Book Review: The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay

970684In this rich and exquisitely evocative novel, nine-year-old April moves with her family to a quiet Kent village and becomes the best friend of Ruby (the neglected daughter of the local publicans) and the object of the sinister Mr Greenidge’s affections, and, along with a cast of convincing characters, brings 1950’s life into sharp and nostalgic relief.

5/5 – It was amazing!

Book Review: Ox-Tales – Fire

6526563From a father trying to have a relaxing holiday whilst juggling a pre-occupied wife and two whiney children, via an over-parented student trying to figure out what’s going on with her mysterious new boyfriend, to a woman left to die on a deserted island by the man who has been her husband for twenty years, this collection of short stories sizzles with confusion and conflict.

5/5 – It was amazing!

Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

12948Ghost story or psychological mystery? I can’t decide. This book deserves a reread, but even then I don’t think I’d be any the wiser. Maybe I’m not supposed to be. That’s not to say this isn’t a great book. It is. Although the language is dense at times – it took a while to decipher the antiquated prose, and some passages required several rereads – it is also eloquent and precise, a joy to read. Creepy in places and profound in others, it challenged this reader in more ways than one, and skilfully showed how preoccupation can so easily turn into dangerous obsession.

3/5 – I liked it.

Book Review: The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks

12012I wanted to enjoy this book so much more than I did. Having read two other ‘Culture’ novels, I had high hopes for this one, but it simply didn’t deliver. The twists and turns were unsurprising, and the game around which the book centred was insufficiently explained, meaning the narrator had to tell the reader when things were becoming exciting or that clever moves were being made. I would much rather have had enough information to figure that out for myself. And don’t get me started on the clunky sentence structure and adverb abuse!

A clever idea, poorly and predictably executed.

2/5 – It was okay

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

10073This was my first Nick Hornby book and my first Audiobook. The combination of the two produced a very pleasurable ‘reading’ experience. I enjoy characters to whom I can relate, and I found something of that in each of them, even though I spent most of the book wanting to punch Jess and slap Martin! I can be easily confused by multiple first person perspectives, but the voices of the actors kept me on track. As for the story itself, a few of the ‘wisdoms’ scattered throughout were hammered home a little too forcefully, but the droll humour made up for it. There were even a few laugh-out-loud moments. I’ll definitely be reading/listening to more Nick Hornby.

4/5 – I really liked it

Book Review: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

315340I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has a surreal, dream-like quality to it, that I think is due to the unusual way the story is narrated: by multiple characters (in both the third omniscient person and the first person) and in the present tense. The tale starts off as a 19th Century murder mystery, but it becomes so much more than that. By the end of the book it almost doesn’t matter whodunnit! It’s about the many characters and the way their difficult lives in the harsh Canadian winter intertwine and about their individual increases in self-awareness. There are some loose ends at the end, and a fair chunck of time is spent on characters who don’t seem to have any place in the overall story, but this just makes it seem more real and believable.

4/5 – I really liked it.

Story Review: A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell

264656What struck me most about this story was the women’s decision that the accused was guilty even though there was no real evidence that she was. They understood her and her life, and seemed to project their own frustrations with their own lives onto her and her situation. The murder of a treasured pet by a neglectful and abusive husband was justifictation enough, for them, for his murder. Perhaps they were harbouring similar thoughts about their own husbands.

For me, this story brought anger bubbling to the surface because, nearly 100 years after it was written, I know many women are still being treated with disdain by those in authority, their lives slowly losing colour and song until all they have left is bitterness and resentment.


5/5 – It was amazing!

Book Review: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

195733This tender and melodic story tells of how the friends and family of a world-famous jass musician cope both with his death and with the revelation that he was not a man, but a woman. What touched me the most was that those who loved Joss Moody seemed unphased by the fact he was a woman who lived as a man. Only his son couldn’t take it in his stride, but he did eventually accept his father for who he was in life. The writing itself is a masterclass in how prose can be used to create mood and convey emotion (especially the numbness and anger of grief) not just through the words that are chosen, but by the way they are used. For me, Millie’s shock at her husband’s death came through so clearly in the spare and unsentimental way she told her story.

A beautiful story, beautifully told.

5/5 – It was amazing

Book Review: Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin

13648This was the first of Ursula K Le Guins books that I’ve had the pleasure to read; and it was a pleasure. There was so much to be enjoyed: lean, swift prose, a sedate, measured pace, vivid descriptions, insightful commentary, sympathetic, well-rounded characters and a very believable world.

My only criticism (and it’s one I have with lots of fantasy stories, so maybe it’s me and not them) is that there were a lot of unfamiliar (and similar) names for people, places and families. It took me half the book to figure out who was related to whom and where they all lived and who was friend or foe.

I know it’s supposed to be a Young Adult book (and I can hardly be counted as one of those any more), but I’ll definitely be adding the other two books in the series to my ever-expanding Amazon Wish List. Super!

4/5 – I really liked it.

Book Review: Pirates by Celia Rees

143727In my early teens, I spent much of my time in a fantasy world. If I wasn’t shooting through hyperspace with Han Solo at my side, I was swashbuckling my way around the seven seas, and had I written down my piratical woolgathering, the resulting book would (hopefully) have been along the lines of Pirates! by Celia Rees. This is every would-be-teenage-female-pirate’s dream. An orphaned young girl, escaping the marriage arranged for her by her tyrannical elder brothers and ugly step-mother, young Nancy Kington, runs away with her ex-slave and best friend, Minerva Sharpe, to find their fortunes and lost loves on the high seas. They master swordsmanship and sailing, are accepted and respected by their fellow crewmen, and, on the whole, manage to remain unmolested. Of course, this is a romantic codswallop, but it’s well-written romantic codswallop. Loved every word!

5/5 – It was amazing!