"For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them." - John Milton
I thought The River was exceptionally good. It’s an excellently
written, truly gripping thriller.
The story is of two
friends who set off on a wilderness trip in Northern Canada, down a
remote river by canoe. They are very competent, well preapared and
fit, but the threat of a huge approaching forest fire emerges in the
distance, and then sinister events begin to emerge concerning a
couple they meet. It’s a simple tale in a way, slightly
reminiscent of Deliverance or tales of wilderness survival, but it is
far more than that. Peter Heller writes brilliantly of the joy and
beauty of the natural world his characters inhabit, he evokes their
friendship beautifully and the tension builds remorselessly without
ever becoming melodramatic. Some passages (about peril on the river
or about the fire, for example) are overwhelmingly powerful and he
really does manage to take you into the heart of the experience.
It’s not a long
book at under 300 pages, and is all the better for it, I think.
There’s nothing wasted and it goes to the heart of what Heller is
trying to tell us – about the land, about the fragility of human
life, about friendship and other things. I thought it was an
excellent book; it’s a thoroughly engrossing story, beautifully
told and with important things to say. Very warmly recommended.
I enjoyed Cold Granite, but I did have my reservations.
I have come very
late to this series; this is the first Stuart MacBride I have read
and overall I’m impressed. He writes very well and creates good
characters and very realistic dialogue. He is especially good on the
setting, and I cold almost feel the chill and wet of the Aberdeen
winter seeping into my bones.
The story is quite
well done, of child deaths and the hunt for the killer. It’s grim
stuff which MacBride doesn’t flinch from, so there are some very
dark, graphic scenes but they are never gratuitously grisly. There
are some pretty obvious clues and red herrings, but it’s just about
plausible until the inevitable Cornered Killer Climax, which I found
rather silly and laboured. And I have to say that at nearly 500
pages the book is too long; tightening it up to nearer 350 pages
would have improved it a lot.
reservations, I thought this was well written and atmospheric enough
to encourage me to read more in the series. I won’t be rushing to
get hold of them, but I’ll definitely persist and I can recommend
this as a good starter.
(My thanks to
HarperCollins for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I’m afraid I struggled a bit with Critical. Matt Morgan is plainly
a good man and a very good doctor, but although the book has a noble
aim and deals with important medical and human subjects, I found it
difficult to relate to.
I should say first
that I can understand all the very enthusiastic reviews form others.
There is a lot of very interesting information here about a
fascinating topic and I did learn a good deal. However, I had two
main problems with the book. The first is that I found its tone a
bit patronising in places. I know that it is difficult sometimes to
convey complex medical and scientific ideas to non-medics like me,
but there really is no need to sound as though you’re addressing a
five-year-old, and I did bridle fairly often at the almost childish
My second problem is
(and I’m sorry to say this) that Matt Morgan simply isn’t a very
good writer. He tries to bring the human stories of his patients to
life for us, but they read like a bad novel, full of cliché (“a
seventeen year old with the world at his feet,” for example) and
over-florid writing which I’m afraid had the opposite effect on me
than was intended, in that I couldn’t relate to the stories at all.
It seems churlish to
criticise a book on such a subject and with a worthy motive, but the
truth is that I was disappointed and although others have plainly
enjoyed it very much, I can only give Critical a very qualified
(My thanks to Simon
and Schuster for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I have enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, but
this one perhaps a little less than its predecessors.
As always, Atkinson
uses the detective plot largely as a device on which to hang her
brilliant character portraits (or case studies). This time, Jackson
has been hired to find the real origins of a woman in New Zealand who
was adopted in the mid 1970s in Leeds shortly before her adoptive
parents emigrated. He becomes involved in a story of ancient
malfeasance and murder, tangled up with a present-day imbroglio
involving elderly police officers, an abducted child and – almost
wholly irrelevantly – and old actress who is succumbing to
The writing is
excellent, of course, and the character studies are again penetrating
and exceptionally well drawn. The attitudes of the 1970s are very
well portrayed. The continuing arc of Jackson’s story runs through
the book as a couple of loose ends from When Will There Be Good News
are pursued, of not always tied up. This time, though, the plot
wasn’t really sufficiently well done for me and often proved a
distraction rather than an asset. There are several characters who
feature in the present day and in flashback to 1975 who weren’t
sufficiently well-distinguished and became a rather confusing blur to
me, and the reliance on coincidence bordered on the absurd at times.
