Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 23 February 2018

Back with some Best Books!

Long time, no post, I know. I wasn't sure if I was coming back to write here again. I'm still not sure if I'm back for any length of time, or regularly, so let's just see what happens. I've  still enjoyed reading many of the excellent book blogs I always followed before, though I have been terrible at commenting, for which I'm sorry. 

I thought an interesting post to return with might be my favourite reads of 2017 (in no particular order). 
Underneath the titles, I've posted the comments that I wrote on Goodreads at the time, if any - some I wrote a little, some I didn't write anything. No reflection on the book(s) at all, just whether I managed to write a comment/review at the time or not. 

Favourite reads of 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman



The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead


I loved this novel, I thought Colson Whitehead constructed and told his story very well indeed. I liked the longer and shorter parts of the narrative, and the different viewpoints, and I feel he has written a very important, compelling, honest and very readable novel about an absolutely awful part of humanity's past, which should never be forgotten. I felt I learned a lot in reading this novel, and it made me go off and research more about some of the historical events of the period in which this story is set, as well as find out about the underground railroad as it was something I didn't know about previously. 
I became thoroughly immersed in Cora's life and was reluctant to put the book down at times, as I had to know what would happen, despite my fears at what I might found out as I read on. I did find some of the things that happened upsetting, I was appalled by some of the horrendous behaviour and the way people were treated back then. 
I feel this is an important novel to read and I am very glad I have read it; as well as dealing with something which taints our past, it is a gripping, harrowing, well written and engaging story with some wonderful characters, Cora most of all, as well as Caesar, Sam, and others. It definitely deserves the praise it has received. I love the cover design too, very striking and fitting for the book.


The Unseen World - Liz Moore


Marvellous, I loved it. Ada and David will stay with me for a long time, as well as Liston and ELIXIR. Intelligent, thoughtful and compelling read. Love this author.


How to Stop Time - Matt Haig



Pretty darn marvellous. So much feeling and insight into life, especially into how humans repeat mistakes again and again, and uplifting in terms of trying to live in the moment. A really good, and lovely, story. The audio book narrator does a brilliant job too.


Shelter - Jung Yun


A brilliant read, combines so much, beautifully done, and very well written.


The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss


I loved this book, I thought it was beautifully written, with a compelling and very readable narrative with so much to say about the way we live our lives today; the delicate nature of our health, the weight, relevance and truth of our history, the influence of previous generations and their experiences. 
I found it especially well written and honest when discussing how we get through everyday modern life with its struggles and joys, and there were some delightful touches of humour in there too. 
I loved the interspersed parts about Coventry Cathedral as Adam conducted his research. (The cathedral, as well as some of the area around/near there, is a place that has a special resonance from the past for me, that's another story though, I won't go into it here.) 
I admired Adam for his role, and I think Sarah Moss really conveyed so well the love and devotion he had for his family, as well as the utter turmoil when they were threatened by the frightening health scares.
I also thought she was spot on with many of the current worries and issues troubling our world. I liked that Miriam was a feisty and positive girl who cared about a lot that isn't right with the world. I like the beautiful and striking cover painting too. I'm really excited about reading more novels by this author now, I like her writing style very much. 

The Museum of You - Carys Bray


What a lovely book.


The Son - Phillip Meyer



The Past - Tessa Hadley




What a lovely read, I enjoyed it from the off and then more and more as I read on, and I'm sad now to leave those characters behind, I feel like I'll miss them. 
So beautifully done, so perceptive in writing about people and so enjoyable to read. Just the book I needed right now. And a back catalogue of the author's for me to explore.





The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan


Absolutely superb.



The Heart’s Invisible Furies - John Boyne


I have read many, though not yet all, of John Boyne's previous novels, both some of his adult and children's work, and I do enjoy his writing style very much, and the way he tells a story. So I went into this new book knowing I would probably like it, but still a little nervous, as it's his longest yet I believe, and as stated in the book, his most ambitious to date. I need not have worried - I thought it was amazing.
John Boyne has depicted Cyril Avery, throughout his life, prior to his birth, through to his death, and everything in between. He deals with some of the major happenings of the century, but these are not brought in in a heavy handed way, but dealt with very well, incorporated sometimes into the foreground, and sometimes into the background of the main story. There are so many characters to love, to admire, to dislike, to hope for, and Cyril is at the heart of it all. As discoveries were made, revelations, and chance meetings that the reader reacted to having the knowledge that Cyril didn't, it all made for a heartbreaking, moving and very involving reading experience. Cyril experiences much pain in coming to terms with his sexuality, in coping with love that is not reciprocated, in being adopted by such an unusual pair as Charles and Maude. I liked the structure of the novel, as we caught up with Cyril every seven years throughout his life, and I liked the first chapter detailing his mother's experiences immediately prior to Cyril's birth. There were so many characters I was sad to leave behind when I finished the book, some that I had mourned for, and some that had been wonderful company, in particular I loved Mrs Goggin, and Maude is fascinating.
A really major achievement by a superb author, this is a beautifully, honestly written, and compelling tale. I am so grateful to have read this book.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith


Absolutely wonderful.


