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Silas Marner by George Eliot - Review

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

My heart sank when I realised this book had been chosen for December for my book club, because I really don't read classics, like, ever. My main problem with them is when sentences are just so long that I forget what the beginning was by the time I get to the end. Just a few full stops here and there would be so useful! But I am really glad I persevered with this book because I ended up really enjoying it and I think the rest of my book club will have, too. I bought it for just 99p on Kindle which was an excellent way to read it.

So, Silas Marner is an incomer to Raveloe, a village in the Midlands. He is a weaver, and he lives in a tiny cottage on land belonging to the local squire, Squire Cass. The book is set at the beginning of the 1800s. Silas came from the north, but was excluded from his religious community after he was framed for robbery. He has been in Raveloe for well over a decade by the time the book starts, but he's still regarded with suspicion. Locals think he is a bit of a miser. Silas has been saving up his guineas for years and has quite a stash which he keeps under the floor under his loom. He is a strange sort of fellow, betrayed by his community, and doesn't have many friends. 

Meanwhile, there are the Cass brothers. Sons of the Squire, they are all quite lazy and spoilt. The eldest, Godfrey, has a secret he is keeping from his father - that he is married to a working class woman, who is also an addict, and that they have a child. His brother Dunstan knows this secret and threatens to expose it unless Godfrey pays him money. Godfrey has stolen some money from a tenant of the land, and the whole thing is in a whole mess. He eventually agrees that Dunstan can sell his horse in order that he can get enough money to pay his father the missing rent. Dunstan takes off with the horse but comes a cropper... Meanwhile, Godfrey can't do what he really wants, which is to marry Nancy Lampeter, with whom he is in love. 

I wasn't sure how the two parts of the book were going to intertwine, but I was really amazed at how this played out so I don't really want to give too many spoilers. I really liked the book and the narration. Silas is a likeable character even when he is miserable. Godfrey is too, even though he is a weak man who does many stupid tihngs throughout the book. I couldn't quite get a grip on Nancy and I'll be interested to see what others thought of her. In all I really liked this and am glad I got to read it. I'm giving it five out of five! 

Rizzio by Denise Mina - Review

Saturday, November 25, 2023

I got this book from the library because it caught my eye on a shelf end as I was walking in one day! I've met Denise Mina but have never read anything by her so I thought I would change that. This book is historical fiction and tells some real events that happened in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. I don't know too much about her life at all, although I have read another book which looks at the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, but I can't for the life in me remember what book that is, right now. I had forgotten about him, entirely, though. But anyway he is her husband and she is pregnant. They live in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, but the country is changing. There are Protestants who want power, and there's Elizabeth on the throne in England. Mary's child will have just as much a claim to the English throne as Elizabeth because Mary and Darnley share a grandmother (and in fact he did inherit the throne and unified England and Scotland - he was James VI of Scotland and James I of England, if you're not familiar with him). Darnley is a total rotter though and he has sold Mary out. He is jealous of her friend, Rizzio, who is Italian, so conspires with other noblemen to murder him.

Mary is in her apartments eating when the conspirators break in. They hold her at gunpoint and murder Rizzio. He ends up with so many stab wounds that no one is sure exactly which killed him. Mary is obviously hugely betrayed by Darnley but knows she has to escape with her life and the life of her baby, so she knows she has to keep Darnley on side. The other nobles turn on him, next, and they are also interrupted by the city's keepers, who turn up asking what's going on at the palace. Mary has to escape to people who are loyal to her, and she is helped in this by one of her ladies in waiting, whose husband she had recently executed. Aren't old royals absolutely bonkers? I'm not sure exactly what was true and what wasn't in this book and that's aboslutely fine because I liked it and was entertained by it anyway!

The book is a novella, so only short, and the writing is rich, and you can imagine exactly the palace and everything inside it. Denise also writes poetry and I tihnk that shows. The narrative is meta in parts, where the chapter titles tell the reader what is going to happen, and where the prose sometimes says things like 'this will happen later'. I think it's really effective and especially when portraying something that really happened in the past. The book is part of a 'dark tales' series about Scottish history so I think it's really effective in getting that across to the reader. In all I'm giving this five out of five and I would read other things in the same series! 

The Great Deceiver by Elly Griffiths - Review

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

You know I love Elly Griffiths, so I was excited to hear there was another book in her Brighton Mysteries series. As a reminder, these centre on two members of the Magic Men, who were a secret group of magicians and others working on fooling the enemy in World War Two. Max Mephisto is still a magician, but also a film star, and also a lord. He has a daughter, Ruby, who at the beginning of this book has a baby. Edgar is now a policeman and in fact is superintendent by the time of this book, which is set in the summer of 1966. He is married to Emma and they have three children. Emma used to be a policewoman but gave it up after getting married (it was the mid 50s, after all). She is now running a private investigation agency with her friend Sam. Sam is now seeing Max, but no one knows about that. 

