I have read a couple of books by Nick Spalding, notably my favourite “Bricking It”, and have come to expect lots of anecdotal humour, wild slapstick comedy and tongue-in-cheek observations of the crazy modern world we live in. Spalding always delivers, and “Going Green” is no exception. At the heart of the story is Ellie Cooke who jumps out of her skin to save her job, inadvertently ending up in the ‘saving the planet’ camp. Her antics at trying to impress her new eco-friendly (and quite dishy) boss Nolan Reece are at times hilarious. The scenes at the protest march in front of the shopping centre had me in stitches. Ellie may be desperate but she is also out of her depth and all her efforts come across as utter non-starters (at least in the eyes of her colleagues). Yet, she gets her point across to her boss and it looks like she has saved her job. But that’s not quite the end of the story. Expect quite a twist at the end! “Going Green” has a topical storyline, a hapless but in her special way principled heroine and a motley crew of minor characters. The story is told from Ellie’s point of view and is narrated by her. Spalding makes her believable by reducing her language to colloquial with some curses thrown in to spice things up. Perhaps a touch too many for me, but hey, that’s how most of us would speak if our job was on the line.
The premise of this story is intriguing: a young man sends a text message to all his contacts, informing them that he is about to commit suicide. And then he puts his phone on fight mode thus blocking people from replying. This isn’t a typical cry for help, and he certainly isn’t craving attention. He is not interested in the world’s reaction to his news. He is factual. He boards a sleeper train to his truly “final” destination. This book isn’t just about about the main character’s emotional state and his motives; it is also about all those contacts who receive his message and have to do something about it. The title of this book is very deliberate indeed. James’s phone contacts are the collective title character of this book. The moment the message is received and at least partially digested, a flurry of activity follows. A flatmate begins to mount a coordinated rapid response. The sister in the far away Australia starts organising a rescue operation. An ex-best friend changes course and heads for Edinburgh. An ex-girlfriend stops to think and atone. All of the people who once may have hurt James, used or abused his feelings, are united in the effort of saving him. Contacts is a beautifully written moralistic tale about empathy, second chances, redemption and the value of people simply being there for each other. It isn’t a book about suicide. Quite the opposite. I quite liked it that Watson brought the topic up to date, straight into the twenty-first century to show that human interaction may have become seriously digitised but that doesn’t mean that technology dehumanised us and left us lonely and hopeless. I enjoyed Watson’s clear prose. It isn’t emotive. It doesn’t take centre stage and it doesn’t take away from the story and the characters. It treats about emotions by it doesn’t allow itself to get carried away. I also enjoyed the wry humour. A poignant tale about a man and his network of support full of holes but also very many best intentions.
Cassandra Fortune (Cassie) is a civil servant moving in the high echelons of political elites. She carries about the burden of her previous, badly imploded, career and tries to rebuild it in her new role at the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. It is at this point that she uncovers a body of a young Polish man among the remains in one of London’s old “Plague pits”. Another body, this time of a young Spanish man, is found together with Cassie’s pass to the Palace of Westminster. Links begin to form between the deaths, Cassie, the Whitehall and commercial lobbies.
Cassie embarks on an investigation alongside Detective Inspector Andrew Rowland.
Plague is a tight, fast-moving and absorbing crime drama. The theme of the resurging plague is particularly relevant in today’s reality as is the exploration of political power and influence, corruption and dodgy dealings. Cassie’s romantic interest in Andrew Rowland (which doesn’t quite take off) adds that extra human touch to the story, which is both believable and nuanced. The plot picks up pace as it moves towards the dénouement and becomes quite impossible to put down.
Invisible Girl is one of those rare specimens of fiction where you simply cannot skip to the final chapter to find out what happened. You will itch to do that, but going to the end won’t give you many answers. The complexity of this book is hidden in every sentence and every chapter as you press on, page after nail-biting page. You cannot it blink or you will miss another nuance or vital clue which will only make sense later. This book is booby-trapped with twists, secrets, suspicions, misdirection and complication.
Last night, before midnight, I started on 68%, thinking I wouldn’t be able to finish it in one sitting. How wrong was I! I read into the early hours of the morning.
The story is told from the point of view of three main characters, diametrically different from each other, but closely interconnected. Owen is a socially inept, 33-year old virgin who loses his teaching job because of allegations of sexual nature made by his students. Cate Four is a wife of a respected psychotherapist, a mother to two teenage children, a woman given to suspicion and guilt about being suspicious. A troubled teenager with a past that affects her mental health, Syffire Maddox is the psychotherapist’s erstwhile patient who develops unhealthy obsession with the man and starts following him around. At first sight the only thing they have in common is their postal code in Hampstead, London. Soon, it becomes clear that much more binds them together as several themes are being dissected by the author: the deception of appearances, the veneer of respectability, the suffocating effect past trauma has on a person’s life, the restraints of morality the society places on people and what happens when some of us give themselves a respite from sticking to them. and much, much more.
Invisible Girl is a psychological thriller at its best.
Dark London (Volume 2) is a collection of short stories, each unique and distinct, each different and yet all of them have the same common denominator: London. The stories tell a tale of a city that never sleeps, knows how to hide its darkest secrets in the layers of its past, and is made of the tough stuff of its inimitable people.
