Author Archives: ruth72

About ruth72

I read. A lot.

Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Ronit Krushka left behind her Orthodox Jewish community in London and moved to New York when she was 18.  In New York, she became a successful businesswoman, with a less than successful love life.  When her father dies, she has to go back to London and face her past.  Her wise-cracking, provocative manner shocks the community in which she grew up, but Ronit finds that she is not above being shocked by what she discovers both about herself and her former best friends Dovid and Esti…

Disobedience is a fascinating novel, which as well as being an entertaining account of three people facing their past (and their present), also offers an insight into the world of Orthodox Judaism.  In each chapter there is a short reading from the Torah, with an explanation of it’s meaning.  From there, the narrative switches between the third person, giving an objective view of what is happening, and Ronit’s first person narrative in which she describes events from her viewpoint.

The three main characters – Ronit, Dovid and Esti are all very well drawn and fully rounded characters.  Although Ronit is the only one of the three to narrate parts of the story, I felt that we got to know them all equally.  The peripheral characters were also depicted very well.  I really liked Ronit – her behaviour was sometimes deliberately outrageous or unfair – but her motives for this were explained in her own quick witted way.  I also thought Esti was a very interesting and somewhat enigmatic character.

The writing itself flowed well, weaving the different parts of the story together very well.  I enjoyed reading about the Jewish traditions and way of life, and how it was for someone who had formerly lived in that community to feel like an outsider.

Overall, an enjoyable book and an author I will definitely be keeping an eye open for in future.

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Mia is 17, and has everything to live for.  She has an amazing talent for playing cello, a chance to go to Juilliard Performing Arts Conservatory in NYC, a loving family and a wonderful boyfriend.  But then there’s a car crash.  And Mia suddenly sees herself lying in a hospital bed in a coma, near to death.  As her family, friends and boyfriend gather around, while the doctors and nurses try to mend her broken body, Mia realises that she has a choice to make.  Should she stay, or should she go?  It’s the only choice that Mia has to make…but it’s the only one that matters…

Well – WOW!  This was a fantastic book.  It’s aimed at young adults (apparently), but I will ruefully admit that I do not fall into that category and I loved it.  I think it’s a book that would have a very wide appeal.

The narrator is Mia herself, who is able to observe herself in the hospital and see the actions of her friends and family who are all so devastated at what has happened.  She is a fabulous narrator, and a character who I really grew to care about.  Indeed, all of the characters were beautifully drawn, and very believable.  I thought Mia’s family were fantastic, and her boyfriend Adam and best friend Kim could have been people I knew in college!

There are two timelines running through the book – the time that Mia is in hospital where she is able to see her broken and bruised body and observe what is happening to her; and the story of Mia’s life, and specifically her relationships with Adam, Kim and her family.  The two timelines meshed well, and never got confusing.  Mia’s questioning of herself over whether she should stay (in this life) or let go and let herself die is totally believable.  It’s not often that a book moves me to tears, but this one did.

The writing flowed beautifully – not once did I feel bored – I just wanted to know what would happen next, and what would happen to this strong, intelligent and sweet character.  I felt that the author allowed the reader to completely see into the Mia’s thoughts, and in doing so, she has written a beautiful, uplifting, yet sad book. I’m not spoiling the ending for anyone, so if you want to know what happens, you’ll have to read this book for yourself.  I would certainly recommend it very highly!

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The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

In 1909, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, accompanied by fellow psychologist Carl Jung, came to New York to deliver lectures on psychoanalysis to a University.  But he quickly finds himself becoming embroiled in the case of two young society girls in the city who have been viciously assaulted.  Elizabeth Riverford was found dead, having been strangled, in her apartment.  Nora Acton survived, but barely and was unable to recall who had attacked her or what exactly had happened.

Stratham Younger, a protegee of Freud’s, is given the job of psychoanalysing Nora and uncovering what happened to her – and most importantly, who attacked her.  In doing so, he employs some of Freud’s controversial methods – but will they work?

I am in two minds about this book.  I certainly thought the writing was very eloquent and evocative of the time in which it was set.  Woven into the story was some of the history of New York City, and how it came to be the vibrant and exciting city which we know it as today.  I enjoyed these parts, and thought that the descriptions of the city were excellent.  The author has clearly done some very thorough research.

The murder mystery was an interesting story, with plenty of twists and turns; it perhaps did get a little too convoluted towards the end, but there was plenty to keep me guessing, and just when I thought I had it all worked out, something would happen which would start me wondering all over again!  I certainly could not have guessed the ending.

