20 Following


Lies, lies, and more lies.

Miracle Creek - Angie Kim

I listened to this for a book group, but I should have been more careful with the choice as I've never been a fan of courtroom drama. I was caught up in my enthusiasm for a book that had great reviews and centred around a South Korean family, but the courtroom part bored me.


The narrative revolved around a group of families who are trying a super-high oxygen treatment that was supposed to be effective for numerous cases, including autism, infertility and Cerebral Palsy. Unfortunately disaster strikes and a year later one of the mothers is brought to court accused of causing the death of one child and one mother in the oxygen 'submarine'.
The owners of the Magic Submarine are a South Korean couple and their teenage daughter. They have moved to America from Seoul and hope this treatment will provide for their family in their new home.


There were some interesting characters and good discussion on the traumas of having disabled children. Unfortunately, what spoiled this book for me was that not a single character seemed to be able to tell the truth and getting to the bottom of the story therefore just meant the author had to put us through endless false trails in order to get to the honest last few chapters. This was coupled with the inevitable repetition caused by courtroom dramas and I was left counting the minutes to the end.


It did not surprise me to hear that the author was a lawyer. Interestingly, like Mary, she was also an immigrant from S.Korea as a teenager, with no knowledge of English. That part would have been much more interesting to me as the centre for a narrative.


Well read by Jennifer Lim, although it sounded as if she started out with a cold.
2.5 stars, rounded up because I'm feeling kind.

Adventure on the high seas.

Water Ghosts - Linda Collison

I really enjoyed this Young Adult adventure, which takes place in a refurbished Chinese Junk, with its crew of troubled teens. Already the scene is set for a assortment of misfits and interesting interactions. What made this book different, was the main character, fifteen-year-old James McCafferty, who can see auras and hear the voices of the dead.

The youngsters who made up the crew of the Good Fortune were all sent on the vacation "trip of a lifetime" by parents who couldn't cope with them; or just wanted an easy summer. As soon as James set foot on the boat he felt the presence of spirits from the past and started to feel uneasy. However, there was a girl on the boat who he liked the look of, so he climbed on board with the rest.
The adult crew consisted of captain, second mate and a social worker to manage the teenagers. They are determined to get the youngsters actively involved and set up all sorts of training and rotas. The crew must all take part in turns on watch, including through the night. A lot of the traditional methods are followed; the night watches are timed by the burning down of incense sticks. However, when trouble strikes and the emergency systems fail, the old methods are all that's left.

This was well written and the audiobook was well read by Aaron Landon. It was well on the way to being a 5* read until we hit the part where the spirit of the eunuch from the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years earlier, speaks. I'm afraid I found this part drawn out and overdramatised, I would have skimmed it if I'd been reading but that's not so easy with an audiobook.
That part aside, however, this was tastefully handled and full of atmosphere. 
Recommended for teens and adults alike.


"But the biggest lies are often the ones we tell ourselves."

Stay with Me - Adebayo Ayobami

This book has been in my Kindle for a while and I can't imagine why it has taken me so long to get to it. The audiobook is also narrated by one of my favourite narrators, Adjoa Andoh, who can flit from Nigerian to English with ease. The audio version was excellent but I think this is one that I may well read as well at some time in the future, so I can savour it at my own pace.

Yejide and Akin meet at university, it is pretty much love at first sight. After their marriage Akin becomes a banker and Yejide opens a successful hair salon. Although their country allows polygamy, Akin has faithfully promised Yejide that she will be his only wife.
The narrative alternates from one to the other, giving us a complete picture of what each was thinking, or maybe assuming.
Meanwhile, in the background, is the political unrest of Nigeria in the 80s and 90s, always bubbling beneath the surface, and although we are aware of this, it is not the central theme of the book.

This is a book full of cultural interactions on a modern-day Nigerian couple. They are very much in love and hoping to have children, so why did it all go so heartbreakingly wrong? The author has paced her revelations perfectly, I was invested from the first page. As we gradually learn the back story, it becomes clear just how much damage meddling in-laws can do, especially in a country where they have so much influence. I was horrified that Yejide actually addressed her mother-in-law from a kneeling position.

