Book Spines at a site for book reviews and reading ideas for adults
The Book Gnome
REVIEWS BY JUDE
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for adults

Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 4 September 2017

This book does not disappoint for fans of Cornwell's work. He dives straight in, with a scene demonstrating his main character's skill with a bow, and setting up a family feud that drives a lot of the high-stakes dramatic moments in the book. Nick Hook is a skilled archer who is recruited to King Henry's army as they invade France to make good Henry's claim to the French throne.

An army of Englishmen and mercenaries land at Harfleur (modern Le Havre) and finally win the siege after far too long. What they should have done was go home and regroup and start again, but Henry, believing in God's support, ploughed on to march to Calais. The French army stood in their way. Somehow, the English army snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Cornwell's victory here is in personalising the story and, although I knew the outcome of the battle, making his description of the action suspenseful. The risk here is that the reader will skim over the detail of the battle. The description of the battlefield was detailed, and visceral, and the explanation of how the English won the day convincing. I got through this book in a little over a day - I really couldn't put it down.

No Hero by Jonathan Wood
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 4 September 2017

I've found my new favourite author. I knew as soon as I read page 1 that I was in a good place. I love the informal, partial sentences stream-of-consciousness style that I have a tendency to employ myself, to convey his central everyman being thrust into a situation he feels supremely ill-equipped for.

Arthur is a detective working in Oxford, investigating a series of gruesome murders, when he is approached by a government agency, the UK Men In Black equivalent. This underfunded and sparsely populated department is all that stands between an unsuspecting public and armageddon. Arthur has to get up to speed fast, partly by asking himself "What would Kurt Russell do?" The pace of the action ramps up to a dénouement where the not-hero doesn't magically develop super-human strength or an ability to hack computers. The team maintain their ineptitude right to the last page which I loved. The confrontations that our not-hero has do not disappoint.

There is swearing and fairly graphic dismemberment, so these books are probably not for anyone younger than mid-teens, however, for everyone else they should be required reading.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 4 September 2017

We awake, confused, with Alice, who wakes up on the floor of a gym (what's she doing in a gym, FFS) having fallen and hit her head. She realises she has lost 10 years of her life, and doesn't like the relationships she has with family and friends. She doesn't like her children or, quite honestly, herself very much.

Facts and memories are revealed to us as they are revealed to Alice, mostly through the sister's diary and the grandmother's blog. Her sister's contributions jarred slightly - she sister is having such a terrible infertility experience, many IVF rounds, many miscarriages, that it felt as though she should have her own story. On reflection, this mirrors Alice's self-absorption and the aggrandisement of her own problems, so maybe it's a clever device rather than an imbalance.

I like the gradual revelations, the development and re-acquaintance of Alice with her circle. I thought the revelatory rush when she got her memory back was well written. I was slightly disappointed by how things wrapped up so neatly, but it's hard to avoid cliché in this kind of novel. I don't think that younger readers would engage with the book. It's also unlikely to engage folk who aren't in touch with their feminine side - just sayin'!

Fen by Daisy Johnson
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 15 August 2017

I picked this book off the "Fantasy" shelf but it was not what I expected. It is a book of short stories, and I usually like something with an over-arching narrative. There is however a vague feeling of connection with a reference to foxes being gassed in one story but explained in a later narrative.

Daisy begins in a world with something deeper and earthier than such prosaic concerns as wifi allow. Her experiences are surreal, & the reader never knows whether dreams have become reality or vice versa. I love Daisy's use of language. Her phrases are simple in a "spare" way - no flowery descriptions, on occasion her character portraits are a few words, often misappropriated, but in doing so, she conveys far more than with the grammatically "correct" words.

The action is graphic in places, although in keeping with Daisy's style, details are often not spelled out. Sex and violence, mostly against animals, are portrayed with an intimacy and poetry that at times doesn't feel right. I once read a passage twice, thinking two characters had sex, then realising nothing was explicit. In ways, this sums up the book - mysterious, vague, inconclusive, mystical and dreamy, but worth reading.

The Red Queen by Christina Henry
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 15 August 2017

The Red Queen is the sequel to "Alice" by the same author. I recommend reading that book first as it begins exactly where the first book left off.

Alice and Hacker have (spoiler alert) escaped and are now on a quest to rescue Hacker's daughter. The attack in which Hacker lost his daughter, is the trauma that placed him in the asylum, a circumstance he remembers in the dénouement of the previous novel. Rather than emerging from the tunnel into a lush, green paradise, Alice and Hacker find themselves in a scorched desert. Given that they cannot go back to The City, they have no choice but to go on.

I enjoyed the mixture of dangers and resolutions being both physical and psychological. The resolution, in keeping with the general grimness of the story, is not a classic story-book ending but very satisfying. On occasion, Alice's defeat of her enemy is a little easier than one would like. This is not to imply that the language is simple - the battles are thoughtfully and vividly described - merely that the character appeared to find it easier than felt congruous. Maybe I just wanted the story to go on for longer.

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you want a tale with a strong central female character.

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 15 August 2017

The Harrowing is set during the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans responded to uprisings with the brutal slaughter of the Saxons, their merciless brutality matched only by the desperate retaliation of the survivors.