There was another storyline concerning Freud’s lectures and the fact that someone is determined to stop both the lectures themselves, and Freud’s ideas from getting into the mainstream consciousness.  This held my attention slightly less, but was still intriguing.

I did enjoy the book for the main part, but a big problem for me was that I felt that the reader needed to invest somewhat in Freud’s theories, and I found that quite difficult to do.  I was quite aghast at some of the methods which Stratham Younger applied during the therapy which he administered to Nora, and found that it actually left me feeling slightly uncomfortable.

The book is narrated in part by Younger, and partly in the third person.  While all of the characters were very well developed, I found Younger hard to relate to.  My favourite character was a Policeman named Littlemore, who, together with the city coroner, was investigating the murder and attack.  Littlemore was delightful – very believable and likeable.  (He apparently features in Rubenfeld’s next novel, and that alone, would be enough for me to read it.)  The story moves along at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns, and I would probably recommend it to fans of the genre.

Overall, this is an interesting look at New York City in the early 1900s, and well worth reading for anybody interested in the life or work of Sigmund Freud, although the author acknowledges that he has taken liberties with timelines etc.

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e squared by Matt Beaumont

e squared is the story of just over a month in the offices of Meerkat360, a very ‘cutting edge’ advertising agency in London.  It’s told entirely through the emails, text messages, MSN conversations and blogs of various members of staff, with the odd news article included.

Some of the main characters are David Crutton (‘The Man’, who really would prefer to be called by his proper job title of Managing Director); his long suffering wife Janice; Ted Berry (‘MC Ideaz’, head of the creative department); Liam O’Keefe, member of the creative department team, who is heavily in debt, deeply offensive (and funny) and descending into bankruptcy; and Harvey Harvey, Dr Who fanatic who is so naive that he responds to spam mail.

Because of the style in which the story is told, the reader is fed bits and pieces which fit together to form complete pictures of what is happening.  Most of the characters are caricatures, but they have elements of their personalities which everyone who has ever worked in an office environment will surely recognise.

Some of the main stories include Liam’s money and relationship problems, David’s marriage problems, some very trivial gossip between Suzi Judge-Davis-Gaultier and Milton Keane (two PAs at the company) and the company’s attempt to produce a cigarette campaign promoting the product as a healthy addition to anyone’s lifestyle.

Perhaps due to the fact that we only get to know the characters through their electronic communications, it’s sometimes hard to empathise with them.  However I did warm to the characters of Harvey Harvey and Liam.  I also liked David’s long suffering assistant Dotty, who was incredibly dense, but very sweet.  Suzi and Milton were irritating beyond belief, although this was presumably intentional.

The book certainly made me dissolve into giggles on several occasions.  Some parts were completely outlandish, but that didn’t bother me – after all, it is satire.

The only sections of the book that didn’t really work for me were the blog posts by ‘Hornblower’.  This man turned out to be a former colleague of some of the characters, who has now moved to France and blogs with extreme pomposity about his new life there.

Overall though, a very funny and enjoyable read.

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Carnevale by M.R. Lovric

 

As a 13 year old living in Venice in 1782, Cecilia Cornaro is seduced by the famous Casanova, and becomes a long term lover of his. Their relationship lasts until Casanova’s death. Twenty five years later, and Cecilia is a renowed and respected portrait artist working in Albania, when she meets arrogant young poet Lord Byron and the two begin a turbulent relationship. As Cecilia progresses through life, the memories of her two relationships will have a lasting effect on her.

The first part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship with Casanova. Here, the famous lothario is portrayed sympathetically, as a mischievous but not malicious man, and one who is certainly capable of feeling true love and compassion.

The second part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship – such as it is – with Lord Byron. Byron comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable man, who was arrogant, childish and constantly in search of the latest depravity, with not a thought for how much his actions cause hurt to others.

The book also focuses on how both relationships affect Cecilia and cause her to know herself and examine her life.

The characters are well drawn, and I felt that Cecilia herself was easy to empathise with. The book is told mainly from her point of view (with occasional chapters narrated by Casanova’s cat(!) and a gondolier in Venice), and the first person narrative works well in this instance, especially as Cecilia’s actions may not have been as understandable if described in the third person.

The writing itself is luscious and sensual. The descriptions of 18th and 19th century Venice are beautiful and really brought the city to life, to the extent that Venice itself was almost another character in the book. The setting for the story certainly added to the enjoyment of the reading.

It is clear that the author has done extensive research into the lives of Casanova and Byron, and many true life events are incorporated into this book (although Cecilia and her family are fictional characters). I felt that I had gained knowledge through reading this book, which is always a bonus.