This is the author's debut novel and very much deserved its place on the Bailey's Prize Longlist, alongside such big names as Rose Tremain and Margaret Atwood. I shall most definitely read whatever this author writes next, and this time it won't sit for ages in my Kindle.





Things that go bump in the night.

Where the Dead Walk - John   Bowen

I have just finished listening to this and my first thought was 'wow, that narrator did an amazing job!' I have no idea how she read at that speed without slipping up, especially in the last few action-packed chapters. I shall certainly look out for other books read by Helen Clapp.


I enjoyed this book, although it rather stretched my imagination towards the end. That was a shame really, as it looked like it was heading for the full five stars earlier on.

The narrative is based around a TV show about haunted houses - 'Where the Dead Walk'. The main characters are two of the show's presenters, Kate Bennett and Harry White. Kate has been through a tough time, as we learn through her backstory, and Harry is becoming more fond of her as the show progresses, so there's a bit of a romance element too. When Sebastian Dahl offers to allow them to film in his pseudo-Victorian house, things start to unravel.


There's some excellent haunted atmosphere, especially earlier on. The members of the TV crew gel well together and seemed totally fearless as they stalked through spooky houses in the dark. I could never have done that. I enjoyed trying to piece together Sebastian Dahl's motivations, though, of course, I didn't manage.


Dark, brooding and atmospheric, but not so scary that I couldn't sleep at night.


Past lives and mysticism.

Recognitions - Daniela I. Norris

This was an unusual direction for my reading to take; I don't often read books with mystic content or previous lives. I have to say, it was an interesting diversion and I shall definitely read the sequel.


There were three time lines in this novel, although the current time was the strongest and the one that drew everything together. Amelia Rothman sells the publishing rights for books to be translated world wide, a job that involves some degree of travelling. Her marriage has recently collapsed and she decides to try hypnotherapy, hoping that it will help her to sleep.

The second time line was set in 18th century France, where Adele has reached marriageable age and must choose between two suitors.

Finally, there is the story of an African Shaman at the time of the slave trade, trying to protect his people from the aggressive Portuguese traders.


This is the first book of a trilogy and I was really enjoying it, when my audiobook suddenly concluded. I wasn't ready for it to end, there was no real closure. I felt as if I was left hanging. I do have the second book in audio, so I can continue, but I would have liked some completion to this first episode.


The narration was done by Natalie Naudus Bradner and I thought she did a great job. Just one thing I would have preferred - a change of voice between the narration of the different eras, to assist the sudden transitions that the book seemed to make.


...and so, on to Book 2...

The search for Abigail.

Skeletons in the Attic - Judy Penz Sheluk

I enjoyed this mystery surrounding the disappearance of the main protagonist's mother when the MP was just six years old. The clues were presented in a fluid manner and I even managed to keep track of a rather large cast. I was listening to the book in audio and loved the narrator, Claira Jordyn. She managed to make me forget I was being read to, which is not easy.


Callie Barnstable had no idea that her father owned a property in Marketville until she found herself listening to his will after his sudden death. Callie and her father had moved to Toronto after her mother's disappearance and almost no mention was made of her after that. Callie inherited the Marketville property (a dooer-upper!), but on the condition that she live in the house for a year and attempted to find out what had happened to her mother.


There was a number of characters, each of whom offered some insight into the mystery, some more reliable than others. I enjoyed the theory that it would be hard to know who to trust and that some who appear friendly may not be, and vise versa; that was very much the case in this novel. I also appreciated that Callie was quite hesitant to disclose information until she was sure about each person; she was so suspicious of everyone. I would have just blurted everything out and my search would have been way less subtle.

The ending was maybe a bit rushed, suddenly everyone was knocking on her door or phoning with final clues, but that would be my only criticism. I really enjoyed this and I'm looking forward to the sequel which is in my audio library.

Can the Watchers win through?

Watcher - A.J. Eversley

Can the Watchers win through?
Even though Dystopian Fantasy is not usually my genre of choice, they can make a good change if well done, and not too far for my belief to stretch. This one was definitely an enjoyable listen and such a relief after a bunch of poor books lately. The narration was excellent, some of the best narrators I've come across recently, and this helped to push a 4* up to a 5*.


The adventure takes place after World War 3 and only two known cities remain. Humans are struggling to survive against Bots (large robots) and Carbons (copies of humans but with super-powers, including rapid recovery from injury).


