2016 Book Reviews

WORK IN PROGRESS WARNING! I’m adding these in a somewhat ad hoc manner and unfortunately, the first three are all somewhat negative.  Whilst I have the utmost respect for the writers, these particular stories didn’t work for me however these reviews are simply one reader’s opinion in the midst of a vast multitude of others.

My rule is that if I am not truly gripped or otherwise convinced to continue at the 100 page stage, the book is consigned to the DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf.  I constantly grapple with the hangover of guilt at an unfinished book which lingers from my youth but consider that given I will never have enough time in this life to read all the books I want, this is now permissible. Of course from that springs a different kind of guilt at all the time wasted trying in vain to plod diligently on towards a finish with a great many books. Maybe I just need a good dose of guilt in my life whatever its origins!

I’ve set myself a target of 40 books this year, at the time of writing I am 7 ahead of year-to-date target and would like to think I might make it to 52 this year – no double we will see. In setting this target I also gave myself permission to read exactly what I want and not what I think I ‘should’. In previous years I have ground my way through literary prize shortlists and books from 100 before you die lists. I now see the folly of this approach.  Reading as a writer is always difficult because somewhere along the line you lose the ability to let go and let the story take over, you’re always looking at structure and technique, assessing characterisation and themes. It takes  a lot of the fun out of reading and I believe turns it into a chore.  This year I resolved to return to reading for myself, so far I am very happy to say, it is working and the fun has returned.

Not all my 2016 reading list have yet been reviewed and some I have had very little to say, sometimes that’s all I think is needed.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I just couldn’t get to grips with this. I think it is a testament to the strength of the writing that the characters all seem to be authentically dislikeable. To be brutally honest, I didn’t get all the hype with this one and if I see one more ‘The Girl on/in/with…’ title I will need sedation. It was original when Larsson did it, now it just seems hackneyed. This one just turned me off and the choice was something of a no-brainer: spending valuable reading time in the company of characters I don’t like when I have more books on my ‘want to read’ list than I have a hope of reading in the next couple of years, or getting stuck into the next book on the list.

I came to this from reading the very, very well written Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock and I think that greatly influenced my feelings with this one.

I didn’t get past 100 pages with this so it’s not technically read but Goodreads won’t let me show it as purely DNF.

The Norfolk Mystery (The County Guides, #1)The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After the first chapter I really thought this book was going to be good. Sadly, for me, this was not to be so; it promised much but simply didn’t deliver. What it did produce however was something akin to the bastard child of Poirot & Marple in the People’s Professor with his overblown eccentricity and constant drifting off into paroxysms of Latin bon mots or airy classical references. His sidekick inhabited the dual dimensions of darkly morose when dwelling on his experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War and the somewhat limp when faced with Morley’s incessant test questions but then he turned out to have something of an unexpected (if a little unconvincing) way with the ladies-even so it didn’t add the much needed third dimension to the character.

There seemed to be a lot of dialogue and factoids that did little to advance the story and it felt very much as though it never really got into top gear.
Frankly all that kept me going past 100 pages was the fact that it was set in the village I took my vacation last year so it held some interest for me in that respect. I found the denouement to be a bit of a leap and also the apparent change in the attitude of the Deputy Detective Chief Inspector for the Norfolk Constabulary when allowing Morley centre stage in pronouncing his big reveal.

Overall I think it tried way too hard on the eccentricity front at the expense of real character development. It would make fine fodder for a TV series but I certainly won’t rush to read the next in the series.

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary's, #1)Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Chick-lit meets Sci-Fi lite plot-driven romp with a really bad gratuitous sex scene plonked in the middle. Great concept let down by story telling which produced a protagonist I would happily have fed to a Tyrannosaur myself. Pure marmite for me I’m afraid.


Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sublime writing from another age.

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