There are other police officers around - Bob, who actually doesn't really get a look in in this book, which is a shame, DI Barker, a proper badhead, and DI Clark, who is young and a bit of a dish I think. Then there's Meg Connolly. She's a WPC and in a previous book she had showed how good of a detective she was. She's only young so I did think that some of the stuff she did and that happened to her in this book strectched the bounds of credibility a bit, but no matter. She's from an Irish family and I did also feel like they were a bit stereotypical in this book too which annoyed me. 

So, there's a variety show in town and the magician's assistant is murdered in her lodging house. There are plenty of others from the show staying in the house, but all have alibis. The magician, Ted, is a prime suspect, but he swears he didn't do it. He turns up at Max's house in London pleading for his help. Then Emma and Sam get involved because the assistant's parents ask them to look into her death. Everyone goes to interview several old magicians, including a guy called Palgrave who is now on the telly. He sort of inhabits a Jimmy Savile role in that it's 'known' that he likes young girls and stuff like that. I didn't feel like this part of the story was done in a particularly good way, actually. It felt a bit like everyone was on the 'right' side in it in that they were condemning this person's actions... but did they do anything?

There's a similar thing that happens between DI Barker and Meg. Meg doesn't report it to her superiors which is entirely what would really have happened, especially in the sixties - even now women don't feel safe to report sexual harassment in the workplace! But everyone who learns about it is outraged and I just didn't buy how true that was. 

I did generally like the mystery surrounding the deaths in this book, but the whole thing felt a bit too pat in the end, and a bit too rushed off. For that reason I'm giving it three out of five. 

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna - Review

Friday, November 17, 2023


This was the November choice for my book club so I bought it on eBay for just a few quid and picked it up in early November. I found it quite hard to read so it took me a while. It is partly the subject matter, but it is also because it's told in a complex way. I thought the telling was actually too complex which I found annoying, but I am interested to see what everyone else thinks of it.  We had a special lunch for my book club at the beginning of the month because we were celebrating our tenth anniversary, and it sounded like a few people were struggling with this book. So we will see!

The hero of the book is Duro. The book is set in rural Croatia and the main part of it takes place in the current time, around 2013. Duro lives a pretty ordinary life, living in a shack he made himself, in the village where he grew up. He lives close to a house he calls 'the blue house', where his childhood friends Kresimir and Anka grew up. One day, he sees that some new people have moved in. They are Laura, a woman in her forties, around the same age as Duro, and her children Matthew and Grace. They are English and Laura's husband Connor has bought the house, hoping to renovate it and make a profit from reselling it or from tourism in the area. This does seem a bit bonkers because it's obvious that the area is not a huge tourist draw. 

Duro is alarmed that the house has been sold, but it isn't obvious why. He spends some evenings in the local bar, where he sees Kresimir but avoids him. He also isn't a fan of the bar's owners, Fabjan and another guy. Duro does want to hear the gossip, though. He spends a lot of his free time hunting with his dogs, mother and son (in my head they were Huskies but I actually can't remember haha). Duro goes to meet Laura and offers his services to help renovate the house. He has a lot of skills, and he becomes friendly with Laura and Grace. Matthew is more of an unknown quantity, but I feel like he reminds duro of himself a bit. 

This part of the book is told in the past tense, but then there are bits told in the present tense, which actually took place in the past. This is quite confusing and I wish it had been done differently. Anyway we go back to Duro's childhood with Kresimir and Anka (who are brother and sister). He and Kresimir had a massive rivalry going on and now no longer speak. 

Duro also served in the army in the Croatian war of independence in the early 90s, which is a conflict I don't know too much about actually as I was only young at the time. But it was the break up of Yugoslavia and I did know that it included ethnic cleansing of Serbs living in the area. What happened to Duro and to the families involved are horrendous and were, I thought, told in a brilliant way that really brought it home to me. I didn't quite understand what motivated Duro in some of the stuff with Laura, especially at the end, so I'll be interested to see what my book club thinks about it!

I did think that the book was overly complex and confusing, and for that reason my score is a bit lower than it otherwise would have been. I'm giving this three out of five. 

