Review: Death of a Prima Donna by Brina Svit

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The next stop on my Global Reading challenge was Slovenia.  I had some trouble finding an author whose work had been translated into English, but eventually discovered Brina Svit, a a journalist, screenwriter and film director who has written three novels.  Death of a Prima Donna is her second novel to be translated into English, the first being Con Brio.

Now, I confess to having some prejudice against this book before I even began.  The title just kind of makes me shiver and roll my eyes – I have no desire to read about prima donnas in the colloquial sense of the word.  But it turns out that the prima donna in this book is actually a famous (fictional) opera singer, so I guess she is a prima donna in the true sense of the word.  Anyway, whatever.

I really don’t like giving bad reviews but there’s no point in being dishonest.  Unfortunately, I thought this book was pretty awful.  The characters were extremely unlikable and, more importantly, very irritating – a neurotic, crazy, beautiful superstar, a crazy stalker superfan … ugh.  I had no sympathy for any of them and couldn’t have cared less what happened to them.  The timeline is confusing, with annoying allusions to things the reader will learn later (pet hate alert), it is quite repetitive and to be honest, I couldn’t tell you now what the mystery of the prima donna’s death was, or even how she died!

Not all books will appeal to everyone, and this one is just not my cup of tea.  It is definitely someone’s cup of tea, as this has quite good ratings on Goodreads, and Brina Svit is clearly an accomplished and well thought of author, so what do I know?!  Just not for me I’m afraid.  2 stars.

If you have any recommendations for Slovenian authors whose works have been translated into English, or any other translated works for that matter, please let me know in the comments!

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Review: In A Land Of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie

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I requested a copy of this from bookbridgr, and the was kindly sent a copy by the publisher in return for an honest review.  I really wanted to love this book, and everything I’d heard made me think I would …  Firstly – gorgeous cover.  And it’s set in China.  And more than that, it’s set in a boarding school in China.  But unfortunately the story just did not ignite my interest.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why I didn’t love it.  The characters were quite interesting and quirky, but ultimately I felt  they were a group of silly girls.  The teachers were more intriguing, but their part is not huge.  I feel terrible for not connecting more emotionally with the undeniably tragic aspects of this story.  It should be a heart-wrenching story, but it left me feeling … blah.  For some reason I just felt no empathy for any of the characters and I didn’t really care what happened to them.

I did enjoy the setting – the mystical Chinese mountain was atmospheric and quite eery, but again, the setting did not play a big enough part in the story for me.  So unfortunately this one gets a thumbs down for me, and a rare 2 stars – I finished it, and I liked some aspects of it, but in the end it was just not my cup of tea.

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Review: The Deep by Nick Cutter

book review: the deep by nick cutter

Horror is not a genre I’d consider myself well-read in, so perhaps I’m not the best person to review this book.  I enjoy a good horror movie, and scare quite easily, but somehow when I read a horror novel I just don’t get it.  But as it is October, and I saw The Deep by Nick Cutter on bookbridgr, I decided to request it and give it a go.

On the surface (see what I did there?!) this book sounds right up my alley.  A horrible pandemic is quickly wiping out the population of the world and it seems the cure lies at the bottom of the ocean.  Like, the BOTTOM of the ocean.  You can’t go deeper.  Sounds groovy.  But then it all goes a bit weird … there are some truly gross scenes, but that’s different to scary scenes.  The scenes that were meant to be scary … well, I just found them kind of laughable.

I guess with horror, as with science fiction, fantasy and magical realism, the reader must suspend belief.  You have to believe what the author is telling you.  And with horror, I just can’t seem to do it.  I like my sci-fi weird and my magical realism kooky, but I like my horror to be believable.  To me, it’s only scary if I can picture this actually happening.  And I just couldn’t do that with this book.

Parts of this book reminded me of House of Leaves, and those parts were kind of creepy … the claustrophobic darkness, the endless tunnels.  But overall it was a disappointment for me.  I’m sure true horror fans will love this book.  It just was not my cup of tea.  A sad 2 stars.