The House by the Lake - John Harding



A fascinating read.

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy


Wow, what a book. 

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And my favourite reads of 2016 because I didn't post then either!

Favourite reads of 2016


A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson


I absolutely loved this book, superb. Moving, stunning, had me in tears. Highly recommended.


Under the Skin - Michel Faber


Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff

A compelling, powerful portrait of a marriage, of two lives. 

I was intrigued by this novel for a while, and I saw great reviews for it by people who loved it, and I also saw reviews where people were not so keen. I kept thinking shall I, shan't I, read it, and eventually I did give in to the temptation because it wouldn't go away. Well this time I was right to trust that little voice in me that said read this book. I thought it was brilliant. 

Lauren Groff writes her story in two halves, first couple of hundred pages tell Lotto's side, under Fates, and the second half of similar length, Furies, gives Mathilde's story. They married at just 22 years old, and the way the novel shines a light on their marriage is superbly done.
I feel that in creating Lotto and Mathilde, in the way she portrays them, Lauren Groff demonstrates that she can brilliantly capture people in all their complexity, and show the intense joys and the immense sadnesses of life.

She has a beautiful writing style, this is intelligent literary fiction, plus she has written a compelling narrative that made this book a real page-turner too. I was drawn in early on and it was fascinating to discover what would happen over the course of their lives together, how their hopes and dreams and expectations would play out as they aged, and to see these lives from both perspectives too.

I'm not very well versed in the aspects of Greek drama that I believe may be in play here, but I understand that the comments in brackets littered in the novel are like a Greek chorus commenting on events/telling us the truth? Anyway, this aspect worked for me too.

Whilst I wouldn't say this was an absolutely perfect novel, I thought it was very good indeed for all the reasons mentioned above - the use of language, the storytelling, the compelling characters. Lotto and Mathilde weren't people I loved, perhaps at times I liked something about them but for the most part I didn't, but they were convincing, and felt real and flawed, and I was invested in their story, wanting to know more, wanting to know what would happen, what was hiding underneath the surface.

I hope this review goes some way to conveying why I really enjoyed this novel. It's the first novel I've read by Lauren Groff, though I've had The Monsters of Templeton sitting on my to be read pile for years, and still plan to read it. After reading Fates and Furies, I'm looking forward to it even more.

The Muse - Jessie Burton


Art, love, friendship, culture, feminism, independence, immigration, war, intrigue, mystery, so much and so well told, absolutely loved this story.


This Must Be the Place - Maggie O'Farrell

Once again, beautiful writing by this author, as with her previous novels, so too with this one - so enjoyable to read and so compelling too. We have a narrative that moves about in time and also we have different narrative voices; after a few sections, getting used to this structure, I loved how we got an intimate picture of several of the characters' lives, and how the story kept being related at different points in time of different characters' lives.


I found all of the different voices convincing and sometimes I was both keen to read the next part by someone else and yet also wanting to know what would happen next to the character I had just read about. If this makes the novel sound confusing, it's not, you soon grasp the various connections within your mind and become engrossed in these characters' lives. The storylines and lives are carefully and cleverly woven together; Maggie O’Farrell is a great storyteller and this is another super read by one of my favourite writers.


Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Loved it. So many reminders of the eighties too. Another successful step outside my reading 'comfort zone'.


My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout



Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld

Lovely lovely read, I love the original classic and I love this modern day take on it, great fun. 


I don’t always rush to read new versions or modern takes of classic novels, especially when the original novel is one I loved, as is the case here with Pride and Prejudice. I worry that it will spoil my memory of the original, or just feel like it was unnecessary. However, I loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife, have her other novels waiting on my to be read pile, and had to admit to being intrigued by just how she would deliver her updated version of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, with the wonderful characters and story transported to modern day USA. (I believe this is now the fourth of Jane Austen’s novels to have been given a new take by a present day author.)

