Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

Following my recent holiday, I wanted to provide some “mini reviews” of the books that I read while I was away, as well as the two books I read prior to my holiday which I didn’t get chance to review in full.


The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

the trouble with goats and sheep

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.

England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbours blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in.

In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbours begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realise is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

I avoided this book for a long time when it was released – I’m not sure why, but it didn’t really appeal.  I bought it when it was offer around Christmas time, however, and bumped it up the TBR following the great reviews I’ve seen elsewhere.  And I have to admit, I absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed reading from the perspective of ten-year-old Grace, and I think that Cannon captured perfectly what it’s like to be that age and not understanding everything that people say and do (including the often too literal interpretations), but picking up a lot more than children of that age are given credit for.

Given the setting of the novel in a small cul-de-sac, there are several characters to get to grips with and I was a little worried that it would become too confusing to remember who was who, but Cannon handled this admirably, giving each a distinct personality yet with without resorting to unrealistic or outrageous characteristics.  I loved their curtain twitching antics, and found several reminders of my own childhood, and growing up on a street where everyone knows everyone else, and takes far too much interest in everyone else’s business.

This is a brilliant and often amusing story about a small neighbourhood with lots of secrets, and two unforgettable little girls who are determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on and where Mrs Creasy has disappeared to.  I loved it, and I can’t wait for Cannon’s next offering, Three Things About Elsie, which is due for publication in January 2018.

Rating: ★★★★★


The Revenant by Michael Punke

the revenant

A thrilling tale of betrayal and revenge set against the nineteenth-century American frontier, the astonishing story of real-life trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass

The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is among the company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive.

Two company men are dispatched to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies. When the men abandon him instead, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out, crawling at first, across hundreds of miles of uncharted American frontier.

Based on a true story, The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.

I’ve not seen the film of The Revenant, so I’ve no idea how it compares to the novel, but I really enjoyed this.  I was reminded a little of Ian McGuire’s The North Water (which I absolutely loved) in that this novel is quite dark and brutal at times.  The setting is very different, however, and I loved the evocation of a largely unsettled America where the Native Americans still hold sway.

There’s a fair amount of detail contained in the novel, and I thought that Punke did well to incorporate this information without it coming across in a textbook fashion – it fits seamlessly into the narrative, giving the reader contextual detail without being tiresome.

I recommend giving this a go, if it sounds like your kind of thing, and I’d love to know if anyone has read any of Punke’s other novels – I’m quite intrigued now that I’ve read this one.

Rating: ★★★★☆


The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

the burial hour

Number one bestselling author and master of suspense Jeffery Deaver returns with the thirteenth Lincoln Rhyme thriller, which sees a crime go global…

The only leads in a broad-daylight kidnapping are the account of an eight-year-old girl, some nearly invisible trace evidence and the calling card: a miniature noose left lying on the street. A crime scene this puzzling demands forensic expertise of the highest order. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate.

Then the case takes a stranger turn: a recording surfaces of the victim being slowly hanged, his desperate gasps the backdrop to an eerie piece of music. The video is marked as the work of The Composer…

Despite their best efforts, the suspect gets away. So when a similar kidnapping occurs on a dusty road outside Naples, Rhyme and Sachs don’t hesitate to rejoin the hunt. But the search is now a complex case of international cooperation – and not all those involved may be who they seem. All they can do is follow the evidence, before their time runs out.

I didn’t think that this novel had been released yet, and so I was delighted when I discovered it in the Airport Exclusives prior to leaving the UK.  I love the Lincoln Rhyme series – I’ve read them all, and whilst I haven’t enjoyed the latest instalments quite as much as I did the earlier novels, I still find these to be highly entertaining reads.  I’ve not solved a single one yet, not even through guess work.  Deaver weaves exceptionally clever plots and even when I think I’ve worked something out, there’s always an extra twist that I never expected.

One aspect of The Burial Hour that I particularly enjoyed was the Italian setting – taking Rhyme and Sachs out of New York made The Burial Hour a little different, and it was interesting to see Rhyme unable to rely upon his encyclopaedic knowledge of New York and it’s surrounds.  Not that this stops him, of course – he’s still Rhyme and his arrogance is well earned.  And working with the Italian police also adds an additional element of complexity as they have to defer to the local law enforcement.