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Review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Chimes**Dear Readers, remember this is just my opinion – we are all entitled to one and not everyone can like (or dislike) the same books.  How boring life would be, etc. **

I received a copy of The Chimes from the publisher via bookbridgr for honest review several months ago, before it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  I always try to read books I receive for review as soon as I can, otherwise I end up with the guilts, so I started reading this right away.  I couldn’t get beyond page 26.  I gave up.  Then the book was longlisted and I started wondering what I was missing.  I thought about picking it up again but just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.  And THEN I decided to participate in the #bookbuddyathon (see my post here!) and my buddy Charlotte and I decided to buddy read this one.  I thought reading with a buddy would spur me on to finish the book, and anyway I’d heard the book becomes more engaging as you read on.  So there was a mild flicker of excitement about giving it another go.

Hmmm.  I’m sorry to say this book just did not do it for me.  First of all, let’s talk about the present tense writing.  Please can we send a memo round to bring a swift halt to this trend!  I hate it so much.  In the case of The Chimes, I totally get why Smaill used this style – the whole no memories thing, so everything is happening is in the now.  I get it.  I’ll forgive her this.  But everyone else?  Please stop it!  It is alienating and jarring and I DON’T LIKE IT!

The first half of The Chimes  is extremely confusing with all that musical terminology and whatever the hell she’s talking about.  The plot takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to reveal itself (and actually I had to go and read the press release that bookbridgr sent me to have some inkling of wtf the point was!).  The world building is slow and confusing, yet never truly reveals itself.  It’s hard to develop any kind of feeling for the characters because they don’t know anything about themselves, so how can we know anything about them?  Sure, I felt empathy towards these poor souls with no memories, but it was all pretty bland.  Every now and then I’d think ‘woohoo, things are picking up’ but then it would descend into the interminables again and drag on for another 15 pages without anything happening.  Eventually around page 120 things picked up a little and I became interested enough to stay up past my bedtime to finish the goddamned thing (in all honesty, I just couldn’t face having to pick it up again another day!) and then it all becomes very rushed and she wrapsupthestorysoquicklyyoudon’tknowwhathityou!

Anna Smaill is clearly a very intelligent woman.  I guess I can understand why this has been longlisted – it IS creative; Smaill can certainly turn a phrase.  She tries very hard (too hard?) to make this book unique and original.  But for all that uniqueness and originality, there was at least one screamingly obvious turn to the plot which I saw coming a mile off.  I’m sure many people with musical knowledge will find the prose as lyrical and beautiful as it is touted to be.  But I think she alienates quite a large section of the reading population who have no musical knowledge at all (I can’t be the only one, right? RIGHT?).  But the musical stuff is not the only thing I have against this book.  It’s the pacing.  The lack of real explanation.  The random elements that seem manufactured to appeal to the YA audience.  The way a certain something seems to conveniently wax and wane whenever an easy option is needed (sorry, that’s me trying to be non-spoiler there).  Would I have enjoyed it more without all that music WTFness?  Maybe a little.  Maybe it would’ve made more sense in my brain.  But if this book wins the Man Booker Prize I will eat my hat. In the end I was left with more questions than answers – never a satisfying way to leave a story.  Thoroughly disappointing.  2 stars (because I actually finished it and the third quarter was ok).

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The Month That Was: August

August has passed us by and summer is drawing to an end.  I’ve had 6 weeks off work, probably the last time I’ll be able to do this as the kids are now teenagers and don’t need me around as much.  Thank goodness I found my reading groove again!  I managed to read 10 books in August, watched 4 films and 1 TV series 🙂  Here’s a quick roundup.

The Books

I managed to squeeze in10 books for August, the last one ending up  my highlight of the month!

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A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale was an impulse buy.  I went into town to get my haircut at this place where you just turn up without an appointment, but even though I got there 10 minutes before opening I was already 4th in the queue.  So I bought books instead, of course!  I got home and started reading this straight away, and then I pretty much didn’t put it down until I’d finished.  Beautiful writing; I wish everyone would read this book.  This one gets a rare 5 stars from me (my third of the year).

