Review: ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell

url9I adored ‘Cloud Atlas’ and loved ‘Ghostwritten’, so ‘Jacob de Zoet’ was my third trip into David Mitchell territory, and I was full of high hopes.

Initially, my hopes were a little deflated: there’s a LOT of information and technicalities get your head around in the first part, making it a little difficult to get a reading rhythm going. It did feel a little stilted and there were a few times I had to put this down in order to gather my poor reeling head.

However…

Perseverance pays off! With the shock betrayal of Jacob’s principle by Voerstenbosch and Van Cleef, and Aibagawa Orito’s evident kidnap, everything kicked up a gear in the final moments of Part One, and left you hungry for more.

Orito’s story was my absolute favourite throughout; initially because she was a woman trying to live in a man’s world (thanks to the open-mindedness of the indomitable Dr Marinus), but then because she was a fighter with feeling. The moment where she had escape within her clutches and turned back for the benefit of others was absolutely heartbreaking, but equally wonderful in showing a bravery beyond just getting out and being safe.

Talking of which, the story of Mount Shiranui was horrifically captivating: the balance between it being perceived as a haven but actually being a temple of death and sacrifice was elegantly crafted and haunting in its composure. Watching Ogawa Uzaemon flail against the invincibility of this cult of terror was plot perfection; hopelessness and inevitability at this point invades even the strongest believer in good triumphing over evil, and as such intensifies the emotional reaction against Lord Enomoto and his evil creeds.

I’ll admit the introduction of the British naval fleet in Dejima was, although initially an interesting twist, something that soon lost its interest. Captain Penhaligon (and his interminable gout!) was a fascinating character nonetheless, and I’ve never witnessed such a subtle blend of grief manifesting itself in every action as I had within his plot unfolding. The only thing that stuck in my gullet here was the survival of Daniel Snitker, former Dejima Dutchman trader and traitor to the Dutch empire in Japan; how on earth did he get from chains to the British empire’s fleet, and in doing so find not only refuge but a refuge with a fluent Dutch translator to enact his revenge? A lot of convenience, but forgivable for the plot it allowed to unfold.

For this leads to one of my favourite single moments in the book:  Jacob de Zoet (not forgetting Marinus and William Pitt the monkey) in a solo stance against the British invaders to Dejima, standing alone where all else had fled or lost everything. It was touching and it was real; both men wetting themselves, for example, showed heroism doesn’t have to look pretty to be amazing.

And the ending: David Mitchell knows how to write an ending that stays with you. Yes, Jacob de Zoet’s autumns are not what he thought, and never what he planned, but they are everything that makes us human and wonderful. So yet again, another David Mitchell book that thrills, captivates, confuses in places but causes wonder all over. Remember, persevere with ‘Jacob de Zoet’ and it will pay off; maybe not in copper shares or Dutch profits, but in pure pleasure alone.

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Review: ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ by Dorothy Koomson

MyBestFriendsGirlCover‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ is the story of thirty-something Kamryn who suddenly and in devastating circumstances becomes adoptive mother to her best friend’s little girl – enter Tegan, Luke and a whole lot of upheaval for independent Kamryn.

Koomson is an emotional writer, that almost goes without saying, and there’s plenty to tug on the heart-strings here. In particular, I often find that when people write dialogue including children they either go far too sophisticated for what is allegedly a five-year-old, or they use baby speak to the extreme which is just cloying: not Koomson. I’d go as far as to say that this is the first time I’ve had a convincing kid on the page – proper childlike emotions, some scrambled words but generally coherent, and above all naive and innocent in that beautiful way kids are. This is the emotional pull of Koomson’s novel; the touching interaction between Kam and Tegan which subtly highlights the frailty of each.

There were bits that irked me throughout this: if nothing else, if I had to hear the description ‘navy blue’ or ‘royal blue’ regarding eyes one more time I’d have lost the plot! A few things were a little too convenient and, equally, some were so inconvenient that you’re sat screaming at the page that a simple conversation and a bit of honesty would solve this: my willing suspension of disbelief did a fail a couple of times in this respect.

