Chance Developments: Stories … a review

I haven’t read an Alexander McCall Smith is absolute ages! It may have been close to five years, I went through a phase of reading his stuff (and it was great with all the Edinburgh references). I got this one on discount on the Kindle, and it is quite an unusual work. There are 5-6 old photographs and what he tries to do is to create a short story out of each one.

In true Smith style, there is a strong central theme, in this case ‘love’ and the author manages to weave the different kinds of love into the lives of the various characters. What I loved about the book was how the characters all seem very ‘everyday.’ They could be the people who sat next to you on the bus or served you at the till. It really brings to life the concept of everyone has a story and when we meet someone or interact with them, it really is two personal story arcs meeting briefly before diverging again.

In particular, I loved the richeness of the first story and how it presents a snapshot of the life of an ex-nun. It was beautifully crafted from top to tail and ends in a bit of a flourish. Very enjoyable reading – I may be getting into that phase again!

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Under the Harrow … a review

This book by Flynn Berry was a quick read. I picked it up because it was on a list with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The novel is about a girl who is about to go visit her sister, but when she gets there, finds her sister and her dog both brutally murdered. I enjoyed how the author had described the crime scene very graphically, I do like that in crime novels, it sets a strong scene.

Turns out, the sister Rachel had also been brutally attacked in the past (and nearly died) but the perpetrator was never caught. The book is then the protagonist’s attempts to find her sister’s killer. And in true, crime fiction style, there are cops with personal issues of their own. Rachel’s past begins to surface, and we find that not a lot of people knew many things about her and many suspects with strong motives begin to emerge.

Overall, the book did not impress me. I found the revelations from the past rather predictable (perhaps I have been reading too much in the genre)! I also found the ending rather bland. The initial excitement of the plot did not carry through and the repeat crime sub-plot quickly lost steam. So I’d give this one a miss if I were you, but it isn’t a very long read either way, so it was okay.

The Road to Little Dribbling … a review

I was very fortunate to see Bill Bryson in person at a live interview about a year ago. Believe it or not, it was at a Microsoft conference! Anyway, it was his casual wit and his obvious intelligence that made me miss his Notes from a Small Island and I decided to pick up its sequel. That was about 5 months ago.

This book is about the more detailed journeys that Bryson undertakes, to the most quirky offbeat places on mainland Britain. Most of it is set in England (about 95%) which to me is a bit of a disappointment, because I’ve never lived in England and its quirks and cultural connotations are slightly lost on me. However, I could not help but snort on planes and trains as Bryson’s extremely sardonic style of writing struck again. His observations are hilarious, especially the one about the Microsoft Windows Updates (yes, he even writes about that sort of thing!) and the gag about the John Lewis shopping experience.

I would very much recommend this book in fits and bursts, it is not meant to be read in one sitting. Rather, if you have ever been to any of the places mentioned in the book, you must revisit them with book in hand! Now that would be a laugh. It was a bit monotonous in parts for me and I would have loved to read a bit more about Scotland in there too. But hey, for the most part, I enjoyed it.

The Girl who Takes an Eye for an Eye … a review

This book is the latest in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium) series. Of course, since the original author died suddenly, the farnchise has been picked up by David Lagercrantz. And I have to say, I am impressed by how well the new author has retained the ferocity and charm of the main protagonists Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. The storyline continues on from the previous book, and picks up with Salander’s latest circumstances in a women’s high security prison in Sweden.

Readers will come to love the old familiarity of well known characters. As Blomkvist continues to get involved, sometimes willingly, in Salander’s troubles, the plot thickens. This time, it is complete with the involvement of two other storylines, that eventually merge as Salander uncovers more horrific truths about her past.

The series is so well-written, I have always said, that when I finally visit Sweden, I will be sure to look over my shoulder nervously, as if crime awaits at every step. For now though, I have to content myself with nordic noir. I must add that now, I also see Lisbeth as Rooney Mara in my head, although Blomkvist isn’t quite Daniel Craig. Have you watched the movie? Have you read this series? I do recommend both, if you are a fan of fast-paced thrillers.

Impossible Depths … a review

Last day of the year, last review for 2017. Impossible Depths is the second book in the Silver Lake series, following Stronger Within. This book continues on with the story of artist Lori and her now fiance Jake, the rock star. I lingered over this book for months as I was reading it off and on, amidst other books. Also, it was nice and familiar to dip into this one as I felt I knew Lori and Jake like friends.

Lori and Jake are newly engaged and very much in love. The band is doing well and both are happy in their jobs. This is one thing I love about this series, it shows characters doing actual work and spending real time doing real things, which is sometimes missing from romance novels. But despite all the success and love, tragedy lurks just around the corner. With plans being derailed completely and many hearts broken, this books packs in an emotional punch.

However, one of the things that annoyed me is how Jake calls Lori ‘lil’ lady’. Something about it ticks me off, but that is a personal thing. Overall. McCallum is a more mature writer in this book and the balance between the storylines and the sub-plots is great. I really enjoyed this one and look forward to reading the third book in the series.

Thank you all for reading in 2017. Hope you all have some downtime and the company of family and friends during this festive season. See you all in 2018 for some more books, reviews and recommendations! Happy New Year 🙂

The Girlfriend … a review

It seems to me like after the success of Gone Girl followed by The Girl on the Train, psychological thrillers are everywhere. Not a bad thing, I say, I have read a few this year and for the most part, really enjoyed them. In particular, I See You was particularly good. On a short trip, I picked up this one, which is about a mother’s relationship with his son girlfriend, who she doesn’t really approve of, but cannot quite put her finger on why, save for a mother’s intuition.

The plot is quite straightforward, and it preys on the stereotypical weaknesses of a mother – the inability to see any other woman take centre stage in her son’s life. The writing is goo, and Frances does a good jobs of setting up the characters backstories – I enjoyed that. However, I wouldn’t really call this book a psy thriller because it was a bit too predictable. It made me root for the good guy (woman) and it was quite evident who was being played. As the plot progressed, I knew what was going to happen and there were only a couple of surprises on the way.

As a passing read, this is okay. I also got it very cheap on the Kindle because I had a discount code. But if paying full price, I would probably give this one a miss for now. Having said that, the ratings on Goodreads are on the higher side, so my caveat is that it may have just been me!

And Then I’m Gone … a review

I started reading some of Matt Freese’s work a few years ago and so I jumped at the chance to read his latest – a memoir and a sort-of-sequel. I enjoy reading memoirs because I like peoples’ personal stories, there is so much more to each one of us than what is evident on the surface.

So it is with Matt. At 76 and getting on a bit now, he worries about the usual stuff, health, running out of time to do things, reconciling with his estranged child. What runs through the entire book, however, is a deep need to understand his emotions and using a mix of logic, history and philosophy. I enjoyed the interludes where he references the great words of Krishnamurthi. It continues to surprise me that it is hard to find reviewers who will review Holocaust literature. I believe it requires a special type of spineless to shy away from the horrors of history. How will we move forward as a species if we do not learn from our past collectively?

It is nice to be taken through a long life, but through its most salient parts – I still find it hard to compute what a long life holds – so many heartbreaks and smiles, tears and love, distances and horizons. And of course, dreams. Freese brings them out beautifully through his words, as in his previous works (here, here, and here). At times, the prose is a bit halting in this one, but it all lends itself well to this short work that hold the substance of a tome.

I recommend this book, especially as this time of the year is a wonderful time for reflection and looking back. To say the least, Matt is ‘felt’. It is available here.