The only negative comment I would make is that I did feel that the story could have been tightened up a little. Some of the events felt as if they lingered on too long, and at just over 600 pages, this was a read which I felt would have been better had it been perhaps 100 – 150 pages shorter.

Overall though, an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend to others

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The Eleventh Plague by Darren Craske

This is the second book in the Cornelius Quaint series, and the events follow straight on from where the first book ends (there is a brief recap of the events in The Equivoque Principle – the first book – for anybody who has not read it).

Cornelius has left most of his beloved circus family behind, to travel to Egypt accompanied only by Madame Destine, the circus fortune teller and faithful friend of Quaint.  In Egypt, Quaint has to stop a plan masterminded by the Hades Consortium to poison the River Nile and cause death to countless Egyptians.  Along the way, he encounters desert thieves, has to deal people who are determined to kill him by any means necessary, and deal with long buried secrets which resurface.

Just as in The Equivoque Principle, this is an enjoyable romp, full of surprising twists and turns – a situation could turn on it’s head very rapidly! –  and like Quaint himself, the reader is never entirely sure who can be trusted.  Our hero is again full of witty quips and smart asides, and I found myself rooting for him all the way through.  He and Madame Destine actually find themselves separated for a large portion of the story, and the opportunity is taken for both characters to be explored further.  (This was particularly welcome to me in the case of Destine, as she was the one character I found hard to warm to in The Equivoque Principle; I liked her a lot more when reading this book).

Initially I did think that I would miss some of the characters from Quaint’s circus troupe, who he takes his leave of in the first few chapters.  I especially hoped that his valet Butter might go to Egypt with him, but he was tasked with running the circus in Quaint’s absence.  However, I actually realised about halfway through the book that I was not missing these characters at all, due to the new characters that were introduced in this book.

The plot is outlandish at times, but I think this must have been entirely intentional – as with the previous book, the book does not take itself too seriously and I don’t think the reader should either.  It is simply a rip-roaring and highly enjoyable adventure story, which will made me smile.  A wonderful bit of escapism – go enjoy:)

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Set during the American Civil War, Little Women covers just over a year in the life of the March family, a once affluent family who have fallen on hard times since the father went to serve as an Army Chaplain in the war.

His wife and four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are left behind, and despite the hard times which they are now faced with, they find ways to amuse themselves, and always strive to be better people.  They take their lonely neighbour Laurie under their wing, and he becomes practically another member of the family.

This book was written for young adults, and I first read it as a teenager.  However, upon revisiting it now some years later, I think I actually preferred it second time around.  Due to the time it was written, some of the values contained within are somewhat outdated, and there are a few religious overtones which will probably be less relevant to most readers today, but despite this, it remains an endearing and thoroughly enjoyable book.

I grew to care about all of the characters.  Each of the four girls is distinctive from the others and each of their personalities shine through.  Eldest daughter Meg is the elegant young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman,second daughter  Jo is a quick witted tomboy who cares little for fashion and decorum, third daughter Beth is gentle and thoughtful, always thinking of others, and the youngest child Amy is sometimes selfish and vain, but very caring and funny.  Laurie is also a terrific character, by turns insolent and mischievous.

Although the book is written in the third person, I felt that the character whose point of view was most closely shown was Jo.  This is unsurprising, as Jo was apparently based on the author herself.  Indeed, Jo seemed somewhat ahead of her time, with her passion for writing, and her desire to stand on her own two feet.

There is comedy and tragedy in this book, and while one chapter would have me smiling, I actually found myself crying at another chapter.

Some books are called classics with good reason – this is one of them.  Highly recommended.

(Note: The next book in the series about the March family is called Good Wives, and is often called volume 2 of Little Women.  This review relates only to Little Women, i.e. volume 1 of the story.)

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The Equivoque Principle by Darren Craske

Its 1853 and something nasty is in the air in Crawditch, London.  A series of grisly murders coincides with the arrival of Dr Marvello’s Traveling Circus, which is the business run own by Cornelius Quaint, ringmaster and conjuror extraordinaire.  Suspicious immediately falls upon the circus performers, and their strongman Prometheus finds himself wrongly incarcerated for the crimes.  Quaint, with the help of a number of his performers and the guidance of his good friend Madame Destine sets out to clear Prometheus’s name – but before long he realises that the murders are just the tip of the iceberg concerning some very dodgy dealings occurring in the criminal fraternity.  And as the mystery unfolds, it becomes clear that the events are related to Cornelius’s own history.  Will he be able to prove his friend’s innocence…and will he manage to escape with his own life?

