Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Alex Cross by James Patterson

Hardback: 278 pages
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Publisher:  Little Brown and Company 2009
Source: The author's publicist 
in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  
First Sentence:  'Hannah Willis was a second year law student at Virginia and everything that lay ahead of her seemed bright and promising - except, of course, that she was about to die in these dark, gloomy dismal woods.

Review Quote
: ' Sharp, sassy and guaranteed to send shivers down your spine, this is a tense thriller'. Woman.

My Opinion
: Extremely gruesome but the action and suspense kept me reading.

Although James Patterson is a prolific author he is not one I am really familiar with, apart from obtaining his books for my husband to read. The genre is however one I am happy to read if the story line catches my attention or a book is recommended to me. As far as I can recall the first novel I read by this author was Sail which I read on my husband's recommendation and reviewed here last year. I concluded my review of that one with this paragraph 'High drama and twists and turns continued right through to the very end. I will not be rushing to read more by this author but it was ridiculous fun in a way. Just the sort of story that I suspect would make a better film than it did a novel. As although there is not much of a storyline it has murder, betrayal and villains'.  
An honest but not particularly stunning review so I was surprised when I was contacted by the author's publicist asking if I was interested in reviewing another novel by James Patterson. They sent me I Alex Cross, about a character that I recalled from selecting library books for my husband. The series of Alex Cross novels are among  his most popular work and the top-selling U.S. detective series in the past ten years. I was not surprised to learn that this is also being made into a  film.

The protagonist Alex Cross is a forensic psychologist formerly of the Washington D.C. Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation who now works as a private psychologist and government consultant. The detective is at a family party when he receives a phone call telling him that his niece, Caroline has been found murdered. Of course he takes on the investigation along with the help of his girlfriend Detective Briana Stone, arriving at the scene of the crime they discover that this is going to be a far from straight forward case to solve. Her dismembered body was found in the boot of a car, whose driver was linked to organised crime and Caroline appears to have been working for a high class escort agency, an exclusive club with high connections. Such high connections that when Alex starts getting too close he is thwarted in his efforts by the Secret Service and the President. He risks everything but I am going to say no more otherwise there will be no point in reading how the investigation and the presidential administration manages to spare the country the embarrassment of a sex scandal.

I found this a very quick read, as I did want to know what was happening, some of which is indeed extremely gruesome, but the action and suspense kept me reading.  I still doubt that James Patterson will be an author whose books I pick up very often, if at all in the future. It is not that I do not like his work but the usual excuse of too many books and too little time.

Author Profile

James Patterson was born in Newburgh, New York, USA on March 22nd 1947. Since retiring from an advertising career in 1996 he has devoted his time to writing and encouraging adults and children to read. This has led to him forming a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, an independent, UK-based charity that changes lives through literacy. He is a prolific author, sometimes with co writers of thriller novels, probably the best know of which are the Alex Cross Detective Series. A very popular author indeed as I discovered when I checked out his Facebook page where he has over three million followers, 3,308,653 people in fact! 

Last year James Patterson was interviewed by the Literary Guild Book Club and I have included it here for those of you that may be interested to learn more about his writing and a mention of the forthcoming film from this Alex Cross novel I have just read.
                                          James Patterson - What I've Learned.
                                          Uploaded by  on 31 Aug 2011

Biographical, other information and photo are with thanks to the following links where you can find out more about James Patterson.   
Amazon Author Profile   James Patterson - Wikipedia   Goodreads Author Profile

James Patterson - Official Website   James Patterson Library

I have chosen to read this title as the letter I for The A - Z Book  Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.  

I have also linked this review to Literary Friday

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Ebook 2352KB
Genre  Historical Fiction
Publisher  Fourth Estate 2009
Source Amazon Kindle
First Sentence 'So now get up.' Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard.
Review Quote   ‘Mantel’s ability to pick out vivid scenes from sources and give them life within her fiction is quite exceptional…Vividly alive.’ London Review of Books 
Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize For Fiction

My Opinion  I enjoyed this popular period of history seen from a different viewpoint.

I have only just discovered that Wolf Hall is the first part of a trilogy, but then once again I am late getting to read a novel, that really deserved my attention before now. It really is a case of so many books and so little time, I just have too many interests to keep on top of all the reading I would love to do. Anyway I finally got round to reading Wolf Hall on the recommendation of my daughter and the exciting fact that the publishers have sent me a copy of the second part Bring Up the Bodies. Keen to read it soon I obviously needed to get to read Wolf Hall first.

