Monday, 15 January 2018

2017 Reflection: ARMCHAIR TRAVEL ADVENTURES



One of the best things about reading is the armchair travel to wild and wonderful places I could never hope to visit in my lifetime. To keep track of my "travels", I charted all books read in 2017 on my "armchair travel map" - and found that I wasn't as adventurous in my forays as I had planned, with 34% of books set in the UK! 22% were set in the USA, and only 8% in Australia. Africa, Russia and Greenland didn't feature in my reading at all, despite their huge land masses and my determination to visit them in books.

For those as smitten with graphs as I am, here is a breakdown of my armchair travel in 2017: 




My reading goal for 2018 is to expand the map to include more exotic locations and expand my cultural horizon by reading books set in environments very different from my own. I would also like to read more Australian books this year.

Some titles I am aiming to read to expand my armchair travel map are:


To The Bright Edge of the W... To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey (Alaska)
The Silence of the Sea (Þór... The Silence of the Sea, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland)
Night Train to Lisbon Night train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier (Portugal)
City of Thieves City of Thieves, by David Benioff (Russia)
Chasing the Light Chasing the Light, by Jesse Blackadder (Antarctica)


What is the best armchair travel book you have read? I would love some recommendations!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Audiobook Review: THE LAST HOURS by Minette Walters

Author: Minette Walters
Narrator:
Helen Keeley
Read:
January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people's future - including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne's people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls? And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?


My musings:

What could be more intriguing than a historical novel set in the time of the pestilence in medieval Britain, written by the “queen of the psychological thriller” whose chilling crime novels you’ve been enjoying for decades? Ever since reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, I have been drawn to historical fiction set in that the era. As a health professional, the thought of a terrible pandemic that wiped out a third of the human population is utterly terrifying – as is the manner of death in which these people perished. But Walters does not dwell on the gory details, focusing instead on a small village that defied all odds by protecting themselves by isolation from the outside world.

In an interview regarding her book, the author states that she first became interested in the era of the “black death” when she found out about the discovery of  a plague pit near her home in Dorset, close to where the plague was first brought into England. Inspired by accounts of great medieval women, who defied the female stereotype of the time, she created her main character, Lady Anne of Develish, who is a true pioneer of primary prevention strategies that save her people from the terrible fate that befell the region. Despite the general belief at the time that the plague was a punishment sent by God, Lady Anne, a  wise if unconventional leader, suspects very early that the disease is carried in some way or another by sufferers and bad hygiene practices. With her boorish and ignorant husband having fallen victim to the disease, she manages to persuade all villagers to barricade themselves in the grounds of the large manor house to sit out the pandemic.

Walters expertise and skill shows through in the creation of her enigmatic characters, who literally leap from the pages of the book like real life people. With insight and subtle humour she describes the dynamics that not only drive society at the time, but also a small community confined in a small area and cut off from their surroundings in their efforts to survive. I was glad to see that she hasn’t totally abandoned crime fiction, introducing a murder mystery into her tale!

There is so much to love about this novel – from the interesting snippets of politics at the time, to the colourful group of characters, who each quickly wormed their way into my heart. A good novel also needs a villain, and there were a few on offer, eliciting the required sense of anger and injustice to make me emotionally involved. I think Walters must have had great fun creating Lady Eleanor – what a horrible little madam! I couldn’t help wondering who the character was inspired by (never upset a writer!). Her insights into medieval society were fascinating, especially the descriptions of the class system that governed society at the time, with serfs being bound to their liege lords with no freedom and few basic human rights of their own. It is one thing to learn these facts through textbooks, and another to see them incorporated into an engaging story that highlights the true impact of such a system on people’s lives. Interesting also was the place of religion in society and the power of the church by blaming all misfortune on people’s sins and God’s will, with salvation only to be found in abiding to the rules imposed by the church and the upper classes.

A couple of chapters from the end I knew two things: a) I didn’t want the book to finish; and b) I wouldn’t get the conclusion I so craved, as there weren’t enough pages left! And yes, the book did leave space for a sequel, which makes my heart sing in joy! I became so utterly absorbed in the medieval setting that it left me with a huge book hangover, and I really hope that Walters writes fast, because I want to keep reading!

Summary:


If you are planning on reading just one book of historical fiction this year, you cannot go wrong with this one. From the intriguing topic to the well-rounded characters, Walters re-creates the era with such skill that it captures the very essence of life in the 14th century. A wonderful tale of resilience and courage in the face of adversity – I can’t wait for the next installment.  


