Category Archives: Books

The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell

I’ve been meaning to read Bernard Cornwell for a while.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about his novels.  Somehow he has escaped me until now and all I can say is how??  I have truly missed out.

I started ‘The Last Kingdom‘ last week and I am totally engrossed.  I’ve been living and breathing this novel.  Cornwell has described a world so vividly that I can smell the fires burning, see the Viking Ships and feel the fear of the Saxons.

Cornwell’s vocabulary is simply magnificent, descriptive and relevant but not alienating and leaving me reaching for the dictionary every 5 seconds.  I am utterly in love with his writing style and his characters which have real depth.

The Last Kingdom tells the story of Uhtred, a young boy who is born English but adopted by a Dane when he is orphaned, learning the Danish ways and becoming Danish at heart….or does he?  Where does his loyalties lie?  Is he English or Danish?

As I mentioned earlier, Cornwell’s characters are given depth and you grow to love or hate them throughout the novel.  You come to care about their fate.  In chapter 7, something happens which absolutely gutted me.  There were simply no words.  I’m not going to go into details as it will lessen the impact when you read it for yourself (and I truly hope you do decide to read it for yourself because you will be in for a treat!).  I couldn’t believe it.  I text my husband (who has read the books) in shock and I experienced true emotion about that scene.

It stayed with me and I was still thinking about it the next day.  I love books that have that kind of effect on me, that make me feel real emotions.  I wanted to let out a Viking roar and go and avenge the wrongdoings!

George R.R. Martin gets a lot of credit for not pulling punches with his main characters and not being afraid to give them the chop but equally, Cornwell doesn’t either.  He is just more subtle about it.  You don’t see the rain of blows that is going to fall and it hits you that bit harder.  With Martin, it’s become a bit of a cliche and you go into a book wondering ‘who’s next?’.

I haven’t finished The Last Kingdom yet but I felt driven to write about it, shout from the rooftops about how good this novel is and how much you need to read it.  I have the next book in the series lined up and ready to go.

I can’t wait to slip between the covers with Bernard Cornwell and see what lies in store for Uhtred.  In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do now!

Only We Know – Karen Perry.

Luke, Katie and Nick share a secret from thirty years ago about what really happened in Kenya.  Some secrets won’t stay buried etc.  Not the most original plot but looked interesting so I thought I would give it a go.

I was slightly disappointed by this book.  It promised a lot and didn’t deliver.  It is very middle of the road, not awful but not amazing, just okay.

I had guessed several of the plot twists quite early on in the story and I don’t think it was as clever as it thought it was.

Reasonably well written although  I thought Luke’s character could have been explored a bit more.  I didn’t get a feel for  his depression or the kind of person he really was.

There was no chemistry between Katie and Reilly.  Their relationship didn’t ring true to me.  It seemed that she saw him as more of a father figure.

I also didn’t feel any chemistry between Nick and Lauren.  A pet peeve is when a character constantly refers to their ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.  They have been introduced into the story so call them by their damn name!  As I say though, this is a personal preference, not necessarily anything wrong with the writing style.

In summary, an okay read but not one to rush out and buy.

 

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

There is no doubt about it, ‘I Am Pilgrim‘ is a massive tome of a book, 892 pages to be precise.  Don’t let the size put you off.  It is a fantastic, action packed romp, one that I had to savour and digest, take my time with and enjoy. Now that I’ve finished it I feel bereft.

It is an intelligent, action packed thriller that grabbed me and kept me hooked right to the very end.  The story has lots of little strands and I wasn’t sure how they would come together at the end.  I knew they had to, but I wasn’t sure how this would happen or  what one strand had to do with the others.  For me that’s the mark of a good thriller.

The story starts with the murder of a woman in a Manhattan hotel room and moves on to  a young boy who sees his father publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia.  All parts of the story are relevant and not a single scene was wasted.  In the end it all comes together with a loud ‘clang’ as the penny drops and you realise what is going on and the story falls into place.

