Thursday, 31 December 2015

SBR's Best Reads of 2015

In no particular order, here are my best reads for 2015. 
Please note: They were not necessarily published in this year,
but read (and many reviewed*) by me throughout the year.

Sally Green's second instalment to the Half Bad series did not disappoint. 
This one is not the kind of hard-hitting dystopia of the first, but still a great read.

I am drawn to novels that explore human relationships.
This one by David Nicholls is about a man trying to make sense of the breakdown of his marriage
and his frustation by the inept way he connects with his teenage son. 

Malorie Blackman's hard-hitting dystopian love story set in an alternate reality where the dark-skinned ruling class are the opressors of a colourless underclass.
It's a tough read but also a must read, in my view.

Tom Reiss' compelling biography about an unsung hero.  Most of us have never heard of General Alexandre Dumas, the real Count of Monte Cristo, but he lives on through his son's fiction.  The General is also the inspiration behind The Three Muskateers.  We all know how famous those books are, and yet in no way as fascinating and compelling as the real thing.

Having read The Black Count I had to read this novel by his son Alexandre Dumas.  Suffice to say, it is easily the best book I have ever read.

Ben Aaronovitch has done it again.  It's crime fiction meets fantasy. 
It's Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter with a dash of Dr Who.   
What's not to like?

Daphne Du Maurier's classic gothic tale parallels that of Jane Eyre.  It is beautifully written and full of intrigue.  Because it follows the principles of gothic fiction, one can sort of see where it is heading, and yet the central plot unfolds in an unpredictable way.

E. M. Forster's classic love story about a young couple who fall in love but are kept apart because of the social class divide.  Lucia has a choice of two suitors, Cecil, like her, is 'old money' while George and his father are on the first rung of the ladder of respectable society.  Who will she choose?

John Green's novel about a high school senior - Quentin - whose perception of the girl he loves - Margot Roth Spiegelman - is somewhat skewed by the fact that he hardly knows her.  When Margot does yet another disappearing act, Q embarks on an odyssey that does indeed lead to discovery. 

I enjoyed this novel and agreed with the general view that it is a good read. This was tarnished to some extent by the disappointing follow-up - Insurgent - which read like the sequel from hell.  Nevertheless, as a stand-alone I am happy to include it in this list.

*Reviews to be published in early 2016

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

**International Bestseller**
Published by: Riverhead Books
Publication date: 12th January 2015
Genre: Contemporary /Crime Mystery

Publisher's synopsis:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review:

The Girl on the Train has been hailed as the new Gone Girl and copies of have been flying off the shelves, making it an author's (and publisher's) dream. But is it a good read?

The novel does mirror the plot of GG.  Both have been described as psychological thrillers - although I disagree.  I accept that they both follow the whodunnit crime mystery route, but with the subject of male/female relationships at the core.  TGOTT has a "chick-lit" like quality about it (a genre that predominantly focuses on the subject of marriage and motherhood in women in their early 30s, and explores their fear/anxiety at not achieving either by that age)*.  For the main character, Rachel, her inability to become pregnant and the subsequent failure of her marriage sinks her into the depths of despair.

The reason the term "whodunnit" exists is because the whole point of the genre is to enjoy the challenge of working it out as the plot unfolds. In this sense TGOTT is fundamentally flawed. I was ahead of the narrator since I worked out whodunnit before the crime was even revealed! (Basically the one you'd supposedly least expect.) The fact that every other main character is developed except that one (until nearing the ending) is a bit of a giveaway.  I found the story far too contrived and with characters too unrealistic to be plausible.  It also lacks the originality and sophistication of GG.

For me this novel reads like fan fiction. It is as though a train commuter, who habitually reads novels on her journey, decided to give chick-lit a rest and give Gone Girl a try.  She loved it so much she became fanatical about it and started fantasising about being a part of it; the  result of which is this novel.  Rachel, is a train commuter who finds herself  trapped in the middle of a "Gone Girl" plot of the author's imagination (poor dear).

This book may be riding on the coat tails of the success of GG, but it is a poorly executed imitation. It was voted Goodreads best mystery novel of 2015.  Call me fussy but I set my standards higher than this.

My advice would be to side step it and read (or re-read) GG instead.

* This distinction is why I consider "Chick lit" to be a sub-category of "Contemporary fiction for women" (the latter covering a much broader range of themes/issues that interest women).

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sooz Book Reviews is coming back

Hello there!

It's been a while, I know.  

I am pleased to confirm that Sooz Book Reviews will be returning.    

Here is what's coming up...

  • Reviews of some of the most popular books out.
  •  A feature dedicated to Dystopia
  •  My top 10 reads for 2015

I've been getting a lot of positive vibes via Twitter, and I can see that the blog continues to be of interest - so thanks for all the support.  

All the best,