Review | Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

A brave, if not entirely successful adaptation. 3/5 stars.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Thank you to Random House UK and Netgalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: He’s the best cop they’ve got.

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past.

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach.

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

My take:

Last year I read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a reimagining of The Tempest. This was my introduction to the Hogarth Shakespeare project for which several well-known authors have been invited to write adaptations of some of  Shakespeare’s stories. When I saw Nesbø had written a version of Macbeth I thought it was a brilliant choice. He’s enjoyed great success writing dark stories and only an author good at wrangling darkness could successfully take on the Scottish play.

Like The Tempest, I also studied Macbeth at school, so I went into Nesbø’s adaption with fore-knowledge of what was going to happen. I’ll come back to whether this was a good thing or not later in my review.

There is a lot in Nesbø’s reimagining which is ingenious. How the characters and events of Shakepeare’s play are transposed into a 1970s’ police noir is clever and well thought-out. I was particularly impressed with how the author managed to incorporate the supernatural elements of the play into a realistic genre.

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Review | Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

 Oozing Hollywood drama. 4/5 stars.

Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth

The blurb: Excited to be in glitzy, glamorous Hollywood, English author, Jane Jones, is thrilled by the prospect of seeing a scene from her novel being filmed. And not just any scene. It’s a bedroom one, starring screen heartthrob, Scott Flynn.

Too bad she is accompanied by the cynical Jack Clancy, the screenwriter who has – in her opinion – ruined her story, and seems totally unrepentant.

Dazzled by Scott’s film-star presence, Jane swoons at his feet. At least, that’s according to Scott, who immediately comes to her rescue. And so does Jack.

But do they both have ulterior motives? Is Jane a mere pawn in a game between two fierce rivals?

In the bubble of La La Land’s glittering parties, hovering paparazzi, and powerful movie tycoons, Jane begins to feel adrift. She must quickly learn who can be trusted…and who can’t.

My take:

From the title, readers of Love in La La Land will probably be hoping for a tale with plenty of glitz and glamour, oodles of drama, attractive people and beautiful locations… and they won’t be disappointed! This story is a getaway, a rare chance for us “normals” to mingle with the rich and famous, just as it is for the female main character, Jane, who is an earthy Yorkshire lass out of her element in the luxurious but shark-infested waters of Hollywood.

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Review | Circe by Madeline Miller

Utterly enchanting. 5 stars.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born. 

Yet after her sister Pasiphae marries King Midas of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril. 

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

My take:

I give very few books 5 stars. For me, a 4-star book is very very good, but a 5-star book has an indescribable something extra and I want to rave about it to everyone.

Back in 2016, Miller’s previous book, The Song of Achilles, was one of 3 books I gave a top rating. So you could say I was the ideal customer for this book. But I also went in with very high expectations which could easily have been disappointed. So I’m thrilled to say that Miller has done it again: Circe is sublime.

The world Miller creates is so captivating if I’d had the chance I’d have read Circe straight through without taking my eyes from the page. I suspect this is largely due to the wonderful first-person voice of Circe. Her tone is clear and direct but also contains a convincing tint of other-worldiness appropriate to a goddess, although her story is more human than you might imagine.

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Review | The Fire Court (Ashes of London 2) by Andrew Taylor

More slow-moving intrigue in Restoration London. 3.5/5 stars.

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor (Ashes of London 2)

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…

The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.

James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?

Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

My take:

I read the first installment in this historical mystery series – The Ashes of London – right before moving onto this book. And while I’m sure you could read and enjoy The Fire Court without having to read book 1 – it is a new mystery which introduces a group of new characters – I would recommend seeking out The Ashes of London first. A lot of my enjoyment in reading book 2 came from seeing how established characters and their relationships developed under the pressures of this plot, and in this regard there certainly is a great deal going on. I can only praise the author for giving us high stakes: he isn’t afraid to put his main characters in true peril and let them get hurt. I lost count of the number of times Cat had call to use or threaten to use her knife in self-defence!

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Review | Eureka! by Peter Jones

Does what it says on the cover! 4/5 stars.

Eureka Everything you ever wanted to know about the ancient greeks but were afraid to ask

The blurb: The Ancient Greeks gave us our alphabet and much of our scientific, medical and cultural language; they invented democracy, atomic theory and the rules of logic and geometry; established artistic and architectural canons visible to this day on all our high streets; laid the foundations of philosophy, history, tragedy and comedy and debated everything from the good life and the role of women, to making sense of foreigners and the best form of government, all in the most sophisticated terms.

In Eureka! Peter Jones, author of Veni, Vedi, Vici, tackles the gamut of Ancient Greece from the Trojan War to the advent of the Romans. Along the way he introduces the major figures of the age, including Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Euclid and Archimedes. Exploring Greek myths he provides a glimpse of everyday life in ancient times and shows us the very foundations of Western culture.

My take:

This post may be more about me and my relationship with non-fiction than this specific book and for that I can only apologise.

I try to read at least 2 non-fiction books a year. I’m aware that 2 is a low number, but I tend to struggle with non-fiction. I find my attention wanders, mostly because I read far slower than I read fiction.

