Muddled

‘The Invisible Library’ – Genevieve Cogman

1-star-rating (1)

Invisible Library

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

Oh dear, where do I start? A muddled, complicated plot; major characters that are irritating on every level; a novel that cannot decide what genre it wants to be… this read was sleep-inducing and not my cup of tea at all.

The first of a series (although this reader will certainly not be progressing further), this novel follows a Librarian who has been tasked with stealing an important book from an alternate reality – think Victorian London and throw in unusual technology. The setting makes this book read similar to “steam punk fiction”, which I found just didn’t work for me. Throw in some magic and dragons and you get a bit of fantasy. Plus, it’s sort of a crime story and aimed at teenagers. The Invisible Library just can’t settle and tries to take on too much.

Going back to the plot, I found this overly complicated with no decent “reveal” that would explain the background of what the Library was all about. Cogman gradually gives this information throughout the story and whilst this usually works, a plot of this complicated nature screams for this foundation to help the reader get interested. I couldn’t be sure that I trusted the Library and what they stood for and throughout reading, found myself creating bizarre conspiracy theories instead. As a result, I drifted through the book: never entirely sure what I had read, so had to keep going back and refocusing.

The major characters of Irene (Librarian), Kai (student) and Vale (a character from this alternative London), are all irritating in their own rights. And because they are key players in the story, I think this severely impacted my enjoyment of The Invisible Library. Irene is too stroppy for words; Kai is weak, insipid and would have benefited from an injection of vigour and interest; Vale is simply pompous and arrogant. Yes, I don’t have too much to say about any of them.

I think it’s fair to say that… no, I didn’t enjoy reading this book. It took far longer than it should have done for a three-hundred page read, and this was because I couldn’t get stuck into the plot. It tries too hard to be too many things and for me, fails miserably.

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Loses momentum

Die Trying’ – Lee Child

3-star-rating

Die Trying

In a Chicago suburb, a dentist is met in his office parking lot by three men and ordered into the trunk of his Lexus. On a downtown sidewalk, Jack Reacher and an unknown woman are abducted in broad daylight by two men – practiced and confident – who stop them at gunpoint and hustle them into the same sedan. Then Reacher and the woman are switched into a second vehicle and hauled away, leaving the dentist bound and gagged inside his car with the woman’s abandoned possessions, two gallons of gasoline. . . and a burning match. The FBI is desperate to rescue the woman, a Special Agent from the Chicago office, because the FBI always – always – takes care of its own, and because this woman is not just another agent. Reacher and the woman join forces, against seemingly hopeless odds, to outwit their captors and escape. But the FBI thinks Jack is one of the kidnappers – and when they close in, the Bureau snipers will be shooting to kill.

This is the second ‘Jack Reacher’ book I have read  and unfortunately this does not have the same pace. Proving that yes, the ‘Jack Reacher’ series can be read out of sequence, I feel it is a hit and miss whether you find a plot that tickles your fancy. In this case, Die Trying didn’t work for me.

The first quarter of the novel gripped me from page one. It delivers everything I expected from Lee Child and I found myself inwardly cheering as Jack Reacher returned to his heroic role. However, this first section soon began to dull as the plot moves from an overly extended kidnapping, driving thousands of miles, to then being kept in a remote village in the middle of nowhere. And I think it was this setting that filled my reading senses as the plot pace slowed and it felt like Child was simply “padding it out” to create a lengthy novel.

True, you can imagine this as another Hollywood blockbuster with Tom Cruise taking the lead. Especially as there are some points in the story that just happen to work out for Jack Reacher, like his sudden ability to stop German Shepherds attacking him in the forest. I mean, come on, a military man who confesses he doesn’t know how to deal with dogs and he has them sat obediently? It’s absurd.

On the flip side, whilst I did find this novel disappointing overall, it does have pockets of excitement, such as how the climax folds out. Secondly, the time when Jack is in the mountain caves is ridiculously tense, leaving me holding my breath with him and hating the claustrophobic atmosphere we seemed to share together. Some of the fighting scenes are typically gruesome but it’s not unexpected after my first Lee Child novel.

I don’t think I will rush out there to find another Jack Reacher novel to read. Whilst they are ok, I think eventually they will become quite repetitive. If I read a third one, I certainly would be very careful to check reviews first.

It just doesn’t work

‘Wedding Night’ – Sophie Kinsella

3-star-rating

Kinsella

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose, but then his big question involves a trip abroad — not a trip down the aisle. Completely crushed, Lottie reconnects with an old flame, and they decide to take drastic action. No dates, no moving in together, they’ll just get married . . . right now. Her sister, Fliss, thinks Lottie is making a terrible mistake, and will do anything to stop her. But Lottie is determined to say “I do,” for better, or for worse.

