All posts by Jo

Will to Live by Rachel Amphlett

will to live

Will to Live is the second novel in the DS Kay Hunter series by Rachel Amphlett, and follows on from Scared to Death.  You can see my review of Scared to Death here, as well as a Q&A with Rachel.  I have to admit that Rachel very kindly sent me a digital copy of Will to Live in March (!), but I’ve only just got around to reading and reviewing it.  Apologies, Rachel!

Reputation is everything.

When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as ‘Suicide Mile’, it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realises the railway’s recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.

When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realises the killer’s timetable has changed, and she’s running out of time to stop him…

I read the synopsis of Will to Live when Rachel first sent me a copy, but I went in blind having completely forgotten what it was about, and unwittingly started reading this on a long train journey, which made for a slightly surreal experience!

Set a short time after the events in Scared to Death, Will to Live sees Kay Hunter and her team investigating an apparent suicide, which very quickly becomes a murder investigation and a race against time to stop a serial killer in his tracks (sorry) before he kills again.  As if this isn’t enough, Hunter has also begun to investigate a previous case which resulted in her temporary suspension and a professional standards investigation.  Whilst she was exonerated, it has had a lasting impact, not least because one of her superior officers, DCI Larch, no longer trusts her, and has prevented her from being promoted as a result.

I love the characterisation in these novels.  All are detailed sufficiently for their level of involvement, and Kay is a wonderful, complex character that you want to cheer on, and to stand up for when Larch is having a dig at her, which he does whenever he’s in the same room as her.  I also really enjoy the relationship she has with her partner, Adam, and I love the slightly comedic scenes between the two, particularly when he brings his work home with him, which, given he’s a vet, has resulted in some slightly unusual visitors in their house!  I think it’s really refreshing to see that their unusual working hours don’t cause any rifts between them, and to see that they are happy together.

As with Scared to Death, Amphlett has an absolutely killer (pun intended) opening chapter.  It’s incredibly tense, and sets the reader up for an exciting, fast paced read that will leave you wanting more.  Luckily, book 3 – One to Watch – is out now (and I’ll be reviewing it within the next few days) and book 4 – Hell to Pay – is out in November.  As the second novel in the series, this could be read as a standalone, but I do think that you will get more out of it by reading Scared to Death first.  You will have a better understanding of the characters, and whilst the main cases aren’t linked, there is the backstory which flows through both.

Many thanks to Rachel for providing a digital copy, and apologies again that it’s taken me so long to get to it!

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


This Week in Books – 25-10-17

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

The last books I finished was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, which I read as part of Dewey’s readathon.  I absolutely loved it!  Regular readers will know that I love mythology, and so this book, in which Gaiman tells some of the key stories from Norse myth in his own wonderful way, was perfect for me.

norse mythology

The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, bestselling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive on the page – irascible, visceral, playful, passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarok and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern readers and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be read aloud around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

My current read is Before This is Over by Amanda Hickie, which details one woman’s efforts to save her family when an epidemic hits Sydney.

before this is over

A normal family. A quiet, leafy street. A terrifying epidemic.

It’s been coming for a while: a lethal illness. With sons of five and fourteen to look out for, Hannah has been stockpiling supplies, despite everyone telling her that it’s unnecessary.

Then it arrives.

At first there are a few unconfirmed cases. Then a death. Now the whole city is quarantined. But Hannah’s family is not yet safe behind their locked front door…

Basics soon become luxuries, and neighbours become hazards. There are power cuts, food shortages and an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia. How will the family cope?

How would you cope?

How far would you go to protect your children?

My next read is likely to be ZENKA by Alison Brodie.


Devious, ruthless, and loyal.

Zenka is a capricious Hungarian with a dark past.

When cranky London mob boss, Jack Murray, saves her life she vows to become his guardian angel – whether he likes it or not. Happily, she now has easy access to pistols, knives and shotguns.

Jack discovers he has a son, Nicholas, a male nurse with a heart of gold. Problem is, Nicholas is a wimp.

Zenka takes charges. Using her feminine wiles and gangland contacts, she will make Nicholas into the sort of son any self-respecting crime boss would be proud of. And she succeeds!

Nicholas transforms from pussycat to mad dog, falls in love with Zenka, and finds out where the bodies are buried – because he buries them. He’s learning fast that sometimes you have to kill, or be killed.

As his life becomes more terrifying, questions have to be asked:

How do you tell a mob boss you don’t want to be his son?

And is Zenka really who she says she is?

And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Autumn by Ali Smith


Ali Smith’s Autumn was the fifth book I read from this year’s Booker shortlist.  I’ve not read her previous works – I tried How to be Both which won the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction in 2015, but didn’t finish it, and so it was with some trepidation that I started Autumn.

Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art (via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery), Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.

Autumn is the first instalment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

This is a difficult book to review, which is at least partly because a) I felt that I didn’t entirely got what it was trying to do, and b) I didn’t particularly enjoy it, which is undoubtedly connected to point a).

The main element of the plot focusses on the platonic relationship between Elisabeth and Daniel, or Mr. Gluck.  Daniel was Elisabeth’s neighbour when she was a little girl, and became a de facto babysitter when her mother was absent, despite her mother’s concerns about an elderly gentleman taking such interest in a young girl (it’s not that kind of book).  In the present day, Daniel is in a care home and in a period of prolonged sleep, and Elisabeth visits him and reads to him as often as she can.

It’s told out of sequence, and jumps between the present day and Elisabeth’s childhood, and whilst I don’t normally mind novels that move around in time, this one never really came together to form a strong narrative.  It’s more a series of vignettes focussed on these two characters, as well as snapshots of Brexit Britain and the state of the nation in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, with some art history thrown in for good measure.  As such, the story never really gets going, and Elisabeth and Daniel weren’t fleshed out enough for me to feel invested in either of them.

