Catching up with Myself |4 in 1 Reviews

I have not read many books this year. As a result, I thought I’d catch up with myself a bit and review every book I’ve read this year in one post….all 4 of them. For some context, my reading time is pretty much limited to my hour lunch break at work, and the occasional time on the weekend. I should read more often, but currently that’s the amount I can manage and I feel like that’s okay.

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Book Review | Urge To Kill *Spoilers*

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.

Urge to Kill, if you couldn’t guess by the name, is a crime/thriller novel. Set in my own town of Warwick, the novel follows newlywed DI Matt Turrell as he tries to keep up with a killer getting ever-closer to home. The novel also follows the killer, Clive Draper, as he draws in victims and makes his way to his ultimate target.

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Review (not) Wednesday | ARC Review – How to Stop Time

**I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Okay, first things first, HOW EXCITING IS THIS?? If you’ve been around a while you’ll know that I adore Haig’s work. In fact, he’s the only author I’ve reviewed more than once on here. Saying that, there’s a kind of fear in reading a book you’ve been looking forward to –and even more so when you have to put your thoughts on the internet for the whole world to see. It’s very easy to be disappointed by an author you’ve read a lot of, because you expect certain things from that author, but luckily that wasn’t the case here.

How to Stop Time is centred around Tom Hazard, a man with a rare condition – at the age of 13 the aging process slowed down for him completely, leaving him to age 15 times slower than the average human. At 439, he’s lived a lot of life. Determined to feel normal, Tom decides to become a history teacher – he’s certainly qualified for it.

The book is what I expected from Haig. In a lot of ways it was like The Humans, which I haven’t reviewed here but read recently – watch this space. The protagonists are similar in a lot of ways, though technically no one is more human than Tom Hazard and no one less so than the nameless alien entity now occupying the body of Professor Andrew Martin. This is a bit of a negative – some aspects felt a little like I’d seen it before (and not just because of the historical throwbacks). Despite this, I thought that overall the book was brilliant. Haig has a strong voice that engages the reader, the story was well paced and I was gripped by the plot. It was that wonderful blend of serious, thought provoking, emotional and funny that Matt Haig combines into the social commentaries I adore reading so much. The plot could have been incredibly convoluted and difficult to follow, but it was actually an easy read and a lot of fun – while still pulling on your heartstrings.

Without spoiling too much, the book does include some flashbacks, but the plot is generally pretty linear. There are a few name drops in said flashbacks, some of which I felt worked and moved the plot along (Tom is given work by a famous playwright), and some I felt didn’t really add anything to the plot (Tom meets a famous couple in a bar). They were entertaining and I like the concept, but it did sort of feel like some famous names were there for the sake of a famous name.

I really enjoyed the book. It was what I wanted and expected from Haig, but at the same time I felt that it could have gone just a little further. We are introduced to a few institutions who are linked to or interested in Anageria, Tom’s condition, but aren’t shown much of them – I’d love to know more about them and perhaps see more of their influence first hand. We hear about their previous actions and understand that there’s always the threat of being tracked down by these groups (think E.T) but don’t really see a whole lot of the actual groups. I can’t believe I of all people would’ve liked more action, but it was a little jarring that we’re warned about all these people and then they don’t really show up when everything else is being tied up.

The concept is fantastic as ever and I am always astounded by Haig’s voice and narrative. I feel like this review is quite critical but I really did love the book – I just felt like a few things could have been cleaner. I would absolutely recommend, even if you haven’t read anything by Matt Haig. This would be a wonderful place to start.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | The Night Brother (ARC Review)

I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I know that I give a big spoiler in the first paragraph but it would be very difficult to talk about without giving it away! You do find out in the first couple of chapters!! -R

The Night Brother follows Edie and Gnome, siblings who in many ways couldn’t be more different. Edie is introverted, intelligent and resolutely hated by her mother. Gnome is outgoing, adventurous and uncouth – not to mention hero-worshipped and spoilt rotten by the mother he deems stupid. They are linked, quite literally, by one slightly inconvenient fact; they live in the same body. Edie is in control during the day, and Gnome at night. The start of the novel shows Edie unaware of what is happening – she believes Gnome to be a friend, a Peter Pan like figure who takes her on adventures while her mother and grandmother are sleeping. Her grandmother eventually reveals the truth in an attempt to help her find her peace with the situation.