However, the plot between Kamryn and conveniently place Luke was a good backbone to the trials of being a new mother, and the addition of third-wheeler Nate, provides more than enough to sink your teeth into and fret over during the course of the novel, and indeed one of the continuing pulls is being unable to decide who Kam should choose: Luke or Nate? Both are ideal and flawed in equal measure, and the final decision perhaps doesn’t sit easily as a happily ever after, but then it’s not happily ever after; it’s ‘this is where we are and who we are’, and that’s the point of the novel, that it’s not about becoming the best mother and having the perfect family, it’s about finding your way through the most trialling of times.

Overall, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ would be the perfect addition to any summer read: sad in places but overall a testament to achieving anything we can and realising how amazing we can be when put to the test, it’s a touching journey throughout.

Review: “Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell

61Fb4HID3lLI’ve been an avid fan of Lisa Jewell for many years, and was intrigued by the furore on Twitter about her latest offering – reviews were glowing and filled with emotion.

It’s a different offering to the usual romantic and upbeat offerings from Lisa Jewell, as ‘Then She Was Gone’ focuses on the disappearance of teenager Ellie Mack and her mother’s unravelling of the truth behind the deceit leading to Ellie’s vanishing.

And it was absolutely brilliant in delivery; it was intense, emotional, and brilliantly captivating. It didn’t take long to figure out what might well have happened to Ellie, with tantalising clues being drip-fed throughout the story leading to the devastating conclusion. Ellie’s mother, Laurel Mack, represents the needs, fears and desires of every mother, and is the perfect lead to take us on the rollercoaster journey leading to the final revelations.

One of my favourite bits of this book wasn’t the build up or climax, it was the ending; a lot of novels of this genre have a gentle fizzle to the ending after such a stunning reveal, but this one didn’t. Without giving away what happens, a final note give a bittersweet finale that does our characters justice and shows the fight never ended for freedom and a mother’s love. It was a hauntingly beautiful ending, and I absolutely loved how thoughtful it was.

A breathtaking mystery and thriller, ‘Then She Was Gone’ is a must read this summer – it captivates, horrifies and touches you all in one fell swoop.

Review: “After He’s Gone” by Jane Isaac

afterhesgone-isaac-ebookweb-188x300I was very excited to see Jane Isaac asking for reviewers on Twitter to read her latest book, and even more excited to see it land in my inbox – I’d enjoyed ‘The Truth Will Out’ tremendously. And just like DCI Helen Lavery in ‘The Truth Will Out’, Isaac gives us DC Beth Chamberlain as a well-written strong female lead, and this is one of the standout features of ‘After He’s Gone’.

As Cameron Swift is gunned down, execution style, outside his family home in a well-to-do estate, the life he held together so tightly unravels and brings new revelations to his nearest and dearest. Enter family liaison officer Beth Chamberlain on her first case in the role, sharing in the reader’s interest and intrigue into how such a controlling man managed to end up mixed in with people who would want him dead.

Nothing is overly played in this novel which is one of the reasons I loved ‘The Truth Will Out’ so much – relationships are what they are, people have good and bad qualities, there are no over-the-top heroes and villains, just everyday people coping with tragedy beyond their understanding. The realism of the book is what makes you invest in it, and helps you to understand the prickliness of characters like Sara Swift and the protectiveness of characters like Beth.

The plot line of the murder was well developed – details were drip-fed through expertly, revealing a little whilst causing more questions and in doing so pushing you through to find out the unexpected truth. It’s clearly well-researched (well, the author’s husband is part of the police force after all!) and even the mention of things like budget constraints offer an interesting insight into the world of crime and how investigations are likely to develop. In all, it’s a story worth investing your time in – and trust me, you won’t be able to help but devour this novel in one sitting!

And best of all, the novel closes with unanswered questions – Beth and Nick? Eden’s custody battle? The outcome of Beth’s case? All left up in the air and begging for a sequel (which will be out this year, hurray!), giving us a further pull towards Beth and her challenges in a demanding role and setting up the next in the sequence in a beautifully seamless manner.