Other books read this month (reviews will be coming … if I ever get my act together!):IMG_7424

  • You by Caroline Kepnes – there’s been a lot of buzz around this book and I had high hopes, but I really didn’t like it very much at all and it was just a 2 star read for me.
  • Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell – I listened to this on audio through Scribd.  I liked it, it was a bit of fluff, easy to listen to with a few chuckles along the way.  3 stars
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler – I feel like this one could’ve been so much better with a little more editing!  Swedish husband/wife duo author, so it fits with my global reading challenge. 2 stars
  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (who I keep wanting to call Ron Jonson!) – this was a fun non-fiction read.  His writing style is very conversational and this was an interesting look at the topic.  3 stars
  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – A German author, so another one for my global reading challenge.  I really enjoyed this story.  4 stars
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Australian author, another for my global reading challenge.  A quick, easy read with a great plot.  4 stars
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – I’d been waiting for this one to come out in paperback.  Wow.  This one gets you right in the heart.  4 stars
  • Blue Is The Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh – French author, and also my first graphic novel! I read this on my kindle through Scribd.  A quick easy read was just what I needed after An Untamed State and this fit the bill perfectly, though of course the subject matter is quite serious.  I really enjoyed this.  4 stars
  • Little Face by Sophie Hannah – I think this was my dud of the month.  I’ve heard good things about Sophie Hannah and was really looking forward to this, but sadly it did nothing for me.  2 stars

What we watched:

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  • First up this month was The Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal … Oh my god this movie was awful.  Slow, boring, tedious, confusing – the ending had us both looking at each other with WTF looks on our faces.  3/10 from Dave and 2/10 from me.  Afterwards I read some reviews and most people are of the opinion that it’s better the second time around and has some deep and meaningful message that you’ll only understand if you research the film.  Well, I’m afraid I watch a film to be entertained – if I learn something while I’m watching that’s dandy, but I’m not going to go and do a load of research so I can understand what I’ve just watched, and then waste another 2 hours of my life watching it again!  No thank you 🙂
  • We then watched The Conjuring and holy moly was this film scary!  It really freaked me out.  Thoroughly enjoyable in that way only scary films can be!  7.5/10 from Dave, 8/10 from me.
  • Next was Dog Day Afternoon.  I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I’ve seen any Al Pacino films!  This film was really good – he is such a great actor.  It was a little dated, obviously, but it was fun to see the 70s portrayed authentically and we both really enjoyed this.  8/10 from both of us.
  • Gladiator with Russell Crowe was next.  I’d seen bits of it before and Dave had seen all of it before.  It was enjoyable, but it kind of dipped a little for me in the middle, and could’ve been 30 minutes shorter.  8.5/10 from Dave, 7.5/10 from me.
  • And finally we watched the first series of Peaky Blinders.  I had heard many many good things about this series and Dave bought me the box set for my birthday in January, so I was looking forward to finally sitting down to watch it.  We were hooked straight away and watched the first series over three nights.  Good story and great acting.  7.5/10 from Dave and originally I gave this 9/10, but if I compare it to Breaking Bad, our series barometer, I think I should probably downgrade it to 8/10 – it’s good, but not BB good!

Elsewhere in August:

  • Natasha received her GCSE results and did amazingly well with 7 A*s and 4As.  Her place at 6th Form College is all confirmed and she starts next week
  • A lot of lounging around was completed – outside in the sunshine when possible, or curled up indoors when it was raining (most of the time!)
  • Here’s the rest of August in a nutshell:
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And now I’m looking forward to September!

What was the highlight of your month?

Mini Reviews: The Crime Edition

As I am waaaayyyy behind on my idea to review every book I read this year (hahahahahhhaaaa) I’ve decided to catch up via a series of mini reviews.  Some of these books were read quite a while ago and I don’t have a clear enough memory of them to write a full review, so I figured summarising my thoughts and feelings in a few lines was a good way to go!  So this is the first in a series of three or four mini reviews.  I still plan to do full reviews of the books I read for my global reading challenge – there will be a new review each Saturday, so keep them peeled for that!

Crime is one of my favourite genres to read.  As I may have mentioned once or twice (!), I have a terrible weakness for a handsome detective.  My main squeeze is Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne (although I have to mention that DS Matt Devlin (aka Jamie Bamber) from Law & Order UK really tops the list.  I was devastated when they killed him off!), but there’s always room for another!

