Saturday, May 05, 2018

Odd Girl Out by Laura James




 They said:- What do you do when you wake up in your mid-forties and realize you've been living a lie your whole life? Do you tell? Or do you keep it to yourself? Laura James found out that she was autistic as an adult, after she had forged a career for herself, married twice and raised four children. Odd Girl Out tracks the year of Laura's life after she receives a definitive diagnosis from her doctor, as she learns that 'different' doesn't need to mean 'less' and how there is a place for all of us, and it's never too late to find it. Laura draws on her professional and personal experiences and reflects on her life in the light of her diagnosis, which for her explains some of her differences; why, as a child, she felt happier spinning in circles than standing still and why she has always found it difficult to work in places with a lot of ambient noise. Although this is a personal story, the book has a wider focus too, exploring reasons for the lower rate of diagnosed autism in women and a wide range of topics including eating disorders and autism, marriage and motherhood. This memoir gives a timely account from a woman negotiating the autistic spectrum, from a poignant and personal perspective.

What I thought:-

An absolutely fascinating account of living with autism which, as the song says, is different for girls.  The Rosie books by Graeme Simsion, and A Boy Made of Blocks, by Keith Stuart, are enjoyable to read as well as informative, but Laura James's experiences have been rather different and I found them very relatable.  There is food for thought not only in respect of autism but also in how we fail to respect and celebrate the differences we all have, and how we have to conform in order to deal with the world, instead of being able to find the way that individually works best for us.  It is a really well written book, and an engrossing and illuminating read.

Friday, March 02, 2018

On The Bright Side by Hendrik Groen


They said: A funny but also touching diary praised for its wit and realism' BBC Radio 4 Front Row The Old-But-Not-Dead Club return, in the sequel to the INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old, bringing with them some life-affirming lawlessness. Chaos will ensue as 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is determined to grow old with dignity: to rise up against the care home director. NO more bingo. NO more over-boiled vegetables. NO more health and safety. 85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practising hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his custard cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy. But the care home's Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they're not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It's up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it - or drop dead trying . . . He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up - or going down without a fight. Praise for Hendrik Groen 'A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on' Graeme Simsion 'There are many laughs in this book but it's so much more than just a comedy. It's a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I'm an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen' John Boyne 'I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more' David Suchet 'Thoughtful, anxious and gruff... Laced with humour' The Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday 'Amusing [and] wickedly accurate' ***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express 'Highly entertaining ... a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing' Daily Express 'Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters' Cathy Rentzenbrink, Stylist 'Hendrik pens an exposĂ© of his care home. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh and think. Terrific' Fanny Blake, Woman and Home I thought: I have become rather fond of Hendrik Groen and his friends in the Old But Not Dead Club. have read his two books and On The Bright Side continues to explore Hendrik's life in a care home as aging continues to throw its challenges against the desire for a life well lived. The friends organise regular outings and adventures to spice up their lives and to escape into the outside world. There is a lot of fun, some adjustments to be made and some sadness and loss, too. There is so much food for thought within these pages, although I know that some of my older friends have found the original book a difficult read, saying it was a bit close to home. What passes for care in the social welfare system does not not always seem very caring, especially when financial budgets are cut. There is some consideration of whether a life is always worth continuing or whether there is a place for euthanasia. I think that these issues are too often swept under the carpet and we should consider them. Hendrik Groen may tend to the curmudgeonly but he is wryly humorous, humane, thought-provoking and thoughtful, a worthy commentator on life as an octogenarian. I hope he has more to say in the future.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Extremist by Nadia Dalbuono

They said:-

On a hot summer’s morning in Rome, three public places — a McDonald’s, a preschool, and a cafĂ© — come under siege from a group of terrorists who appear to be Islamic extremists. When word comes through that the terrorists will only negotiate with Detective Leone Scamarcio, no one more surprised than Scamarcio himself.


The young man with frightened eyes who speaks to Scamarcio seems anything but in control. He says that Scamarcio is the only person he can trust to care about the truth. Then he gives Scamarcio an unusual list of demands, including that everything must be done without police or intelligence involvement, and within twenty-four hours — or the hostages die.

With his face on every TV screen, and with all of Italy on alert, Scamarcio must race against the clock and elude the grasp of the increasingly unhinged chief of intelligence, Colonel Scalisi, to meet the terrorists’ demands, and to uncover the truth behind the attacks. But, as Scamarcio follows the young man’s clues, he finds that every question seems to turn up five more, and, as usual for this son-of-a-Mafioso policeman, nothing is as it seems.

What I thought:-

A topical, breath-taking and thrilling tale which begins as Rome is hit by a trio of terrorist attacks. Leone Scamarcio is not the obvious choice to negotiate on behalf of the authorities, but it seems he has no say in the matter.  He is reluctant to risk everything he holds dear, but could he live with himself and the consequences if he refuses to get involved?  

