Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

img_3152“What I intend to say to you will come as a shock…”

Hercule Poirot is back in the second instalment of the New Hercule Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah. This time around he finds himself in the Irish countryside with his old friend Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Both had been invited by writer Lady Playford and under mysterious circumstances as neither are certain of the reason for the gathering. Lady Playford made the decision to change her will in favour of her ailing assistant, and cutting her son and daughter completely out of an inheritance. Her reasons are unknown and curious, and when her announcement leads to a murder, the questions only seem to grow. With a house full of suspects and many unanswered questions, it is up to Catchpool and Poirot to solve the mystery and reveal the culprit.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries are among my absolute favourite mystery novels, and I love that with this new series there are new stories to enjoy. With this latest release all the pieces are in place; an intriguing setup, a gathering of suspicious characters with questionable motives, and numerous questions to work towards answering. Although the premise feels very familiar, it’s one of those easy, laid back mysteries that can be a nice evening read. And while it is nice, it is not anything very exciting. I was not particularly drawn to the cast of characters and therefore never fully engaged with the story. Also there are parts that felt a little too wordy and drawn out. It is a nice enough read, however for me, all the pieces didn’t fully click and come together to create a page-turning mystery.

Overcoming the Dreaded Reading Slump

img_3185“If I’m in a slump, I ask myself for advice.” – Ichiro Suzuki

Oh the dreaded reading slump. You can feel it coming on as the usual rush to pick up a book starts to fade and a cozy evening with a new read doesn’t hold the same appeal. The mind wanders and a favourite pastime begins to feel like a chore. For me a slump usually happens when I have been reading a lot and need a breather, or after a string of disappointing reads when the motivation to pick up another book is just not there. Some reading slumps are longer than others and usually it is just a matter of time before the nose is back in a book. Over the years I have found what works for me and what doesn’t, and grabbing as many books as I can and hoping something will stick definitely doesn’t. So when I feel a reading slump coming on, or I am fully in the midst of one, I follow three little steps:

1. Step away from the book.
Put the book down and walk away. If it feels like a break is needed then take one. Trying to get though a book or struggling to find one that will spark your interest is just frustrating, and makes it even more difficult to get back in the swing of things. Doing anything with a tired and disheartened mindset will impact your overall experience. 

2. Set a time limit.
I like to set a certain time limit for a book break. This is because if I leave it too open-ended I tend to put things off and may not set aside time in my day for reading. Falling into the “I’m too busy, I’ll make time tomorrow” routine is far too easy, and that is when time really gets away from me. The length of a book break depends on how I feel and may be a few days or a couple of weeks.

3. Read something light and fun.
Once the book break is up, I choose a nice, light read to relax with. Anything that is too heavy and complicated may have you taking the bus back to slump city, so a fun read is the way to go. I usually go for fantasy, mystery, young adult, or “chick lit” (I absolutely despise this term, but could not find an alternative. If you are aware of one, please let me know).

Books from my bookshelf I would recommend:
Re-read an old favourite.
Or, instead of something new, you can always re-read an old favourite. We all have those special books in our lives that never fail to bring us joy (I’m looking at you Harry Potter!).

Hope this helps the next time a reading slump rolls around. 🙂

Happy reading!

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

img_3128In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”

The Other Einstein is a historical fiction novel that attempts to bring to life the story and perspective of Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić during their time together. Mileva was a talented physicist in her own right and there is much debate and speculation as to how much she contributed to Einstein’s work and discoveries. The novel does have brief mentions of Mileva’s upbringing and early love of science, however it focuses almost entirely on her courtship and tumultuous relationship with Einstein.

The Other Einstein provides very little in terms of the story of “the other Einstein,” and instead provides an account of a highly dysfunctional relationship and lacklustre romance. Mileva is a fascinating person and a great subject for a work of historical fiction, however, she comes across as frustratingly meek in contrast to Einstein’s egotistical and condescending nature. There is a considerable lack of depth and nuance as one character is a constant victim and the other a villain. There is no real connection between the two, especially as Einstein transforms from a young and quirky University student into an arrogant and self-centred jerk. Their exchanges become increasingly more awkward as the story goes along, especially as it becomes peppered with the use of cringeworthy nicknames in almost every piece of dialogue. Unfortunately this novel fell short of what is a very interesting and compelling subject.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 18, 2016.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

28588073“How he has fallen. How deflated. How reduced. Cobbling together this bare existence, living in a hovel, ignored …”

In the latest release of Hogarth’s Shakespeare series, Margaret Atwood completely delivers with her take on The Tempest.

Felix has been fired from his job as artistic director at the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by a man he once considered an ally. With his career over and beloved production of The Tempest cancelled, he finds himself completely alone and becomes a recluse, intent on disappearing from everyone’s radar. He makes a home for himself in an abandoned and isolated house, with the ghost of his deceased daughter, Miranda as his sole companion. As the years pass, Felix slowly forms a plan of vengeance. He takes a teaching job with Literacy Through Theatre program at a local penitentiary and aims to bring his long ago cancelled Tempest to life and use it to exact revenge on those who orchestrated his downfall.

Hag-Seed is a delightful and page-turning read. There are a few different aspects to this book as a whole and all work together beautifully; the use of a prison as a setting, the study and production of The Tempest by Felix and his cast, and Felix’s own inner turmoil and plot. The Literacy Through Theatre program, which sets the play within a prison environment is very interesting and compelling. Most fascinating is how the author captures and portrays Felix’s state of mind as we are completely absorbed into his world. You do not have to read The Tempest prior to reading Hag-Seed in order to fully enjoy it as it does stand quite nicely on its own. I have not read the Shakespearean play, however this book does inspire me to pick it up and experience all the themes that were discussed throughout Felix’s class and production.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date October 11, 2016.

Books in the series:img_3121

1. The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

2. Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson

3. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

4. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

blog“Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn’t love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she’s jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy’s death: a red sports car.”

The Red Car is a novel of self-discovery and realization, that follows Leah’s experiences upon returning to San Francisco when she learns of the death of her former mentor. She re-visits her old life in contemplation of where her life took a turn to lead her to where she presently found herself. In many ways, she has accepted her circumstances and her unhappy marriage, however Judy’s death shakes her into looking at her past, and at what the possibilities are for the future.

While I thoroughly enjoy stories of personal journeys, this particular one left me slightly confused by my reading experience. The protagonist, Leah, is incredibly insecure, and her internal dialogue is sad and at times heartbreaking. Even though she is not a particularly sympathetic character, I felt somewhat interested in learning about her and following her progress. However, rather than a story of self-discovery, this reads like a novel of odd circumstances and random events that happen to her, and her choices and behavior is baffling. One interesting aspect was the experience of viewing the sad way a life unfolds when an individual is so consumed by negativity, insecurity and the belief they are not good enough or worth something. I also liked the simple and straightforward writing style. Overall it felt very disconnected and in the end was quite forgettable.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 11, 2016.