Second Life by S. J. Watson

I read S. J. Watson’s debut, Before I Go to Sleep, on a long-haul flight – perfect choice because I couldn’t put it down. The ‘thriller’ section of the bookshelf is not my usual hunting ground and I’m not overly familiar with the conventions of the genre – it’s fair to say I’m easily ‘thrilled’. And although these books are rarely ‘believable’ in the true sense of the word, I expect them to be convincing enough to mess with my mind – that’s the point of the psychological thriller, isn’t it? What I don’t expect is to be rolling my eyes. Hard. Or muttering “Who is that stupid….?” Which brings me to Watson’s second novel, Second Life. Continue reading

But is it as good as Serial?

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I’m not much of a listener (unless I’m talking with friends or playing eighties pop music or sitting at the opera). In fact, until this year, podcasts and audio-books were foreign to me. But my very old Kindle, with the wonderful text-to-speech function, has nearly given up, so I’ve been forced to consider my listening options.

I began by opening the previously unused podcast app on my phone. So modern, I know.

I started with Serial. In retrospect, a dumb move because Serial is so goddamn good and truly, can anything match it? No. But now that I’m on the podcast train, I’m not about to get off. This is what I’ve discovered – Continue reading

Two books, both difficult to review

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I’ve thought so much about two excellent books I finished this week – Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

They’re very different books – one is about the slums of Mumbai, in India; the other an account of the author’s pregnancy and subsequent stillbirth. Both books are painfully honest, emotionally raw and made me look away. Both tell the story of a death, yet the circumstances around those deaths couldn’t be more different. Both are confronting. Continue reading

The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

Some time ago, a friend recommended Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, sure I would like it. She was right – it’s a book that I still think about. The same friend recently lent me The Gin Closet, Jamison’s debut novel – how could I not want to read it with a title as good as that?!

The Gin Closet focuses on two characters – Tilly (Matilda), a woman who has lived hard, is estranged from her family and crippled by her alcohol addiction; and Stella, Tilly’s niece, who learns of Tilly’s existence when her grandmother dies.

“Matilda could be an actress by now, or a poet or a waitress or a bank teller or simply a suburban mother, quietly stupendous.” Continue reading

White Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby

I’ve just finished a story about a chef who won his wife in a pool game; worked in the finest hotels in the world; saved hundreds of people from a fire; cooked for kings and queens; had affairs with high-profile women; fought in wars; lived apart from his wife for decades but spent his last months with her; coined a word (deliciousness/ umami); and revolutionised the way kitchens were set up and run.

It may sound like fiction but it’s all part of the life of French chef, Auguste Escoffier. It’s remarkable stuff. Yet with so much to work with, why did I find N. M. Kelby’s novel, White Truffles in Winter, bland? Continue reading