The main character is Sawyer, who lost her parents at the age of eight and has been training to become a Watcher for the ten years since then. She is extremely fit, super strong and a sharp shot. She is ready to give her life to save humanity.
The other main character, who we meet a little way into the book, is Kenzie. His narrative is in third person, which was a bit strange in the audio version because he is read by a separate male narrator, yet not in first person.

For the first half of this book I was totally blown away. I'm less of a fan of the adventure bits, shooting and running and narrowly escaping, so I lost interest slightly in the second half, but that's just me.
The dog was an interesting feature, I realise I don't come across so many pets in novels.
All in all this was a great read and I hope I will get the change to listen to the next few books in the series.


(Just a note: I would have preferred not to have a good half hour of the next book at the end of this audio. I would have skipped this if I'd been reading, but it's hard to be sure what it is on audio. I heard the word Prologue, but part of me assumed I was still in Watcher. I never see the point of the beginning of a book you can't continue...)

Life in the poorest areas of America.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis - J.E. Vance

I had a mixed reaction to this book. I enjoyed the personal element and family anecdotes, but they were interspersed with 'sociobabble' - analyses and comment that I felt would have been better suited to a thesis.
Truth be told, I've stopped more than once, because I was bored. I'm also finding this account somewhat repetitive, but I had to finish it today for our book group discussion.
It has been compared with The Glass Castle, but I was definitely more invested in that memoir.

What I enjoyed of Vance's accounts were the personal family stories; his Gran nearly murdering someone at the age of 12 and his experiences in the marine boot camp. 
His family was very poor, but not just by financial standards, as J.D. himself explains later on, they lacked education in basic nutrition and suffered from severely rotting teeth due to an over-consumption of Mountain Dew and other sweet soda drinks. They did not realise how their violent and abusive behaviour impacted on their children, causing stresses that many never totally recovered from. They passed on what they had known and continued a cycle from which there appeared to be no escape.

This book has been touted as the explanation for why people voted for Trump, but having read it I can't say I am any the wiser. I can see that Obama was mistrusted and a lot of false news intensified that, but to vote for a president who was obviously so entitled, seems to me to go against all that Mr Vance had been trying to explain about his background.

In spite of my criticisms, I have learned a lot about this area of America and how its inhabitants think. My book group gave it a mixed response, between 3 and 4 stars; some interesting discussion.

The end of Summer.

The Electric - Andrew David Barker

This was an unusual narrative, a mixture between the adventures of teenagers in an age now past, first love, discovery of an old building, films from the black-and-white era and the paranormal. As with most of the books I've reviewed recently, this was in audiobook format, but with a difference. Headed up by the actor Nigel Peever, this also encompassed music and sound effects, which gave it a cinematic feel, probably quite different form the experience of reading the original book.

David, Emma and Sam (the narrator), are passing time towards the end of the long summer holidays of 1985. Sam stumbles across an old movie theatre, The Electric, hidden amongst undergrowth and off the beaten path. It is spooky and he has a strange reaction to it, but he can't wait to share his discovery with his friends. Emma feels the strangeness of the place immediately, but it takes David a while before he is drawn in. Together they discover the history of the place, why it was built, who watched and what was shown.

I really enjoyed this novel but there were a few things that irritated me. Not being a film buff, I thought there was too much description of the films and this would probably have bothered me even more if I'd been reading. In addition, while I loved the sound effects, I did think the background rain or traffic might have been faded out to leave us with the narrative, instead of drumming on in the background.

The story had a personal element too; Sam's Dad had died and he was living with his mother, while Emma had also lost her mother and was living with her father. Their grief is still raw and comes to the surface during the narrative. This grounds the otherwise somewhat fantastical element of the story.

If you're into old films and don't mind a bit of fantasy, then this could be your next summer read.

Suicide...or murder?

Let Me Lie - Clare Mackintosh

I finished this a while ago and decided I'd wait until I'd heard the author talk at our annual Lit Fest, before writing my review - never a good idea as that was several months ago and now I wonder if I can do it justice. 

