Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I know, I know, everyone else read this YEARS ago, I am totally behind the times! Just like the series ‘Breaking Bad’ (which I am still resisting) loads of people have raved about ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn and I’ve just never quite got round to it. But with the Hollywood interpretation of it due out next month, I thought I should really get my act together and read it before I see the film. I hate seeing films before reading the books (although often don’t like the film once I’ve read the book, so perhaps I shouldn’t read so much!) Although with 4 children, popping to the cinema is a thing of the past –  like a full night’s sleep and size 12 jeans!

Gone Girl

So I finally started ‘Gone Girl’ last week and I’ve really enjoyed it. The story is widely publicised at the moment, I’ve kept hearing it on the radio in the trailers (which has been a bit weird) – but basically, on Nick and Amy’s 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and Nick is the prime suspect. It is written from both of their perspectives and has brilliant twists and turns – a real thriller and consequently kept me engaged.  I can’t really say much more about the plot without giving away major spoilers (just in case you’re the only person left in the world who hasn’t read it yet!)

A number of people had told me the ending was rubbish – and perhaps it was because that gave me really low expectations, I didn’t find it as bad as I expected!!  Whilst it’s a good, fast paced, thriller – it isn’t exactly literary genius – but it was very enjoyable.

It will be really interesting to see how the film turns out (but make sure you read the book first!)

Book Review: Pop Goes The Weasel by M J Arlidge

Earlier in the year, upon the recommendation of someone I follow on Twitter (and subsequently Richard and Judy) I read ‘Eeny Meeny’ by M J Arlidge. It introduced us to DI Helen Grace (I imagine her as a slightly younger, feistier and even more messed up Jane Tennison / Helen Mirren!) and her crime fighting in Southampton (where I went to University – so I always feel an allegiance to the city / football team) It was a fast moving, graphic, chilling thriller – and I LOVED it! I immediately pre-ordered the sequel ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ and it magically appeared on my Kindle last week.

Pop goes the weasel

The Amazon blurb says this:

“A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.
He is the first victim, and Detective Inspector Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?
The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.
Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…”

You don’t have to  have read ‘Eeny Meeny’ to read this – but, this has loads of spoilers in it explaining things that happened in the first book, so you couldn’t go back and read the first one afterwards without knowing lots about how it would conclude.

Again I raced through this, really enjoying the fast pace.  The chapters are often quite short – so  ‘just one more’ happens a lot (and before you know it, it’s 1am and you should have turned the light out hours ago!) I have to say I guessed who the killer was pretty early on this time around – although not all of the twists and turns that went with the story.  It was also quite stressful to find the suburb I lived in 20 years ago, Portswood, being described as the red light district – and that students from my University were being forced into prostitution to pay uni fees!!

Having just read up a bit about the author, he has worked in TV for years – and I think that’s quite apparent from the scene setting and excellent descriptions of the areas and characters (surely someone will buy the TV rights for this?)  This is gory – and you need a strong stomach for some of it – but it’s worth it.

Yet again I’m left wanting to find out what happens to DI Grace and the team next – roll on 12 February 2015 when the final book in the trilogy ‘The Doll’s House’ will hit my Kindle.  Suspect it won’t be the perfect Valentine’s read!!

Book Review: You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

I have friends in high places who let me have top secret things. This makes me sound like Olivia Pope in Scandal – just without the amazing coats, shoes and sex with the President of the US!! (By the way, if you haven’t watched Scandal – then have a box set gorge – it is brilliant. In fact, it may have to have a blog post all to itself sometime soon!)

So – back to the top secret things. The aforementioned friend works in the book industry (more about her here) and so let me borrow a copy of a book not released until next month (blog post embargoed until October) and the sampler of a new book by Mhairi McFarlane ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’. It was only the first few chapters but I LOVED IT – this is what Amazon has to say about it so I’m not ruining any surprises:

“Delia Moss isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. Everything was going smoothly. Ok, she had a slightly rubbish job working for the council and she hadn’t seen her best friend Emma in god knows how long, but she’d been working up to proposing to Paul for months. This. Was. It.