Monday, 8 January 2018

Book Review: THE GIRL IN KELLERS WAY by Megan Goldin


Author: Megan Goldin
Publisher:
Michael Joseph
Read:
January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description (Goodreads):

When a body is found buried near the desolate forest road of Kellers Way, Detective Melanie Carter must identify the victim if she is to have any chance of finding the killer. That's no easy task with fragmentary evidence from a crime committed years earlier and a conspiracy of silence from anyone who might have information.

The one person who may be able to help is Julie West. In a troubled marriage, Julie often jogs along Kellers Way to clear her mind and escape the confines of her suffocating suburban life. Until one day, something happens there that shakes Julie to the core, making her question everything she ever believed about her life, her marriage and even her sanity . . .


My musings:

Whaaaat??!!?? No way! *frantically flicking pages* That can’t be right!

Don’t you love it when a book totally blindsides you? I had so many theories reading this one that I was convinced that one of them had to be right, and yet the author still managed to surprise me.  As an added plus, it contains one of my favourite ingredients of any psychological thriller – an untrustworthy and unreliable narrator. It soon becomes obvious that Julie, one of the main voices narrating parts of the book, is a troubled soul. But how troubled exactly? Is her husband a controlling, cheating despot who drugs her with psychotropic medications every night, or a caring partner concerned about her mental health? Did she see a body in a wrecked car whilst out running in Kellers Lane, or was it just a hallucination? Coming from the wrong side of the tracks, she has never quite managed to live up to the standards of her husband’s first wife, who was tragically killed three years earlier. The harder she tries, the more convinced she becomes of her failings, and her mental health seems to get shakier by the minute. Goldin does a great job in portraying the unstable woman’s inner thoughts in a way that played out like a jumble of nightmarish images, just as they must have appeared in Julie’s medicated brain.

Our other POV is that of Mel Carter, a detective and young widowed mother of two adolescent boys, who is trying to solve the murder case of a body found in Kellers Way – the very street where Julie goes running every morning. But how are the two connected? I loved Mel’s character, who tries so hard to balance family life with her career. This was one of those rare books where that particular struggle is not overdone, and whilst Mel’s boys do feature in the novel, they never get threatened, abducted or embroiled in the investigation in a way that distracts from the main story-line. Mel’s voice is a no-nonsense one, who logically lays out the facts for the reader, and provides a refreshing contrast to the paranoid Julie. I would love to see her character come back in future novels!

Goldin writes very well, using the two unique voices to highlight the differences between the two women and creating an ever-present shadow of doubt in the readers’ mind. I quickly got sucked into the story and was loathe to put the book down. Seeing how this is Goldin’s debut novel, I will be looking out for other great things to come from this talented writer! 


Friday, 5 January 2018

Book Review: THIS IS HOW IT ENDS by Eva Dolan

Author: Eva Dolan
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Publishing
Read:
January 2018
Expected publication: 25 January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

Ella Riordan is a community activist who became famous when she was beaten by police during a social protest. Now Ella is a squatter in a building where the owners are evicting tenants so they can convert it into luxury condos, and she’s determined to stay and defend the few holdout tenants, despite death threats.

One night after a rooftop party with her fellow holdouts, Ella finds a horrible scene awaiting her in her apartment. In a panic, she calls her neighbor Molly, who convinces her that the police won’t believe she’s innocent. Together the two women concoct a gruesome plan to hide the body down the building’s elevator shaft.

But the secret won’t stay buried for long. As truth hangs in the balance, a neighbor tells Molly he had heard Ella arguing with a man in the hallway and mistrust grows between Ella and Molly, as repercussions of that night threaten to change both women’s lives forever. 

My musings:


Eva Dolan is a great writer who usually tackles interesting subjects in her police procedurals, so I was very interested to read her latest stand-alone novel This is How it Ends. And Dolan has proven once again that it is possible to include current affairs topics into an engaging thriller without bogging the story down. Both of her two main protagonists, activists Ella and Molly, are intriguing and make a nice difference from your average mystery cast. These are women who are defying societal rules, who swim against the stream, who are in trouble with police and live according to their own moral code. Whilst I didn’t love either of them, I found myself drawn irrevocably into their world, trying to work out what makes them tick. It is a very skilled writer indeed who can create such vivid imagery in readers’ minds whilst making them question the very topics that move the story along – and there is plenty of fodder there that could have come out of your evening news broadcast.

