Book Review: Christmas Carol by Michele Gorman

Christmas Carol by Michele GormanChristmas Carol: What it is about

The publisher says: “One winter wedding, two happy couples, three ex-boyfriends… And a very uncomfortable weekend.

Carol hates Christmas. Being recently dumped, she’s not crazy about weddings either. So her sister Marley’s nuptials, over the Christmas weekend, are making her positively Scrooge-like.

When she arrives for the weekend at the stately home in rural Scotland to find her three ex-boyfriends in attendance, Carol has no choice but to face her ghosts to discover what really happened in those relationships, learning a lot about herself in the process. As the snow falls outside and the fire crackles in the hearth, might one of the wedding guests become the harbinger of Christmases to come?

Christmas Carol: What I thought

This was a fun story about a woman who was so caught up in her important job, that she could barely spare a weekend with her family in Scotland. There, to her horror, she finds that all three of her exes happen to be invited to the wedding, too. She talks to each of them, and slowly defrosts into a nice woman, who isn’t all that worried about the fact that they’re snowed in and so she has to miss an extra day at work.

I expected this to be more like the “real” Christmas Carol, with some repetition, as in: the first night the clock struck one and…, the second night at one…, etc. But instead, it was much more subtle. The wedding was glossed over a bit, I never got a good idea about the proceedings, as most of the story was about Carol and her trying to avoid having to talk to her exes.

I did enjoy the story, the setting, and the people. Carol wasn’t really a nice person, but I did get attached to her.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 101

First published: 2013

I got this: from Notting Hill Press for review

Genre: contemporary fiction, chick-lit

Book Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Perfect by Rachel JoyceThis book is from the same author as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I loved that book. This book is rather different but also a very good read.

Perfect: What it is about

What the publishers say: “In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron’s mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

Perfect: What I thought

Byron is 11 years old in 1972 when something terrible happens: his mother makes a mistake without realising. Should he tell her? It’s better for her not to know, but really, they should investigate the consequences of her mistake. Byron worries about this for a long time.

The mistake evolves to some rather strange developments, totally against what Byron’s father would want, if he heard of it. He’s not at home very often, but he is in control of what happens in the household and Byron’s mother has to report to him every night (by phone). Eventually, everything changes for the family. If only Byron hadn’t known about the 2 seconds that were added to time. His friend James helps him to sort out the mess in his own precocious pre-teenage way.

The story of Byron is alternated with the story of 55-year old Jim in the current time. He’s got OCD and is in a bad state. He just about keeps on to his very simple job while he’s obviously very intelligent. He looks back on the summer in which Byron’s mother made her mistake and suspects his condition is related to the events that happened at the time.

I found the transition from an 11 year old boy in 1972 to a 55 year old man in the current time a bit difficult. They didn’t seem to have anything in common (except for the summer of 1972) and the stories developed almost independently of each other. But of course, in the end they do come together in an unexpected way.

There was a lot to love about the book, too: the strict regime of Byron’s father, the schemes of James to help Byron’s mother’s situation (through Byron), Jim’s situation as a middle-aged man and his possible love affair.

It’s very different from Harold Fry but another very good book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 368

First published: 2013

I got this: from the publishers via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Book Review: My Soul To Take by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

My Soul to Take by Yrsa SigudardottirI took this book with me on my Icelandic holiday, except the holiday didn’t happen. So, having unpacked my suitcase again, I wasn’t sure whether I still wanted to read it. Would it be sad to read about a country where I was going to go and then didn’t? Even worse, the exact region where the story takes place, Snæfellsnes, was one that we were planning to visit on a day out with a 4-by-4.

As it happened, I was glad I did read the book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My Soul To Take: What it is about

What the publishers say: “In the mystical Snæfellsnes region on Iceland’s west coast—at a New Age health resort in a renovated farmhouse—the body of a young woman is discovered, savagely beaten, with pins inserted into her feet. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, lawyer and single mother of two, has been retained to represent the resort’s owner and prime suspect. But a fresh corpse is not the only abomination Thóra encounters here—for local legend says this place is haunted . . . and a bizarre series of inexplicable occurrences soon suggests it is so.