The narrator is a spook who goes by many different names, one of them being Scott so for the purposes of this review I will refer to him as Scott.

I love Scott’s voice.  He is candid and honest, telling the story in a pragmatic manner without a hint of self-pity.  Things simply are how they are.

Parts of the book which are a very unsavoury but Scott doesn’t shy away from talking about them or his involvement in the situation.  Quite simply the acts were necessary to get the job done.  The ends justified the means.

I liked the fact that although Scott would have liked to meet somebody (a woman) there wasn’t a token love interest, although there easily could have been.  The story was a lot more pragmatic than that.  It s a story of international espionage and national security. Love is a weakness that can be exploited.

I felt that the end left it open for there to be more books in the Pilgrim series.  I hope there is.  Scott Murdoch (or whatever he is calling himself in the future) could easily become another Bourne.

Terry Hayes is a very talented writer and I wasn’t surprised to find that he has worked as a screenwriter.  I’m very much looking forward to his next offering ‘The Year of the Locust‘ which is due to be released on 20th April 2017 (according to Amazon).

 

First Book Club Meeting

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Scone and hot chocolate! The perfect additions to a book meeting

I recently set up a Book Group and yesterday we met for the first time.  I have been looking for a local book group for some time but there is nothing that meets locally.  I’m a member of The Bookshop Cafe on Facebook and I was looking for a cross between this and Bookcrossing.  The Bookshop Cafe is such a friendly and welcoming community but it is online only.  Bookcrossing have a London Group that meet monthly but I was looking for something a bit more local.

A lot of book groups have a set book that you have to read and then have to discuss what you thought of that book.  That wasn’t the format that I envisioned.  I wanted something a bit more informal where people meet to chat and swap books especially if you throw tea and cake into the mix!

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Book club ladies and books
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My haul from the book meeting

I found the perfect location, a local cafe that has jus
t opened round the corner from us, Queen of Tarts.  I love it!  All the cakes are either baked on site or are sourced locally.  The cafe is done out in a gorgeous vintage theme and best of all, the lady who runs provides
excellent customer service.  It is laid back, friendly and efficient.

Everybody seemed to have a good time, conversation (and cake) flowed.  It was great to meet a group of like minded people.  We could have stayed there chatting for a lot longer but the cafe had closed and it was time to go home.

I am glad the meeting went so well.  I’m looking forward to the next one!

That Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson

The last book I reviewed by Dorothy Koomson was ‘The Flavours of Love‘. I enjoyed it but felt that the format was very similar to several of her other recent books. This, I felt, detracted from my enjoyment and made the book slightly predictable. I wasn’t sure if I would rush to read any of her other offerings.

That said, I found her most recent book on the shelf of my library so I must have had a change of heart at some point, I just don’t remember when!

That Girl From Nowhere‘ is a return to the glory days for Koomson as far as I’m concerned. The plot was engaging and her characters imperfect but likeable. You found yourself liking them in spite, perhaps because of, their flaws.

The plot is about Clemency. Clemency is black but has been adopted by white parents. She knows nothing of her birth parents and all she has of them is the butterfly box that she was given away in. This book tackles multi-racial issues in an elegant but unforgiving way. Koomson faces the topics of inadvertent and blatant racism in society and the impact that this can have on people.

I’m not sure if the book needed to be as long as it was and in some places it felt like it dragged a bit, that said it was an enjoyable read.  I didn’t guess all of the twists right away which I liked.  I did find myself getting irritated with Clemency in places for not being stronger and standing up to her family.  She seemed to be living her life for other people and not getting the fresh start she wanted. I wanted to give her a good talking to!

I felt the end of the ‘grandmother’ storyline was a bit contrived and not completely believable.  It wasn’t enough to offend me though.

I did want the ‘Tyler’ storyline to end in a gritter, more realistic way.  The way it finished also felt contrived, like everything had to end with a neat little bow.  It felt rushed, like the author had one more loose end and wanted to tie it up in the neatest, fastest way possible.  This was my least favourite part of the story.