Historical novels are a genre I have always enjoyed but a few years ago I seemed to go off them and tended to steer myself away from the genre. Then thanks to this blog I found myself receiving invitations to review historical novels and reluctantly at first I decided to give the genre a chance again, because I pride myself in having eclectic tastes! It was the right decision as now I am enjoying a whole new generation of great historical novel writers, as you will have noticed if you are a regular reader of my reviews.

A period in history that has been written about many times before by the popular historical fiction novelists, but to my knowledge not from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell before now. Somehow Hilary Mantel turns a character I had always seen as a villian into a protagonist of this epic novel that I actually cared about, certainly as a family man! His household is seen as a happy place in complete contrast to the court of Henry Tudor. I did find the story confusing at first as it took me awhile to get the other characters with the name Thomas and the constant reference to he straight in my mind. Once I got into the rhythm of Hilary Mantels brilliantly told tale I found it engrossing. Her richly descriptive style brings every aspect of the period to life with intrigue and wit. 

Set in the reign of Henry VIII England is on the brink of disaster, as if Henry dies without a male heir civil war is likely to break out. Henry wants to escape his twenty year marriage to Katherine of Aragon and replace her with Anne Boleyn. It is during this period that the court sees the rise of Thomas Cromwell from his lowly birth to become the right hand man to the King in replacement  of Cardinal Wolsey as he and Thomas More are both doomed. As surely as their mistakes lead to their death, Cromwell finds that success brings him seemingly unlimited power. As the protagonist of this novel, Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmiths son that grew up to become powerful at court, a cruel and ruthless man according to history, is seen in a different light. Maybe he did have a more likeable side as when he was with family and friends he comes across as a kind man.  Henry VIII needs a male heir and it becomes Cromwell's job to clear the path of all obstacles, of which there are many, that are preventing him from doing so. If you learnt the rhyme (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived ),about Henry's wives as I did at school you will know the eventual outcome; as the novel ends there are already signs that the King is tiring of Anne Boleyn.

Although this is an historical novel the story revolves around human nature so readers that may normally prefer modern day fiction, will find plenty to relate to, just with characters you first heard of  in history lessons at school. Personally I am really looking forward to reading the sequel now.

Author Profile

Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s, where she still lives. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah, and she was film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991.  She is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books.  Wolf Hall (2009) won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the sequel to which Bring Up The Bodies was published in May 2012.

Photo and Biographical Information is with thanks to the following sites. 

If you would like to know more about the woman behind the writing, I recommend you check out this interesting interview published in her local paper earlier this year, The Globe and Mail

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Paperback: 444 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin 2009
Source: Gift from a friend
First Sentences: 'Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in august 1960. a church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime.
Review Quote: “Lush, original and poignant, Kathryn Stockett has written a wondrous novel set in the deep south told through the authentic voices of Aibileen, Minnie and Skeeter, three unforgettable women whose lives and points of view intersect vividly against a landscape of hopeful change in America. You will be swept away as they work, play and love during a time when possibilities for women were few but their dreams of the future were limitless. A glorious read.”Adriana Trigiani, BestSelling Author.
Favourite Quote: “Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.”
My opinion: A future classic.

My favourite quote above also just happens to be the author's favourite as well because it sums up the essence of this brilliant novel. A future classic this is one of those novels where the story and characters will live on in your memory long after you've finished the book.
At first I found the American African vernacular dialect a little difficult to follow but it clicked after a few pages and helps towards a proper feel of the environment. Of course I knew about the treatment of African Americans and that it was still going on even when I was a little girl in the sixties but I have never read anything from the point of view that this novel gives us. This story is not about the big picture but about the nitty gritty of everyday life that these domestic staff had to face. It is both horrifying and sad yet there were moments when I also found myself laughing. A real insight into the prejudices that were part of everyday mundane life, that the white women they worked for really believed were fully justified! The characters are all extremely well developed, even the more minor ones and the historical background and local environs are well described.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties the story is narrated by three female protagonists, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson two African American maids and Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan a young woman who has just returned home with a degree in journalism. It is the unexpected friendship of these three women that results in the publication of a book that gives a previously unheard of voice to the community's suffering. These three women are drawn together by a secret project of 'Skeeter's' to help her fulfil her dream of becoming a writer and moving to New York rather than staying in Jackson to be married off to a rich man from a good southern family. Eugenia is drawn to Aibileen a maid in her fifties, who despite enduring many hardships and discrimination remains dedicated, kind and loyal to her employers and the children she raises for them. Minny the third in the group is a complete opposite to Aibileen, she is younger and finds it harder to keep her opinions to herself when her employers discriminate against her. Therefore she  finds it hard to get suitable positions within the local community due to her attitude. These three make quite a team!

