All posts by Jo

Madness is Better than Defeat by Ned Beauman

madness is better...

Madness is Better than Defeat is one of the most difficult novels to write a review for that I’ve come across since starting Jo’s Book Blog.  Not because it’s bad book – I thoroughly enjoyed it – but because I haven’t a clue where to start.

In 1938, two rival expeditions set off for a lost Mayan temple in the jungles of Honduras, one intending to shoot a screwball comedy on location there, the other to disassemble the temple and ship it back to New York. A seemingly endless stalemate ensues, and twenty years later a rogue CIA agent sets out to exploit it as a geopolitical pawn – unaware that the temple is the locus of grander conspiracies than anyone could have imagined.

Showcasing the anarchic humour, boundless imagination and unparalleled prose of one of the finest writers of his generation, this is a masterful novel that teases, entertains and dazzles in equal measure.

To say that there’s a lot going on in Madness is Better than Defeat is something of an understatement.  CIA, conspiracies, Mayan temples and Gods, a Nazi, jungle survival, hallucinogenics, Hollywood, and an octopus1 to name but a few elements – this novel has plenty of seemingly unrelated threads, yet Beauman manages to bring them together to create one highly inventive novel that, whilst not entirely straightforward, manages not to be too confusing either.

Told from multiple perspectives and jumping around in time, the overarching story is that of Zonulet, a former CIA agent who is seeking evidence within the large information stores of the agency in Virginia to support his testimony.  The content of his testimony isn’t entirely clear at the beginning of the novel, although the reader is aware that it does in some way relate to the events at the temple, but there is more to it than that, some of which doesn’t become clear until much later in the novel.  I say that’s the overarching story, but there’s another layer to this.  There’s an idea posited early on as the Whelt rule (Whelt being the director of the film to be produced at the temple) which comes to take on greater significance as the novel progresses, and I suspect that, if one were to study it closely enough, Beauman’s novel also conforms to this rule.  It’s all a bit meta, but I’d love for this to be true, although I’d need to read it again to prove the point.

Anyone who has read Beauman’s previous novels will know that he likes to sneak Nazis into the plot is an extremely intelligent, talented, and often experimental author, and this latest novel is no exception.  And I love the humour that he injects into his writing – it’s not laugh out loud funny, but you’ll find clever witticisms in his work that give it a little something extra.

Madness is Better than Defeat will be published by Sceptre on 24 August.  Many thanks to Ruby Mitchell, Sceptre and BookBridgr for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★☆

1 Ok – the octopus is only in one scene, and it’s quite early in the novel, but I’ll never look at one the same way again having read this.

The Scandal by Fredrik Backman

the scandal

As one of the relatively rare specimens of British Ice Hockey fan, I was immediately taken with the premise of The Scandal – published in the US as Beartown – and hit the request button on Netgalley without hesitating, and I was absolutely delighted to be approved to read this.  As much as I expected to enjoy it – it’s getting some rave reviews – I was blown away by this novel, and it’s likely to feature in my top books of 2017.

Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.

For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.

Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.

With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.

Which side would you be on?

I mentioned in the opening of my review that I am an Ice Hockey fan.  It’s considered to be a minority sport in the UK, but I’m a season ticket holder for my local club, and have been watching it for several years now, so (I like to think that) I have a reasonable understanding of the sport.  That said, if you’re not a fan of Ice Hockey, don’t let that put you off this novel, as prior knowledge of the game is not essential, and there aren’t many actual games included in the novel.  Rather, Backman uses the sport as the glue that binds the community of Beartown together, and the thing that they hope might help revitalise their town, which has seen the number of jobs gradually decreasing, forcing people to relocate or commute to nearby cities for work.

The novel opens with the quote in the above synopsis – that is the entirety of chapter one.  I love this opening.  It immediately piqued my attention, and I wanted to know who was involved, and why they were taking such drastic action.  And, I spent a large part of the novel trying to work out who was involved, and why.  It becomes clearer as the novel progresses, although isn’t fully revealed until very near the end, and I had a few contenders in mind at various stages of the novel as to who was likely to be holding a gun to someone’s head.