This story follows 5 survivors trying to reach the safety of the main rebel camp with the past of each revealed gradually. I found it hard to keep track of who was who, particularly given their unfamiliar Saxon names. When one character was found to be lying about his identity, and his true identity was revealed, I had to look back in the book to see why his companions were so upset.

The narrative is presented in the present tense, which I took a while to get used to but this device helps to give an immediacy to the "present" action, and clearly differentiates the narrative sections where the characters relate their history.

I found this book hard to get into, mainly because of the narrative tense. However, about about half way, I found that I wanted to find out what happened to the characters. The descriptions of violence in the book can get quite graphic, but it's worth picking up, especially if you have an interest in Saxon/Norman history.

Time And Time Again by Ben Elton
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 12 March 2017

Unlike previous novels from Ben Elton, I found this to be well written, with an intriguing story that kept me turning the page right to the end. Compared to Elton's screen work, this feels more considered and intricate. It's not a new trope that going back in time to change a single point to prevent bad things, may make things worse in the long run. I liked the alternative posed here.

The hero, ex-SAS widower Hugh Stanton is alone in the world and so is an ideal candidate for the "loop in time" that Newton discovered. He is trained, equipped, and sent back to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Although I guessed who a supposed "mystery figure" was, the plot didn't feel predictable, and I was as un-nerved and taken aback by the ending. I liked that the baddies and goodies weren't necessarily fixed as either one or the other, but that most of the characters that are introduced have layers and depending on your point of view could be either good or bad.

Even though I was left feeling a little lacking optimism generally, this is well worth a read in my opinion.

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 26 February 2017

The premise is that a well-known author who is struggling to create his second novel goes to spend time with his college tutor, Harry Quebert. While there, the "Affair" explodes around him - the body of a girl who went missing 33 years ago is dug up in Harry's garden, making him the chief suspect.

Our hero knows (in his heart) that Harry cannot have abducted and killed the girl, despite the mounting evidence. It starts to look like this should be the material for his difficult second novel. Indeed, the implication is that the book in your hands is this second novel (which I found to be quite clever).

The story doesn't move quickly, and there are quite a few threads to track. The writing conveys the characters' motivation really well, and the twists and turns of the story are well revealed when the time comes - it was rare that I felt "there's a twist coming". The ending was satisfying - too often when I finish a novel, I think "meh, is that it?" - not so this time.

Also, by the time I had read to the end, I was surprised to be reminded that this was a translation. The language felt natural and well-constructed throughout.

Alice by Christina Henry
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 25 February 2017

The blurb for this book tells the reader that the story is inspired by "Alice in Wonderland". All this does, is lull you into a false sense of security.

The fact that some of the characters in this book are inspired by and named after Lewis Carroll's characters is pretty much where the similarity ends. This novel is much darker and more visceral than its leaping off point. Alice starts in a mental asylum, having recovered from an encounter with the white rabbit ten years earlier. You sense very early on, the encounter was not good.

Alice escapes with her friend, Hacker, when the asylum burns down, and they embark on an adventure involving monsters, exploration, underground tunnels, gang lords and the mysterious Jabberwocky. It's also a journey of Alice and Hacker getting to know each other - in the asylum they communicated through a hole in the wall between them. With the wall removed, Alice learns who her friend is, was, and who he becomes with each new danger they encounter.

This is not a book for the squeamish - the main characters are attacked in a variety of inventive and messy ways. I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

Adventures of a No Name Actor by Marco Perella
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 23 January 2017

Marco, the no-name actor of the title of this book, is an actor who you will probably recognise, but be unable to name. He's been 'cop at roadblock' or 'baddie #2' in many films & TV shows, enough to earn the cash to qualify for the health insurance that comes with his Screen Actors Guild membership.

This series of entertaining anecdotes gives a witty, dry and unpretentious insight into the world of a man trying to make a living in a frankly ludicrous industry. We learn that a hard days work can consist of waiting most of the day in an un-air-conditioned 7-11 for your big scene which involves lying on the floor and growling threats at the Hollywood Star, or it can result in trying to pick leaves and twigs out of impossible places after spending 5 hours battling the forces of pretend nature in a simulated hurricane.

Still, it's better than spending 8 hours a day at a desk. Allegedly.

Highly recommended for pure entertainment value, even if you have no dreams of the silver screen.

Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa
reviewed by Jude Hanlon, 21 January 2017

This book is a collection of essays by comedian Sara Benincasa. She covers mental illness, career choices, animal adoption and more. There isn't a narrative thread through the essays, so it would be as enjoyable to dip as it would be to plough through from start to finish, in fact, it may be better to read an essay, and let the ideas "settle" before reading another.

No revolutions will be started as a result of reading this book, unless being excellent to yourself and others is revolutionary. There are some ideas I will apply and some I will respectfully leave where they are. However, there are some strategies for improving life in general, and allowing your creative self to flourish (but not in the classic hippie-way that sentence makes it sound).

I found Sara's style very accessible, and the essays to be consistently enjoyable to read. She does not use a formulaic style that I was able to detect, which meant that I wasn't distracted by style over substance. Some of the content is reasonably "adult" so not appropriate for younger readers, but I'd say this collection has something educational to say to over-18s of any gender.

Coming Soon reviewed by Jude Hanlon

Coming Soon reviewed by Jude Hanlon

Coming Soon reviewed by Jude Hanlon

Coming Soon reviewed by Jude Hanlon

Coming Soon reviewed by Jude Hanlon

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