I’ve spoken before about how difficult it can be to get historical fiction right, and this is possibly magnified in making LGBT+ characters and themes take centre stage. I was so glad to read LGBT+ characters that are realistic and proud (if that pride is strictly confined to their own friendship groups and secret gay bars), and the theme of gender fluidity is certainly explored in different ways here.

The premise of “one body, two souls” could have gone many ways, particularly considering how this is dealt with in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which is obviously an actual Fin de Siecle period novel with a similar theme. The plot borders on ridiculous at times due to the nature of this, but I felt that for the most part it brought it back quite well. I would have liked a better explanation of the “family curse” and more of a back story for the whole thing though.

I was quite sceptical of this book. Garland’s descriptions are beautiful, and the first chapter certainly draws you in, but I did begin to get disillusioned with the whole thing at times. I felt some attempts at adding ‘darkness’ were a little lost on me – the mother comes off quite pantomime-y, and a certain scene with a certain doctor just seemed far too fast and confusing – though on doing further research I did find out that his practices weren’t unheard of, which was somewhat of a shock to me (though it really shouldn’t have been).

The characters were very strong, though, and this compared with the descriptive language kept me hooked. There are some striking scenes that I really connected with, though I wasn’t convinced by it all – particularly the ending, I must admit. In all though it was an enjoyable book with some wonderful LGBT+ characters, who are well worth meeting.

See you soon,

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A Bookshelf For… A Year Later

A few days ago Always in the Write turned one and yes, I’m still celebrating. I’m truly amazed that I haven’t quit yet if I’m honest – I don’t like being a quitter but I know what I’m like and didn’t have high expectations of myself! What better way to celebrate than the first in that one series I mentioned ages ago and haven’t touched since my A Bookshelf For…series! Here are my top books I’ve reviewed for each month, along with links to the full reviews if you’re interested. It’s been quite the year, with some damn good books taking centre stage.

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Wormwood

It is London, 1756. In his Bloomsbury attic sits Dr Sabian Blake – astronomer, scientist, and master of the Kabbalah. Dr Blake is in possession of the Nemorensis, an ancient leather-bound book that holds the secrets of the universe. Scribbled into one of its margins is a mysterious prophecy and deciphering it could prove the key to saving London from a catastrophic fate. But there are others interested in the Nemorensis too, for more sinister reasons . . .

Wormwood is an allegorical fantasy novel, with strong Christian imagery throughout. The story centres around a book called the Nemorensis, seen by some as a fount of knowledge and others the Devil’s work. Dr Sabian Blake, owner of Nemorensis at the beginning of the book, finds a prediction in the book of a comet, Wormwood, falling to Earth and destroying London.

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Review Wednesday(ish) | Book Review – The Golden Tup

I was given this novella in exchange for an honest review. Sorry it’s late! 

The Golden Tup is a novella, originally published in a collection called The Red Grouse Tales – named for the pub in which the stories were told by the author’s friends. The idea of a collection of stories originally verbally told, while an ancient tradition, has become quintessentially British to me. This may be to do with the sheer amount of Victorian fiction I’ve read with this theme, but I am partial to these kinds of stories.

With this in mind, the story is more a story-in-a-story. It opens with the storyteller and her friends. One of the friends enquires about the main characters of the actual story, leading to this being told. The Golden Tup reminds me of The Turn of the Screw in many ways, the obvious similarities in format being one of them.

The darkness and ambiguity in the story also reminds me of James’ work. The Golden Tup is incredibly dark in many ways. The main story focuses on a young couple who move into a long-abandoned farm house. They live a relatively happy, peaceful existence; until things ominously take a turn for the worst. Their tale mirrors that of the previous tenants in many ways, shedding light on why the property had been unoccupied for so long. Garland uses supernatural and religious themes that work well with such a rural, traditional setting. I like the use of Milton’s Paradise Lost, although I did find that this was forced at times.

There were several parts where the writing fell slightly short for me, but that is almost forgiven by the format of the tale. This is a ‘campfire’ sort of story, made to be told in a raw and natural way. It isn’t intended as perfectly polished literary narrative, and that works in this instance. It is the kind of story I can imagine people telling based on shocking headlines or local dramas – if there’s one thing I know about villages it’s that both imaginations and gossip run wild.

