It’s time for our sort of monthly feature which reviews various books I’ve read recently. There’s quite a range and I would genuinely say there is something for everyone. Enjoy!
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This book far exceeded my expectations. The simple concept is that it uses strange old photographs to support a story. Jacob's grandfather always talked about the home on the island run by the bird and how he was hiding from the monsters but as Jacob grew up he lost his belief in them. But when his grandfather dies in strange circumstances, Jacob travels to the island to find out the truth once for all. And what he finds there is completely unexpected.
It's difficult to talk about the plot without giving too much away but I will say it's really exciting. The idea of children with unusual powers isn't particularly original but their are many aspects of the plot that are. It's a bit fantasy and there's even a bit of sci-fi in there too. And one of the best villains I've read in a long time.
The concept with the photographs is interesting. The photos really do add something to the story, although at first it almost feels like they are shoehorned in. But as the plot develops they become more important to the story. It would work perfectly well without the photos but it adds something different.
The style of writing is also fantastic, it feels like a fairy tale yet at the same type perfectly captures the voice of a 16 year old American. All in all this was fantastic and original read and I look forward to the sequel. 5/5
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
The final part of the Millennium trilogy is a political thriller, dealing with the mysterious secret organisation responsible for many of the horrible things Salander has been through. But she is stuck in hospital after the events of The Girl Who Played With Fire and it's up to Blomkvist and his allies to prove her innocence and uncover who is behind it all.
Although still a great book, this is my least favourite of the trilogy. Considering it's enormous length, not much really happens. It has a great beginning which ties up the end of the previous novel and goes on to explain the organisation and set up this book's "mystery". By doing this though there is nothing really to be revealed and not much happens in the middle portion, apart from a sub-plot involving a stalker which, whilst enjoyable to read, doesn't really seem necessary.
The book does have a strong ending though with a fantastic court scene and a fight. The threads all close together wonderfully but it still feels like there should have been more, which there probably would have been had Larsson been alive to write another sequel.
A disappointing end, but only because the first two books were so fantastic. It's still one of the best trilogies I have ever read though! 4/5.
Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham
I think this is probably Billingham's best work yet, which is really saying something. Three British couples all go on holiday to Florida and become friends there. On the last day of their holiday tragedy strikes and a girl goes missing. The Brits return home and take it in turns to hold dinner parties for each other but as they return to their normal lives, the memory of the missing girl still haunts them.
Billingham's two biggest strengths are in his characters and his plots. The characters here are incredibly well developed considering there are six main ones and various more minor ones. By the end you feel like you've got to know a whole group of people. The plot is also clever, keeping the couples apart for the majority of the time but bringing them back occasionally where they discuss the latest developments and get to know each other further.
It's a proper who-dunnit. We know it was one of the main six but it's not until the dying moments of the book we know the full truth. But alongside that there's all the sub-plots of the various character's lives and how everyone has issues and complications. And perhaps it shows that anyone could be capable of murder.
A unique idea for a crime thriller and one that plays out excellently. An absolutely fantastic read. 5/5.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
This is an intriguing book which is difficult to set a genre to, though it is most often described as "horror". Joanna and her family move to the town of Stepford where all the women seem to be dedicated housewives. There is a Men's Association which meet regularly but nothing for women and all but the new arrival seem dedicated to their work. And gradually these new arrivals seem to be turning into Stepford wives too.
It's a creepy story but not really horrific. You're left wondering what really happened as it's one of those books that doesn't really answer anything. I find this very frustrating and would have preferred to have a definitive answer. As well as wondering what actually happened, I'm left considering women's role in society and what men really want their wives to be like.
It's an eerie and creepy tale which is well told, though I just wish it answered some of the questions it creates! 4/5.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This book tells the tale of the last magicians in Georgian England. Mr Norrell is a stubborn old man with an extensive library whilst Jonathan Strange is younger and has a much more agreeable personality. Strange works as Norrell's apprentice for some time but it al falls apart when they disagree on John Uskglass, the Raven King, a legendary king who ruled England and one of the faerie countries.
Essentially this tells two stories. One is that of Georgian England, which is fairly historically accurate apart from the magical influence. Important politicians such as Lord Liverpool and Lord Sidmouth regularly appear and Strange goes to help in the Napoleonic Wars and later the Battle of Waterloo. He also is sent to attempt to cure King George III of his madness and becomes friends with Lord Byron. Amongst this major history is lots of minor historical details which really add to the atmosphere and will delight anyone with knowledge of the period.
The other tale is that of the two magicians discovering what magic really is and that faeries are more powerful than they can ever be, as one particular faerie abducts people from Earth and takes them to his faerie land of Lost-Hope.
It might be incredibly long but if you can look past that you're in for a real treat. In style it's very much like Neil Gaiman. It feels old-fashioned but is full of humour delivered in a dead pan style. A hugely enjoyable book which I'm really glad I ended up reading. 4/5.
The Knot by Mark Watson
Never before have I had such mixed feelings about a book when I've finished it. This book is essentially a fictional memoir which pretty much tells everything that happened in the life of wedding photographer Dominic Kitchen. The titular knot comes in two distinct ways. One is from tying the knot what with their being lots of weddings, both professionally and involving family members. The second comes from the knot in the stomach, the feeling of unease or distress that Dominic has. That unease comes from various things and the main is Dominic's feelings towards his sister Victoria.
Yes, this book goes there. I won't tell you how far it goes but the book is essentially about a man's life where all the "normal" things happen but along the way the man develops inappropriate feelings towards his sister. Had I known this before I got the book, I wouldn't have got it. It's not a story I want to read.
But having said that, a book which tells the entire life of a character is fairly unusual. In places it was fairly predictable but there's all sorts of emotion in there and there's probably something in there that virtually everyone can relate to. It's written in a warm, witty style and the end is very clever.
Maybe I just didn't "get" this book. It's well written but I'm fairly underwhelmed by the main part of the story, whilst enjoying many of the smaller plot points. I'm left with a confused feeling of not knowing whether I really enjoyed it or not. 3/5.
That’s all for this edition feel free to share opinions on any of these books you’ve read or want to read in the comments. I’ll be back for Time Vortex on Sunday, see you then!