Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Book Review: TIME AND TIME AGAIN by Ben Elton


Time and Time Again



Title:
Time and Time Again
Author: Ben Elton
Publisher: Bantam Press
Read: August 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it? 


My thoughts:


I am very surprised that I hadn’t heard of this book before and stumbled across it almost by accident – because this is such a gem of a story! The blurb reads like a “been there – read that” story of going back in time and changing history – I have read several books with the same premise, some excellent, some very average. And yet Ben Elton manages to inject his own bit of magic to the story, and a very clever twist I did not see coming at all. Let’s just say I will never look at history the same way again!

Hugh “Guts” Stanton, a lonely ex-soldier and survivalist who has lost his whole family in a tragic car accident, is intrigued when he is summoned by an his old history professor, Sally Mc Cluskey, who poses a question to him: “If you could change one piece of history, what would it be?”  Only that this time it is not a rhetorical question, as Hugh is about to be sent on a very special mission – to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which caused the Great War, and thereby ensure a better future for mankind. Despite careful planning however, things go wrong from the very start of the journey. Soon Hugh realises that every one of his actions can have far-reaching effects that may jeopardise his mission and take away his benefit of hindsight – and alter the fate of future generations in ways he had not expected.


I loved this book and could not tear myself away – and every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the story took a completely surprising turn, proving all my predictions wrong. The historical details were fascinating as Hugh travels from pre-war Constantinople to Sarajevo, Vienna and Berlin, trying to blend into a society he only knows from history books. Elton has created characters which are engaging and interesting, from the disillusioned and lonely ex-special forces soldier Hugh to the ruthless Professor McClyuskey, and the vivacious Irish suffragette Bernadette who will influence Hugh’s mission in ways he could not predict. What a great movie this would make! With his premise that history can be totally changed by the smallest action, and the thrilling prospect of whether Hugh’s mission would succeed, Elton challenged my perception of history and reality as a whole in ways I had not expected. Time and Time Again is one of my favourite reads this year. Very highly recommended!


Image result for 5 stars

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Book Review: THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTER by Jonathan Kellerman


The Murderer's Daughter



Title:
The Murderer's Daughter
Author: Jonathan Kellerman
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Read: August 2015
Expected publication: 18 August 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Jonathan Kellerman delivers a riveting standalone thriller featuring the unforgettable Grace Blades. Master psychologist by day, seductive adrenaline junkie by night, Grace has a very dark past—one that’s about to bleed into a terrifying present.


My thoughts:

I have been a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s novels for a long, long time and was very excited to receive a preview copy of his latest book “The Murderer’s Daughter”, introducing an unusual and interesting new protagonist, psychologist Dr Grace Blades.  Grace is a fascinating character – growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive household as a very young child she learns very early to fend for herself, a trait which stands her in good stead when she is taken into foster care after the murder-suicide of her drug addict parents. Moved from foster family to foster family Grace learns to be self-reliant and introverted in order to survive, a skill aided by her brilliant intellect and ability to read people and give them exactly what they want to see.

Fast forward to the adult Grace and she is an accomplished psychologist treating patients with traumatic and violent pasts. With her uncanny ability to read people, she is highly sought after by victims of violent crime, who feel understood by a woman who has been through similar circumstances herself. One day the past catches up with Grace in the form of a new patient who is murdered shortly after seeking her out, and suddenly she finds herself on the run from a ruthless killer who will do everything in his power to silence her. To survive, Grace must once again rely on her intelligence and resourcefulness, and take a journey back into events of her past she would rather forget. 

I loved Kellerman’s new novel and was totally engrossed in it from start to finish. With Grace, he has given us an exciting new protagonist I would like to see a lot more of in future novels. Whilst Grace is not instantly likeable, often coming across as unemotional, manipulative, cold and calculating, she is also extremely clever and resourceful and does not shy away from taking matters into her own hand. Grace is also a fighter for justice, which redeemed her to me instantly and made me fear for her safety. Since the events of her present predicament are integrally linked with Grace’s past, the reader is taken on a journey into the young girl’s traumatic childhood and the events leading to her career as a psychologist. The glimpses into Grace’s childhood were fascinating and gave an insightful understanding of forming her later personality, the long-term effects of a violent and fractured upbringing on later life. Woven into a suspenseful thriller these details made the novel stand out for me, again showing why Kellerman has a firm place on my favourite authors list.