The story has all you might expect of a modern day tale, gossipy text messages, hi-tech companies, glossy magazines, reality tv shows, and more. I won’t put spoilers or further details here because it’s best to discover them as you read, but I liked her interpretation of pretty much all of them, from Fitzy and Chip to Mr Collins and Kathy de Bourgh. Curtis Sittenfeld brings through many of the characteristics and features that we know so well from Austen’s novel, Mrs Bennet’s anxieties and prejudices, Mr Bennet’s dry humour, Kitty and Lydia’s giggly silliness and flirtatiousness, Mary’s enigmatic isolation, Jane’s beauty and her kind spirit, Liz’s intelligence and thoughtfulness, now with a hip and independent edge to her. So, the characters and plots retain a lot from the original, but are brought cleverly up to date and/or their situations and difficulties made relevant for the present day, with some concerns still relevant in both, eternal human concerns of love, togetherness, loneliness, money, and families. And of course Mrs Bennet still just wants to see her five daughters married well!

It’s a lengthy novel at over 500 pages, but it carries you along and I got through a fair chunk every time I picked it up, so compelling was the need to keep reading and so witting the writing. Some chapters are very short, most are fairy short, and I loved the way it was done. To me it felt both like the classic tale and like a very current, relevant and entertaining contemporary novel, and I thought it was brilliant. 

If you are open to this story being retold do give this a go because it is a lot of fun to read, it skips along at a fine pace and I at least came to love the characters, or laugh at them, or cry with them (especially with Liz), just as much all over again. I hope this review gives some sense of what it’s like, there’s a lot more I’d love to write about but I think then I’d bring a lot of spoilers in. A really great read, such fun!


House of Silence - Linda Gillard


House of Silence is a really gripping read, the story and the setting are both high on atmosphere and mystery. It's a moving, intriguing read that kept me wanting to get back to reading it. I loved it. 

There are some brilliant characters, ones that will stick in my mind, especially Hattie, and the storytelling is layered and clever. There's romance, pain, loss, passion, denial, secrets, mystery - a cracking read.




Coffin Road - Peter May


Truly Madly Guilty - Liane Moriarty

Over the past couple of years I've read many of Liane Moriarty's novels, and have loved them all. So I was both very excited and also apprehensive about a new book from her - it will be brilliant won't it? I need not have worried because I thoroughly enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty, another cracker from this superb author. 


More than anything I just feel that she absolutely grasps people and what makes them tick, and she writes so intelligently about relationships, internal thought processes, feelings, and it's wonderful to read someone who 'gets' humans so well. 

Truly Madly Guilty is a compelling read, well-plotted and intriguing, but it is the deftness of touch with regard to her character portrayals, and the understanding of people, of emotions, of joy and desire and sadness and fear and love, that shines through most of all. I can't wait for her next one!



The Red Notebook - Antoine Laurain



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Thanks very much for visiting and reading!

14 comments:

  1. Hi, interesting lists, I haven't read any of them, hope to see you posting regularly

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    1. Hi Kat, thanks for visiting and commenting, and hope to be back a bit more often.

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  2. Good to see you back.

    I, too, thought A God in Ruins was magnificent, yet I found it didn't get much buzz in the book blogosphere.

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    1. Hi Debbie, thanks very much, and thanks for visiting. It's so nice to hear that you loved the Kate Atkinson too. I'm sad if it didn't get much buzz around the book blogs as it certainly deserves it, such a brilliant book.

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  3. Lovely to see you posting again Lindsay. Eleanor Oliphant was one of my top reads of 2017 and some your 2016 choices are favourites of mine.

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    1. Hi Karen, thank you, it's nice to have a new post at last, and I appreciate your commenting. I'm glad you loved Eleanor Oliphant too, I thought it was so good in so many ways.

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  4. I am glad to see you posting again.

    You read some very interesting looking books. I want to read many of these myself. Hopefully I will get to Ready Pmayer One soon.

    Some day I will tackle War and Peace :)

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    1. Hi Brian, thank you, and thanks for your comment. Ready Player One was very good I thought, and I believe there is a film adaptation coming this year. I managed War and Peace, at last, because I did it with a readalong and read a few chapters each day for two months. Felt great to finally read it though!

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  5. Good to see you! You did some fantastic reading in 2017. Ready Player One was a step outside my normal as well and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is on my TBR. It sounds fantastic. I have a few others on my list too. Hope your reading in 2018 is just as great and that we see you around the blogosphere a little more!

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    1. Hi Katherine, thanks very much, it's nice to be back, and thanks for visiting and commenting! Same with me with Ready Player One, surprised me too. I hope you like Eleanor as much as I did. Hope 2018 will bring lots of great books.

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  6. Welcome back beautiful, this has made me smile. I have missed ya ♥️😘 xxx

    Lainy http://www alwaysreading.net

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  7. Lovely to see you back, you've been sorely missed. And what a comeback it is. Such a wonderfully eclectic selection. You are naughty, leading me into temptation like this.

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    1. Hee her it's good to offer book temptation!! :) Thanks for your lovely comment Tracy it's great to have you visit and nice to be back.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)