What struck me most about listening to the author, was that she'd been a police officer herself, and knew first-hand, exactly how things worked behind the scenes. She also told us that the reason she left the force, was because she felt she was giving more of herself to her job than her family. When the reality of this dawned, she decided it was time to call it a day. Now we get to enjoy her writing instead.

So, on to the the book. The main character is Anna Johnson, a new mother whose father had committed suicide the previous year, closely followed by her mother. The loss of her mother, in particular, is bothering her now that she has a child of her own. If only she could share the experience with the one person who would understand. On the one year anniversary of her mother's death a strange card arrives, with the three words: "Suicide? Think again".

There is also a side story relating to the detective who investigates the case after Anna comes into the police station, convinced that her mother did not kill herself. Murray has retired, he's only supposed to be working on the reception desk, but he can't resist getting involved. His story runs alongside that of Anna's and, I have to confess, is the more believable of the two.

At first I thought this was heading towards being a ghost story and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. But persevere, it got better and sped up as I progressed, until the ending rattled towards me, almost faster than I could keep up.
Most of the story is told by Anna, but there were some interesting additions and other POVs from a few of the other characters too.

I was listening to this, rather than reading it, and I feel that the narrator, Gemma Whelan, deserves a mention here too. She did such a good job that I forgot I that was being read to.

This novel covers issues of mental illness and domestic violence and was a good read. This was my first book by the author but I'm sure it won't be my last.

What can go wrong at a beauty pageant?

Tiaras & Texans (The Presley Thurman Mysteries) - Laina Turner

A Texas beauty pageant is the centre stage for this short who-done-it; a crowd of beautiful but precocious teens, all hoping for their big break. I'd never really thought about all the work that goes on behind the scenes, from hair and make-up, to fake tans and expensive dresses, so this got me thinking and Googling about what it takes to be a winner.

Presley Thurman has finally persuaded her boyfriend to allow her to join him as part of his security team. She was hoping for something more challenging than a teenage beauty pageant, but strange events have been going on behind the scenes and the pageant organisers have decided they need security to protect the girls. Dresses have been stolen, hair dye bottles filled with black dye and then one of the girls is found dead.

Presley makes a good job of her first assignment and is able to mix with the girls and gain their trust. Who is causing this havoc and who can have reason to commit murder?

It's only short, 138 pages, or 3 hrs 30 mins as an audiobook, but it was a fun listen, narrated by Lee Ann Howlett with an appropriate American drawl. Although it is the 6th book in a series, I didn't feel that I'd missed too much background. 
The main character is Presley, the others we got to know to lesser degree. I wasn't so convinced by the denouement though, hence the three stars (3.5 on sites that allow half stars).
An interesting insight into the pageant business and a good book for lovers of cosy mysteries.

A supernatural crime.

Witch You Well  - Colleen Cross

I recently visited a museum of witches in Cornwall, so it seemed appropriate to listen to an audiobook with witches as a theme. Maybe not the voodoo sort of witches or the persecuted witches of history, but a family that has handed down their witchcraft for generations and still practice their art in secret. The cosy mystery sort of witches.


Cendrine (Cen), is helping her family to launch their newly renovated hotel as a tourist resort in the sleepy town of Westwick Corners, while preparing for her imminent marriage to the town's mayor, Brayden. The last thing they need is a murder on their premises. Cen's crazy aunt, Pearl, would never kill anyone, but the evidence is pointing strongly in her direction. Cen will need to keep an eye on Aunt Pearl, hopefully making sure she doesn't get into any more trouble and clearing her name at the same time. The new, sexy, sheriff, Tyler Gates can do normal sleuthing, but he's going to need some help with the supernatural element.


I enjoyed the narration by Petrea Burchard, who was well paced and managed both male and female voices with ease. The characters were well drawn and entertaining, which made for the perfect cosy mystery. Having said that, I personally think that I prefer my magic a little more subtle. The witches in this novel could do just about anything they wanted (with a bit of practice in the art), which made everything relatively easy. If something happens that you don't like, then why not wind back time? 

It's never easy being the New Boy.

New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is one of my favourite authors and I have read most of her historical fiction novels. This is a completely different direction for the author and when I came across it as an audiobook loan from my library, I decided to give it a go.

I have to confess to not being much of a Shakespeare buff and I Googled the Othello story after finishing this. Personally, I listened to the narrative at face value, I don't really understand why authors want to make modern takes on Shakespeare's works.


