Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Poisoned Waters by Ermisenda Alvarez

Book-Cover-Poisoned-WatersPoisoned Waters is set in the 1950s on a trans-Atlantic cruise from Southampton to New York. Helen Gardener is murdered during the voyage. The novel follows the stories of seven unfortunate characters and how they are affected by the death of Helen Gardener. Was it merely an accident? Mr Phillips, the owner of the ship, and sponsor of the cruise, rules with an iron fist, in search of something or someone.

Lies spiral out of control as the suspects try to survive the final days on board. Conflicted by their sense of morals, greed, and lust, they realise what kind of people they really are. Who will rise? Who will fall? Who was Helen’s murderer?

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of this novel, which also has the honour of being the first full e-book I’ve read! I know I know, I really need to get with the times ūüôā I read it over several lunch breaks at my day job, and found myself looking forward to finding out what was going to happen next as my clock ticked towards 1pm. The characters are well crafted, and you manage to find sympathy towards some of the seemingly ‘bad guy’ characters.

The book reminded me of a classic ‘who-done-it’ in the style of Agatha Christie’s ‘Poirot’ or similar books that are frequently adapted in the UK for addictive Sunday night TV shows. Very rare for me, I didn’t actually guess who had killed Helen Gardener, so that was a great surprise. All in all this is a cleverly woven tale of murder, betrayal and passion, and I would definitely recommend it.

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This post has been part of the Poisoned Waters Blog Tour. Poisoned Waters is a thrilling mystery set on a trans-Atlantic cruise where a murderer walks amongst passengers.

preview on Amazongoodreadsmark copy

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Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

This novel has been on my ‘To read’ list for a long time, and the only reason that I have only just read it is that eternal problem of ‘too many books, too little time’. ¬†I am sure that fellow voracious readers will fully understand that problem!

Unlike some modern classics, The Kite Runner not only lived up to its reputation – for me it completely smashed it, and quite simply is one of the very best books I have ever read.

For those of you who don’t know the story, or who haven’t cheated by watching the film first (shame on you ;-)), The Kite Runner is set in Afghanistan and the USA and tells the story of 2 young boys growing up in Kabul in the 1970s/80s during a time of great conflict, both externally with the Russian invasion, and internally with having to cope with class and ethnic divide. ¬†Mention the word Afghanistan in the modern world, and most people will probably immediately think of war. ¬†Although there is war in the book, from the Russian invasion and the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s, there is also great description of the lives and traditions of ordinary Afghan people, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to think of the pain that has been inflicted on them over many years, from many different forces.

I really felt transported to the streets of Kabul, fully immersed in the sights, sounds and tastes of the boys’ childhood. ¬†The story itself was so powerful and intoxicating to me that every so often I had to physically put the book down and remind myself to breathe. ¬†This book is just so staggeringly beautiful, and destined to become a classic novel of our times. ¬†I simply cannot wait to read Hosseini’s subsequent novels, and have already places and order at the library for¬†A Thousand Splendid Suns.

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The Literary Owl rating: 10/10 (if there was a higher score than that, I would give it!)

Read with: Lots and lots of high-quality tea.

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Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles

“It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe”

When Julia wakes up one Saturday morning following a sleepover with her best friend, she has no idea of the disaster that will change her life forever. ¬†This ‘quite invisible catastrophe’ is the slowing of earth’s rotation, which means the 24 hour day is gradually getting longer until day becomes night and night becomes day. ¬†It is against this backdrop that Julia must face that painful transition from childhood to teens. ¬†Everything changes for her, from her family stability to her friendships; her confidence to her perceptions of the adults around her.

The Age of Miracles¬†is a heartbreaking, unique coming-of-age story that was just utterly sublime to read. ¬†It was easy to imagine the slowing actually happened and it really made me think about how we would cope in that situation in terms of international political response and the effect it would have on our relationships and day-to-day lives. ¬†I could definitely identify with Julia’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it was interesting to imagine whether her relationships would have been different without the outside force of ‘the slowing’ or if the changes were an inevitable part of growing up. ¬†I definitely think it was the right decision to have a young girl as the protagonist rather than focus on an adult perspective.