As Thóra digs deeply into the farm’s past, she unearths a shocking history of evil and depravity—and her once-solid view of reality begins to waver. But a second murder, shockingly similar to the first, pulls Thóra back to earth by making two inescapable truths abundantly clear: the killer she seeks is very real . . . and is not finished yet.

My Soul To Take: What I thought

I loved this book! This was such a good mystery. There is an strong element of the mystical, with ghosts and superstition present in much of the investigation. I loved that, because I know many Icelandic people believe in otherworldly beings – and not only the old people.

Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts (in particular, the sound of a baby crying at night is heard, in places where there are no babies anywhere in the surroundings), but people around her insist that they are there.

I thought this book gave an interesting insight in Icelandic people and culture and the absolute remoteness of some of the places there.

Thóra is being aided by a German friend, Matthew, in her investigation into the murder. I’m not really sure what he was doing there, but he added a foreigner’s view to the whole setting, which in a way allowed for observations that a native Icelander would not be able to give.

I loved the whole story. It was set up perfectly, with one murder, followed by an introduction to a number of characters, another murder, more characters, and more information about the characters of interest. Slowly, Thóra and the reader get some idea of who could be responsible for the crimes. Unfortunately, Thóra missed a piece of information that the reader got from the police. Because of that, I kept in the back of my mind another (partial) solution. It was a little annoying to see Thóra try to solve a crime without all the information. Maybe it would have been better if the reader didn’t know about this particular issue either.

Other than that, I had good fun reading this book and consider it one of the better mysteries that I’ve read in the last few years.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 416 (my Dutch copy: Neem mijn ziel)

First published: 2006 (this Dutch edition: 2011)

I got this: from the library

Genre: mystery

Book Review: The Wish List by Jane Costello

The Wish List by Jane CostelloThe Wish List: What it is about

What the publishers say: “There are six months left of Emma Reiss’s twenties. . . and she has some unfinished business.

Emma and her friends are about to turn thirty, and for Emma it’s a defining moment. Defined, that is, by her having achieved none of the things she’d imagined she would.
Her career is all wrong, her love life is a desert and that penthouse apartment she pictured herself in simply never materialised. Moreover, she’s never jumped out of a plane, hasn’t met the man she’s going to marry, has never slept under the stars, or snogged anyone famous – just some of the aspirations on a list she and her friends compiled fifteen years ago.

As an endless round of birthday parties sees Emma hurtle towards her own thirtieth, she sets about addressing these issues. But, as she discovers with hilarious consequences, some of them are trickier to tick off than she’d thought…

The Wish List: What I thought

This was a great chick-lit that I enjoyed reading. It was an unsolicited review book from Simon & Schuster and somehow they always arrive at a convenient time. I was about to make a long car journey, and this kind of book is ideal (given that I wasn’t driving, that is). It’s an easy read and the story isn’t too complex to follow – so I can still keep half an eye on the navigation system (my husband usually ignores it and relies on me to repeat what Tammy (as we call her) just said).

In this book, the focus wasn’t rigidly on Emma’s wish list. That way, the book didn’t follow a particular scheme in which one item is highlighted and ticked off, followed by the next one, etc. That can get rather cumbersome after a while. In contrast, in The Wish List, the items on the list almost happen to be tackled. Sometimes Emma takes special actions to work on the wish (e.g., she asks her ex-boyfriend for guitar lessons) while on other occasions she is aided by friends, rather casually (e.g., “Didn’t you say you wanted to do X? Well, a friend of mine…”). And so, before you know it, you reach the end of the story and the end of the wish list.

Emma was a reasonably normal person (not empty-headed like you sometimes see in chick-lit). She does quite funny things, sometimes, e.g., she tries to make sure someone doesn’t spot her, but what she does has the effect that she is spotted after all, but then in some compromising situation that would not have happened if she hadn’t tried to hide. That sort of thing. Sometimes hilarious, but never over the top.

It is very fluently written and an easy read. To me, this is a very good chic-lit, à la the better books of Sophie Kinsella. Certainly worth a read if you’re a fan of this genre.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 484

First published: 2013

I got this: for review from the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK

Genre: contemporary fiction, chick-lit

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