But with one annoying little ‘beep beep’, Delia’s life is turned upside down and rather than stick around and commit GBH by punching her cheating scumbag boyfriend (who still wants to be with her) in the chops, she decides the best thing to do would be get some head space and leave for London.

But a new city is never going to be the answer, and with a dodgy new job in media PR, where a suspicious yet devastatingly handsome journalist seems to be sniffing around and endangering her job, Delia can’t run forever. Where did the old Delia go? And can she get her back?”

I literally CAN NOT WAIT until 6 November 2014 when it will wing it’s way to my Kindle.

Anyway – the secret sampler thing totally worked as marketing, as I obvs went and downloaded Mhairi McFarlane’s first book ‘You Had Me At Hello’ immediately – and I loved that too!!

You had me at hello

It is written totally in the style I would love to write if I ever do brave the book writing thing, and as if the narrator (Rachel in this case) is chatting to you, the reader, as her mate.  I guess the fact that I’m a similar age to the author (OK, just the other side of 40 to her!) means lots of similar reference points.  It flicks between the present day and uni days with ease and is a fabulous mixture of romance / humour / good guys v bad guys and some real laugh out loud moments (where you accidentally wake your husband up when you’re reading in bed way too late!)   There was a slightly ‘close to the bone’ moment for me when a character said that Rachel, having not seen her since uni, could be 15 stone and shouting at her 4 children – yep, anyone from the University of Southampton class of 1995 – that’s me now!!

It was a great read – and I’d love to know what happens to all of the characters next – which I think is always the sign of a good book – leave them wanting more (possibly the sign of a good ‘lost love’ too?!)

Oh – and you can be as lucky as me and read the first few chapters of ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ as they are at the end of the Kindle edition of ‘You Had Me At Hello’!

Monday meltdown….

As I’ve mentioned before, our eldest has started a new school and this has given me lots of time to wait around at the train station for her – and catch up on my reading. A Monday is the one day of the week when we have no childcare (4 children and running our own business means that a nanny is the best option – and she works Tuesday to Friday every week).

This morning husband did the train drop off. Today was the day the train was 25 minutes late. He will not have been reading a book (he doesn’t do reading – unless it’s work or rugby team related, or trying to find an edition of NCIS or one of the Bad Boys films on the Sky planner) but will have used that half an hour or so to start the days work – emails / calls aplenty. Now he was also supposed to do pick up – but the delay to the start of his day meant a later train back from London – so I had to take the 3 younger siblings to pick their big sister up.

They were INSISTENT that they should wait on the platform rather than in the comfort of the car – even the bribe of another viewing of Frozen on DVD would not entice them to remain in the vehicle.

Here they are waiting excitedly:

Monday meltdown

This was before:

a) a lady was struggling with a pushchair, and loads of commuters and teenagers just watched her – so I had the 2 year old in one arm and helped carry her pushchair up the stairs with the other

b) an overtired 4 year old (first full day at school) had a full on
meltdown because she didn’t want to walk quickly up the stairs to go home once we’d rendezvous-ed with her big sister

c) the 2 year old stropped to be put down and proceeded to run off down the road in the opposite direction from the car

d) the 4 year old wouldn’t be strapped back in to her car seat unless it was moved from the middle row where I can easily do the seat belt to the back row by her brother

e) my phone started ringing with a problem at work

Roll on tomorrow when I can sit in the car on my own and read my book after a nice relaxing day in the office……………

Book Review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

My eldest starting a new school means quite a lot of kicking about at the train station waiting for her to get on the train in the morning (she’s only 11, I wait until she actually heads off, I am sure, given time, I will slow at the kerb for her to jump out of a moving vehicle!)  and for her to arrive back in the afternoon – I have made VERY good use of this time by reading loads.

I was recommended ‘I Am Pilgrim’ on my Facebook page and in person by a number – and eclectic mix of friends – so I thought I would see what it was all about.