So begins a rollercoaster of events as Scamarcio embarks on his dangerous quest to free the hostages and to untangle an extraordinary web of mystery and, perhaps, corruption while trying to protect those he holds dear and to keep himself alive.  

This was a book I found hard to put down, and I enjoyed the extra dimension that the character of Scamarcio has developed in the course of this series (of four novels).  Nadia Dalbuono has written a plot of considerable complexity which makes compelling reading, and so vividly written I could easily visualise the action.  The story really begs to be adapted for screen, but meanwhile it is an engaging and exciting read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The House by Simon Lelic


They Said:-

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?
Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it. So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door. And now the police are watching them...

What I thought:-

Before I started this book, I was concerned that maybe it had already been done because I had read "The Girl Before" by JP Delaney earlier in the year, possibly this was because seeking a home in the overcrowded, unaffordable property market was a central element in both.  However, I need not have worried.  Simon Lelic told a very different, enthralling and engaging story of Jack and Syd, a couple in need of accommodation.  I was transported from my poolside lounger in Cyprus (good holiday reading) to their part of London, and was totally absorbed as their story and the mystery unfolded.  It is a moving tale: Syd has not had an easy life and, as she gets to know the house and the neighbourhood, disturbing echoes of her past developed, while Jack makes the grisly discovery in the loft.  It kept me guessing and threw me off the scent a few times, so the suspense was compounded.  A really enjoyable, surprising and satisfying tale, wherever you read it.



I am honoured to be part of this book tour - and look forward to discovering what other readers thought.  If you read it, please do let me know your opinions of it, too.






Tuesday, July 04, 2017

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier



They said:-
'O felt her presence behind him like a fire at his back.'
Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.
The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practise a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Watching over the shoulders of four 11-year-olds – Osei, Dee, Ian and his reluctant ‘girlfriend’ Mimi – Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

My thoughts:-

A very enjoyable take on the Othello story, with the action moved to the school playground, Dee and Osei (O) are around thirteen, and puberty is rearing its heated head among their classmates.  O is a newcomer and the only black pupil in the school, son of a Ghanaian diplomat posted to Washington DC.  Dee is the girl who takes her new classmate under her wing, with unforeseen and ultimately tragic results.  It is very clever transposition which works well and demonstrates the universal themes of the original play.  Young Adults will enjoy reading this, but older adults will, too.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Ice by Laline Paull


They Said:-

THE ICE is an electrifying story of friendship, power and betrayal by the bestselling, Baileys-prize shortlisted author of The Bees.
It's the day after tomorrow and the Arctic sea ice has melted. While global business carves up the new frontier, cruise ships race each other to ever-rarer wildlife sightings. The passengers of the Vanir have come seeking a polar bear. What they find is even more astonishing: a dead body.
It is Tom Harding, lost in an accident three years ago and now revealed by the melting ice of Midgard glacier. Tom had come to Midgard to help launch the new venture of his best friend of thirty years, Sean Cawson, a man whose business relies on discretion and powerful connections – and who was the last person to see him alive.
Their friendship had been forged by a shared obsession with Arctic exploration. And although Tom's need to save the world often clashed with Sean's desire to conquer it, Sean has always believed that underneath it all, they shared the same goals.
But as the inquest into Tom's death begins, the choices made by both men – in love and in life – are put on the stand. And when cracks appear in the foundations of Sean's glamorous world, he is forced to question what price he has really paid for a seat at the establishment's table.
Just how deep do the lies go?

My thoughts:-

Another very original, thoughtful book by Laline Paull, which is so different to The Bees but which drew me into the lives, dilemmas and values of its characters, and made me ponder the values of our world, where a sense of entitlement can trump good sense, respect of the natural world and blur the demarcations of ownership and stewardship.  Beautiful writing and enthralling story about profound issues.


Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham



They said:-

Internationally bestselling author Mark Billingham’s riveting new novel Love Like Blood marks the return of series character Tom Thorne, “the next superstar detective” (Lee Child), as he pairs up with perfectionist detective inspector Nicola Tanner of Die of Shame on an investigation that ventures into politically sensitive territory.

DI Nicola Tanner needs Tom Thorne’s help. Her partner, Susan, has been brutally murdered and Tanner is convinced that it was a case of mistaken identity—that she was the real target. The murderer’s motive might have something to do with Tanner’s recent work on a string of cold-case honor killings she believes to be related. Tanner is now on compassionate leave but insists on pursuing the case off the books and knows Thorne is just the man to jump into the fire with her. He agrees but quickly finds that working in such controversial territory is dangerous in more ways than one. And when a young couple goes missing, they have a chance to investigate a case that is anything but cold.

Racing towards a twist-filled ending, Love Like Blood is another feat of masterful plotting from one of Britain’s top crime novelists.

