Review: Raven Black

Raven Black
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn’t heard of Ann Cleeves, before my father-in-law gave me this book after attending Harrogat’s crime writing festival. First impressions weren’t good; the writing is simple and surprisingly clumsy at times. But, the story is a good one, and that helps smooth over those cracks. I’ll be reading White Nights next, the second book in the series, which is a pretty good indicator of what I thought of this one…

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Review: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting attempt to fictionalise a business book; interesting, though I’m not sure entirely successful. The storyline anchors the advice into the real world, showing how processes should be constantly reviewed and how the naysayers can be bought around, but without Alex Rogo’s struggling marriage I suspect the business element to this book could be squeezed into a pamphlet.

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Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in place of an honest review.

Straight off, without faffing around, I’ll confess that I loved this book. When I first heard about it, I thought, “ah, the world needs another trilogy chronicling a dystopian future.” Luckily this is just a single book, dense with wonderful characters, armed with a long list of positive reviews, so indeed it seems the world did need one more.

Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” nestles between the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, and the accessible glut of YA heroines battling corrupt regimes – you know the ones I mean. Like those other books, the world has crumbled, society has fallen, anarchy rules the land, and yes, a heroine is wandering the land, but that’s not the focus of “Station Eleven”. Instead, the story flits between the now (twenty years after a virulent flu decimated the world’s population) and the few years leading up to that fateful day, or Year Zero as the survivors call it.

The story cleverly weaves numerous flashbacks, all linked by a dubious level of coincidence, but still remaining believable at all times. The writing is sparse, more is left unsaid than said, and that suits the world being described. It’s a dangerous time: anarchy rules, killing is the only way to guarantee survival.

This is an excellent book, worthy of the praise it’s received, and highly recommended.

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Review: The Story Of Lucy Gault

The Story Of Lucy Gault
The Story Of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Story of Lucy Gault’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize way back in 2002, and like anything shortlisted for a prestigious award, you know the quality will be there: the writing was crisp, the characters unique and a well defined voice carried the novel.

And that’s where my problem lies.

This was a good story, a statement of how multiple lives can be affected by a single incident, made in the heat of the moment. It would’ve fitted neatly into a short-story, or padded and stretched into a novella, but in novel form the pace trundled along like the characters residing in the family house at Lahardane: briskly at first, then staggering and crawling towards the end of their days.

Remember the final scenes of the last Lord of the Rings film? Tears were shed, hugs were given, characters stared purposefully into the sunset? The audience reached for their jackets and grabbed their handbags, gobbled down the last of the popcorn, only for another ‘final’ scene to be shoehorned into life.

For me, Lucy Gault’s story was the same: it finished way before the end. You knew where it was going, where it had been, and I was continually flipping to the end to see how many pages remained.

Still, a rambling William Trevor is still an enjoyable William Trevor, so worth taking a nose.

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Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella collection was a mixed bag. All were written with Stephen King’s usual relaxed and readable style, but a few felt lazy, as though he rushed them down without exploring and developing the what-if’s like he normally does. Fair Extension is a good example. The story, even brief as it was, plodded towards a predictable ending. That said, it’s still Stephen King; when he’s not at his best he’s still yards ahead of the pack.

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Review: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in place of an honest review.

I must confess I’ve never read Wodehouse. He’s one of the authors who’s persistently remained midway on my to-read list, keeping Chekhov and Elmore Leonard company. One day, if I can resist slipping in other authors, I’m sure they’ll climb to the top. My only history with Jeeves and Wooster comes from the television series back in the 80s (90s?), so when reading this book, Fry and Laurie continued acting out their roles in my head. I’m more familiar with Sebastian Faulks, since, like the rest of world, I have read and enjoyed Birdsong and Charlotte Gray.

Faulks did a good job with this book. I loved the writing – the language of the oddball characters, Wooster’s thoughts – the words had a bounce and energy that was fun to read. Faulks captured the time and the place perfectly, transporting you back to that Charleston era where everyone who was anyone walked about with a cocktail in their hand. After reading this, Wodehouse has certainly been nudged up the list.

My only complaint, a very minor one, was that the story did drag. All the ingredients of a good farce were present: hidden identities, unrequited love, overheard conversations, but for me at least, a few of those chapters could’ve been tightened around the waist.

All in all, it was a fun read and recommended!

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Review: Digging to America

Digging to America
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Anne Tyler’s ‘Accidental Tourist’ many years ago, so long ago that I wouldn’t be able to remember the plot if the film hadn’t refreshed my memory. But one thing I clearly remember about that novel was quality of the writing – how easy it was to read and how each word was perfectly placed.

‘Digging to America’ has that same familiar style, as though it’s being narrated by someone you’ve known since childhood. This is a bigger accomplishment than it may sound, since the POV character changes with each chapter. Maryam, an Iranian immigrant to American, is the main character, but other chapters are told from her daughter-in-law’s POV, others from her would-be suitor, the widowed Dave, and one from a young child, one of the Korean orphans.

The book is subtle. At a glance, nothing happens, but what’s left out is as important as those scenes which were put in. Family tensions are shown by the wave of a hand or a passing comment layered with ambiguity.

This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like quality literature told in an authoritative voice, this will be worth a look.

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Thoughts on writing, publishing and some general drivel