I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on the latest detective series to come from Jane Isaac, and on the previous ones if you haven’t already – you’ll be in for a thrilling read that teases and tantalises you before revealing the explosive finale.

Review: ‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac

18854687I’d had Jane Isaac recommended to me and grabbed ‘The Truth Will Out’ to give Isaac a whirl – and I can’t wait to pick up her other books, because ‘The Truth’ was a thrilling read.

DCI Helen Lavery is a well-written female protagonist; in some novels there’s a tendency to overplay the girl power card, but she just did what she had to do without being overly-glamorised or over-praised for being a woman in a man’s world. It was refreshing to have a strong female lead who wasn’t overly-lauded for being exactly that!

Likewise (without spoiling anything!), Dean’s role in Helen’s life unfolded naturally without being met with trumpets sounding and fireworks going off; I think that’s what I liked most about Isaac’s writing, in that despite the drama of the police work it was down-to-earth and naturalistic.

The plot moved quickly, leaving you no time for breath and creating an urgent need to uncover the truth behind all the lies and running away, echoing the journey that Eva is on in the fight for her life. It really keeps you involved, and is one of the main reasons I devoured this book in just a couple of days.

Overall, this was a thoroughly engrossing read and one I would thoroughly recommend – I keep spying more Jane Isaac novels in The Works and the like, so I’ll definitely be stocking my shelves in the near future!

The Recommended and the Unfinishables

There’s an irony in why I haven’t reviewed any books lately, and it’s thus: I’ve been on an absolute book binge, chain-reading and using every spare moment to get through some absolutely brilliant reads that I’ve picked up lately. So rather than try and write a million reviews, here’s my hot and not-so-hot from my last couple of months of reading…

Hot Hot Hot!

image.jpg‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett – I love anything that shows us the roads less travelled, and this was the ultimate in that genre. Eva and Jim’s paths cross, recross and uncross across their altered histories. Barnett takes us through both the possibilities and inevitabilities of life, making us laugh, despair and cry. Supporting characters such as the insufferable David Katz, Eva’s family, and various children in various lifelines intensify the twists and turns until the final call where life untangles itself and simplicity is left.

‘The Child’ by Fiona Barton – This was an Amazon steal and boy, am I glad I turned to book-lifting. The tragedy of this story is discovered in a haunting manner, with the truth growing clearer through the mists as you live the investigative life with the brilliant Kate Waters. The journalistic style builds the drama and hurtles you to the last page, where you find yourself relishing the reveals and cursing that it’s the end of a brilliant book.

‘Blackberry Wine’ by Joanne Harris – Whilst it’s been lovely to read the dramatic and Blackberry_Wine_by_Joanne_Harris.jpgthe heartbreaking, there’s nothing quite so lovely as the reassurance of a life journey and exploration of the magic in the everyday. The story of Jay Mackintosh and Jackapple Joe, discovering what childhood meant and where adulthood could lead was as touching as it was motivating; it’s refreshing to read a reminder that you don’t have to have it all together every day, that it’s OK to step back and figure out yourself and your life before moving forward. The characters of Lansquenet were well-painted as if viewing a busy frieze, every one throwing a different shade on the story. It was a delight from start to finish, and a warm remind of the wonder in the everyday – layman’s alchemy, if you will.

‘Galatea’ by Madeline Miller – a cheat because it’s a short story, but it’s a brilliant one. A reimagining of Grecian mythology once more, brutal and triumphant, the story of Galatea and her refusal to submit as stone to man’s gaze is the perfect story to whet your appetite for Miller’s upcoming ‘Circe’, or for the breathtaking ‘Song of Achilles’ (one of my favourite books ever).

