Review of Too Good to be True by Ann Cleeves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fiction – Crime Thriller – Police Procedural

Cover – Too Good To Be True



📖 Ann Cleeves is an author who has been on my radar for a while now (several people have recommended her novels to me). This book appeared on the quickreads collection and thought it would be a great opportunity.

✍️ This book follows Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez to a small village in the Scottish Borders where his ex-wife has summoned him to help investigate a suspicious death of a local schoolteacher, Anna. The local gossips (which amounts to most of the town) suspect Sarah’s current husband of having an affair with Anna (and perhaps being involved in her death).

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘But you don’t really think he killed her?’ the first woman said. ‘Not Tom! He’s a doctor. A kind man. He looked after my mother when she had cancer and he couldn’t have been more caring.’
‘It’s just too much of a coincidence.’ It was Gail again. ‘Something weird was going on there. If the Kings didn’t kill her, they drove her to suicide.’
Jimmy Perez couldn’t stand any more of their unkindness. He drank his coffee in one go, paid the bill and went outside.

👓 This was an enjoyable book, and I particularly enjoyed the writing style. It was easy to read but maintained its believable elements. The characters were interesting, and the mystery was good (and not too easily guessable).

💔 Any Negatives? Well, this is part of a series. So, a lot of the character depth, particularly around Perez probably features elsewhere in the series. This is a standalone book and can be read as such, but I do wonder if it’s more enjoyable to those already familiar with the series.

💭 Overall View: Great pace, characters, and location. Good writing and the mystery certainly left me guessing.

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Review of Women & Power by Mary Beard

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – Women and Power


📖 I picked this book up at the airport on the way to a holiday. I had never heard of Mary Beard prior to it and it was just the concept and the initial pages which pulled me in but I must say it was an enjoyable read and I felt quite empowered after reading it.

✍️ The book is based on two lectures previously given by Mary Beard. Short but to the point. The historical aspects of the book were most intriguing. It explores the male authority within the western culture from multiple historic viewpoints, Greek, Roman, it even has a quick look at Queen Elizabeth the first and her most famous words “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too” or were they?

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

In the early fourth century BC, for example, Aristophanes devoted a whole comedy to the ‘hilarious’ fantasy that women might take over running the state. Part of the joke was that women couldn’t speak properly in public – or rather, they couldn’t adapt their private speech (which in this case was largely fixated on sex) to the lofty idiom of male politics.

👓 I wouldn’t say I agreed with every concept approached in this book, however, like all good books, it was certainly thought-provoking. Beard’s arguments are very compelling. It also stayed with me for quite some time after reading.

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At the time of reviewing this book it is on sale for £2.84 at Amazon (affiliate link):

https://amzn.to/3rW2DFY

📣 Disclaimer: This book review contains an affiliate link. This means I earn a small commission if you use the links on my book reviews to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, but you will help support my reading habit and keep me supplied in books to review. Thank you. 😘

Review of The art of spirit capture by Geoff Le Pard

The art of spirit capture by Geoff Le Pard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance

📖 I have followed Geoff Le Pard’s writing online for some time, and it is always clever, witty and above all engrossing. So, despite this being the first novel of his I have read, I started it with high expectations. Despite these exposures to Geoff’s writing, I have never read anything quite like this (from Geoff or indeed any other author). The concept is brilliant, so unusual, it left me desperate to unravel the story and hoping for a happy ending for all.

✍️ The story is told from the viewpoint of Jason. Jason has lost his job, lost his girlfriend and his brother is in a coma. Life is in a pretty dark place. When he receives a phone call from a country lawyer explaining that he and his brother are beneficiaries to a recently deceased aunt, it gives him a chance to have a small break away from his everyday life.

👫 What Jason doesn’t expect is to come across an old childhood friend Lottie (Charlotte) who seems to switch between being open and helpful to distant and secretive. I loved how Jason and Lotte’s relationship evolves throughout the novel. I also enjoyed how Jason’s view of his aunt’s dog Viscount changes during the story.

👓 I would describe this book as a mystery at its core. Really the story is about Jason’s long-deceased uncle, Ben who possessed a gift of capturing a piece of spirit in a glass form. It is expected by many that Jason will know the secret to these creations and will continue to make them for the town. The captures are loved by many, but some people in the town mistrust the spirit captures or have had bad experiences with them, because of this the town is divided on whether the creation of these items should continue and expect Jason to make that decision.