Osei Kokote is the son of a Ghanaian diplomat and has been the new boy in several schools previously; he's a bit of an old-hand. Even so, he is relieved when Dee, one of the most popular girls, becomes his friend and shows him the ropes. In spite of their differences, they are instantly attracted to each other and a relationship begins to develop. 

Ian is the school bully, he sees this instant attraction and it makes him angry, he's not even sure why, but he decides to break them up using all his whiles and contacts.

Everything takes place over the space of a day and through no fault of his own, Osei's arrival in the school causes ripples through the whole school and no-one will ever be quite the same again.


I did enjoy this and the excellent narrator, Prentice Onayemi, added to my enjoyment with his Ghanaian accent. However, I would have thought it more appropriate had it been set in a secondary school instead of year 6 Primary and I didn't particularly feel that it was the 1970s, Still, small quibbles and I'm glad I came across this book.

The things we do for love.

The Agreement - John Isaac Jones

I actually listened to this a couple of years ago but forgot to review it, so I just listened again and decided to upgrade my star rating to 3.5 stars. This is the third of John I. Jones's short stories/novellas that I've listened to and I'm getting to recognise his style of writing. He has a sharp eye for characterisations and people's interactions and reactions to each other.


In The Agreement, Alma finds herself unable to pay for her daughter's last year at college and has to find a way to raise the funds. I couldn't help but sympathise with her as she rummages through her belongings to find anything of value and pays repeated visits to the bank manager in search of a loan.


I enjoyed the narration by Susan Marlowe, although I notice that she is not the narrator for the other two books I listened to.

Writing as an art form.

Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield has such an amazing way with words, I enjoyed every page of this book and, interspersed with audiobooks and other reads, I managed to make it last for several weeks. Sadly, I have finally finished, but I've promised myself to listen to the audiobook in a few months, something I never do.


At the centre of the narrative is the River Thames, never far from the action and winding continuously in the background. Living alongside the river is a curious assortment of folk, rich and poor, good and bad. And into this community appears a little girl, apparently dead, but then miraculously alive again. No one knows who she is, everyone is immediately drawn to her and several people claim her to be theirs.


The way this story unravels, drip feeding facts and background, is a work of art. I highlighted a large number of quotes on my Kindle, so as to remember their beauty. I will share just two:

A character finds himself drowning: "He groped for the surface; his hands met trailing, floating plants. He grasped to haul himself up, but his fingers closed on gravel and mud. Flailing – twisting – the surface! – gone again. He took in more water than air, and when he cried for help – though who had ever helped him, was he not the most betrayed of men? – when he cried for help, there were only the lips of the river pressed to his, and her fingers pinched his nostrils shut." (loc 6985),


During a flood: "He thought of the fish that strayed without knowing it from the main current and now found themselves swimming through grass a few inches above the ground, sharing territory with him and with his horse. He hoped Fleet would not tread on any creature lost in this landscape that no longer belonged clearly to earth or water. He hoped they would all be well." (Loc 7231)


Her first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is one of my all-time favourite books, with Bellman and Black close behind. My only regret is that Diane Setterfield doesn't publish books more often.


Don't miss this one.

Civil war in Somalia.

The Orchard of Lost Souls - Nadifa Mohamed

I haven't read much about Somalia, so this was quite an eye-opener regarding the civil war which began in 1988 and in some form, still rages. The author was born in Hargeisa, where the novel is set, and where some of the fighting originated. She left with her family before hostilities began and now lives in London. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a literary festival and was impressed by her presentation, which led me to read this book.


The three main characters are women: Deqo, only nine years old and who has never known anything other than life in a refugee camp, Filsan, a young soldier, determined to prove her worth to her dominant father and Kawsar, an older woman who is injured and bedridden. Each of the women is affected differently by the build-up to war, but all three have lost friends to the fighting.

This is a pretty intense novel, somewhat along the lines of Khaled Hosseini, but there is one scene, relating to blood donation, that will remain with me for a long time. Sometimes I just cannot believe the depths to which people will stoop.


I enjoyed Ms Mohamed's earlier book, Black Mamba Boy, but I thought this latest book was better written and more convincing. I am looking forward to whatever she writes next.