Seeing this in my book collection, I was excited to come across a Sophie Kinsella that 1, I hadn’t read before and 2, did not feature Rebecca Bloomwood. It was going to be great reading something a bit different from an author who I have enjoyed reading for many years. However, I was extremely disappointed in Wedding Night and all that it had to offer. Let me explain why…

So, I get it, fiction as a genre is supposed to test “normality”. It is a made-up reality: fiction is the creation of someone’s imagination and the whole point of reading a fiction novel is to accept the plot and immerse yourself into this world. Yet, with Wedding Night I simply could not do this and found myself wanting to slap all of the key characters and scream at the farce that the plot became. It was unbelievable, unconvincing and well, infuriating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a funny “chick-flick” read, particularly in these warm, summer months. But Wedding Night does not deliver and instead I was very disappointed in this offering from Kinsella. It wasn’t funny, it was cringe-worthy; it was a plot that even in the distant realms of reality could not be seen as believable. The Shopaholic series? Yes, you can relate to that, you can perhaps recognise a friend in Rebecca Bloomwood, but not here in Wedding Night.

The narrative is different to what I usually read from Sophie Kinsella. This time she writes as a dual-narrative, switching between the sisters of Lottie and Fliss. The two heroines are quite opposites and Kinsella creates a plot where one is trying to protect the other. It’s not until the final fifty-odd pages does Fliss realise what she is doing and yes, you got it, there’s reconciliation and a happy ending. Expected and predictable to the end, I just felt quite cheated with this entire read.

However, I would like to mention the Prologue. I am terrible for reading Prologues, forgetting them and then once I have finished the novel, usually going back to read the Prologue for a second time. It was no different with Wedding Night but this time I salute Kinsella for how cleverly this was interwoven into the plot. I didn’t see it coming and I couldn’t predict who it was involving. This, I think, was the highlight of the story. Shame it was only a couple of pages long!

Please don’t consider this as your first insight into Kinsella’s writing. She does much better novels. Wedding Night is flaky and disappointing. Look elsewhere for your summer chick-flick read.

A tale of love, loss and anguish

‘Child of the Phoenix’ – Barbara Erskine

5-star-rating

Phoenix

Born in a burning castle in 1218, Princess Eleyne is brought up to support the Celtic cause against the English. She is taught to worship the old gods and to “scry” into the future and the past. Eleyne’s second sight, however, involves her in the destinies of England, Scotland and Wales.

Prepare yourself for a long haul when reading Child of the Phoenix. Just short of 1100 pages, you are probably going to be reading this for quite a while. But the reward is a rich, intriguing story that draws you in and leaves you sharing the protagonist’s love, loss and anguish.

The novel follows Eleyne throughout her lifetime, and it is a pretty eventful life at that. Fiery, rebellious and strong-willed, you can’t help but support Eleyne through all her campaigns – from a young girl against her parents to those helping defend Scotland. But the tragedy that follows her throughout her life is heart-breaking and I just desperately wanted her to have a chance for happiness in her life. Every time it seemed that things were going Eleyne’s way at last, fate comes along and destroys it with a vengeance! You definitely feel sorry for her and simply, just want to give her a big hug.

Erskine writes cracking historical novels and this is no exception. I have read many of her novels and they always deliver with the depth of plot and enigmatic characters. Based on fact, you get the sense of how much research was carried out to create such a developed storyline. But don’t let that put you off, whilst it is based on historical fact, it is not a dense read and it was easy to have the chapters slipping away as I became engrossed in the novel. It was only in the last 100 pages that I found the plot less gripping; I’m not sure if this was because I knew I was close to completion or that the plot, like Eleyne’s old age, had started to slow.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily start with Child of the Phoenix if you are new to Erskine’s writing, (despite giving this a 5 star rating, I think there are even better ones that Erskine has written), if historical novels with romance and tragedy are of interest, then you can’t afford to miss this one in your reading lifetime. True, the vast number of characters can be confusing, but there is a very helpful family tree at the beginning of the novel, so definitely use this as a reference guide. Don’t be put off by the length and topic, you won’t be disappointed.

Forgettable

‘The Story of Cirrus Flux’ – Matthew Skelton

2-star-rating-1

cirrus

Orphan boy Cirrus Flux is being watched. Merciless rogues are conniving to steal the world’s most divine power, which they believe Cirrus has inherited. Now he faces a perilous journey through the backstreets of London as a sinister mesmerist, a tiny man with an all-seeing eye, & a skull-collecting scoundrel pursue him.

Set in nineteenth century London, during the time when Empirical Science dominated culture and learning, this novel follows the story of Cirrus Flux, an orphan boy who has a much sought-after token from him deceased father. Moving between Cirrus’s story of present day and then eleven years previous, readers learn about the why this token is so important and the lengths people will go to to take it from Cirrus. And, unfortunately, this is just the entire gist of the book, leaving me feeling it was rather unforgettable and one-dimensional.

Interestingly, Skelton writes the flashbacks to Cirrus Flux’s father in the present tense; present day in the past tense. I found this unusual yet, rather irritating and made the plot seem poorly formed and badly written. That being said however, once I was used to this technique, (and I’m talking about two thirds of the way through the novel), it was bearable and simply made me just read the story a little bit faster.