I don’t usually read reviews of a book once I have read it, but I happened to come across some when I searched on Google to find out whether The Age of Miracles is going to be made into a movie. ¬†I was happy to find out that it is, to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke, as it could be such a glorious movie in the right hands. ¬†I picture an atmospheric masterpiece, similar in style to 2011’s Another Earth. ¬†Anyway, back to books! ¬†One review I saw was critical of¬†The Age of Miracles from a sci-fi perspective, but for me it simply isn’t a sci-fi book, and if it had been marketed as that then chances are I wouldn’t have read it, as sci-fi is not a genre I tend to seek out. ¬†Yes there is a science-fiction element in the book, but ultimately it is Julia’s coming-of-age story that is at the heart of it, and this is done superbly well by Karen Thompson Walker. ¬†It is certainly one of the best debut novels I have ever read, and it left me with a lump in my throat, (and okay maybe a few tears were shed too). ¬†I look forward to what is next from this wonderful author.

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The Literary Owl rating: 9/10

Read with: your favourite childhood sweets to help reminisce about the trials and tribulations of growing up.

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Book Review: Before I go to Sleep by S J Watson

Before I go to Sleep - SJ Watson

Before I go to Sleep is the super-successful debut novel from SJ Watson, that has wowed fans across the world.  Set in the UK, it tells the story of Christine, a woman with severe amnesia who wakes up each day knowing nothing about who she is, and has to rely on loving husband Ben to fill in the gaps.  She is also seeing a specialist psychologist, who encourages her to write a journal to help her try to regain her memories.  When she starts doing so, it leads her to wonder who she can trust in her sheltered life, and what the truth really is.

This is a tense thriller that didn’t take me long to finish as I wanted to find the truth almost as much as Christine did. ¬†There are plenty of hints and plot twists to keep you guessing, and this makes it an exciting read. ¬†I do have a tendency when reading books similar to this to figure out the truth prior to it being revealed, not because I’m especially smart, but because I over think things and imagine all sorts of weird and wonderful scenarios. ¬†And because sometimes the big plot twist is so obvious – I’m talking to you¬†The Sixth Sense! ¬†But with this book, I was kept guessing until almost right before the big reveals.

Although I really did enjoy this novel, it’s not¬†quite¬†as good as all of the hype suggests, but it is an easy-to-read, enjoyable thriller and I do recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers or crime fiction. ¬†The movie rights have been bought, and the film has been cast, but avoid finding out who the stars are until you’ve read the book or you’ll picture them while you read! ¬†For what it’s worth though I do very much approve of the casting choices. ¬†Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher it certainly is not.

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The Literary Owl rating: 7.5/10

Read with: plenty of time, as you’ll likely want to read this in one sitting

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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes

Louisa Clark is an average girl who has a steady boyfriend, slightly eccentric family, and a job she loves in a local cafe. ¬†She has never ventured much further than her own village and is content to keep her life simple. ¬†This changes when she the cafe she works in closes down and she is forced to look for a new job during a recession where her skills and education don’t open many doors. ¬†She eventually secures a job working for Will Traynor, a former hedonistic high fligher who is confined to a wheelchair following a freak accident. ¬†Louisa’s happy-go-lucky personality clashes with Will’s moodiness and negativity, and she has to work hard to try to break down his barriers. ¬†When she learns that Will has a shocking plan to escape his current position, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

The story is very much about Will and Louisa, with less emphasis on the supporting characters around them, but the supporting characters are believable and I could empathise with each of their stories and viewpoints.  The character of Louisa is initially fairly typical of the usual lead female character of a chick-lit novel, but as the book progresses you learn more about her back story and the reasons why she is so sheltered, and these revelations are realistic and truly heartbreaking.  Despite the cover and first few chapters of this book suggesting an easy, chick-lit read, nothing could be further from the truth.

The issues that Jojo Moyes raises in the book are contemporary and controversial and she does well to handle them so sensitively and respectfully. ¬†She has clearly done her research and taken seriously the responsibility of fictionalising such emotive scenarios. ¬†This certainly isn’t your average love story, and it made me cry while reading it, although it does have moments of humour to break up the sadness. ¬†It is thought-provoking, and the story stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading it. ¬†It would make a great movie if the subject matter could be handled as well as Moyes did in the book. ¬†But of course read the book first! ¬†I recommend this book to anyone.