Will Jason figure out how to create the captures, and if he does will he want to?

🗺 Setting: This book is mostly set near Lewes in the British countryside with occasional sprints back to London.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“It’s still there. Ben used it as his main workshop until he died. Heather and I checked it out in the summer and it was still standing. We should take a look.”
“Is it in the middle of the woods?”
“Yes, In a clearing. There are other buildings now. It –“
“That stile! Near the tree I fell out of. That leads to it, doesn’t it?”
“That’s right, though it’ll be pretty overgrown. Ben walked that way from the cottage.”…

💭 Overall View: As mentioned, I went into this book expecting a quality story, which is what I got, and more. The characters and their relationships were very well handled, some subtle and intriguing, others brash and loud. The mystery was great and enjoyably, I hadn’t figured out the ending before I got to it. The touch of magic within this book is so endearing it and after reading I found myself thinking about the spirit captures, the concept is just marvellous. Highly recommended.

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At the time of reviewing this book, it is on sale for £1.99 at Amazon (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/3JLsp8e

📣 Disclaimer: This book review contains an affiliate link. This means I earn a small commission if you use the links on my book reviews to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, but you will help support my reading habit and keep me supplied in books to review. Thank you. 😘

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Review of The Donor – 5 Stars

The Donor by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Premise: Fourteen-year-old Meg is in recovery, six months previously she had a heart transplant. She has been given a second lease of life and is desperate to live it to its fullest. Her mother Lizzie is somewhat nervous, after years of living with the worry of Meg’s illness, she can’t help be cautious. When the bereaved mother of the donor, Karen, makes contact and asks to meet Meg, Lizzie worries, but she feels obligated to her for giving her daughter this new lease of life, begrudgingly she agrees. Soon Karen’s motives come into question and Meg’s attitude begins to change. Has Lizzie made a huge mistake allowing Karen to get to know Meg, worse still, is her daughter in danger?

I really enjoyed this short story, part of the “quick reads” collection which I love to intersperse with longer reads. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘She’s taking a lot of pills already,’ I say. The bottles are in the bathroom, their labels filled with long names I can’t pronounce.
‘These are supplements. They’ll help Meg stay healthy.’
‘She is healthy. She’s doing really well. The consultant said so.’ I don’t mean to sound so abrupt, but Steve turns to look at me, a shocked expression on his face.
‘Lizzie!’

The story is told from Lizzie’s point of view. She has felt so much strain from her daughter’s illness over the years. Her guilt and stress are palpable through the page and it’s pretty easy to picture yourself in her position, what would you do? How would you react?

The story of course captures the concept of organ donation (for a real-life insight into this I highly recommend Dan Walker’s book Remarkable People, there is a chapter on organ donation that is both heart-breaking and inspirational). The author also dabbles with the theory of cell memory, a really interesting concept that really adds to the story.

Overall View: Fast-paced, well-written, character-driven short novel. A really good read. A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Extract – The Donor

Review of The Tools: Transform Your Problems…

The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A self-help book aimed at overcoming everyday burdens that block you from progressing towards what you really want. With helpful exercises included. It shows scenarios with individual cases and how they applied the techniques, even some initial failures where repetition is needed.

I enjoyed this book, the size of it is brilliant and makes it so much less daunting than some of the larger textbooks on similar subjects. I have read a few of these books such as The Secret and Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffries. In reality, they all make sense in their own way and it depends upon your scenario’s and how you apply them. I found some of the tools from “The Tools” more effective than others, equally, I found some of the approaches to Feel the Fear and do it anyway more realistic than others.

However, having recently had a baby which is an emotional enough period, followed by a fall-out of a fifteen-year friendship and an incredibly difficult working situation, this book had enough motivational and straightforward content to give me what I needed from it at that point in time. So, I suspect if you yourself are going through a period of change or reflection, this book could be what you need.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Its power has touched your own life as well. You started life as a helpless infant; yet in a remarkably short time, you moved from crawling to standing to walking. You did this despite countless painful setbacks. Watch a child learning to walk now. No matter how many times he falls, he soon picks himself back up to pursue his goal. His sense of purpose is amazing; he’s tapped into the Force of Forward Motion.

Any Negatives: Long-winded in places in comparison to other self-help books. It does also repeat itself regularly, but I guess that could be useful if you are dipping in and out.

Overall View: Easily digestible. Great comparisons/real-life stories associated with the ideas and tools. Useful to have on the shelf for future reference.

