The Stranger – Harlan Coben

I was looking for something to read and saw “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben reduced on my Kindle. I’m a recent convert to Coben’s work so I thought I would give this one a try.   

“The Stranger” starts off with what appears to be quite a simple premise. Adam Price is approached in a bar by a man who refers to himself only as The Stranger. This stranger tells Adam that his wife faked a pregnancy a couple of years ago and he also tells him how to confirm this is true via a charge on their Visa card. Adam is understandably shocked by this news and a little sceptical at first until he digs into the Visa charge and finds the Stranger was definitely telling the truth. When he confronts his wife however, I don’t think anyone could have predicted what would happen next.


I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone but there are a few twists and turns along the way with 2 stories running parallel at first and then becoming intertwined. I love trying to work out where the twist is going to go next in these types of stories but I don’t mind admitting I was wrong in this case.  


The characters were all very well written and I did enjoy the story but I don’t think it was as good as some of his others I’ve read. The ending felt a little rushed to me and I think a bit more time could have been spent on that. All in all it was a good read and very enjoyable.  


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The Road Back From Broken – Carrie Morgan

“The Road Back From Broken” is a book that has been self-published by a new author, Carrie Morgan. I follow Carrie on Twitter (her Twitter handle is @C_T_Morgan if anyone wants to do the same) and had followed her journey through writing the book, trying traditional publishing routes and then ultimately the self-publishing process so I was very excited to finally be able to read the book for myself.  
I’m not normally a fan of military fiction, I don’t personally have anything against the military; in fact, I have a lot of respect for the people who risk their lives to protect us; it’s just not a genre that I normally read. Both my Grandads were in the services during World War II but apart from that I don’t really come from a family with a military background and those types of stories have never really struck a chord with me. This was totally different though. Yes I suppose it would technically be described as military fiction but I think it would be doing the story a disservice to say that’s all it is. Ultimately, “The Road Back From Broken” is a story of a man with PTSD and how he is dealing (or not) with that. Yes, for our protagonist, Fitz, it is his service in Afghanistan, and in particular an IED attack that he survived but his friend did not, that has caused his PTSD but if you took the military aspect out of it the story would still stand so I think this is very relatable to a lot of people.
The military language used wasn’t too complicated to understand, I think anyone who watches the news would be able to follow it without any trouble but I also didn’t feel it was over explained so I think if you were from a military background I don’t think you’d feel like it was dumbed down.  
“The Road Back From Broken” was extremely well written, I felt the characters were very well rounded and believable and the events described in the book were realistic and sensitively handled. We see Fitz struggle with to deal with his alcohol problems as he has been using alcohol to try and numb the emotional pain of his experiences in Afghanistan. Again, his struggle to remain sober was very well handled. Most people who have an alcohol problem do not just stop drinking overnight and never have any problems again. It is a daily battle for many people and sometimes they don’t feel able to carry on fighting. They might slip and fall back into bad habits and then have to pick themselves up and start the fight again. It’s something that media portrayals don’t always get right but in this case I think it was written very well.
I liked the use of flashbacks and memories to see what had happened in Afghanistan and what was causing Fitz to feel so much guilt.    
The supporting characters were also very realistically written. I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read it for themselves but I know some people may not agree with the actions of Fitz’s wife, Jenn, but for me I think it was written just right. You can’t help a person who isn’t ready to help themselves and sometimes by being there and picking up the pieces all the time you are almost enabling them to continue in their destructive behaviour. Tough love does work in a lot of cases.  
I would highly recommend this book, whether you like military fiction or not. It is an extremely interesting read and gave some insight into PTSD, whatever the cause, as well as alcoholism. As odd as it may sound given the subject matter it was also a very uplifting story. I don’t want to spoil the ending but the title is an excellent description, it very much is the story of Fitz’s journey back from the “broken” man he is when we first meet him.

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Vanish – Tess Gerritsen

Whizzing through my reading now! I had downloaded “Vanish” the 5th book in Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series, to my Kindle some time ago but not got round to reading it so now seemed as good a time as any.   

“Vanish” is a book of two halves really, it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, which I always try to avoid. Basically, the first half is about a hostage situation at the hospital and the second half sees our characters trying to pull apart a potential conspiracy surrounding the hostage takers.  