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The Literary Owl rating: 8/10

Read with: an open mind, and at least a couple of tissues for your tears!

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Book Review: The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith

The Importance of Being Seven

The Importance of Being Seven is the 6th book in McCall Smith’s ’44 Scotland Street’ series, but the 1st one I’ve reviewed, despite having also read books 1 t0 5. ¬†The reason for the lack of previous reviews is mainly because as soon as I have read one, I have been so desperate to start the next one that I’m afraid the review time has been eaten up by more reading time! ¬†I have only fairly recently start reading Alexander McCall Smith’s books, but this has meant that I have been able to read several back to back, both from this series, and the Isabel Dalhousie series, which has helped sate my addiction!

The 44 Scotland Street series of books follows the lives of the eccentric residents of the flats within an Edinburgh townhouse, and their friends in the city. ¬† ¬†The novels were originally serialised in the newspaper¬†The Scotsman, and the relatively short chapters in the novels are the same as what appeared each day. ¬†One of the most popular characters among readers of the series is Bertie Pollock, who is the young son of demanding mother Irene, and it is he who believes in the importance of being seven, hoping it will lead to more freedom from his mother’s pressure to attend psychotherapy, learn Italian, and play the saxophone. ¬†I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of this particular book because I would encourage you to start from the beginning; the first book helpfully being entitled¬†44 Scotland Street.

What I love most about these books is McCall Smith’s exquisite writing, in particular his subtle humour and observations about everyday life that are just perfect. ¬†Since reading them, I have developed a bordering-on obsession with wanting to go to Edinburgh, and hunt out the places referred to. ¬†I know the characters are fictional, but they are so convincing that I feel sure that Edinburgh must be full of intelligent, amusing, cultured people ready to entertain me!

So please do read¬†44 Scotland Street and the other books in the series. ¬†If you enjoy it then you’ll definitely also enjoy¬†The Sunday Philosophy Club,¬†which is the series about Isabel Dalhousie, an Edinburgh based philosopher. ¬†I think Alexander McCall Smith’s writing really is unique amongst contemporary authors and he is deserving of readers’ support.

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The Literary Owl Rating: 8.5/10

Read with: A glass of Scottish whisky on the rocks of course.

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Book Review: The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

The Debutante Kathleen Tessaro

Escaping from heartache in New York, artist Katie returns to London to stay with her Aunt Rachel, owner of a niche valuation and auctioneer house.  Rachel hopes to help Katie deal with her despondency by asking her to assist employee Paul with the cataloguing of the contents of an old house by the sea.  Paul has his own torment to deal with and is reluctant to share time with a stranger, but despite his protests, he is obliged to do so anyway.

Endsleigh, the house they are sent to, was home during the 1930s to the Blythe sisters, society’s most celebrated debutantes of the time. ¬†One of the sisters, Diana went missing, and it is this mystery that Katie is determined to solve. ¬†The story follows Katie’s efforts to find out more about the sisters and the events that unfolded at Endsleigh all those years ago. ¬†Interspersed¬†with this are letters that were sent by Diana during the 1920s and 30s, which give a glimpse into her life and loves.

I have read one of Kathleen Tessaro’s previous novels, her debut Elegance, and found The Debutante to be just as¬†sumptuous¬†and engaging. ¬†I love a good mystery, and especially one set during one of my favourite eras. ¬†All of the characters, modern and past, were well developed by the author , so I empathised with them and understood the motivations for their actions. ¬†The use of the letters was a brilliant tool, enabling readers to see actions from the point of view of the key players in the past actions, rather than just through the eyes of those looking back. ¬†I read the book in one sitting, because it was a well flowing, easy read, though that is not to suggest that it is in the realms of ‘chick lit’ fluff, because it is certainly classier than that. ¬†The writing was divine, and the conversations in the book were believable. ¬†I also loved the Author’s note at the end of the book where she describes her influences for the story, and how she overcame problems during the writing of it, which gave a great insight into the life of a writer.

Kathleen Tessaro has a new book out in April 2013, which I have added to my ‘to read’ list – The Perfume Collector – and hope it is as enjoyable to read as The Debutante was.

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The Literary Owl rating: 8/10

Read with: a glass of champagne and some jazz playing on the stereo.

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