I loved the setting of Beartown.  Backman gives great insight into the community and the families that live there, which, like most places, covers a broad spectrum of people and personalities, and everyone has faced good and bad moments in their life.  Backman manages the difficult balancing act of sharing the minutiae of the characters backgrounds without this feeling like an overload of information, and I came out of the novel feeling as though I knew all the residents personally.  The Scandal is told from multiple points of view, but they are all portrayed so brilliantly that there is no danger of becoming confused as to who’s who.  Some are more likeable than others, but they all have their part to play.  There are some real standouts in the novel, however, and I loved Benji and Ana in particular.

I was instantly captivated by The Scandal and the mystery which is introduced so early on, and combined with the setting, the characters and the writing, this is one of my standout novels of the year.  And yes, the Ice Hockey helped, but I think it would have worked whatever the town’s obsession was.

The Scandal was published on 10 August by Michael Joseph.  Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★★

This Week in Books – 16-08-17

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

I recently finished read The Scandal by Fredrik Backman (aka Beartown for those across the pond).  This is a novel that I’d read good reviews for, but this went far beyond my expectations, and is a definite contender for book of the year!  Now I just need to find the words to do it justice in a review…

the scandal

‘Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.’

For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.

Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.

With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.

Which side would you be on?


I’m currently reading Madness is Better than Defeat by Ned Beauman, which I’m also loving so far.

madness is better...

In 1938, two rival expeditions set off for a lost Mayan temple in the jungles of Honduras, one intending to shoot a screwball comedy on location there, the other to disassemble the temple and ship it back to New York. A seemingly endless stalemate ensues, and twenty years later a rogue CIA agent sets out to exploit it as a geopolitical pawn – unaware that the temple is the locus of grander conspiracies than anyone could have imagined.

Showcasing the anarchic humour, boundless imagination and unparalleled prose of one of the finest writers of his generation, this is a masterful novel that teases, entertains and dazzles in equal measure.


My next read will probably be Little Deaths by Emma Flint, as I recently received a signed paperback copy from Emma for being her 2,500th Twitter follower, and it’s a book that I’ve had my eye on for a while now…

little deaths

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.


And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments, and please share a link if you do a similar post!

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

did you see melody

When I saw Did You See Melody? on Netgalley, my interest was immediately piqued.  I thought that the plot sounded original, and I think that there’s a great deal of potential in the idea of seeing someone who was supposedly murdered several years ago.

Pushed to breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

I thought that Did You See Melody? started a little slowly, but the pace soon picked up once Cara started to do a little digging into the Melody Chapa case.  I really liked the use of news articles, interviews etc. that Cara finds online to familiarise herself with the case, and I love novels that contain these kinds of documents, as I think that they help to bring a story to life.

However, there were certain elements of the plot that I didn’t find at all plausible.  I don’t want to spoil the novel for other readers, so I won’t go into any of the details, but there were parts where I had to suspend my disbelief.  Of course, this is a work of fiction, and so there is always a certain amount of convenience involved for the plot to hang together, but there were aspects of the story that just didn’t work for me personally.

Additionally, I found that some of the characterisation was quite extreme, to the point of caricature, and I did find that some of the American stereotypes were a little jarring at times.  There was also no one that I really engaged with, and whilst this isn’t always a bad thing, I do think that I might have enjoyed it a little more if I’d felt at least a little bit of sympathy for Cara’s situation, but she just didn’t inspire that kind of emotion in me – at least partly because I felt that she was in a situation of her own making.

That said, at no point did I consider not finishing Did You See Melody? – I think that Hannah writes well, and, certain issues aside, it is quite an entertaining read.  And I did want to find out what happened – as I’ve said, I think that the idea behind it is an original one, and there were some interesting twists in the story which I didn’t see coming.

Did You See Melody? will be published on 24 August by Hodder & Stoughton.  Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review this ahead of its publication.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

all the wicked girls

‘Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.’

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye…

I read Whitaker’s debut novel, Tall Oaks, earlier this year, and I absolutely loved it.  The plot, the characters, the writing, the ending – it was all perfect, and I was thrilled to receive a proof of his follow up, All the Wicked Girls, even though it came with the usual doubts as to whether he could follow up on such an astounding novel.