There are a lot of shades within Dark London, many different eras and a lot of variety ranging from the contemporary and lighthearted cozy crime in Dulwich to the blood curdling horrors. You will find yourself traipsing London on a night bus in the company of highly-principled illegal aliens and you will end up in the middle of the inexplicable, sinister and freakish Gothic show which may not be from this world but it has London written into it.
Suspend belief, bring your own comfort blanket and have a go. You will find yourself devilishly thrilled.
One for my Baby is Tony Parson’s second book. I was sufficiently impressed that I will go looking for his first.
As someone who often struggles to get into a new book I am impressed when I find one that quickly captures my interest. One for my Baby was one of that rare breed of books.
Beautifully written, it intertwines the tales of many lives and covers a multitude of trials and tribulations experienced by its characters. I think that few people could read this book and not find something that touches their own life experiences. Very moving.
You open this book and you find yourself in a world that is bizarrely familiar yet utterly outlandish. It feels like the second coming of Animal Farm. Animals (particularly rabbits) are on a collision course with humans, and if you have a shred of humanity in you, you are on the side of the rabbit.
Fforde’s portrayal of our twenty-first century society is spot on. You recognise the characters, the events and the trends: UKARP, a right-wing party led by a PM going by the name of Nigel Smethwick, a TwoLegsGood movement of middle-class reactionaries, the entrenched perceptions of an “unbridled” rabbit infestation/invasion on the green shores of Britain. We are talking rabbits, the little furry animals native to these isles. They were here before us. They fully anthropomorphised in 1965 and continued to multiply in their usual rampant way. The more they started resembling humans the less acceptable and more inconvenient they became. They had to be separated from humans and ghettoised in a new MegaWarren in the depths of Wales.
This story is hilarious. The world Fforde has created (and based on our very reality) is astounding in its every detail, and it is funny because it is so relatable. There is pure observational comedy there that will leave you with a laugh-out-loud bellyache. But this story also hits a nerve. It is a satire about the decline of our society, the loss of what once was a clear moral compass but has now become a murky moral muddle, about the unrestrained rampage of bigotry and intolerance. And about good people caught in the middle of it, scared, suppressed, but hopefully still trying to do what’s right.
With her mousy brown hair and chubby cheeks, Susan is the rant of the litter. Her two older sisters are tall and pretty blondes. Their lives seem to dutifully follow the well-trodden tracks of respectability. And respectability is key to the girls’ mother, Jean. She is about maintaining appearances to the extent that she is unable to show love or tenderness to her children. Intimacy is a cross to bear, in her view. Jean doesn’t do touchy-feely. She does however mean well in her own special way and doesn’t wish for Susan to make the same mistakes she made (or what she perceives as mistakes). She has the path of good education mapped out for Susan whom she doesn’t suspect of being able to attract “trouble”. And yet, trouble is exactly what befalls Susan when she finds herself pregnant by an undesirable young man, and absolutely determined to have her baby.
Ribbons in Her Hair is a powerful read. It raises lots of crucial issues, such as mother-daughter relationships, respect and morality, motherhood, or the oppressive effect of our societal rules of conduct. McCormick tackles these issues with great sensitivity and authenticity. Her prose is simple and convincing. The themes hit a nerve. She is able to write with equal ease from the point of view of both Susan and Jean.
This is a thought-provoking and inspiring story that lends itself to debate about so many issues that it would make a fantastic book-club read. Highly recommended.
What a ride! The story starts innocently enough: Poppy attends a Christmas party and an old flame bursts onto the scene of her ordinary, middle-class life. It all seems rather predictable. But it isn’t and you can’t glide into complacency. Corry grabs you by the throat and starts squeezing. Her hold is unrelenting. She won’t loosen it, not until the end.
There are two strong narratives: Poppy’s and her mother-in-law, Betty’s. At first they seem to run in parallel (two different timeframes, two different lives) but halfway through the book they become interlocked. Betty has been telling her story to Poppy and at last the realisation dawns why. But it takes time during which you learn about the two women and their very different lives.
I found Betty’s story engrossing from the start, and it became even more fascinating as her story unfolded. It was real and perfectly pitched in the time and the mores of her youth. Poppy’s story makes you want to scream at her. Each time you hit her section of the book, you wonder how much further she’ll blindly walk into this nightmare.
The ending is a rollercoaster of twists and turns. Your heart is in your throat. You just can’t catch your breath between revelations. It was almost too much for me, but then I am of fragile disposition. Gripping!
Brutal, but rather ingeniously devised, murder occurs during the finale of an amateur pantomime performance. The local baker in the role of Ogre is impaled below a trap door as he exits the stage in spectacular fashion. Agatha Raisin springs into action. The list of suspects is long: most of his fellow actors (he wasn’t a well loved man), his widow and a couple of rivals for her now vacated hand in marriage. The murderous spree doesn’t end there, but are those murders connected by the same perpetrator?
While Agatha investigates, she simultaneously hunts for a husband and at some point comes dangerously close to finding one.
As usual, it is a fast-paced, no-nonsense tour de force into the small but vibrant Cotswolds world full of idiosyncratic eccentrics and plain-speaking locals.
Following MC Beaton’s sad death in December last year, I felt compelled to dive into the colourful world she had created in her Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series. More reviews to follow.