Early, Took My Dog may not be Kate Atkinson’s best, it is still a
good book and significantly better than the vast slew of quite-good
thrillers around at the moment and I am still very much looking
forward to the next one.
(My thanks to Random
House for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I enjoyed The Behaviour Of Love. Virginia Reeves is a fine writer
and she creates a profound portrait of her two principal characters
This isn’t an easy
book to review because the real meat of it comes in the second half
and to reveal what happens would be a huge spoiler. Principally,
though, this is a very intimate portrait of a marriage, of two rather
different people and of love under strain. Set in the 1970s, we
follow Ed and Laura Malinowski as Ed, a psychologist, becomes head of
an institution in Montana for people with a variety of mental health
issues, including – shockingly to a modern reader – epilepsy. Ed
is a passionate and compassionate doctor, which leads him to overwork
and neglect his wife and family. He is also charismatic, attractive
and sexually somewhat promiscuous which leads to other problems,
including in his relationship with a pretty young patient. Laura, a
talented artist, finds herself isolated and neglected but determined
to make a life she finds fulfilling. As the book shows us episodes
over about 10 years we see how things work out (or don’t) for both
Ed and Laura, with sections told from both their points of view.
It’s very well
done, with the 70s background of casual sexism and widespread lack of
understanding of and sympathy for metal health also very well drawn.
Reeves writes very well and I found her characters engaging (if not
always likeable) and very convincing.
I thought Work Like
Any Other was exceptionally good. The Behaviour of Love is good,
too, but perhaps not in quite the same league. Nonetheless, I can
recommend it as an engaging and rewarding read.
(My thanks to Simon
and Schuster for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I enjoyed the first of this trilogy (Mr Finchley Discovers His
England) but I have run into diminishing returns in the later two
In Mr Finchley Takes
The Road, the engaging and ultimately redoubtable Mr F. has a
dramatic change in domestic circumstances and tours Kent in a
horse-drawn caravan. It’s fine in its way and if you’ve read Mr
Finchley Discovers His England you’ll know pretty much what to
expect: loving descriptions of the English countryside, amusing and
eccentric characters, malfeasance vanquished...and so on. It’s
enjoyable, gentle stuff and an easy read, but for me one book of it
was sufficient, so while there’s nothing wrong with this one, it
all felt a little familiar and it didn’t quite hold my interest.
plainly don’t agree and found Mr Finchley Takes The Road as
enjoyable as the first two books so don’t let me put you off, but
personally I can only give it a rather qualified recommendation.
I am not surprised to see that people seem either to have loved or
hated Lomita For Ever. In some ways, I did both; there’s a lot
that’s good about it in that it has an original style and deals
with some tough issues pretty well, but in the end I couldn’t
really get on with it.
The book deals with
Ever (short for Everett) whose mind seems to be coming apart
following the death of his father and some shocking revelations
leading to his separation from his wife and son. Frankly, for a good
deal of the book, it’s not easy to say what the plot is; Ever has
revenge of a kind in mind on someone whom he thinks destroyed his
father but meets the very aged but still beautiful Lomita which
throws everything into turmoil.
It’s an odd plot
written in an odd style, and it was the style which eventually threw
me out of the book. It is original and in some ways brilliant, but
it’s also very hard to understand at times and began to get
unbearably mannered. As a small but typical example, Chapter 13
“The firing range.
Did not require ear
defenders with the Maxim 9...”
fragmentation of sentences happens a lot and while it is atmospheric,
it got me down in the end, especially when it made it very hard to
know who had said what. I quite enjoyed the first 20% or so, slogged
through another few chapters and then began to skim, I’m afraid.
On the one hand I
admire Trevor Eve for his originality and courageous avoidance of a
generic celebrity-author’s thriller, but on the other the book
became a real chore after a while. Others have plainly enjoyed this
far more than I did and you may too, but personally I can’t
(My thanks to
Unbound Digital for an ARC via NetGalley.)