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Extract – The Tools.

Review of Right, Said Fred

Right, Said Fred by Freddie Flintoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Freddie Flintoff’s pearls of wisdom on an eclectic array of topics. Of course, the obligatory cricket is covered (I am not particularly a fan of the sport but Freddie’s descriptions help to make it sound more interesting), Top Gear (Woohoo) and many other random facts and ideas from all other aspects of his life.

I’ll be honest, I’m not often a fan of these celebrity, blow-their-own trumpet, did they even really write them, autobiographies, but for some reason, I was drawn to Freddie’s. I adore him in his new role at top gear, his camaraderie with the team is brilliant. I have found him quite hilarious in many of his other TV roles, so after reading his earlier book “Do you know what?”, which genuinely had me laughing out loud at times, I thought I’d give this one a go too and I was not disappointed.

Much of the book is very funny. The writing style is great, and it does feel like he is actually talking, having a conversation in his own words, not what some journalist thinks he should be saying. It felt like a real insight into his personal and professional life. In fact, it often feels like a conversation with a bloke down the pub, putting the world to rights and questioning the bizarre and intriguing in the world that rarely tends to pop up in day-to-day conversation.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

When my fourth child was born, I didn’t tell anyone about it apart from family. I did an interview in Australia for Ninja Warrior and the bloke said, ‘I understand your wife is expecting your fourth child’, and I replied, ‘Yeah, it’ll be brilliant when it happens.’ The fact was, he was already about three months old. I just didn’t think anyone apart from family needed to know about it.

Any Negatives: Not quite as funny as “Do you know what?”. I genuinely laughed out loud reading parts of that book. But it’s still really pretty good.

Overall View: Honestly, highly recommended. Freddie comes across as open, honest, likeable and so much more human than the media persona everyone thinks they know. Funny with a tad of seriousness when needed. A bit of light-hearted reading which after 2020, I think we all needed.

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Extract – Right, Said Fred

Review of The Auschwitz Violin – 5 Stars

The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Àngels Anglada

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The book opens with a meeting between an older lady violinist and a charmed young man instantly captivated by her, her playing and her instrument, a friendship blossoms and he asks the story of the violin. This leads us to the extraordinary story of Daniel, and his imprisonment at Auschwitz.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

’Occupation?’
The question had seemed inoffensive enough, but not everyone had the good fortune to be asked. Those who were selected immediately to die – children, old men and women, the infirm – stood in another line.
Daniel was quick to reply;
‘Carpenter, cabinetmaker.’
It was a half-lie. The answer had risen from deep within the recesses of his mind; only later would he reason it out. It was as if someone had dictated it to him.

This book has it all. Sometimes it is soft and gentle and it beautifully captures the love that violin makers have for their craft. It also has many harrowing details of the treatment and suffering of those at Auschwitz. It sweeps you up and you find yourself desperately hoping that Daniel both completes his beloved violin and more importantly lives.

This is a truly haunting tale that stays with you after you finish reading it. Indeed, despite being an avid reader, I found myself taking a break after reading this book, not yet quite ready to leave it behind and enter another world.

Any Negatives: The book is a translation and at times it can feel a little out of sequence. However, this really did not detract from the fabulous storytelling and intent of the author.

Overall View: This is a great story, capturing both the brutalities of the holocaust and the hope that all humans have that things will one day get better. The book is an easy, enjoyable read, and it certainly makes you stop and think.

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Extract – The Auschwitz Violin

Review of Remarkable People by Dan Walker – 5 Stars

Remarkable People by Dan Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Dan Walker reflects back on his career so far and the many remarkable people he has had the opportunity to meet. Unlike other celeb books, this is not a story about Dan, but their story told through his eyes. Each story is broken down into separate chapters with a lovely collection of images on the central pages.

This book had it all for me, several pages when I really just wanted to sob my heart out, some just really uplifted and inspired me. Some stories I already felt connected to remembered watching and being captivated by others were a fresh revelation, but both were equally captivating. So many of the stories stay with you long after you have stopped reading the pages.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. There were so many I could pick from for this book, but I have chosen the following as it’s a form of bravery I admire so much and equally hope never to be in a position to have to replicate. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

At her funeral, a few weeks later, Ilse read out a thank-you letter from one of the families.
The family received another letter later that month to say that two other transplant patients were alive and well because they had Georgia’s heart valves.
Two young men can now see because Ilse and James decided to donate their daughter’s eyes. Georgia’s death was unexpected, painful, brutal and heartbreaking but, in dying, she had changed the lives of six other people she never met.