 

Not-So-Hot…

‘The Italian Wife’ by Kate Furnivall – not for me and a rare book where I gave upimage3
halfway through – I couldn’t even be tempted to see how matters resolved themselves. I have no patience with characters who announce what type of person they are repeatedly, nor with repeated insistences that said characters are brave/strong/impressive and so on. I couldn’t stand Isabella and her constantly changing moods, neither could I take any more clumsy balancing acts between trying to show people being reverential for Il Duce Mussolini and show people condemning him when history shows this wasn’t the case.

 

‘The Dragon Queen’ by William Andrews – it gets worse; I didn’t even get past the first chapter. I couldn’t take the protagonist, Nate Simon, seriously – his declarations about himself and his life were comical when they were supposed to be revelatory, and all I could equate him to was Horatio Cane in CSI: Miami rather than this serious NATO representative – please.

15990487‘Oh Dear Silvia’ by Dawn French – now this one I finished, and I feel a little guilty putting it on this list. It had it’s moments, but it’s a book of stereotypes and sometimes indecipherable accents. The storyline was pleasant enough in that it allowed us to see the power of life and death and getting past grievances, and the final chapter by Silvia did choke me a little, but I’m not sure it should have made itself into such a long book. Also, what on earth was the point of Tia?

 

Review: ‘We Are Made of Stars’ by Rowan Coleman

I picked up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ for a steal on Amazon Kindle because it looked intriguing, and I came out of the book knowing it was more than intriguing: it was affirming and heartbreaking all wrapped into one.

9780091953126And it’s a weird combination, one that leaves you closing the final page wondering if you feel sad at the heartbreak the world contains, or empowered because these things challenge us, test us and show us how wonderful and brave we can be. In fact, my head was spinning with the mini-argument I was having with myself as to whether I should be feeling like I enjoyed a book with such tender and delicate themes.

This is because ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is centred around a nurse working in a hospice, looking after those nearing the end of their lives and those recuperating from serious illnesses. Through our nurse – Stella – we meet Hope and Hugh as well as various other characters, the former a 21-year-old with cystic fibrosis recovering from a near-death illness, the latter a man clueless about his own turbulent history who becomes embroiled in Stella’s night-time activities of writing final letters to loved ones on behalf of her patients.

Letters are beautiful things and a medium that suits issues so close to the heart. They are well interspersed in the novel to punctuate the happy, the sad and everything in-between, lightening and darkening the scene whenever needed. It’s a method I absolutely loved, and I wanted more letters: call it an odd sense of voyeurism, but it’s fascinating to consider yourself as getting an insight into something so unknowable as the human mind.

Hope’s story was just that: one of hope and unending potential, no matter how hard life treats you. In places it was full of cringey post-adolescence angst, but this wasn’t a negative: it was one of those moments where you roll your eyes cringing because you sit there going ‘oh God, I did that, I was once that daft/naive/embarrassing’ – it’s that warm embarrassing feeling of nostalgia in your tummy, and seeing it through Hope intensifies it because of her shortened life span and her need to work through to the other side of her problems to enjoy life while she can.

Hugh’s story is equally one we all recognise: who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we like we are? He’s written expertly; straightforward and affable, allowing us to go on the journey with him and reflect on why we are where we are. Throw in a romance and, heck, Hugh’s a vision of what we might want in the world: to be loved, to understand ourselves, to be able to move forward.

My favourite story though, by a country mile, was Stella’s. Her husband Vincent is critically wounded on tour in Afghanistan and struggles to adapt to civilian life and living whilst his friend died in the line of duty. Seeing Stella tip-toe around, trying to do the right thing but constantly being told it’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking and it’s all you can do not to scream at her to run fast and run far to save herself from the effects of the blast. She’s tired, near defeat and trying to do right by everyone, neglecting herself: haven’t we all known that feeling? She’s bold and brave, weak and frail, and it’s why you fall in love with her – she’s the epitome of what it is to be human. I adored her, her storyline and how the world unfolded for her.

Without gushing any further, what I promise you if you pick up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is sadness tinged with hope, hope that is filled with unease and promise all at once, and a reminder that life is for living – so don’t sit back and watch others do it for you. It’s a brilliant book and I can’t wait to pick up more of Coleman’s novels in the future.