My thoughts:-

I just happened to start reading Mark Billington's latest DI Thorne novel after hearing on the radio of a large increase in the number of so-called honour killings (or maybe rather on the reporting of them), so it is an interesting, thrilling and riveting take on a very topical subject.    Tom Thorne is as maverick as ever but doing his best to toe the line sufficiently to prevent him falling foul of his bosses, while pursuing the best bet to unsettle suspects and catch the perpetrators of an odd series of deaths and attacks.  His domestic life with Helen and her wee Alfie is strained by the demands they both experience, being in The Job, but provided a refuge from the horrible crimes being discovered at work,  Phil Hendricks, his mate and handy pathologist, contributes to the story, as well as Nicola Tanner, a detective who is on compassionate leave following the murder of her partner Susan at their home.  There is danger, there are thrills and plenty of suspense and suspects: a very enjoyable and satisfying book.

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman



They said:-


My Thoughts:-

This book is such an enjoyable read, engaging from the start and a clever combination of science fiction with romance.  Luna and her sister, Pia, travel to Brooklyn to sort out their mother's affairs after her traumatic death, and it is there, in Bay Ridge, that they learn more about her past, the identity of Luna's father and extraordinary things start to happen.  I was totally caught up in this wonderful tale, which is beautifully written and well researched for period detail, and although the ending was surprising and satisfying, I now miss Luna in my life.
I have already recommended it (on publication day) to a friend who wanted a good book to load to her kindle, and I'm happy to recommend it more widely.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout


What they said:-
An unforgettable cast of small-town characters copes with love and loss from the No. 1 New York Times bestselling and Man Booker long-listed author of My Name is Lucy Barton
Recalling Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.
Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind. Reverberating with the deep bonds of family, and the hope that comes with reconciliation, Anything Is Possible again underscores Elizabeth Strout's place as one of America's most respected and cherished authors.

What I thought:-

A delightful, satisfying story about a number of townspeople who are facing everyday issues and crises of life and identity which will be 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman



What they said:-
A stunning debut. Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

What I thought:-

Gail Honeyman has created in Eleanor Oliphant a remarkably engaging and endearing character,  for all her lack of social graces.  She is a unique and fascinating personality whose carefully learned life skills are increasingly not a good fit with her life.  I was reminded at times of Don Tillman in The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.  My heart went out to her very quickly and I loved this story, which is beautifully written.  It's an unusual, delightful tale which deserves to be widely read.




The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir



What they said:-

The first in an exciting new series from the author of THE SILENCE OF THE SEA, winner of the 2015 Petrona Award for best Scandinavian Crime Novel.
The murder was meant as a punishment - but what sin could justify the method?
The only person who might have answers is the victim's seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she's not talking.
Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children's House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn't best pleased. But she's determined to keep little Margret safe.
It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He's telling a dark and secret story - but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

What I thought:-

A jolly good detective and psychological thriller set in Iceland, where the police and specialist psychological trauma service work together to try to elicit facts to help solve a gruesome and difficult murder case.  I found this an interesting story, counterpointing the developing relationship between detective Huldar and psychologist Freyja with the unfolding discovery of victims of a very twisted murderer.  Lots of twists and turns will keep the reader guessing his or her identity, and there is an interesting ending.  Yrsa Sigurdardottir writes really well and is brilliantly translated by Victoria Cribb.  Hopefully the next books in this series will also be made available to us in due course, because I would like to see how Huldar and Freyja's relationship will develop as well as reading more of this author's writing.




Secrets of the Dead by Carol Wyer


What they said:-
Three murders. Three innocent victims. What secrets did they share with their killer?
A bottle of bubble bath and colourful, plastic boats were scattered in small puddles on the floor. In the bathtub lay Linda Upton, fully-clothed, her lips a shade of blue, and her bloodshot eyes wide open.
When a young mother is found drowned in the bath, clutching a receipt saying ‘all debts paid’, Detective Robyn Carter knows it’s just the beginning of a harrowing case. She recognises the signs of a serial killer, and when a second victim with a receipt is found, her worst fears are confirmed.
With the local press whipping the public into a frenzy, Robyn is under pressure to solve the crime yesterday. But her team can’t find a link between the two bodies, and the cracks are starting to show.
Just when her leads have dried up, Robyn discovers an unsettling clue she thinks could unlock the case. But as she chases across the plush carpets and manicured lawns of the wealthy elite, honing in on the killer’s shocking motive, one of her own is put in terrible danger.
The press call him The Leopard for his stealth, speed and brutality. Can Robyn stop the most twisted killer of her career before it’s too late?
A heart-pounding, toe-curling, one-sitting serial killer thriller that will hook you from the first page till the last. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Karin Slaughter.

What I thought:-

An ingenious plot which kept me guessing and reading compulsively to discover the outcome.  There were plenty of twists and it was very enjoyable reading.  Carol Wyer's DI Robyn Carter is an interesting heroine with a tragic past, maverick tendencies and a strong sense of intuition.  I look forward to reading the next instalment of her crime-solving adventures.