Firstly, all credit for me having found and read this book must go to my local library. Their display stands of interesting non-fiction books are the main reason I ever pick up non-fiction.

In a nutshell, my review of Eureka! would be: if you have any interest in knowing about the Ancient Greeks, and would like the information in an easy-to-digest format, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

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Review | The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

A great backdrop filled with vivid historical detail. 3.5/5 stars.

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: 

A CITY IN FLAMES
London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.

A WOMAN ON THE RUN
The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman, who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.

A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE
When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…

My take:

The second book in this series – The Fire Court – is coming out on 5th April and was available on NetGalley. It sounded interesting but, being a completist, I took the opportunity to go back and request the first book in the series. Always best to start at the beginning!

I haven’t read any historical fiction for a while and I’ve never read anything set in this specific period. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that apart from knowing that the Great Fire happened in 1666, I know little else about it. In fact I don’t know much about the history of the Restoration at all, another reason why I was keen to read this series. And, in that regard I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The historical details, both in the descriptions of London and how the main characters have been affected by the execution of Charles I and the return of his son, Charles II, to the throne, are fascinating.

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Review | A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers 2) by Becky Chambers

Brilliant. 4.5/5.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

The blurb: Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

My take:

I enjoyed the first Wayfarers book – A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (ALWTASAP) – last year and was looking forward to picking up the next in the series.

Readers expecting a “straightforward” sequel, featuring all the same characters as book 1, might be disappointed. A Closed and Common Orbit is set in the same universe as book 1 and the two main characters did feature briefly in the first installment, but that’s it. I’d say that this is more an excellent stand-alone follow-up than a sequel.

However, while ALWTASAP drew its strength from a large cast of diverse characters, this book is just as strong while focussing on two. So this time we have more of the same colourful universe as a fascinating backdrop, but get to spend more quality time with a smaller cast.

The book is also quietly philosophical and, like all the best sci-fi, the alien is used to explore what it is to be human.

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Review | A Country Escape by Katie Fforde

A cosy, happy story in a beautiful setting. 3.5/5 stars.

A Country Escape by Katie Fforde

Thank you to Random House UK and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Fran has always wanted to be a farmer. And now it looks as if her childhood dream is about to come true. She has just moved in to a beautiful but very run-down farm in the Cotswolds, currently owned by an old aunt who has told Fran that if she manages to turn the place around in a year, the farm will be hers. But Fran knows nothing about farming. She might even be afraid of cows.

She’s going to need a lot of help from her best friend Issi, and also from her wealthy and very eligible neighbour – who might just have his own reasons for being so supportive. Is it the farm he is interested in? Or Fran herself?

My take:

The cover and title of Katie Fforde’s latest book tell you all you need to know! A Country Escape is cosy escapism with likeable characters in a wonderful setting. Although there is a romance thread to the story, I’d argue the greatest romance is between the protagonist – Fran – and the farm she hopes to inherit, which has its own starring role along with the beautiful countryside setting.

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Review | The Heights by Juliet Bell

A five-star adaptation of a four-star classic. 4/5 stars.

(*Ducks for avoid rocks thrown by Emily Brontë fans*)

The Heights by Julia Bell

Thank you to HQ Digital and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: A grim discovery brings DCI Lockwood to Gimmerton’s Heights Estate – a bleak patch of Yorkshire he thought he’d left behind for good. There, he must do the unthinkable, and ask questions about the notorious Earnshaw family.

Decades may have passed since Maggie closed the pits and the Earnshaws ran riot – but old wounds remain raw. And, against his better judgement, DCI Lockwood is soon drawn into a story.

A story of an untameable boy, terrible rage, and two families ripped apart. A story of passion, obsession, and dark acts of revenge. And of beautiful Cathy Earnshaw – who now lies buried under cold white marble in the shadow of the moors.

Two hundred years since Emily Brontë’s birth comes The Heights: a modern re-telling of Wuthering Heights set in 1980s Yorkshire.

My take:

The Heights is an excellent modern retelling of Emily Brontë’s classic tale. The transposition of the events of Wuthering Heights to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries works incredibly well, the time shifts are handled skillfully, and the reassignments of the roles of the secondary characters are ingenious. For example, making Lockwood a detective on the verge of retirement gives him a good reason to be unendingly curious about the Earnshaws while also imbuing the whole story with an air of trendy Scandinavian noir.

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ARC Review | The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A mind-bending wonder somewhere between an episode of Black Mirror and a classic Poirot mystery. 4/5.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35967101-the-seven-deaths-of-evelyn-hardcastle

Thank you to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will be published on 8th February.

The blurb: How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem…

My take:

This book has a great premise and puts an original spin on the classic country house murder mystery. The layers in the story make it incredibly complex and I take my hat off to the author. I can’t imagine the diagrams necessary to keep track of where all the characters are supposed to be at various times as the narrator body-hops between different “hosts”, bumping into friends and enemies along the way. In addition to the murder mystery we have the mystery of Aiden himself: who is he and why is he being forced to relive the same day, searching desperately for Evelyn Hardcastle’s killer?

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