Review: Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

“Reasons to be Cheerful” is the first book by Nina Stibbe that I’ve read, It doesn’t start anywhere, or go anywhere even, but it was a fun, light, holiday kind of book. The book follows the dramas of Lizzie – it’s very much fiction, and by the end I wanted her to exist, with her common sense and straightforwardness, someone simple but layered, kind and principled. Nina has an excellent voice and a very readable style. One to enjoy beside the pool.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Hanna Jameson’s The Last is an interesting one. The plot follows a group of strangers isolated in a remote Swiss hotel when nuclear bombs destroy the world. Few of the guests have little chance of ever going home -airports were destroyed and society rapidly disintegrates – so they make the most of a bad situation and turn the hotel into a new home for the new world order.

The writing was clean, characters varied and interesting, and most of the cliches of the post-apocalyptic genre were nimbly avoided.

My main issue is with the whodunit mystery aspect – it seemed shoehorned in to give the plot a focus, then didn’t go anywhere, and ended with a very contrived conclusion. Also, the theory that the world could be destroyed by nuclear bombs seemed overplayed – yep, long-term damage would be brutal in an all out exchange, but I’m pretty sure few bombs would land in the southern hemisphere meaning large parts of the world would still be inhabitable. At one point in the novel it’s reported Scotland has been destroyed: no-one would level Scotland – the highlands are so sparsely populated you’d only be killing a handful of people with each bomb!

That said, I did enjoy it, a solid 4 stars, just don’t think about the realities too hard or it’ll break your suspension of disbelief.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I really enjoyed Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer. The characters were well formed – believable and even meriting sympathy. One sister likes to kill, the other helps her not get caught – blood thicker than water and all that. The narrator, the non-killing sister, shares interesting observations about men, society, and what it means to protect your sister in an oppressive, abusive childhood home.

Very readable, very punchy, a well deserved 5 stars.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Out of the Maze: An A-Mazing Way to Get Unstuck by Spencer Johnson

Out of the Maze is a tricky book to review. I haven’t read the prequel Who Moved My Cheese, apparently the biggest selling book on Amazon a couple of years after its publication, but I don’t believe that’s necessary – the first book covers embracing change, this book deals with how inflexible belief systems can be detrimental and restrictive. The writing is fine, the messages useful, and the book educates by way of a fable – a style I’m not fond of as I explained in my reviews for Pig Wrestling and the Goal – but that’s not why it’s hard to review.

My problem is the length – it took less than half an hour to read, cover to cover, including the acknowledgements and some details on the author’s battle with cancer. Like Pig Wrestling, the author knocks out a dozen or so short proverbs, punchy little 10 word sentences which sound authoritative, then they get padded into a story, someone designs a cover, and bam, a book is produced. This would’ve been fine as an essay or a magazine article, it just doesn’t have the legs for a self-contained book.

But given I enjoyed it for what it is, and the price isn’t an issue for me (I’m reviewing an ARC), I can only score it on the content, not the package as a whole. So, 4 seems fair to me, but I suspect if you’d paid hard-earned money for it, you would feel differently.

See review on Goodreads.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

It’s doesn’t take long with a new book before you can relax with the knowledge that you’re in safe hands – the manner of narration, simple details expanded to instil curiosity, characters beyond the cliche and the tropes. With Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield establishes her quality on the first page.

The novel, based in Victorian days and centred around a local’s pub on the Thames, follows the discovery of a young girl – who is she, and where was she from? Several conflicting theories arise, and off goes the plot to investigate each.

There’s a wide array of characters, some solid writing with a strong voice, and enough interest to keep me going – but I did find my initial excitement dull towards the end as the plot threads wrapped up too neatly, and the recurring appearance of Quietly became rather tedious.

Still, I did enjoy it, and would recommend – a solid 4.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Pig Wrestling by Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden

Pete Lindsay’s and Mark Bawden’s Pig Wrestling is an interesting book about how to analyse and resolve problems. You could blast through it in a single sitting (1-2 hours) but it still contains concepts worth taking away (cleaning the problem, for example). I’m not convinced by the Fable approach to self-help books. I first encountered this approach with Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal – and with that book it seems like the story just added padding, and it does seem the same here. Without the fiction, this could’ve been either a short essay, or, my preference would be instead of spending the time introducing characters which are all business stereotypes, use that effort to illustrate with examples and case studies. A good non-fiction author doesn’t necessarily convert to a good fiction author, the prose just ends up being distracting. Still, enjoyable, so a solid 4 stars.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

An interesting aspects of the four books in the The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series is that they can be read in any order. This one, the last, is my first. It’s hard to say whether plot points were missed or nuances lost, but I did feel I was reading a standalone book. This is a complex book, weaving many characters and times together, and though some were laboured, that could be because the importance was set in the earlier novels.

This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted – it’s colossal, with enough characters and plots to fill multiple books. I turned the last page today, and it feels like I’ve been reading this since the summer. Some parts are a slog: I found Fermin irritating (possibly an overly exuberant translator) and some of the lengthier passages could have done with a trim, but this is an excellent achievement. An intricate story, spanning genres, full of treats.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads

Review: Open by Andre Agassi

My rating: 5 out of 5

I used to watch tennis in the days of Becker and Conners and Agassi, so this semi-autobiography (actually penned by J.R. Moehringer) was a trip down memory lane. A real page turner, I don’t tend to read sports books generally, but this kept me going and reading fast. Well worth a read – superbly written and hugely entertaining.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

My first thought when reading Kate Mascarenhas’s The Psychology of Time Travel was I bet this is her first novel. Then, as this is a published work, why wasn’t the editor harsher? The amount of telling, not showing, became a real stinker for me. Likewise the jumps in PoV. Both mistakes are easily made, but they should also be mistakes easily corrected.

That said, this was a good book. Most time travel books have a predictable set of characters – predominately male with the odd women for a love interest. This was the opposite – almost entirely a female cast (IMHO a bit too much so – varying the cast adds dimension that can create story arcs).

I think the strength of this book is the thought given to what a world with time travel would look like – how it should be controlled, policed, financed, salaried, etc, and how time travel would affect the attitudes of those involved, seeing yourself in different stages of your life, knowing how and when you would die. What would death mean at all if you could chat with the departed the day after their funeral? This was all very well done (with a few exceptions – the trial being the biggest oddity).

Still, better than a 4, not quite a 5…

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads

Review: Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done – Today! by Brian Tracy

A lot of self-help books go into great depth on a specific topic – Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, for example, going into great length about how to beat procrastination – Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog takes a different approach. 21 topics are skimmed over (procrastination, task selection, planning, etc) in 4-5 page chapters (this isn’t a thick book, you can do the maths) – just giving common sense but worthwhile suggestions on how to be more effective and efficient. It’s a fast read, you can go cover-to-cover in a couple of hours, but well worthwhile.

See review on Goodreads.