Unorthodox Love by Heidi Shertok - Review

Monday, November 13, 2023

(Can you see where I broke my tablet? I dropped it about 5am in the tiled bathroom on holiday and it cracked all over - this photo doesn't show the spread of the crack in the bottom left all over the read of the screen. It's still usable but a bit weird, and I was really annoyed!)

I saw an author I follow recommend this book on Twitter (I will never call it X) a while back, and then they did it again when it was 99pm so I took a gamble and bought it for that. I don't generally read romance but I was intrigued by this because of the Orthodox Jewish characters. I might have mentioned before that my undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and I'm interested in all sorts of religions. I don't like fundamentalists of any stripe, but Penina in this book is more modern Orthodox so that was fine. I have read my fair share of fanfiction in my time (and written it!) and I think there were a bunch of tropes in this book that seemed really fanficcy, but that just made me really gleeful! I would like to read more romances in this ilk, so definitely recommend some if you know any!

Penina is twenty nine years old and she works in a jewellery store with her coworkers, Maya and Gina. She and Maya are friends, but Gina is awful. Their boss, Joe, is ill, so he is having some time off. Penina volunteers in the NICU of her local hospital, and their she meets Sam, a hospital benefactor. He then turns out to be Joe's son, and he is taking over the running of the shop. Penina thinks he's hot, but lots of misunderstandings occur and they get on each other's nerves, but this is a romance! There'll be a happily ever after! I very much went in knowing that, but I loved how we got there!

Because there are complications. Penina can't have children, which explains why she's not married at twenty nine. In Orthodox Jewish culture girls generally marry young and have several children. Penina's sister Libby is just a bit older than her and she has four children and is married. Their younger sister Fraydie is a bit of a livewire and is mischievous. Penina has been using a matchmaker (very usual in the culture) to try to find a husband. But because of her infertility, she is matched with some proper weirdos and some men a lot older than her. She's about to give up when she meets Zevi, but I won't say anymore about that bit of the book.

And then there's Sam. The two of them do obviously really like each other, but there's a lot of confusion between them. Sam is Jewish but he's not Orthodox, which is kind of a deal breaker for Penina. But she can't keep away from him! 

Penina also dresses modestly and is an influencer on social media with her outfits. She's really into fashion and I liked this and how it was portrayed, and how she had other people who dress modestly who followed her, like Mormons and Muslims. I loved this crossover! I liked the look at modesty within the Jewish culture. Penina didn't ever really judge how other women were dressed, though, which I also liked. 

I also liked the look at Jewish culture in the form of shabbat dinners and stuff like that. It's really nicely done and well explained if it's a culture that is totally new to the reader. I really liked Penina too - she feels like she can fix anyone and anything because she's got a really kind heart, and also because it stops her thinking of her own problems. I so wanted everything to work out for her!

I'm giving this five out of five because I really liked it. 

Lessins in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus - Review

Friday, November 10, 2023

I have heard a bunch of people raving about this book and I sort of had it in my head to buy it, but then I got sent it in a book swap! So random but so fortuitous as I wanted to read it! I picked it up not too long after I received it. I am glad I read it but I didn't love it, so I would like to know what other people thought of it. 

Let me get into the story of it first: Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. At the beginning of the book she has a small child, Madeline, who is around six. Madeline is having some problems with a girl at school, so Elizabeth goes to confront Amanda's dad about it. Walter Pine is a TV executive, and he ends up getting Elizabeth to front a cooking show, which uses chemistry to explain how to cook. Elizabeth is not a natural presenter, but her show starts a movement among the women of the time. This part of the book is set in around 1960, just as the feminism movement was getting off the ground. 

We then go back in time to Elizabeth's earlier life as a chemist at Hastings University. She met Calvin Evans, also a chemist, and who the university pins a lot of its hopes on. The two didn't get on at first but then began a relationship. She moved in with him and began rowing with him; he had rowed at Cambridge and had carried on. He had grown up in a boys home where he received gifts from a mysterious benefactor which included microscopes and other scientific equipment. Elizabeth had grown up in a cold household and no longer had any contact with her family. 

Calvin wanted Elizabeth to marry him but she refused, rightly knowing that it would mean the end to her career. She is protected at the university by her relationship with Calvin, but the men in her department steal her work and there are forces at work within the university that are conspiring to get rid of her.

I don't want to say anymore about the plot, because I didn't know anything else and there were parts of the book that genuinely shocked me. I will say that I did guess a few of the twists towards the end; I thought they were a bit predictable and a bit tropey, if I'm honest. 