I found All the Wicked Girls to be quite a different story to Tall Oaks.  It’s much darker in tone, and the atmosphere in this novel is almost palpable.  This is partly due to missing Summer and the concerns that she may have been taken rather than runaway, but was enhanced by a storm that rolls over the town – one that threatens to be huge when it finally breaks.  I loved the lingering threat implicit in the storm, and I’m full of admiration for the way in Whitaker was able to capture the oppressive nature of an imminent storm, and how this added to tension.  It was almost a character in itself, one whose brooding nature casts a far-reaching shadow over this troubled town.

Anyone who has read Tall Oaks will know that Whitaker does character brilliantly, and All the Wicked Girls doesn’t disappoint on this score.  Reading it, I felt as though I could walk into Grace already knowing the people who live there, they are all so well fleshed-out.  For me, Raine was the standout character of the novel.  She’s rather different to the golden girl that is her missing sister, Summer, and I loved her feisty, argumentative nature.  Whilst many see her as trouble (and expect her to end up in serious trouble of one kind or another before long), I got the feeling that she had decided that she couldn’t compete with Summer, and so didn’t even bother trying.  When her sister goes missing, however, she soon gets down to the business of trying to find out what happened to her, helped by Noah and his friend, Purv.  Now, Noah is no Manny Romero, but there was something in the friendship of Noah and Purv that reminded me of Manny and his friend, Abe, and these guys are really sweet.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot – I went into the novel with relatively little detail, and I enjoyed it all the more because of this.  I think it’s enough to say that it’s a riveting, fast-paced story and I rushed through it in order to find out what happened, finishing it in a single day.  And whilst I had several theories as to how it would end, none of them were correct, something which pleased me greatly.  This is another fantastic novel from Whitaker, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

All the Wicked Girls will be published on 24 August by Bonnier Zaffre.  Many thanks to Emily Burns for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★★

This Week in Books – 09-08-17

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

I’ve recently finished reading Chris Whitaker’s All the Wicked Girls, which I really enjoyed – my review will be up later this week:

all the wicked girls

‘Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.’

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye…


I’m currently reading Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah, which I was approved for on Netgalley ages ago!  Better late than never, right?!

did you see melody

Pushed to breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?


My next read will by The Scandal by Fredrik Backman (aka Beartown) which I’m really looking forward to!

the scandal

‘Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.’

For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.

Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.

With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.

Which side would you be on?


And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading this week?

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

yesterday

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?

Can you trust your husband?

Can you trust yourself?

Upon hearing the premise for Yesterday, my initial thought was that the mono (those who remember yesterday) and duo (those who also remember the day before) memory system would make an excellent pseudo class system, and I was delighted when this proved to be the case, especially as it’s so well handled.  Whilst all people keep a diary, there are obvious advantages to being able to remember two days ago when others around you can’t.  And that additional day of memories makes the duos feel inherently superior to the monos, resulting in monos often being treated as second-class citizens.  Whilst being a mono doesn’t mean that you are stupid – you just have to be more meticulous with your diary – you are looked down upon, and certain jobs are biased towards duos, leaving more menial roles to the monos.

This may make the novel sound as though as it has a vaguely sci fi edge to it.  It doesn’t, although I think that there is something vaguely dystopian about the set-up, which I loved.  But, the world in which it’s set is much like ours, other than the way in which memory works.  This set up allows Yap to hold a mirror up to our world however, turning things, if not on their head, then around by 90 degrees.  For example, Steve Jobs’ big innovation is not the iPod or iPhone, but the iDiary to help both monos and duos record the goings on in their lives, allowing them to easily refer back to previous events when required.  I loved these little details, and thought that they helped to bring the world to life.

As with many thrillers, Yesterday has a plot that is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, so I’ll keep this brief.  One morning, a young woman is pulled out of the River Cam.  There are few signs of a struggle, and the police believe it to be a suicide, with the exception of DCI Hans Richardson, who believes that something more sinister has occurred.  And if solving a murder is difficult, then solving a murder within the timeframe of your limited memory is even more so, even with your diary to help you.  Told from multiple perspectives, the plot moves quickly and there are some wonderful twists to keep the reader guessing.   

I absolutely adored Yesterday, and I thought it was a highly accomplished debut – it’s a novel that I resented having to put down when real life rudely interrupted.  If you can accept the premise upon which the novel is pinned – that of limited memories – I think that you will really enjoy this highly inventive thriller.

Yesterday will be published on 10 August by Wildfire.  Many thanks to Millie Seaward for the proof.

Rating: ★★★★★