The Help is fiction by and large but as Kathryn was raised by an African American in lieu of an absentee mother, she herself admits in her own words at the end of the novel that she had taken her childhood carer Demetrie for granted, it was just everyday life. Kathryn says she wished for many years, that she had been old enough and thoughtful enough to ask her exactly what it was like working for a white family. Unfortunately she died when Kathryn was just sixteen and for many years she has thought about just what her answer would have been. That is the reason she wrote this brilliant and compelling novel, which I am sure I am one of the last to read. If you have not done so yet, I urge you to do so. I am now looking forward to seeing the film which from what I hear from friends has transferred well to the screen.

Author Profile:

Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City, where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. The Help is her first novel and was published in 2009 having taken her five years to complete, it was then rejected by 60 literary agents before she found someone prepared to represent her. Since its successful publication The Help has been published in 35 countries in three languages and had sold over five million copies by August 2011 when the film version was released.

Information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites.

Goodreads Author Profile

Kathryn Stockett - Wikipedia

Kathryn Stockett - IMDb You can view two film trailers on this site.

Kathryn Stockett - Official Website

Amazon Author Profile Page

I have chosen to read this title as the letter H for The A - Z Book Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here 

I have also linked this review to Literary Friday

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon

Paperback: 410 pages
Genre: Humorous Romantic Fiction
Publisher:  Penguin Books 2007
Source: Charity Bookshop in UK in 2008.
First Sentence:  'The bedroom was dark,lit only by a sliver of brightness from the wall light in the basement well outside edging its way round the sides of the blind.'

Favourite Quote: 'It was an irrefutable truth that if no woman ever went with a married man, then no wife would ever have to endure the heartbreak of finding out that her life as she understood it was a sham.
Review Quote:   'This witty first novel is a complete winner. It's comic, touching and the narrative races along at breakneck speed' Daily Express 
My Opinion
: As it has turned out I am now wishing I had read this ages ago! 

It has taken me four years to pick this title from our bookshelves to read and then only because I needed a title beginning with G for the A - Z Book Challenge, hardly a great reason. I was unable to even recall why I wanted to read this title in the first place. Something must have piqued my interest in this book originally, the first of Jane Fallon's now four published novels. Having studied her author profile, read this and done some research I would now like to read her other novels if I get the opportunity.

As it has turned out I am now wishing I had read this ages ago! The theme of a married man having a long term affair with a single woman might not be a new one or to everyone's taste. Getting Rid of Matthew though has a twist in the tale, the clue is of course already there for you in the title.  I surprised myself enjoying it as much as I did, not great literature but not trying to be and for that reason it makes a realistic and witty read within this genre.

Affairs are destructive and they do cause hurt, we all know that even Helen, the other woman in this triangle that she has lived with for four years. After all this time and being unable to persuade Matthew to leave his wife and daughters for her Helen is coming to her senses. Life is passing her by and she needs to sort her life out, things turn out not be that simple though! As the title tells us without any spoilers it is obvious that the novel is about freeing herself from Matthew so that she can become an independent young woman once again.  The moral of this light but readable novel is definitely be careful of what you ask for, as escape from such a tangled web just might not be easy either.

Author Profile

Jane Fallon was born in the UK in 1960,  educated at St Bernard's Convent School in Slough, Berks and University College, London.  She lives with her partner the comedian Ricky Gervais, the couple have been together since meeting at University and they reside in north London with their cat.  
Her books have sold over 650,000 copies in the UK and have been translated into over 20 languages.

Getting Rid of Matthew (2007)Got You Back (2008)Foursome (2010) and The Ugly Sister (2011)

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites.

Amazon Author Profile,  Jane Fallon - WikipediaGoodreads - Author Profile

I have chosen to read this title as the letter G for The A - Z Book  Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.