My only grizzle about this book is the awful title, which did not do it justice. Had it not been written by an author I have previously read and enjoyed, I would never have picked it up. With so many interesting elements to the story, a more tantalising title and cover can surely be found? So do not judge this book by its cover – a highly recommended read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Book Review: BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE by Jane Isaac


Before It's Too Late




Title:
Before It's Too Late
Author: Jane Isaac
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

I concentrated hard, desperately listening for something familiar, the sound of life.
I heard nothing.
Just my own breaths and the wind, whistling through branches above... The thought made me shiver.
I am buried alive.

Following an argument with her British boyfriend, Chinese student Min Li is abducted whilst walking the dark streets of picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon alone.

Trapped in a dark pit, Min is at the mercy of her captor. Detective Inspector Will Jackman is tasked with solving the case and in his search for answers discovers that the truth is buried deeper than he ever expected.

But, as another student vanishes and Min grows ever weaker, time is running out. Can Jackman track down the kidnapper, before it's too late?



My thoughts:


When young Chinese student Min Li goes missing after a row with her boyfriend at the local pub in Stratford upon Avon, Detective Inspector Will Jackman is put in charge of the investigation into her disappearance. She is not the first young woman who has come to grief in the recent past, and Will holds grave fears for her safety. Is it possible that there is a serial killer on the loose in their idyllic town? Will’s investigations lead him into the secretive world of Chinatown, where policemen are not trusted and information is hard to come by. With time running out, Will is desperate for some clues that would help him find Min Li alive and reunite her with her parents in China before it is too late.


Before It’s Too Late is told from the third person perspective of the police investigation run by DI Will Jackman as well as a first person narrative of Min Li herself, as she is being held captive in a dark dungeon and fearing for her life. The glimpses into Chinatown and the cultural differences which hamper the investigation are insightful and interesting and add a whole different aspect to the story. Whilst the ending did not come as a total surprise, it was still a clever twist which made the story stand out from your average police procedural. I really liked the character of DI Jackman and would like to see him back in future novels.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Image result for 3.5 stars out of 5

Book Review: THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell


The House We Grew Up In




Title:
The House We Grew Up In
Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home. 


My thoughts:


Easter Sunday is a very special time for the Bird family. It is the day of Lorelei Bird’s famous Easter egg hunt for her four children Megan, Beth, Rory and Rhys, a time for family and friends to come together and eat lamb roast in Lorelei’s cosy country kitchen, a family tradition that is kept up year after year even when the children are much too old for Easter egg hunts. Bohemian and vivacious, Lorelei draws people to her like moths to a flame, her effervescent nature and love for all things beautiful strangely appealing to everyone who meets her. Only Megan, the oldest of the Bird children, realises very early in life that there is something unhealthy about her mother’s obsession with family traditions, her inability to part with things, her habit of buying “stuff” and filling the house with boxes of things nobody really has any use for. But no one in the family wants to admit that there is anything wrong with Lorelei’s clutter, and her meek and good-natured husband Colin has long since learned to turn a blind eye to keep the peace. Then one Easter, when Megan has just turned twenty years old, tragedy strikes, and the Bird family will never be the same again.

I loved “The House We Grew Up In” and became engrossed in it right from the start, looking forward to every precious moment listening to Karina Fernandez’ wonderful narration of the story. The narrator did an excellent job giving unique voices to each of the characters, each with their own accent, inflection and tone of voice – it brought the story to life for me! The narrative starts with an adult Megan arriving at the family home just before Easter 2011, shortly after her mother’s death, to begin the awful task of clearing out Lorelei’s clutter, which fills the house from top to bottom with barely enough room to get through the front door. Through snapshots of memories of Easters past, the reader gets a sense of the family in happier days, when the children were young and Lorelei’s eccentric nature drew people in from all around them to bask in the warmth of her kitchen. The memories are told through the eyes of each of the children, husband Colin, and family friend Vicky, each looking at Lorelei’s eccentricities and the circumstances which end up tearing the family apart. Lorelei’s own feelings are slowly unveiled through emails to an online friend found on her computer after her death, giving an understanding of the extent of her mental illness.


I listened with fascination and a growing sense of horror as tragedy strikes in the Bird household, and the slow but inevitable implosion of a picture-book family in the wake of it. The effects of Lorelie’s mental illness on her children and loved ones was tragic to see, as was the sense of guilt each one of them took on as their due, creating a sense of isolation and leading to their complete estrangement. Told with insight, empathy and a deep sense of understanding of the effects of tragedy, guilt and mental illness on a family, “The House We Grew Up In” is a deeply moving tale of family dynamics, parenthood and redemption. I loved this book and it is one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far – very highly recommended. 

Image result for 4.5 stars out of 5