This adds a sort-of quaintness to an otherwise depressing and quite shocking tale. It is grounded in the more realistic setting of the pub in which it is told. The rural, quaint overtones are again comparable to many Victorian works of this kind, such as Frankenstein. There’s an element of fun that works to engage the reader further in the tale.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. It was short enough to read on a train journey but engaging enough that I would want more, and may get hold of the full collection. It is a nice little horror story to sink your teeth into, with some interesting motifs and themes.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Paris For One and Other Stories

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Paris for One and Other Stories is, as you might expect from the title, a book of short stories. The book features the titular Paris for One, more of a novella than short story, followed by 10 shorter stories of varying lengths.

Paris for One, the main story, follows an anxious Nell as she travels to Paris for the first time. What was supposed to be a romantic weekend with her uninterested boyfriend soon turns into a journey of self-discovery and of Nell finding her courage. The story also follows Fabien, a Parisian writer who was left heartbroken by his now ex-girlfriend a few months before the story begins. He is working on a book but lacks the motivation and confidence to finish it.

Okay, so you can probably see where this is going. I can’t say the story isn’t predictable, but it’s well written, charming and sophisticated.

All of the stories follow similar themes of romance and self-discovery. Relationships are the central theme for this collection. There are marriages, new loves, break ups and old friends. Couples who can’t make it work and couples who work through thick and thin. The protagonists are all strong, realistic women. Some of the stories are set in Paris, but this isn’t a running theme.

As a historical fiction junkie, it comes as no surprise that my favourite story in the collection is Honeymoon in Paris. I adore when stories combine the past with the present, but it is so easy to get wrong that I approach these kinds of stories tentatively. Moyes got this trope completely spot on, however, with her tales of Liv and Sophie. It was only on googling the book for this review that I learned that this is a sort of mini-prequel to a novel based on the two women, The Girl You Left Behind – it’s safe to say that I will be giving that a read!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was in London when I started it and I feel like it would be a perfect commuting read. The stories are gripping but wrap up nicely, and can be read in short periods of time. While I have found myself wanting more from some of the stories, they work wonderfully as stand-alones and are all paced really well.  They might not be deep, brooding or particularly “literary”, but these are lovely little stories to brighten your day with and help restore some of your faith in humanity. I hadn’t read any of JoJo Moyes’ work until now, but I can see what all the fuss is about.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Birds Art Life Death

 

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It would be small and manageable, just a tiny bird, embarrassingly little. Not a crisis. And that’s why I regret it. Because the attitude that somehow, without our acting, the little things will take care of themselves does not ring true anymore.

Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life Death follows her through a year of her life and discovery of birds and their impact. At the beginning of the book her father is unwell and she is beginning to fall out of love with her art. She falls into a rut of being unable to write and create the way she’d like – until she meets a bird-loving musician. The Musician, as he is referred to throughout the novel, introduces her not only to birds but to the idea that the small and seemingly insignificant can mean everything.

For someone who was in such a creative rut, Maclear writes beautifully. She is honest, funny and writes with quiet grace. Her work is well thought out and intelligent, but also raw and natural. Her struggle to create is relatable and her observations pure and uncensored. Her encounter with a Peregrine falcon, for example, shows the greying and harsh Toronto environment against the majesty of the bird.

This is by no means a research book. Maclear’s ornithological interest doesn’t become boring, and she doesn’t write about fact or science – in fact she does write about finding the balance between looking at birds too scientifically or too sentimentally. In a period of being unable to go out birding with the musician she reads books on birds, and finds that many are too factual for her needs. She writes more often purely on her experiences with birds, not the science behind them – although occasionally this does play a part in moving the story on.

The point of the book is to show that the insignificant, small things can be some of the most important. Birds are a constant, as are art, life and death. No matter what is happening in the world, people will take comfort in the small things – and that’s okay.

Birds Art Life Death is a wonderful little book. It is understated and modest, just like it’s subject matter, but with a lot of life lessons and wisdom in its pages. I’m a little disappointed that I only have the eBook copy – I feel like there are some books I want to physically hold, and this is one (that is a good thing!).

See you soon,

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