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Fear the Dark by Chris Mooney is actually the 5th book in a series.  I didn’t know this when I read it, and I don’t think it hindered the story at all.  This was a fast paced, punchy thriller.  The writing was suspenseful and the plot had its’ fair share of twists turns.  It was a little bit too cliched for me and didn’t quite live up to it’s promise, but it was engaging enough to earn solid 3 stars.  I don’t think I’ll be reading further in this series.

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I listened to this one on audio and I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d read it rather than listened to it.  There are three narrators in this story, the detective, the girl’s mother and her captor.  The male ‘captor’ narrator put on this silly girl’s voice whenever the girl was speaking and it actually made me laugh out loud.  It was so ridiculous and in the end became extremely annoying.  The story was fairly predictable, the tension was built up in quite a heavy handed manner.  The different viewpoints were interesting, though.  I enjoyed hearing things from the detective’s viewpoint and likes his acerbic views on people.  The mother’s anguish and determination to support her daughter felt real.   I gave this one 3 stars on Goodreads, so I think I enjoyed it more than my memory is telling me! (I read/listened to this back in April).  This is one of the many books promoted as “the next Gone Girl” (please stop doing that, publishers!) and in my opinion this is better than Gone Girl and in fact has few similarities.  Mary Kubica’s  new book is out now, Pretty Baby, and I may well give it a go in physical form.

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Tony Parsons is well known for his contemporary fiction writing, and this was his first foray into the crime genre.   This one is set in London and I was looking forward to a gritty Thorne-esque read.  I read this in February so my memory is a little faded and I didn’t make any notes … The plot was an interesting one surrounding a group of old friends, which I do usually find engaging.  It was a little predictable and I think I guessed ‘who dun it’ which is pretty unusual for me (I don’t like to think too much when reading crime).  The detective, a single dad to a fabulously feisty little girl, is likable and I enjoyed the dynamic of their relationship.  It just didn’t quite pack the punch I was hoping for, and was another 3 star read.  The next book in the series, The Slaughter Man, is out and it sounds intriguing so I’ll no doubt give this series a second chance.

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Sarah Hilary’s second instalment in her DI Marnie Rome series had a lot to live up to.  The first in the series, Someone Else’s Skin, was one of my favourite reads of 2014 (read my review here) so I was very excited to read the sequel.  Usually when I have high expectations I end up being thoroughly disappointed, so I was a little wary … No Other Darkness proved to be a tragically dark, heart-wrenchingly sad and claustrophobic read with an underlying current of menace threading its’ way through the story.  Unusually for a crime novel, I became very emotionally involved with this intelligent and superbly written book.  The characters felt real and Hilary deals with mental illness in its many guises sensitively and touchingly.  Unlike many of her counterparts, Sarah Hilary does not take her storylines over the top, but makes you believe that this could really happen in your town, with your neighbours.  She feeds bits of information to the reader, slowly building up the tension and the plot.  The detectives are multi-layered with stories and histories of their own, and they are all the more likable and relatable for this.  An excellent read and I can’t wait for more!  4 stars.

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The Hypnotist is written by a Swedish husband and wife team.  This one had been on my shelf for a very long time, and I finally picked it up as part of my global reading challenge, but as it’s a crime novel I’ve included it here.  The synopsis promised a lot but unfortunately did not really deliver.  There are some pleasing blind alleys and wrong turns with an ending that I did not predict, but it feels a couple of hundred pages too long.  There is a whole flashback section in the middle that seems to drag on interminably and which, while offering some essential plot tidbits, is ultimately boring and feels poorly executed.  I can’t really say too much without spoiling, but I really wanted to know more about the character who is hypnotised; the hypnotist and his wife were a strange and infuriating couple who drove me insane – I really wanted to bang their heads together and make them sit down and talk and listen to to each other!  Overall, a disappointment read.  I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads, but on reflection I think I might downgrade this to 2 stars.  There is a sequel which I found in the Pound shop for, yes, £1, so I won’t feel too bad if I don’t read it …

Have you read any of these?  What’s your favourite crime novel? And who is your favourite fictional detective? Let me know in the comments!

Coming soon:  Psychological Thrillers