Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Greatcoat

In the early 1950s, young Isabel moves to a small town in Yorkshire with her husband Philip, who is a doctor. As he spends most of time out on call, she has to learn how to run a house and make the most of the rationed food and is engaged in a private battle with their landlady who lives above them. As she becomes more isolated, she finds an old greatcoat at the back of a cupboard in their flat and sleeps with it over her to keep her warm. From then on she is visited by a young RAF pilot called Alec, who looks familiar, but is it her own memory that makes her think this?

The Greatcoat is quite a sinister tale and fans of World War II fiction will find it very interesting. It is a short book at less than 200 pages, but packs a lot in. I won't give too much away, but you will be willing for Isabel to destroy the coat! A creepy, atmospheric and poignant tale, although I wouldn't describe is as scary!

The Things We Never Said

The Things We Never Said is the debut novel from Susan Elliot Wright. It tells the story of a young girl called Maggie who wakes to find herself in a mental health hospital during the 1960s with no recollection of why she is there. In the present day, a teacher called Jonathan is dealing with the death of his father and being suspended from his job, when a detective turns up to ask questions about some crimes committed long ago, which may be linked to his father...

The book starts promising with the terrifying descriptions of Maggie's time in hospital where the girls are treated horrifically by the nurses and have to endure electric shock treatment. That comes to an abrupt end when Maggie suddenly remembers and we go back further in time to when she moves away on her own when her parents die. Slowly we learn what drove her to severe depression.

Jonathan's story also starts promising and I really feel for him when he loses his temper as a result of constant bad behaviour from his class and he is suspended. But from then on, only bad things happen and it gets to a point when I was almost laughing as yet another tragic incident happened to him. I think two or three of the plot lines would have been enough for readers to feel sympathy towards him.

The detective character, who notices a link in Jonathan's DNA when he is arrested to some closed cases, is very annoying and seems to feel no sympathy towards any of the characters including visiting Jonathan's mum to question her when she has just lost her husband. 

Despite losing its way around half-way through and having a predictable ending, I think this would be a suitable choice for book groups as there is plenty to talk about and lots of characters to dissect. I would have rather read more about Maggie's time in hospital, how she came to be released and find her own way in life. I would be interested to hear what other's think...

Life of Pi

I bought a copy of Life of Pi a couple of years ago from a charity shop and am ashamed to say I have only decided to read it now because of the forthcoming film. It is a brilliant story of adventure with a dark twist with a brave and unforgettable protagonist.

Pi is a young boy growing up in his father's zoo in India. The story begins with some facts about zoology which are really interesting and his father has some novel ways of warning Pi about the dangers of the animals in captivity. Pi also humorously decides to become a Muslim, a Hindu and a Christian and can't understand why family and tutors are saying that he has to choose one religion!

But his faith keeps him alive when the ship he is travelling on with his family towards a new life in Canada is destroyed. He is the only survivor along with some familiar faces from the zoo - a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a hyena and a huge tiger called Richard Parker.

Eventually, Pi and Richard Parker are the sole survivors and they learn how to share a small lifeboat together and earn each other's respect. What follows is a magical tale of adventure...

I loved this book and the delicate relationship between Pi and the tiger. The imagery of the sea is beautiful, but the reality of being stranded is devastating. There are some gory moments which some readers may not enjoy!

The Ang Lee film film seems to have followed the magical adventure part of the story which I wished to believe, so I am really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. I have seen one clip when Pi first encounters flying fish, which is exactly the same as the book, so I have high hopes!

The Mystery of Mercy Close

The Mystery of Mercy Close is the latest Marian Keyes novel centred around a member of the infamous Walsh Family. I have enjoyed previous novels about the different sisters and this time its the turn of Helen Walsh - a private investigator.

Although Helen has lost her job and her flat and is forced to live back home with 'Mammy Walsh' and to take a job from her ex-boyfriend Jay Parker. The job is to track down a member of a boyband who has gone AWOL just days before a huge reunion concert...

I have loved some of Marian Keyes' latest novels and have found them very funny, with a dark edge. But this one just felt like reading some of the ones before. The latest books now seem to feature depression too heavily and there isn't enough humour - not even from Mammy Walsh.

I felt like this book was much longer than it needed to be, I didn't feel anything for the missing Wayne as we didn't know much about him and it was obvious where he was 'hiding'.

If you haven't read a Marian Keyes yet, I would suggest going for the brilliant This Charming Man, Anybody Out There, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married or Last Chance Saloon.

The House of Silk

I have been wanting to read the 'new' Sherlock Holmes novel for a while, but was afraid that it would not live up to the original stories. I was so wrong! This book is clever, thrilling and captures the characters of Holmes and Watson perfectly!

My initial thought was, 'why would a Holmes case only come to light now?', but this is explained really well in the book and all makes sense with the final revelation. This particular story is locked away in a vault for one hundred years at Watson's request and when the shocking truth emerges at the end of the book, you can see why Watson would have had to have kept this story secret and also the fact that Victorian London would not have been ready to deal with such a vile case.

A gentleman arrives at 221B Baker Street to see Holmes with reports of being stalked by an American man who he has previous history with on business in America. His house is soon burgled and Holmes and Watson are sent on a trial across London from hotels, prison, seedy inns and an all boy's school for the homeless to a circus. There are lots of set-pieces which feel familiar from the original Holmes novels and of course all the usual characters are present.

Holmes is missing from the action for a large chunk of the action and we see Watson shine. He is forever saying that Holmes would have seen something different and learnt more from him, but we see what a great partner he really is and how much Holmes means to him.

This novel twists and turns and is very cleverly written. I really had no idea what was going to happen. There is page-turning action, humour, great new characters, a gripping mystery and a real sense of Victorian London. I really hope that Anthony Horowitz comes up with some more forgotten tales of the gentleman detective.