The Girl on the Train

It seems the whole world and her husband has read this book, and having been compared to Gone Girl, my expectations were high. Gripping from the outset, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins had me physically unable to put this book down all weekend.

Three female characters are the narrators of the book, and whilst all the characters are pretty messed up and no one is particularly likeable, at the end of the day they are all human with flawed characteristics. In particular the main character Rachel has some serious issues going on with a self-destructive streak and it’s easy to form a sort of pity for her.

Throughout the book fragments of information are leaked to the reader and whilst it feels a bit slow, it’s pelting ahead a hundred miles per hour – I guess a bit like a train 🙂
I can’t really say much more than this as I don’t want to spoil anything, for those still yet to read…that’s just the both of you then. This isn’t the best book ever written, but it is clever and perfect for staying curled up on a stormy night.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This was my first Kazuo Ishiguro novel, the author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but I knew this book was delving into fantasy – a genre Ishiguro isn’t known for. And, to be honest it’s not really my thing, but I went in with an open mind. As it happens, the fantasy side I found be secondary to the heart-rending emotion that uncontrollably poured out. I’m not generally a book-crier, the only ever other one was A Thousand Splendid Suns and you surely have to be made of stone if you didn’t blub at that.

The Buried Giant is set after the Romans have left and the Brits and Saxons live in relative peace with one another, whilst at the same time it’s balancing on a knife’s edge. The story centres around an elderly couple who leave their village and set out to find their son (who they can’t remember much about) through a land and time which is filled with legends and heroes….and a mist that surrounds the country.

The story overall is a fairly slow paced one, but so beautifully, almost poetically written that it captures your imagination and doesn’t let it go. However for a dreamy, partly subdue book, the last page managed to hit me like a train. This will definitely be a novel I’ll read again, perhaps several times in my lifetime.

Stories from Other Places

We all know that saying, never judge a book by it’s cover – well I’m guilty about that over this book. I saw a picture of this book on Penguin UK Books Instagram page and I decided there and then I had to read it. I have to admit, I’ve never read a collection of short stories, so I was intrigued to see how I’d feel about it. Would I think there’s something missing or unfulfilled? Would I feel a connection with characters over a brief space?

Stories from Other Places is written by Nicholas Shakespeare and comprises of eight short stories that all hail from different countries and eras. The book starts with a novella called Oddfellows, which is set around the Broken Hill massacre in Australia in 1915, a terrible event I’d never heard of before. The story centres around Rosalind a local girl and Gul an ice-cream seller and their friendship and which ends in tragedy for them both.

The second story, The White Hole of Bombay is a heart-wrenching tale set in post-independence India, beautifully written with enough compassion to draw you in and hold you. In all of the stories, Shakespeare brings to life characters and deals with complex emotions, and the stories, yet short will stay with me for a long time to come.

 

The Taming of the Queen

From having read a few Philippa Gregory books, I was staring to wain a little from her so this was last chance saloon. Thankfully Gregory has managed to grab my attention again with The Taming of the Queen, a story highlighting Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr.

Once again the author brings to life the Tudor court, where one minute you could be in favour and the next imprisoned in the tower. I have never known much about Catherine Parr other than she outlived the King – we all know the rhyme and know she survives. But in this story it’s the journey and rollercoaster of emotions that Gregory takes us through that is the triumph.

Well written and entirely engaging we learn about Catherine Parr and how she apprehensively agreed to marry Henry VIII. She had obvious doubts due to past track record – I imagine if he had a bio on Tinder, it would leave most girls running for the hills.

Though Henry showers her with gifts, Catherine has an underlying feeling that makes her feel understandably uneasy, especially as some of the gifts belonged to his ex-wives. Catherine was divided by her duty as a wife, queen and step-mother to the king’s three children, and her forbidden love for Thomas Seymour, plus she was also the first women to be published for her work under her own name. She had a lot to juggle, but then throw in Henry’s temperament and his constant changing mind, it’s any wonder she didn’t have a breakdown. She lived on a constant knife-edge with the knowledge the smallest thing could mean her downfall. And it very nearly did…

I would have loved to have read more about Catherine’s life after Henry’s death, as I know it was pretty turbulent. Although Gregory touches on this in her author’s notes, I felt the book came to rather an abrupt stop, especially when I know there was more to be told. Despite this, I will definitely read Gregory’s next book and look forward to being transported back to the Tudor age once more.

Death on the Nile

I decided to read Death on the Nile after I read the High Mountains of Portugal, as a main character from the book was a huge Agatha Christie fan. Now I must confess, I am a Christie virgin, and the closest I ever got to her was watching a few episodes of Poirot (the theme tune still haunts me) back in the early 90’s. I now completely get why her writing is so popular, I was gripped from start to finish.

Christie introduces us to all the characters wonderfully, and as you know who will get killed, you can start to suspect everyone straight away – for everyone has a motive and reason. Dun…dun….daaaaaah. Hercule Poirot is throughout the novel a smug little so and so, and would irritate me immensely if I ever met him on holiday and I’d probably end up being the first person he’d question. But to be fair, the poor guy just wanted a relaxing break to unwind and it ends up being a busman’s holiday for him, so I won’t lay into his pompardidness too much.

As the title suggests, the book is set on a Nile Cruise, it’s a shame I didn’t feel the surroundings in Egypt where given much focus or description other than a few lines here and there. It could well of been Death on the Nene.

So, to the ‘whodunnit’… the juicy bit. There are curve-balls and twists all over the place which makes the idea of actually ‘putting the book down’ an absurd idea. You have to keep reading until Poirot finally reveals the murderer and the reason.
Just scandalous dahling.
I absolutely loved this book and it will not be my last Agatha Christie for sure.

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The High Mountains of Portugal

After watching Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi, on BBC Breakfast talking about his new book, I was instantly captivated by him. Yann talked about how he found out the former Canadian Prime Minister (not the current pin-up one) didn’t read fiction, so he sent him a range of books over the course of four years, and never once received an acknowledgment from him. However from the blue, he received a personal, hand-written note from Barack Obama after he read the Life of Pi telling him how much he enjoyed it.
From the short interview he gave, I knew I had to read this book and luckily for me, I bagged myself a signed copy too.

The High Mountains of Portugal – If it’s journey you want, it’s a journey you’ll get. A magic and bizarre one.

The book is made up of three separate stories that and interlinked. Part One is called Homeless, set in 1904 and features a man called Tomas, who practices a grief-stricken quirk everywhere he goes. Strange, but guaranteed you will try this quirk yourself – not in public, but perhaps to the kitchen. You’ll understand after you’ve read it. We follow him as he discovers a journal of a 17th century priest which takes him to the high mountains of Portugal in one of the first cars in Europe.

Part Two is Homeward. Set in 1938, this entire chapter takes part on one night, New Year’s Eve. A Portuguese pathologist and his wife talk in his office comparing Agatha Christie novels to  Jesus. She then leaves, and someone else arrives…..
I finished this part asking myself the simple question – wtf? wt actual f? Granted, the book takes a ‘weird’ turn. But not weird for the worst necessarily.

The final part, Home is set around a Canadian senator who misses his deceased wife terribly. He decides to move to a village in the high mountains of Portugal (aptly enough), where his parents were originally from. He brings along with him a beautiful character, a chimp called Odo, and here concludes and entwines the three stories.

After I finished the book, I wanted to talk to someone else who had read it just to clarify a point or several. The High Mountains of Portugal is a wonderfully odd and full of the unexpected. If you have any thoughts on this book, I’d love to hear them!