Book Review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

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You have to give Michael Connelly credit – I don’t think he’s ever written a bad book. And for someone who’s written so many, that’s a genuinely impressive record. But the problem with many of his most recent efforts is that they’re like comfy old slippers – they’re reliable and familiar but there’s nothing surprising or challenging about them and sometimes what you really want is to slip into a beautiful pair of stilettoes just to experience something different.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is more like two smaller novels than one big one. Connelly himself acknowledges this, referring to it in draft form as “an unwieldy block of a manuscript”. Despite the help of his editors, it still feels a lot like that. I kept wondering how the stories were eventually going to intersect but they never did. And when I read the acknowledgements at the end with the reference to the unwieldy manuscript, I realised it was something Connelly himself had struggled with while writing the book. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

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Jed Rubenfeld is a modern-day Renaissance man. A professor of law at Yale University who has also taught at Stanford and Duke, he is an expert on constitutional law, privacy and the First Amendment. He studied theatre and Shakespeare at Julliard and wrote a thesis on Sigmund Freud during his senior undergraduate year at Princeton. He is also the author of six books, two of which are novels. It seems as though there’s nothing he can’t do. If I didn’t admire him so much, I’d be horribly jealous. (Well, maybe I can do both at the same time.)

The Interpretation of Murder was his first novel. It’s a very intricate weaving of true events and characters with fictional events and characters. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, Abraham Brill – all real life figures in the early 1900s movement of psychoanalysis, which was new, controversial and in competition with neurology – mingle with the fictional Elizabeth Riverford, Dr Stratham Younger, Nora Acton, George and Clara Banwell, Coroner Hugel and Detective Littlemore. There’s a miniature essay at the end of the book clearly outlining what’s real and what’s not and the artistic licence taken, which is a good thing because the blending of them is seamless. Continue reading

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

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I picked this book up solely on the basis of the title, briefly considered giving it to my sixteen-year-old niece for Christmas, then decided to keep it for myself and buy her some perfume instead. It’s probably for the best. Because while the themes are important to me and I hope important to my niece (although how much time she spends thinking about feminism and marriage equality and domestic violence and rape culture compared with the amount of time she spends thinking about boys and clothes and her potential sporting career is not clear), they are couched in a writing style and language that I think she would have had difficulty deciphering. I had some difficulty deciphering it.

Words like “irreducibility”, “uncircumscribable” and “quotidian” are sprinkled throughout liberally. Even though I know what they mean, her use of them made me want to reach for my dictionary to make absolutely sure. The fluid and operatic way in which she writes almost disguises her meaning at times, detrimental to both the writer’s message and the reader’s understanding. Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Grand Passion by Emma Darcy

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Just to round out a couple of months devoted to romance novels, I’m going to review some Mills & Boon books that were a formative part of my young adult reading experience. That sounds a little weird but I am talking about the latter end of my teenage years. I don’t read romance anymore but I have reread these books for the purpose of these reviews. Enjoy!

*****

I first read this book more than two decades ago and included it on a list of my top ten books about fifteen years ago, writing, “Although romance isn’t always high class literature, it can have an actual plotline that means something. This is the kind of novel I aspire to write, with believable conflicts and an ending that makes your breath catch and your heart skip a beat with the absolute beauty and perfectness of it.”

The problem is that those are the only things to recommend it. There are a few books I’ve read that while I was reading them, I didn’t like them at all. And then because of a surprise ending that was jaw-dropping, it made me forget about the fact that I didn’t actually like the book. The Last Grand Passion falls squarely into this category. Continue reading

Book Review: Bride Required by Alison Fraser

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Just to round out a couple of months devoted to romance novels, I’m going to review some Mills & Boon books that were a formative part of my young adult reading experience. That sounds a little weird but I am talking about the latter end of my teenage years. I don’t read romance anymore but I have reread these books for the purpose of these reviews. Enjoy!

*****

As soon as you begin reading this book and discover that the main female character is just seventeen years old, the seed is planted in the back of your mind that there is going to be yet another inappropriate age gap between her and her male love interest. But the further you read, the less bothersome it is because she’s feisty and mature beyond her years and the physical contact is pretty PG right up until the last third of the book, by which time she has turned eighteen.

Continue reading

Book Review: Freedom to Love by Carole Mortimer

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Just to round out a couple of months devoted to romance novels, I’m going to review some Mills & Boon books that were a formative part of my young adult reading experience. That sounds a little weird but I am talking about the latter end of my teenage years. I don’t read romance anymore but I have reread these books for the purpose of these reviews. Enjoy!

*****

This is the first Mills & Boon book I ever read. For some reason it was in the library at the senior campus of my high school and whenever I had a free period or nothing better to do, I would sit in the aisle and read it (circa the early to mid-1990s). Continue reading

Book Review: Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw

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There is a touch of The Girl on the Train in this story, unreliable witnesses, plenty of selfish motivations, interesting characters, great writing. But the plot isn’t mind-blowing and that makes it, like The Girl on the Train, another okay mystery. And there’s starting to be a very big pile of three-star books just like it. It needed a moment that punched the reader in the face unexpectedly but it just didn’t have one.

Iris is a single mother and part-time lawyer. Ray is in a hospital for the criminally insane. When Iris’s mother goes away on a holiday and asks Iris to house sit, particularly to look after the large saltwater aquarium full of fish in her home, she agrees. It takes nothing more than one of the fish dying to set the unfolding of this mystery in progress. The meticulously kept logbook of the aquarium’s conditions has the name “R. Boelens” on it and Iris’s mother’s maiden name was Boelens. Suddenly, Iris can’t rest until she knows who R. Boelens is.

It turns out he’s her much older half-brother. Convicted of murdering his attractive neighbour and her small daughter, he’s been in prison and a hospital for the criminally insane ever since. Still, Iris is intrigued, mostly because her mother never breathed a word of her brother’s existence. She goes to visit him at the hospital and offers to look into an appeal against his conviction, although mostly to find out exactly what happened. He agrees. Continue reading