If you’ve enjoyed previous Lincoln Rhyme offerings then I think that you’ll still enjoy this one.  If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Bone Collector.  These novels can (just about) be read on their own, but there are references to previous cases, and you’ll miss a lot of the context around Rhyme’s and Sachs’s relationship.

Rating: ★★★★☆


A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

a conjuring of light

The precarious equilibrium among the four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari -begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties.

Lila Bard, once a commonplace but never common thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry.

Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery and the Night Spire crew are attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible, as an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown and a fallen hero is desperate to save a decaying world…

A Conjuring of Light follows on directly from the events in A Gathering of Shadows, which ended on such a cliff-hanger!  Needless to say, if you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, you should – this isn’t a series to dip in and out of, and all three books have been absolutely brilliant, and I can’t recommend them enough.

I’ll be honest, I have slightly mixed feelings now that I’ve read A Conjuring of Light.  Not about the book – it was absolutely brilliant and more than lived up to the promise of the first two books in the series, but it’s done, and I now feel a little bereft that I’m leaving Schwab’s brilliantly imagined parallel Londons ☹

I’ve loved everything about this series – the world, the characters, and the magic system have all been brilliant, and Schwab tells an excellent and thoroughly entertaining story.

Rating: ★★★★★


Thirst by Benjamin Warner

Thirst

On a searing summer Friday, Eddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam. There are accidents along the highway, but ambulances and police are conspicuously absent. When he decides to abandon his car and run home, he sees that the trees along the edge of a stream have been burnt, and the water in the streambed is gone. Something is very wrong.

When he arrives home, the power is out and there is no running water. The pipes everywhere, it seems, have gone dry. Eddie and his wife, Laura, find themselves thrust together with their neighbours while a sense of unease thickens in the stifling night air.

Thirst takes place in the immediate aftermath of a mysterious disaster–the Chapmans and their neighbours suffer the effects of the heat, their thirst, and the terrifying realisation that no one is coming to help. As violence rips through the community, Eddie and Laura are forced to recall secrets from their past and question their present humanity. In crisp and convincing prose, Ben Warner compels readers to do the same. What might you do to survive?

I loved the premise of Thirst when I first came across it last year.  The (rapid) decline of society following some kind of disaster – in this instance, a lack of water – and seeing how people deal with the scenario is exactly my kind of read.  And I think that Warner delivered.  As the water stops and communications break down (it’s not clear why communications have broken down when the water stops, given that these are two separate systems) individuals begin to stockpile goods and to loot local shops.  There is violence, and whilst some individuals come together, it’s very much every man for himself.

As with many novels of this nature, Warner doesn’t go into detail as to why there is no water.  I didn’t find this to be an issue, but those readers who like to have all the answers by the end of a novel may find this a little frustrating.

If I have one little bug bear with the novel, it’s that I didn’t really take to Laura’s character – at least partly because I found her to be a little inconsistent, and she seemed hellbent on sabotaging their chances of survival.  Whilst her wanting to help others is an admirable quality, I don’t think that anyone would do so to the extent of their own detriment.

An enjoyable read, if you like novels focusing on the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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16 thoughts on “Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

  1. Great post, I must get to my copy of The Revenant soon, working hard for the next two months to get my review copies down to under 10 so I can focus on my own books.

    I really want to read a book by VE Schwab, I’ve seen such glowing reviews for her books, maybe I should treat myself 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m trying to do the same, but I seem to get a new one for every one that I finish!
      You should! I recommend A Darker a Shade of Magic or Vicious to start with.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great mix, Jo. I too have skipped over The Trouble with Goats and Sheep but should give it a go. Also I was disappointed with the film of The Revenant (although the acting was great and of course won many awards) but would like to try the book. You have also rekindled my interest in North Water which I read was gratuitously violent and was put off by that. Lots to think about – thanks for these great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I was really surprised by Goats and Sheep – it’s brilliant. North Water is extremely violent, but I did enjoy it – it’s a great story and was one of my favourite books of 2016.

      Liked by 1 person

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