The story is being told in two POVs, with Molly narrating the present, and Ella featuring in the backstory that leads up to the trouble the women find themselves in. The relationship between the two women is as intriguing and multi-layered as the events described, adding a depth to the story lacking in many other mysteries. Whilst Molly is a seasoned activist who lives life according to the principles she fights for and is not easily cowed, Ella is the archetypal young and passionate keyboard warrior who is still finding her feet in her defiance of authority. Ella’s background of growing up with a father high up in the police force makes her character all the more complex. With Molly acting as both a mother figure as well as a role model for young Ella, it is easy to see what binds the two women together – until the events that threaten that bond.

I admit that I struggled a bit with the format though, especially Ella’s chapters, which are not always told in chronological order, and made me flick back and forth through the pages to see if I had missed anything. Of course Dolan is too clever a writer not to have a plan, and it all came together beautifully in the end, when the unusual narration style suddenly made perfect sense. This was one of those rare books that totally blindsided me with a twist I did not see coming at all. A very clever, dark and multi-layered mystery that will appeal to lovers of the genre that are looking for something a bit deeper than your run-of-the-mill story. I very much look forward to reading more from this author in future. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Book favoritism: Looking back on 2017

I love the ticking over of a new year as a chance to reflect and plan. Looking back on 2017, I have had a great reading journey. This is reflected in my high average rating of books: 3.9 according to Goodreads! Not bad at all! I revisited some of my favourite authors (Sharon Bolton, Jane Casey, Ruth Ware, Michael Robotham, Mary Kubica and Jane Harper to name a few) and discovered quite a lot of new ones I will keep looking out for.

Some of my all-time favourites last year were discovered through the supportive bookish communities on Goodreads and Instagram – thank you to all who pointed me in the direction of some fantastic reads! I love interacting with other readers on social media, and spend way too much time online browsing. Despite this, I still managed to surpass my 2017 reading challenge by 23 books, with 123 read in total.

It is never easy to choose favourites, but there were a few books that stood out from the rest, and I cannot help myself but sing their praise here. And perhaps you will find your next favourite read amongst the list!

The Scandal Favourite book (male author): The Scandal (or “Beartown”) by Fredrik Backman
You Be Mother Favourite book (female author): You Be Mother by Meg Mason
Force of Nature (Aaron Falk, #2) Favourite book in a series: Force of Nature by Jane Harper
99 Red Balloons Favourite debut novel: 99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter
Bird Box Favourite dystopian novel: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Favourite historical novel: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Laneby Lisa See
The Woman in the Window Favourite psychological thriller: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Dark Pines Watching You Favourite Scandinavian noir: Dark Pines by Will Dean; and Watching You by Arne Dahl
Little Fires Everywhere Favourite family drama: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Child Finder Favourite first book in a new series (can’t wait to read the next one): The Child Finder by Rene’s Denfeld
All the Light We Cannot See Best bookclub book: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Most interesting / unusual protagonist general fiction: EleanorOliphant is completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eyes Like Mine Most interesting / unusual protagonist mystery / suspense: Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal
Our Endless Numbered Days Best audiobook (and one I still can’t get out of my head): OurEndless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Dead Woman Walking Most anticipated read that lived up to all expectations: Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton
The Weight of Lies Most creative narration / format: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter (which contained a book within a book)
The Kind Worth Killing Favourite from my older TBR pile: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

I also established my bookstagram account early in 2017, and have been having great fun with my bookish photos, featuring nature at its best in the beautiful Great Southern region. I hate to admit this, but at times the idea for a bookstagram image was a great motivator to get me out hiking in winter. So I also have to include my personal favourite bookstagram photo in this post – which contains my favourite book cover of 2017 – doesn’t that eye look so creepy!



Reflecting on my reading goals for 2018 – to be honest, I don’t have much of a plan, preferring to be taken on a surprise journey. Some of my all-time favourite books have come out of left field, surprising me by appearing just as I needed them most. The only thing I want to try is to expand my armchair travel map by a few more countries – but I will explain this in another post. For now, I am loving the clean slate 2018 is presenting. Inviting new and wonderful books into my life, and welcoming suggestions.

Thank you for being part of my reading journey!