I_Am_Pilgrim_-_hardback_UK_jacket

This is the publishers synopsis:

“Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.

But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.

What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.”

And I have to say it is BRILLIANT!!  It is very graphic – sexually at the beginning, but violently right through the book. At one point I was reading it through gritted teeth (and if I’d been watching it on TV would have covered my eyes!!) but this does not feel gratuitous, it is in keeping with the storylines.

The story is quite complex, jumping in terms of timezones and eras – and it feels very fast paced – so much so that you don’t want to put it down. It’s the writer’s first novel – and he has been a screenwriter – and you can feel that in the descriptive text he uses – this HAS to be made into a film. One of my friends has admitting to fancying Pilgrim – and I can see what she means (the casting for this film would have to be just right!)

I finished ‘I Am Pilgrim’ at 1am today (I Am Tired!!)

Guest Blog: Ugly Babies

I am very excited to have my first guest blog.  Emily has set the bar pretty high – but if anyone else is up for a guest spot – then blog away!!

 

Ugly babies

How kind of Libby to hand over her blog to me for a guest slot!  I am feeling highly honoured to have been asked, but also slightly nervous.  You see, I don’t normally do this kind of thing…write that is, and certainly not for public consumption!

It’s a very brave thing to write a blog…to write anything really and put it out there for people to paw over.  You are immediately inviting people to comment on a certain aspect of you, a part of you, or your life, that you have decided to share with others.  Who would want to do that?

Well, lots of people actually.  Every book or piece of writing you have ever read has been crafted, agonised over, erased, re-written, erased again, wept over until finally, finally, there is something that the author feels happy with.  That they are willing to (to quote a famous Snow Queen) – “Let It Go!”.

Some authors say that writing is like having a baby; you spend months creating this thing, making it perfect, and then you hand it over to people who might say…”Oooh!  Isn’t your baby ugly?”  Again, who would want to do that?  And who, might you ask, would be so cruel and harsh to criticise such a labour of love?

Erm…well, that’s me.  I am the person who might tell you your baby is ugly.  I am the person who crushes dreams.  I am AN EDITOR! Mwahahah!!

I don’t really crush dreams…in fact I try to make dreams come true wherever possible.  But as a fiction editor (and one half of editorial consultancy Ruston Hutton) it is my job to make sure that the books/writing I edit are practically perfect in every way…not ugly babies, but beautiful, strong and gorgeous babies that everyone wants to munch (or read).  Because, believe it or not, not every book starts out this way.  Most authors will require revisions at some point and it is this process that can take a story from pfft to phenomenal!

So what do I do?  Well, I don’t go around criticizing babies – let’s just clear that up!  Primarily my job is to work with an author to ensure that their book is structurally sound; that characters are motivated and likeable and behave in realistic ways.  Also, that there is a sustained tension or conflict running through a story giving the reader that page-turning quality that makes a book completely un-put-down-able (not sure that’s even a word!).  I work with authors to help hone their writing style, or craft, and brainstorm new plot ideas if she (or he) has hit a brick wall.  It’s very much a collaboration to make their book the best that it can be.

And authors now come in all shapes and sizes!  You don’t need to have a huge contract with a publishing house to get your name in lights.  There have been some wonderful achievements by authors who have simply self-published their work (much like Libby is now!) and have found an online readership – a group of people thirsty for the story they are telling.

So in addition to helping an author to get their story to shine, I might also offer advice on commercial positioning – where a book might (or might not) fit in the current market.  As much as an author wants to write the story of their heart, there must also be a market for that story – a readership just waiting to be engaged.  What is a book if it isn’t read?  A doorstop.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my job is finding new shining stars in the writing world; whether it’s an amazing story waiting to be told or a unique voice just waiting to be heard.  Nothing beats that buzz of finding something special…a bit like when you get that tingle watching X Factor when plain Sam Bailey walks in and Simon looks bored but then she BLOWS them away!  That.