Overall View: I think everyone has had a difficult year over the last 12 months, in one way or another, for some every day has been difficult just to get through. This book, full of inspirational stories of remarkable people could be just the tonic. Another reviewer wrote this line, and it is so very true:
You will laugh, you will cry, you will be inspired, you will have a whole new outlook on life and you won’t want it to end.

If you are still on the fence, Dan also revealed in the comment section of a post on social media that a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book would go to a charity or cause related to the stories in the book.

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Extract – Dan Walker: Remarkable People

Review of Do you know what? – 5 Stars

Do You Know What?: Life According to Freddie Flintoff by Andrew Flintoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Premise: Freddie Flintoff’s pearls of wisdom on an eclectic array of topics. Of course, the obligatory cricket is covered (I am not particularly a fan of the sport but I genuinely laughed out loud at his description of the locker room hijinks), there is a bit about his wrestling life, performing in a musical, and all kinds of other areas of his life.

I’ll be honest, I’m not often a fan of these celebrity, blow-their-own trumpet, did they even really write them, autobiographies, but for some reason, I was drawn to Freddie’s. I adore him in his new role at top gear, his camaraderie with the team is brilliant. I have found him quite hilarious in many of his other TV roles, so when I saw this pop up in the sale, I thought I’d give it a go and I was not disappointed.


Much of the book is very, very, funny, although it does cover some serious aspects including depression and some of the ups and downs of his life and career also. The writing style is great, and it does feel like he is actually talking, having a conversation in his own words, not what some journalist thinks he should be saying. It felt like a real insight into his personal and professional life.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

… I can’t handle rudeness, it makes my blood boil. Dishonesty really gets me as well. If somebody stitches me up, they’re done, it’s non-negotiable. Through the years, I’ve had plenty of people use me to climb the social ladder. People I thought were friends have used me and then dropped me. I won’t name them, but I hope they get found out.
I’ve also been betrayed by teammates, coaches and financial advisors. Sportspeople are easy prey, quite naïve in a lot of ways. When I retired from cricket at 31, I’d never paid any bills, that was all done for me. I was a sucker, used to lend money to friends willy-nilly and throw myself into things. My money was invested for me, a lot of it in….

Overall View: Honestly, highly recommended. Freddie comes across as open, honest, likeable and so much more human than the media persona everyone thinks they know. Funny with a tad of seriousness when needed. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I have bought his new book – Right Said Fred. Hopefully, it will be more of the same.

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Review of The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – 3.5 Stars

The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in 1954, newlywed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.

One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. Soon after Isabel is startled to hear a knock at her window by a young Air Force pilot, named Alec. His haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. As she learns more about Alec (and herself in the process) she seems to be uncovering a past secret that has lain dormant for many years.

I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t love it either. I think that is partly due to all the reviews and hype around it “A terrifyingly atmospheric ghost story by the Orange-prize-winning Helen Dunmore”, “A perfect ghost story”, “The most elegant flesh-creeper since The Woman in Black” was what I had heard/read about this book. For me it just didn’t really live up to the hype.

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:
• The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages. I understand that the job of a novel in this genre is to make it dark and brooding but there is very little contrast.
• There was no wow factor. I kept waiting for something unpredictable, some kind of plot twist, something I’d overlooked to come back to light, but it never arrived. That very thing that keeps you reading just never happened so it left me feeling a little deflated and unrewarded as I had ploughed my way through the book to the end.
• Isabel the main character is really uninteresting. It felt like she spent most of her time wallowing in self-pity, then we are supposed to turn a blind eye as she willingly starts an affair with a stranger whilst her (kind, sweet, hard-working) husband is out at work.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.
• I like the concept of this book. Not only the storyline of the RAF and how the next generation grew up in the shadow of the war. There was a definite interest there for me and I am disappointed that I did not enjoy it more.
• The location and setting of the Yorkshire villages and lanes are very easy to visualise (possibly more so as I lived in Yorkshire for a number of years). I think the author captured this very well.
• I actually enjoyed how the dual-timelines met. In some novels that have multiple timelines, the protagonist often has to fall asleep or read diaries etc to discover the events of the past. However, the overlap in these two stories is handled very smoothly.

 

Overall, not great but not bad either. I don’t know, maybe I missed something? Others seem to love this book but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for from the description.

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