I really enjoyed this. Thanks to a long wait at a hospital appointment myself, in pretty much the same department that the hostage situation was taking place in the book, I managed to get through it in a couple of days. The case was extremely interesting and whilst I wouldn’t say I’m a conspiracy nut I found the plot believable and could imagine things like that actually happening.  


I loved the character based plot as well, again I’m trying to avoid spoilers here so don’t want to say too much but I liked seeing the further developments between Rizzoli and her husband, Agent Dean. I must admit, with each of these books that I read I find myself enjoying the differences between the books and the TV show more and more. At the moment, the relationship between Dr Isles and Detective Rizzoli doesn’t seem as close as it is on the TV show but I’m only on book 5 so I’m sure they’ll continue to grow closer.  


As usual, when the book ended I found myself wondering what happened to some of the characters after the events of the book. I do this a lot. I’m always intrigued by what’s happening where we can’t see; what happened before the book started; what happened during the time that isn’t described within the book; and what happened after it finished? Does anyone else do this?


I’m looking forward to reading book 6 at some point, might even add it to my Christmas list. Really enjoying the fact that I’m so behind with this series so can always get hold of a new one without having to wait for the next one to be released.  

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The Marble Collector – Cecelia Ahern

I’ve been busy preparing for a taekwondo exam so not really been doing any personal reading for the last month or so. I treated myself to Cecelia Ahern’s new book, “The Marble Collector” to celebrate being able to read whatever I wanted again.   

I am never disappointed by Ahern’s books and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with “The Marble Collector”. The main characters are Sabrina Boggs and her Father, Fergus. Fergus recently had a stroke and whilst he is recovering in a care home he has a lot of memory problems. Sabrina receives some boxes of his possessions, including an astounding number of marbles, all catalogued and valued but with some of the most expensive collections missing. This sets in motion the events for the rest of the book.  


“The Marble Collector” is split between Sabrina’s perspective, where we see her unravelling her Father’s life to try and find the missing marbles, and Fergus’ perspective, which is initially told as flashbacks but eventually catches up with the present. I loved the way the split perspective worked, we could see all the things about Fergus’ past that Sabrina didn’t know and was desperate to find out. It also gets you thinking about how well you can truly know a person, even a relative. I think if we were honest with ourselves we’ve probably all got things we keep to ourselves and I would say most people probably adapt their behaviour slightly depending on the people they are with at the time so it’s not really that unusual. Obviously, I don’t think everyone is keeping secrets to the extent that Fergus is but very few people are completely open and honest about every aspect of their life all the time.


There was less magic about “The Marble Collector” than most of Ahern’s books have but, to be honest, I don’t think it needed it. The peripheral characters were as well written as the main characters, although limited by the fact that the book was written in first person narrative so we only saw the other characters from the perspectives of Sabrina and Fergus. There were a few moments when I felt I wanted to know more about how some of the other characters really felt without it being skewed by the narrator’s perspective but that’s always the downside to first person narrative.  


Overall, an excellent addition to Ahern’s collection and a brilliant first book back for me after my reading break.

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The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins – Irvine Welsh

The second book I bought at the airport on my way to New York was Irvine Welsh’s “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins”. I’ve read several of his books previously and my Dad had read this one just prior to us going away and recommended it so I decided to give it a go.   

I think this is the first of Welsh’s books that I’ve read that wasn’t set in Scotland. Instead it’s set in Miami, mainly the South Beach area. The main characters are Lucy Brennan, a Personal Trainer, and Lena Sorensen, an extremely overweight artist with self-esteem issues. Lucy and Lena’s lives cross paths when Lucy stops a gunman one night on an overpass and Lena films it on her phone and later tracks Lucy down and signs on as her client.  


I loved this book. I can identify in part with both Lucy and Lena. I have long struggled with my weight and now religiously track my calorie consumption with a diet app on my phone. Lucy’s actions in the book may be ridiculously extreme but we see that they come from a good place and she’s not without her demons herself. I think it does show that everybody has their own issues and nobody is as perfect as you might think they are.  


“The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins” does take a bit to get down to the nitty gritty but I enjoyed seeing the build-up and seeing Lucy’s behaviour start to escalate. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling it. I did feel the ending seemed somewhat rushed in comparison to the length of time spent on the build up. Felt a little like he didn’t want the book to get too long so he quickly rounded it off. 