But the favourite part of my job is reading.  Lots of lovely books!  All day.  I read anything from romance (love a strong Alpha male!) to YA Fiction (Hunger Games blew me away!).  I know many of Libby’s friends share her love of reading – hurrah! – and it’s wonderful to see her book reviews generate debate and opinion on Facebook and Twitter.

But what do I like in books?  It’s so hard to choose, a bit like picking my favourite (non-ugly) child!  I suppose my favourite books reflect my personal interest in the role of women in society; how strong women in particular are portrayed, often feared and often  maligned.  I like books that have powerful leading ladies who are not always likeable, but who have an innate strength.  My top two are probably Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, so totally different to the film (which I also LOVED), but a soaring epic nonetheless, and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – we all know the story of Anne, but this turns an old tale on its head – a wonderful read!

So that’s me in a nutshell.  What’s your favourite book or what’s the one book that would become your doorstop?  How might you make that book better…?

Thanks Libby for inviting me over!

Emily xx

You can contact me at rustonhutton@gmail.com or visit our website rustonhutton.com  if you would like me to tell you your baby is ugly…or advise on your writing dream!!

Ruston Hutton fiction editors

Book review: Stoner by John Williams

Now I know I said I didn’t think I’d do another book review before going away again – but I’ve snuck in another book (mostly whilst lying in the dark trying to persuade 2 pre schoolers that they really want to go to sleep despite it being light outside and their much older brother and sister still being up!)

Stoner – by John Williams

Stoner

This book was one recommended by a friend when my Facebook page became a virtual book club a few weeks ago.  It was actually the 2013 Waterstones book of the year – despite being written almost half a century ago, and it being 20 years since the author died.

It’s the life story of the eponymous William Stoner set in the US at the turn of the 20th Century. Most of it is based around a University where he first studies and then works and falls in love with literature.  It is beautifully written and I found myself completely enthralled by it.

If you’re after blood / guts / red room sexual exploits / humour then this is most definitely not the book for you – but if you appreciate great, well written. moving, absorbing literature then it’s well worth a download / purchase / borrow from the library. Now back to some blood and guts with the next recommendation from a friend ‘I am Pilgrim’…………..

 

 

Books – books and more books

I love reading.  I always have, from Enid Blyton’s Five and Seven (Famous and Secret respectively), through Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume (I could probably still find the rude bits in ‘Forever’) to the deeply condescending entitled ‘chick lit’ genre of more recent years – interspersed with a ‘critically acclaimed’ to justify the grammar school education!

A fortnight’s holiday used to mean a suitcase full of paperbacks – but 4 kids and a Kindle has reduced the excess baggage charges (book-wise anyway – although the space this year was replaced with gin – see comment re holidaying with 4 children…..)

I swore for a long time that I wouldn’t succumb to the new fangled Kindle – in the manner of my 85 year old Grandmother – but once I’d tried it, I confess to being a convert.  It does hurt marginally more when you drop it on your face when you fall asleep reading – but that is probably one of the few cons (the other being when you aren’t allowed to read it on take off and landing on flights – but could read a normal book!!)

I do feel slightly guilty for not using my local library so much nowadays – although my children more than make up for that!  My Dad was never allowed to borrow books from the library as a child in the 40s / 50s as my Nan reckoned the books there had germs – but I have let my kids run the risk!

I have never joined a ‘book club’ but quite often my Facebook feed will end up in a pseudo-bookclub chat – as I have a lot of friends who like to read (this definitely says something about my circle of friends – in a good way!) And one of these friends suggested I should blog about books – so here we are (this is the second time I’ve taken up one of her content suggestions for this blog – the other was periods – this should be less messy!)

So – henceforth – I plan to do a short(ish – longer than Twitter – shorter than a magazine) book review when I finish a book – and I would really welcome your comments both on the books I review – and suggestions for what I might like based on my reading history – I am always looking for recommendations (I often rely on Viv Groskop in her monthly review column for Red Magazine – but there’s always scope for more!)

