all her patients are gone? But if it was murder… who would want to kill him?

The reason why I’m a tiny bit disappointed by the killer’s identity is that I think we’ve had something like this in another story of Christie’s. I won’t say which one in case someone figures it out but yes, I’m pretty sure there was something similar in another book. When Poirot and Japp started talking to the suspects and visited this particular person, I was almost entirely sure they were looking at the murderer. Purely because it would have been so typical of Christie to give her murderer such characteristics and because, as I said, we’ve had something similar before. However, it wouldn’t be a regular Agatha Christie book if she didn’t make each and every character behave in a rather suspicious way, thus making us suspect each and every one of them in turn, so thank God it’s not that predictable. I also think that the mystery of how and particularly why s/he committed the murder would be  quite difficult to solve so even if you manage to guess who the killer would be, the ending will still take you by surprise. All in all, I think it was definitely worth a read and the surprising ending made up for the murderer’s predictability.

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Review: A Life Apart – Mariapia Veladiano

A Life Apart - Mariapia Veladiano

Title: A Life Apart
Author: Mariapia Veladiano
Publication date: 16 May 2013
Publisher: Maclehose Press (Quercus)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-85705-233-9
Length: 186 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
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Buy it: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Rebecca’s parents were born to very different families. One wealthy, one all but destitute, they were united only by their striking mutual beauty. But the sole child to bless their great romantic fairy tale is a daughter of startling ugliness.

The shock of having given birth to such a monster leads the mother to withdraw both herself and her daughter from the world. Only by keeping her child indoors, away from strangers’ eyes, can she protect her from their disgust.

But against all odds, with a little help from some remarkable friends, Rebecca discovers a talent for music that proves that inner beauty can outshine any other.

My thoughts

I haven’t really had the chance to read a great amount of translated fiction before so A Life Apart was definitely unique in this respect, and a bit different from the books I normally read. But since there was something in the synopsis which really intrigued me and because I tend to like emotional stories in which the main character tries to overcome some traumatic incident in his or her life (and because the cover is so breathtakingly gorgeous), I decided to pick it up and give it a try. And while in hindsight I wasn’t particularly keen on the language and narration itself, Rebecca’s personality and her story, her journey towards accepting her looks and living a relatively normal life definitely made up for it.

What surprised me the most is the fact that the novel has quite a few magical elements in it and despite my initial expectations, it’s not an everyday story. As it turns out, Rebecca’s mother’s family has carried a taint for several generations. A minor taint which is supposed to leave your mind, your beauty and your life untouched, but a taint all the same. Now and again an unfortunate child would be born with six or seven fingers on each hand, leaving the family with no other options but to hide them from the prying eyes of their neighbours and everyone else. Hoping to escape this misfortune, Rebecca’s mother marries a handsome young man whose entire generation has been untouched by it. However, when Rebecca is born, they immediately realise that something is very wrong… for despite the father’s impeccable past and the two parents’ beauty, the baby turns out to be a freak of nature. After Rebecca is born, a heavy silence falls on the family home. Literally. She is hidden away from the outside world, is not allowed to attend nursery school or leave the house before sundown and her mother stops talking to them altogether. Not only does she refuse talking to her own husband, she never once sets eyes on her daughter. And this is where Rebecca’s journey starts: in a place devoid of any kind of parental love or affection, where she’s a prisoner in her own home.

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Review: Like This, For Ever – S.J. Bolton

Like This, For Ever – S.J. Bolton

Title: Like This, For Ever (Lacey Flint #3)
Author: S.J. Bolton
Publication date: 11 April 2013
Publisher: Bantam Press (Transworld Publishers)
Format: Ebook
ASIN: 9780593064153
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Thriller
Age group: Adult
Source: Netgalley
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Buy it: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Bright red. Like rose petals. Or rubies. Or balloons. Little red droplets.