I’m also not keen on the lack of speech marks. I know it’s a daft thing but it took me a few pages to get used to the fact that there aren’t speech marks and he uses dashes instead to signify the start of someone speaking. It is only a small thing though and once I was in to the flow of the book I barely even noticed anymore. 


I would definitely recommend this to any fans of Welsh’s work but if you’re someone who is just considering trying an Irvine Welsh book for the first time, this isn’t the best example to start you off. 

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Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult

I am always on the lookout for Jodi Picoult’s latest books coming out in paperback so when I saw “Leaving Time” whilst I was doing my shopping I just had to have it. I also manage to avoid reading reviews of Picoult’s books as I don’t want the book to be spoiled if I find out too much about the plot. 

“Leaving Time” is told from several different viewpoints, as a lot of Picoult’s books are. In this case there is Jenna, a 13 year old girl who is looking for her Mother who has been missing since she was 3 years old; Alice, Jenna’s Mother, who’s story we get to see from before Jenna was even born; Serenity, a Psychic Jenna approaches to try and find out if her Mother is dead; and lastly, Virgil, a former Police Detective and current alcoholic Private Investigator who Jenna also approaches for help in looking for her Mother.  


I like the way Picoult uses the different narrators so the reader can see more than one viewpoint on the story. Often when stories are told in first person narrative it can narrow the focus as the reader only gets to see one view of the story and all the events of the book will be skewed to the way that one characters looks at things. By splitting the narrative in this way we get to see more of the story and more viewpoints on the events that are happening.


“Leaving Time” was different from most of Picoult’s other books in that there was no court case involved in this one. Most of her books involve some kind of socially divisive issue that we are introduced to in the first part of the book and then a Court case in the second part in order to decide the outcome. That is not the case with this book. It’s difficult to say more without ruining the ending for anyone who hasn’t read this as yet. I did not see the events at the end coming until they happened, I will say that. I also hadn’t figured out the “whodunit” aspect of the book either until it became obvious, which is unusual for me.  


I really enjoyed this book, it gave me a lot to think about and kept me guessing until the very end.  


Filed under Fiction Reviews 2015

Our Story – Ronnie & Reggie Kray with Fred Dinenage

I bought “Our Story” by Reggie and Ronnie Kray with Fred Dinenage at the airport on my way to New York as I knew the film about them “Legend” was going to be released shortly and I thought I would read up a little more about them before I saw the film.
Regular readers of my blog will know that true crime is a bit of a passion of mine and I especially like books written by criminals or victims as I think sometimes you get a more accurate look at the crime than in books written by outsiders. That being said, sometimes people so close to the crime don’t make for the most reliable narrators, especially if the books are written by the criminals.

As “Our Story” is told by both the Kray twins they take it in turns at telling their story and obviously each cover the parts that are most relevant to them. I knew the basic story of the Krays, how they ran the East End of London back in the 1960s and were considered to be extremely violent but I hadn’t really read much in depth about their story until now. I didn’t realise that although they were both given life sentences with a minimum tariff of 30 years, they were actually only each convicted of one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Considering the sentences that are handed down for, to my mind, much more serious offences it does seem a ridiculous length of time. As it turned out, Ronnie would never see freedom; he died in Broadmoor in 1995 at the age of 61; and Reggie would only see a few months of freedom when he was released from prison on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died in 2000 at the age of 66.

I would say this book is probably not an entirely unbiased account of their lives. Whilst it doesn’t glorify what they did, both of them admit that they deserved to go to prison it is the length of the sentences that they disputed, there aren’t many stories about things that perhaps went wrong for them. Obviously they had a reputation to protect as they have continued to profit from their high profile whilst in prison and hospital and wouldn’t want to release any stories that could damage that revenue stream.  

“Our Story” is a very well put together book and whilst it doesn’t go into a great lot of detail about their personal lives it does give you a bit of an insight into what life was like for them and exactly what their crimes were all about. I can see how they saw themselves as men of honour. They lived by a very strict code, they didn’t hurt women or children and they didn’t hurt anyone who, in their eyes, didn’t deserve it. Indeed the 2 men they were convicted of killing were other gangsters who they felt had got out of hand and were no longer living by their code.  

I don’t think this is the book to read if you already know a fair bit about the Krays as there isn’t really much new information contained in it but it was interesting to see their lives through their eyes and I’m definitely going to try and read a little more about the Krays in the future.

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Filed under Non-Fiction Reviews 2015