Autumn has been hailed as the first Brexit novel, and it was published very shortly after the referendum (October 2016, I think).  I liked Smith’s description of the country following the vote, of which this is a small sample:

All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing.  All across the country, people felt it was the right thing.  All across the country, people felt they’d really lost.  All across the country, people felt they’d really won.

Given the extremely close result, I do feel that this sums it up quite nicely.  Similarly, I thought that Elisabeth’s choice of reading material – Brave New World, at one point – was cleverly done, if not entirely subtle.

So, whilst there were aspects of Autumn the I did enjoy, in particular Smith’s clever wordplay and the poetic nature of the prose, I felt that the overall result lacked cohesion, and whilst I know that some readers loved it, this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐

Readathon Closing Survey

It’s done! 😀

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

For me it was hour 17, which was when I got up at around 5:15 AM to get back into reading.  I just wanted more sleep!  A shower and a few strong coffees helped, though, and I got through it!

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

My reading list changed quite bit during the event, but I managed to read around 1,200 pages over the 24 hours.

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?

I definitely recommend Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and Avril Joy’s Sometimes a River Song, which is a little harrowing, but incredibly captivating.  And I loved the gothic aspect of Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie.

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile?

Just keep doing what you do!  I love readathon and the community element, which you can be as involved in as much or as little as you want to – I think it’s great that a group of like-minded people from all over the world can get involved in the event at the same time.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?

Very likely!  I can’t do it twice a year, but I do try to do either the April or the October readathon, depending what’s going on that weekend.  And I wouldn’t mind helping to organise and prep next time round 🙂

Readathon – Hour 1 – Opening Survey

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I’m in Nottingham, in the UK.  It’s reasonably bright (you know, for Britain) but quite blustery!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

the eleventh letter

The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

A difficult one, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some chocolate chip shortbread cookies later 🙂

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m Jo, and I’ve been blogging for a little over two years, but I’ve always been an avid reader, even as a child.  I like to read a variety of different types of novel, but I do particularly like dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

This is my third readathon, and I think I need to factor in more regular breaks and a bit of time to get up and move around during the event.  I’ve said it before, but I’m really not very good at following my own advice!

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon – Oct 2017

This weekend I’ll be taking part in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon which is an event that is held twice a year in April and October and that is open to readers worldwide (there’s still time to join up if you’re interested!)

It starts at 1pm UK time, and runs for (you guessed it) 24 hours.  Having done this event twice before (April 2015 and April 2016), I’ve not yet managed to read for the whole period, and I won’t be able to this time, either, not least because I’ve got an ice hockey match to go to on Saturday evening.  I normally aim for around 16 to 18 hours of reading time, which is feasible yet challenging.

If you are considering taking part, don’t feel like you have to read for the whole period – this is ultimately meant to be a fun event, so just do what you can.  For me, the hardest parts are the night-time hours – from hour 10 or so in the UK – and the last couple of hours, by which time I’ve usually had enough.  The best advice I can give is that it does help to plan strategic breaks, to get up and walk around regularly, and to make sure you’ve got plenty of good food and snacks available 🙂

It’s not essential, but I like to have a theme for the books I read during readathon, but it has to be a broad enough category to allow for plenty of variety, as I think that reading so much in a short period of time would get dull VERY quickly if the books were too similar.  This year I’ve chosen a theme of indie publishers, and my current plan is to read through the following titles:

I may not get through all of them, and I have several back up options available in case any of these isn’t working for me on the day, but reading these six would total ~1,200 pages.  Eeeek!  I’ll try to provide updates on my progress throughout the weekend – wish me luck!

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1

I love novels that look at what might have happened had this happened instead of that, or if a different decision had been made, and so I was instantly intrigued when Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 appeared on the long list for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plot of each Ferguson’s story rushes on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid twentieth-century America. A boy grows up-again and again and again.

As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written 4 3 2 1 is an unforgettable tour de force, the crowning work of this masterful writer’s extraordinary career.

Structurally, 4 3 2 1 is surprisingly (deceptively) straightforward.  The first chapter (1.0) gives you the background on Ferguson’s family, focusing mainly on his grandparents and parents, how they met, when they married, etc.  From there, chapters 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 cover the four different versions of Ferguson’s childhood, before moving on in 2.1, 2.2, etc.  It’s worth knowing that the x.1 chapters always feature the same version of Ferguson, and this should have made it easier to keep track of which one was which, I still had to remind myself what had happened to each in the previous chapter.  To add to the confusion, some characters appear in multiple versions of Ferguson’s life, and in varying capacities – his girlfriend in one version might be his cousin in another, for example, and because of the similarities, it is easy to get the tales mixed up.

The first chapters in the novel (the 1.x chapters) are quite similar, and cover his life as a small child.  Those chapters all end quite differently, however, and set the tone for what comes next in his life as these four paths begin to diverge, and by the end of the novel, the four Fergusons find themselves in quite different places and / or circumstances.  I would struggle to pick out a preferred narrative of the four however – I found them all to be entertaining and engaging in their own way.  Some are happier than others, but each Ferguson goes through his own highs and lows at different times.

Going into this novel, I was expecting it to cover a longer span of Ferguson’s life.  Having finished it, I understand why it doesn’t, but I was a little surprised that it spent so much time on his late teens, and ends with Ferguson in his twenties.  A lot happens to Ferguson (all the Fergusons) in that time, and it uses the momentous (and often calamitous) events as a backdrop to his story – those moments that you’ll always remember where you were when IT happened.

The danger with this kind of novel is that it becomes repetitive, and I did feel that I was covering familiar ground at times.  There is a nice little twist at the end, however, which I didn’t see coming, and overall, I really enjoyed this novel.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