We’ve been on holiday for the last fortnight – so this is peak reading weeks for me – so I thought I’d kick off with a brief review of what I’ve read – and this should also give you an insight into what I like (and don’t!)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Secret History
I struggled through The Goldfinch – another of Ms Tartt’s tomes (I read it on Kindle and nearly passed out when I saw the size of the hardback that someone else was reading!) – last year, enjoying the different style of writing – but struggling with the content and waffly-ness of it at times – and at the start of The Secret History was concerned it was going to be the same.  From the outset you know that a certain event is going to happen – and I found the build up to that a bit drawn out – but once that was done, I enjoyed it much more (guess I’m just impatient?!)  I have to say I didn’t particularly like any of the characters in the story (American University students) which always makes a book more of a struggle if you couldn’t really care about any of them – however, I enjoyed the Latin / Greek references (back to that grammar school education again!) – but it definitely wasn’t an easy read.  At least I can tick a ‘critically acclaimed’ off the list – and I wasn’t beaten by it!

Little Lies by Liane Moriaty (seemingly called Big Little Lies in the USA!)
Little lies

This was a Red Magazine recommendation – and I have really enjoyed some of her other works (What Alice Forgot, The Husband’s Secret) so I downloaded it immediately.  This was a great break from The Secret History – and I devoured it in a day (and night – holiday insomnia has it’s perks!)  She writes well, from the aspects of lots of different characters, and her topics (family life, suburban Sydney – where I lived for a while) are really relevant to me.  Although I’d like to think the PTA events at the schools my kids go to aren’t quite so scary!!  Interestingly, like The Secret History – you know that a certain event is going to happen in this book too – but I didn’t feel I needed to get to that point to enjoy the book. 

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriaty
Hypnotists Love Story
I downloaded this after checking the authors history and what I had and hadn’t already read. It was lovely – another easy read – but not too cheesy.  Again – set in Sydney – which brings back fond memories.  I would have poo pooed the ‘hypnotist’ element of it historically – but with recent experiences I was not so cynical – which probably meant I enjoyed it more!

New Beginnings by Fern Britton
New Beginnings
I have to confess to loving Fern a little bit.  Who cares that she lost weight with a gastric band and advertised Ryvita at the same time – I always think she would be a fabulous mate who you could have a real laugh (*drink*) with (and Phil could cook dinner for us all!) – and her stint on Strictly Come Dancing a couple of years ago made me love her even more (I hold her sparkly dress on the Strictly tour totally responsible for the one I had made for my 40th party!!)  I’ve read lots of Fern’s books – mostly set in Cornwall – and they’ve been a good easy read (particularly as I’m normally reading at home whilst trying to get small kids to sleep – so can’t concentrate on anything too mentally taxing in between demands for milk / water / nappies changed / extra blankets / aircon on / the toilet etc etc) This one isn’t set in Cornwall – and I think is her debut novel – it’s set in the world of TV – so I guess sticking to what she knew.  It’s about a 40 something mother – so lots to empathise with.  As with a lot of Fern’s books, it left me wanting to know what happened to all of the characters next – which I think is the sign of a good read!

Tickled Pink by Christina Jones

Tickled Pink
This was an Amazon Prime Kindle library suggestion (I only recently found out that our Prime membership entitled us to b borrow Kindle library books for free – and no risk of germs from this library either!!) and my Kindle knows me well it would appear!  Initially I was a bit confused by all of the different characters (although admittedly this may have been compounded by the Portuguese Vinho Verde I was knocking back!) – but I soon settled into it.  It’s a total rollercoaster and therefore not predictable – which I enjoyed.  You really get for the sleepy English village in which it’s set – I’d quite like to visit it now!

So there you have it – my Summer 2014 reading list! It’s 6 weeks before I go away again – so I doubt there’ll be another book review until then – but I look forward to everyone else’s suggestions and comments.  In the style of Strictly ‘Keep Reading!’