This is a rip-roaring adventure story, populated with an eccentric cast of characters.  Cornelius is a great main character, who has plenty of cunning, an acute sense of humour and a quick intelligence – all of which he needs to employ to navigate his way through several deadly situations.

More of an adventure story than a mystery, the tale twists and turns, so that the reader is often caught unaware by the events that take place.  The main characters are well drawn, so that I did feel that I got to know them.  Some of the villains are a little cartoony, but that’s fine and all adds to the atmosphere of fun and excitement.  My favourite character was probably Cornelius’s loyal valet, Butter, and I would have liked to have learned more about him.  I also particularly liked one of the police officers investigating the murders – Horace Berry, who was perhaps the most conventional character in the whole story.

This is the first story in a series (of three books, apparently), and I hope that the further installments of Quaint’s life and adventures are as much fun to read as this one.  It’s not completely accurate on some historical details (occasionally using descriptive words and terms that were not around at the time that the book is set), but that hardly matters – after all, this is a romp, not a study of the period.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I don’t think the reader is expected to do so either.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book – it left me with a smile on my face!

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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Rock star Judas ‘Jude’ Coyne has an unusual collection of macabre and grotesque items – such as a cannibal’s cookbook and a letter from a condemned witch in the Salem with trials from the 17th century.  So when Jude’s assistant Danny discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, Jude knows he has to have it.  A few days later, he receives a heart shaped box containing the suit which the dead man’s ghost is supposed to inhabit.  However it soon becomes clear that this is a very malevolent ghost, with one goal – to kill Jude and anyone he cares about.  A terrifying cat-and-mouse tale ensues, with Jude realising that he has to get to the bottom of just why this ghost has a grudge against him.  But what he discovers will mean that he will never be the same again.

Horror is not usually a favourite genre of mine, but this book was enjoyable.  The writing flowed easily and the story moved on at a rapid pace, never becoming boring, and never lingering for very long at any stage.  It is quite disturbing in parts, but never repulsively so.

Jude and his girlfriend Georgia were well portrayed – the story is told almost entirely from their point of view (although the narration is in the third person), so I did feel as if they became well known to the reader.  The only other characters who were really fully fleshed out were a prior girlfriend of Jude’s named Anna – who is significant in this story – and Jude’s two dogs Angus and Bon (and while they may be dogs, they certainly deserve to be remembered as important characters in this story).

The first two thirds of the book were probably my favourite parts – where Jude and Georgia come to realise the danger they are in, and wonder what they can do to make the danger stop.  The story did tend to sway slightly to the ridiculous in the final third of the book – Jude in particular seemed to reach conclusions and take courses of action that had no rhyme or reason to them.  However, the ending itself is very satisfying and makes up for any little niggles I may have had prior to it.

Joe Hill certainly has a vivid imagination and I would certainly consider reading more work by him.  Recommended, especially to fans of the horror genre.

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After You’d Gone, by Maggie O’Farrell

Alice Raikes catches a train from London to Edinburgh, to see her family.  But when she arrives, before she even gets out of Edinburgh train station, she sees something so shocking that she simply gets straight onto another train back to London.  Hours later, she steps out into a busy London road, is knocked over and taken to hospital in a coma.  It is unclear to observers and Alice’s family as to whether she had intended to kill herself, or whether it was a genuine accident.

Alice’s mind drifts in and out of lucidity, and she remembers the events that led up to her being in hospital – specifically her recently finished relationship with a man named John.

Meanwhile, the reader is told about Alice’s family history, and secrets and lies are revealed.

I thought this was a wonderful, emotional book, and found it hard to believe that this was a debut novel.  The narrative jumps between the first person (Alice) and the third person (where the history of the Raikes family is revealed).  It jumps about in time, so only parts of the story are revealed at any one time, but these parts all come together gradually to form a whole picture.

I really came to care about Alice and various members of her family.  They were so very well drawn, with their various strengths and flaws, and it was easy to invest in these characters. 

It became fairly obvious what it was that Alice saw at the station, but I feel that this was probably the author’s intent, as there are several large clues planted throughout the book, and the secret is actually revealed with just short of 100 pages left.  However, there were plenty of shocks, including one that left me open-mouthed, because I simply had not seen it coming.

The writing is eloquent, and while this isn’t a light read, it certainly didn’t feel like a slog either.  I found the book hard to put down, because I really wanted to see how it all turned out.  Things weren’t all neatly wrapped up at the end, but I think that this was a strength, because to have finished the story in that way would have been to lessen the impact of what went before it.

Definitely recommended.

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