Barney knows the killer will strike again soon. The victim will be another boy, just like him. He will drain the body of blood, and leave it on a Thames beach. There will be no clues for detectives Dana Tulloch and Mark Joesbury to find. There will be no warning about who will be next. There will be no good reason for Lacey Flint to become involved … And no chance that she can stay away.

My thoughts

After reading and absolutely enjoying three (or four, if you count If Snow Hadn’t Fallen, a Lacey Flint short story) books by S.J. Bolton, I think it’s safe to say that no matter what she comes up with, I’m going to end up loving it. Needless to say, Like This, For Ever was a great read full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing right until the end.

Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about this book – apart from the obvious, i.e. trying to figure out what on earth is going on and who the murderer is – is the narration. Unlike the previous books in the series, most chapters in Like This, For Ever are narrated by an eleven-year-old boy (who happens to be Lacey’s neighbour) called Barney. Telling the story from a kid’s point of view can be quite tricky but Bolton pulls it off and both Barney’s and the adult characters’ narratives sound totally believable. (I’ve read a few books in which kids of Barney’s age sounded like adults and way too mature for their age, which eventually ruined the whole story for me – Like This, For Ever is definitely not like this.)

Is it the best book of the series, though? No, for me it wasn’t. What I was missing from this story is the creepiness and the ability to scare the living daylight out of you from the very first page, something which the first two books in the series were quite heavily relying on, something in which the author is brilliant at, and something which, despite the fact that they gave me a few sleepless nights, I absolutely loved. I’ve seriously never been as freaked out as when I was reading the previous two books. Like This, For Ever just didn’t have this effect on me for some reason. It might be down to the fact that a) I found this story a bit more predictable than the previous ones. While the first two books had me at a loss and I hadn’t the faintest idea who was guilty and who was innocent, I managed to recognise some of the red herrings quite soon in this one. Mind you, I still had no idea who the killer would be and it did surprise me when I read the last chapter – I would have never guessed. But I figured out who some of the innocent ones were (no matter how shifty their behaviour was) surprisingly fast. Or b) this book is centred around children and teenage boys, which obviously makes the whole issue a lot trickier (after all, you can’t have the same amount of brutality in a book about Jack the Ripper – one of the most notorious serial killers of all time – and one in which young boys are being murdered, unless you want to piss everyone off), I don’t know. All I know is that while I enjoyed the investigation part, loved Lacey and Mark’s subplot and once again, the killer’s identity took me by surprise, it just wasn’t haunting enough to keep me up till the crack of dawn as the previous books did.

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Review: Under Your Skin – Sabine Durrant

Cover of Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant

Title: Under Your Skin
Author: Sabine Durrant
Publication date: April 11, 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books (Hodder & Stoughton)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781444762396
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

Synopsis

This morning, I found a body.
Soon the police will arrest me for murder.
And after that my life will fall apart.

Gaby Mortimer is the woman who has it all. But everything changes when she finds a body on the common near her home. Because the evidence keeps leading back to her. And the police seem sure she’s guilty…

Under Your Skin is an unpredictable, exquisitely twisty story, which proves that there are only three rules in life that mean anything: assume nothing, believe no one, check everything.

My thoughts

Sabine Durrant’s Under Your Skin is – for me, at least – one of those books that is quite hard to talk about without ruining the story and giving away too much, but I’ll try my best to find a balance.

Compared to most of the books in this genre the novel started off quite slowly and it took me some time to fully settle into the story and get used to the writing style but once I did, I could barely put it down. Contrary to what I was initially expecting, it’s not your usual police procedural book and nor it is one of those race-against-the-clock thrillers where there’s a new victim every few chapters and more blood than you bargained for. Under Your Skin starts with our main character, a London TV riporter called Gaby Mortimer, finding a dead woman’s body near her home while she’s out running one morning. The book then follows Gaby’s life and lets us take a glimpse of how this incident has affected her life and how, hard as she might, her life will never be the same. As the police are trying to collect evidence and figure out what might have happened on that fateful night, Gaby suddenly realises that every piece of evidence is leading back to her. And gradually every little thing in her life is starting to fall apart.

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