Review: The One

The One
The One by John Marrs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The concept behind The One is interesting – match.com with DNA profiling. I was expecting a book that would explore whether likability or sexual attraction could be predetermined by something so scientific as a double helix. Some of the themes could’ve tackled the viability and ethicalness of such a solution, or social equality or religious considerations, heavy themes that would make you think.

Instead, John Marrs, the author, went down a different route. Five independent story-lines follow couples who have been matched, and in the nature of page-turning fiction, they were all worst-case scenarios. All the themes were light, all had more holes that a dirt track, and most didn’t have any authenticity or believability.

This book made me think of James Patterson – he was even referenced in the book, so I suspect this isn’t a coincidence. All chapters are a few pages long, they finish on a cliffhangers and revelations, and the writing, to be kind, could be described as ‘accessible’.

I think this was a missed opportunity, but given the success of James Patterson and his co-writers, I may have a minority view. Still, I did read to the end, and it was a page turner, so it’s unfair to give it less that a 4*.

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Review: Option B

Option B
Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I remember reading about the death of David Goldberg when it happened. He was holidaying in Mexico with his wife, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), and suffered some form of heart attack in the hotel’s gym. They found him lying on the floor, bloodied, near a cross trainer. The story resonated with me – we’re about the same age, with the same age children, and the same age wife – so I was interested when Sheryl released a book mixing memoir and self-help.

As is to be expected, Sheryl’s grief is the driving force in this book. She covers how they met, how he died, and then delves into the effect of the aftermath on her, their two children, and all other friends and family. Grief is so personal, that helpful friends sometimes fail to realise that their kind of help isn’t what’s needed. There’s no road map for grief, but there are steps that can help, especially for young dependants.

The book is co-written by Adam Grant, a professional psychologist. His case studies and academic research adds to Sheryl’s emotional story to give balance and general advice, such as when option A is taken away unexpectedly, all you have left is to “kick the shit out of option B.”

This is a fascinating read, sad at times, motivating at others. Worth a read.

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Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I’ve read a few books recently where the tone or the style changes partway through, and typically when this happens, those changes aren’t for the better. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time falls into this category.

The first two-thirds were excellent. The story, a historical romance with a science-fiction twist, was written so perfectly that everything was credible. The writing was crisp, the dialogue natural and the themes thought provoking. The historical sections were beautiful, little details made those eras come alive. Very few books have made me well-up, a notable other is a good comparison for this novel – Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife, one of my favourite books. Both deal with time, and both deal with far-fetched themes, but the writing in both is so good and so well delivered, that only the hard-hearted would shine a light on their faults.

The only trouble with How To Stop Time is that the final third appears rushed. The buildup was slow and masterful, hooks were placed and characters formed, but the climax didn’t fit the rest of the story. I felt like I was reading the screen adaption of the book, where details are omitted for brevity, where loose-ends are tolerated because limited screen time requires tidy endings, and where characters behave in different ways. This is a shame, since with a bit more planning and care, with the finesse shown in the first part, this could’ve been a classic on the scale of the Time Traveller’s Wife.

Because of the weak ending, this doesn’t deserve a 5/5 rating, though it deserves better than a 4. So 4.5, and I’m generous and always round up!

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Review: The Dollmaker

The Dollmaker
The Dollmaker by Harriette Simpson Arnow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker, first published in 1954, was set during the last months of the second world war. With the current rise of economic migration, this story about the clash of cultures is as relevant now as it was seven decades ago. The Nevels, ‘hillbillies’ from rural Kentucky, struggle to ‘adapt’ and make sense of the industrial and cultural tensions of Detroit’s projects that exploded to cope with the war production.

The writing, though often wordy, is heartfelt. Phonetically spelt dialogue, and the sensitive well-formed cast of characters draw you in; their struggles are felt, their journeys are personal.

Like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the Dollmaker immerses the reader in the minutiae of living under conflict, under poverty, and the fear of whatever the future may be bring. This is a long book, over 600 pages in printed editions, and by the end you understand and sympathise with all the characters, even those you despise.

Hopefully one day the Dollmaker will be recognised for the classic that it is.

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Review: The Giant Jumperee

The Giant Jumperee
The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

This is a typical Julia Donaldson, and that’s a good thing. The story is short, well written and with a twist that the kids love! There’s no Axel Scheffler and there’s less rhyming than her other books, but the story is sweet with enough characters to keep the reader busy voicing them all!

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Review: The Best of Adam Sharp

The Best of Adam Sharp
The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I loved this book, it’s like Nick Hornby for a maturer audience. Maybe because I’m more or less the same age as Dooglas, or maybe because I’ve had some of the same experiences, but something in the writing and the characters resonated. Adam’s thoughts are passionately and eloquently expressed, and the whole book had a very believable feel. I was worried at the start that the constant references to music and piano technique would start to grate, but instead it was handled with subtlety and added to Adam’s persona.

My only issue, and a minor one, is that you can tell that Graeme Simsion works in IT. All complex matters of the heart were reduced to simple problems, resolvable with a single solution. That’s possible in IT, less likely when emotions are involved.

Well worth a read!

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Review: Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I was really enjoying this book. The writing had the urgency and passion of Gone Girl, and both have a lead character whose scheming offers intrigue and suspense. Great, loved it, flying through the pages, dying to know more.

Then I hit Part 3.

Christopher Castellani, in his excellent book ‘The Art of Perspective,’ says that the first few pages of a novel serve as a contract between the reader and the author, establishing the narrative strategy and the style to expect. In ‘Behind Her Eyes’ the first two parts strongly defined what to expect, i.e. ‘Gone Girl 2’, but without ruining the twists, Part 3 didn’t just throw a spanner into the works, it emptied the entire toolbox. I could see where the book was going, enough hints had been laid, but I just hoped it was a tease and it would veer away. Sadly it didn’t.

This is difficult to rate as the ending didn’t work for me, but, since the writing is good and the characters are well formed, it would be unfair to give it less that a 4!

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Review: Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur

Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across Derek Sivers from the Tim Ferriss podcast. He gave a brilliant interview about a year ago where he talked about his start-up, CDBaby, and the decisions that allowed the company and himself to be successful (while defining what ‘successful’ means). Most of the information from that interview is contained within this book, some of the stories are pretty much word for word so I suspect they’ve been told them a few times by now. It’s easy to criticise the length of this book, it comes in at a slip of 88 pages, but given the podcast was free and I enjoyed both, I consider this as payment for both. I’ve bought a couple of Tim Ferriss books using the same rationale!

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Review: A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

This is the third Anne Tyler book I’ve read, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. Her themes are consistent – families appearing content hiding underlying problems that they themselves are unaware of. As always, the writing is sparse, the words not said mattering as much as those laid down on the page. Anne has said in interviews that this will be her last novel. The only consolation is that she’s been prolific – her twenty novels means there’s still plenty for me to read.

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