My main criticism of the book is that it's told in quite a meta way. There are parts which are really short - just a paragraph or so - and which are sort of removed from the narrative. They tend to tell the reader what is to come, like "X character found out Y thing because Z", and then the parts afterwards tell you exactly how X found out Y. I'm not sure I liked this approach. I found it really jarring. But maybe it's just a narrative device and maybe it's fine. I found it was too much telling and not enough showing, though, which annoyed me. 

I also felt like the chemistry stuff was overdone slightly, like it was just all rammed in when it didn't need to be. 

A few people at book club had read this and one person mentioned that she didn't like the end, and I do sort of agree with that. It felt a bit trite. 

Interesting book and I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't run out to read anything else by the same author. I'm giving this three out of five. 

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman - Review

Monday, November 6, 2023

So I read the newest book by Richard Osman because as I've said previously, my mum really likes them and wants me to read them so I got to it quickly just for her. I did actually like the mystery and found the book compelling, but I still think it has a lot of issues and I'm not sure if 'cosy' mysteries are really my kind of thing or not. But I read it!

To recap, the Thursday Murder Club are four people that all live in a retirement village and have become friends through events in previous books. There's Elizabeth, who is formidable, and who is an ex MI5 spy or whatever. Her husband Stephen is suffering from dementia, a storyline which comes to a head in this book in what I thought was a brilliant and compassionate way. There's Joyce, who lives alone and misses her husband Gerry, and finds her daughter absolutely baffling. Part of the book is told through Joyce's journal which I do like. There's Roy, a Cockney who's always there for his friends and ready to pitch in when needed, although we didn't get as much of him in this book as previous. Then there's Ibrahim, who is a clinical psychologist although now retired except for Connie Johnson, a drug dealer who the four helped catch and who is now living a cushy life in prison. There's stuff about Ibrahim's personal life in this book which I really liked and thought really fitted in as well as giving us more insight into Ibrahim's life.

Peripheral characters are Donna and Chris, two local police officers who have both helped and been helped by the foursome in previous books. Chris is seeing Donna's mum Patrice; Donna's boyfriend is Bogdan, who works at the retirement village. He's Polish and has a lot of tattoos and plays chess with Stephen. I love Bogdan and I would have liked more of him in this book but maybe next time. There's also a new character, Computer Bob, who is new in the village. 

The main story is about two drug dealers who have smuggled a hundred grand's worth of heroin in to the country and who are using a man called Kuldesh as a go between. Kuldesh is an antiques dealer and he knows Stephen. He turns up dead, shot through the head. The heroin and the box it came in are nowhere to be found. The Thursday Murder Club is on the case, but there are plenty of other people who would like to get their hands on the goods. 

As I said, I did like the story and the mystery, and I feel like I need to spell that out before I get into my criticisms. I had a lot of criticisms of the writing of previous books and I do think a lot of those things have been ironed it - maybe Richard's just got a better editor now or maybe he's just improved as a writer. However, my main issue in this book was the stuff between the drug dealers and other bad guys. They just don't ring as true - those people speak to each other in a twee cosy way that really grates on me. I wish this was just a bit more realistic. Plus there's stuff when the foursome get bunches of bad guys together and just.... bad things don't happen. It's not real! I wish it was. For that reason I can only give this book three out of five... but you know I'll read the next thing Richard writes too! 

Charlotte Bronte Revisited by Sophie Franklin - Review

Thursday, November 2, 2023

You may remember that I read the book about Emily Bronte in this series back in January, and I mentioned then that I had used a voucher to buy the books about Charlotte and Anne. They have been by the side of my bed ever since then but in mid October just after my holiday I picked up the one about Charlotte and read it quite quickly. I liked it a lot but I'm not sure if it told me much new information about Charlotte. As I said in my review of the book about Emily, I do know a bit about the Brontes already. 

However, there was some new information that I did like - such as Charlotte's politics. She was a Tory and believed passionately in a lot of things, informed by the papers that her father read daily in the parsonage. Jane Eyre is often said to be a proto-feminist book but this book makes the argument that it isn't really, because of Charlotte's politics. I found that really interesting. 

I also liked the part about Charlotte's looks and how she wasn't particularly pretty, and how even the picture on the front of the book has been colourised and 'prettified' and isn't thought to particularly resemble Charlotte. I thought this was interesting, especially given how she has been portrayed in films and TV for example. This book also mentions Branwell much less, which I'm glad about, but it did look in some depth at the years after he, Emily, and Anne all died, and what Charlotte did then. 

This is definitely a book for fans of the Brontes, but I think it's good and I'm looking forward to reading the one about Anne, too. I'm giving this four out of five. 


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