‘The Story of Cirrus Flux’ does not have much going for it. We learn about a few of the other orphans and unfortunately their involvement in the plot was predictable and nothing else. Pandora’s role as the heroine was quite heartfelt and I did warm to her, but feel that Skelton could have developed this further. Finally, I feel like that this novel is just the beginning of a series. Yes, it does end but I don’t believe that it is the last we hear of these characters. If it isn’t part of a series then I have to argue that the ending is very dissatisfying and one that could have closed off properly with another twenty pages or so.

In places, this book reminded me of Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’, particularly with the references to science and orphans. However, Pullman writes in a class of his own and Skelton doesn’t come near this. I wouldn’t recommend this as a decent teenage read as there are so many other fantasy books out there. However, if you have a young reader this might be for them due to the simplicity of the plot.

Powerful and gripping

‘Fifty-One’ – Chris Barnham

5-star-rating

38487634

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, stranding Jake in war-ravaged 1944. Jake’s team, including his long-time girlfriend, is desperate to trace him before something else goes wrong.

Stuck in the past, Jake must pull from his training and blend in. He clings to the one familiar face he can find, Amy Jenkins, a war widow whose life he saved during the assignment. Drawn to each other by their loneliness and thrown together amid the terror of war, Jake and Amy look to a future together.

But Jake’s future cannot let him go. And when his bosses finally find him in 1944, Jake faces a terrible choice: risk unravelling the modern world, or let Amy die.

I really enjoyed reading this book. After reading a comparison between this and The Time Traveller’s Wife, I admit I was sceptical that Fifty-One could match the intensity that Barnham offered. I was wrong.

True, the whole concept of time travel has been done before but the way this is executed is original and actually interesting. I couldn’t totally predict how the plot would conclude and the way that Barnham creates this reality where it is possible to move back in time is not hard-going, letting you enjoy the plot for what it has to offer. The concept is convincing and Barnham has cleverly not set the novel too far in the future that it is unbelievable. At times I imagined scenes from the film, Minority Report, particularly when the characters were in 2044 London, but again, it just didn’t come across as too “out there” and ridiculous. It was science fiction with the right balance.

Half way through the novel I had the great urge to re-read the Prologue. Flipping back to the start on an e-reader is, for me, easier said than done and when I had finished Fifty-One, I could not help but have a quick flick back to remind myself of what had happened. So, take note: pay attention to what happens, it really gives clues for the final climax of the novel!

Fifty-One is time travel with a conspiracy and a romantic twist. It’s original and the way that the ‘Darnell Jump’ is explained is not too dense. I liked the fact that it was spread out over the plot because I found this more enjoyable and memorable when piecing the plot together. It is a satisfying read and I am glad that I had the opportunity to read something I would have probably passed by. The head warp you feel when considering how historical events could be altered by the ‘Darnell Jump’ certainly gives you food for thought about what our own future can hold and the references to WWII and London give this plot that extra bit of reality.

A really good read and one I would thoroughly recommend. If you enjoyed The Time Traveller’s Wife then you should definitely give this a chance.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Obsessed meets obsessed

‘Secret Smile’ – Nicci French

4-star-rating

Secret smile

You have an affair. You finish it. You think it’s over. You’re dead wrong . . . 

Miranda Cotton thinks she’s put boyfriend Brendan out of her life for good. But two weeks later, he’s intimately involved with her sister.

Soon what began as an embarrassment becomes threatening – then even more terrifying than a girl’s worst nightmare.

Because this time Brendan will stop at nothing to be part of Miranda’s life – even if it means taking it from her . . .

First off, let me get this out in the open. David Tennant is Brendan Block. I’m not totally mad. Back in 2005 (thanks IMDB), there was a television adaptation (pretty good, if my memory was right) and Tennant was soooo good at the role of Brendan Block that, since picking up the book again, he was all I could imagine when reading of this antagonist.

Moving on, this is not the best Nicci French book out there. Whilst it starts with a pretty good “bang”, I think it loses pace and I found the plot drifting, chapter to chapter, until French found they could justify getting to the final ending. Secondly, the protagonist, Miranda, is just a little too obsessed for my liking. Whilst she is accusing Block of obsessions, it’s her stalking and repeated “I’m going out of my way to make a point and prove something that no one else can see” that made me feel like she is the obsessed, she is the harasser.

Some of the characters are pretty dumb too. It’s difficult to believe that only Miranda has the inkling about Brendan, whilst everyone gets sucked into such a creepy, brain-washing persona. Even her sister puts a stranger before her own sister, not to mention Miranda’s own parents take Brendan’s side over their daughter’s. Unbelievable and, let’s face it, a bit grim that a stranger can turn literally everyone against you.

That being said, the ending was, well, pretty acceptable. To be honest, it technically doesn’t end but thankfully I’ve got no whiff of a sequel. Because that just wouldn’t work and it would be even more repetitive. I was glad when there was finally closure and all this stalking and harassment could come to an end. Four stars because I think it’s worthy of it for a first time read but, if like me it’s your second or third, it has less of an impact and leaves you feeling more cynical than satisfied.