All in all though, an enjoyable read that I would recommend.  It was good that this book had deviated from the format of Koomson’s recent books and kept me guessing in places.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman

I have just finished ‘A Man Called Ove‘ by Fredrik Backman and I had to sit down and write a blog entry about how much I love this book!  It hit the spot for me on so many levels.  I am going to recommend it to everybody I know and give it out as Christmas presents…you have been warned!!

On a basic level it is about Ove who is quite possibly the grumpiest man you will ever meet.  Ove’s view on life amused me greatly.  I also have no time for idiots either so I can sympathise with him.  I love Ove’s simple view on life.  He is a man from another time.  Life has moved on but he hasn’t and he doesn’t care.

On a deeper level, this is a story of layers and looking beneath the surface.  Sometimes you will be surprised by what you find.

It is a quick and easy read, although I took my time and savoured it.  I thoroughly enjoyed Backman’s writing style – laugh out loud in places but also touching without too much mush. The effect of this had me in tears several times.  In some ways it reminded me of ‘A Spot of Bother’, my favourite book by Mark Haddon, despite ‘The Curious Incident‘ being the more famous book of the two.

Some of the funniest parts for me were Ove’s relationship with ‘the cat’. The cat arrives one day and it really is a sad excuse for a cat – half a tail, an ear missing…very unremarkable really.  I loved their relationship.

I’m not going to write too much more because I really don’t want to give away spoilers.  Read and enjoy this book for yourself. I thoroughly recommend it.

American Sniper – Chris Kyle

I have just finished American Sniper by Chris Kyle which, unless you have been buried under a rock, you will know is the autobiography of Chris Kyle who is billed as ‘the most lethal sniper in US history’.  I haven’t seen the film so I can’t make comparison to that.  As always, I prefer to read the book first.

I have mixed feelings about the book.  It was an interesting read so I think I would recommend it from that point of view.  I felt like you got a really good insight into the person behind the hype of ‘the most lethal sniper in US history’ and that the story was well told.  The book also features passages told from Kyle’s wife Taya’s point of view.  I found these irritating at first but as the story went on I found that these added to the story.

However, I did feel that the story lacked depth and skimmed over some of the details.  You got the know the people and Kyle to a degree but it was like skimming the surface.  I appreciate that there was a lot to get through in the book but it was missing something (for me).  It was a fairly easy read but I took my time and savoured it.

I also wasn’t sure about Kyle’s attitude to ‘savages’ as he referred to the ‘bad guys’ in Iraq.  Again, I appreciate it was a war situation and I have never been involved in anything like that and don’t have experience of it, however, some of the terminology and blasé way he talks about killing people didn’t sit comfortably with me, nor did taking things from Iraqi apartments.  It just doesn’t feel right.

You do get a sense of Kyle’s loyalty to his men and his country and the conflict he had to contend with when he had to choose whether to re-enlist or be at home with his family.  You see from the passages written by his wife that she wanted him at home with their family.  On one hand I can understand this but on the other I’m not sure it’s right to make him, or anybody in that position choose.  You marry somebody and they are in a certain job then you accept it and run with it.  I don’t think you can change the rules later on because that forces your partner into a difficult choice and may breed resentment.

Kyle left the military in 2009 and moved back to Texas where, amongst other things, he helped troubled veterans.  In 2013 he and his companion, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed by Eddie Ray Routh at a shooting range.  Routh was convicted of their murders and is currently serving a life sentence.

This felt like such a senseless death to me and a waste of life.  Kyle was working to help others and he was killed doing it. Considering the various hairy situations in Iraq that he was in, this felt poignant.  Kyle had left the Seals and should have been safe but he wasn’t.  I feel for the wife and children that he left behind and for Chad Littlefield and his family.

Kyle’s death isn’t covered in the main story but there is reference to it in an extra section provided by Taya.

All in all, not a bad read at all.  It’d probably be a 6 1/2 out of 10 for me.