Book Review: The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist – Diane Chamberlain – 1997 – Drama

When Susanna Miller loses custody of her eleven-month-old son, Tyler, she goes on the run instead of turning her little boy over to her ex-husband and his new wife. She dyes her hair, changes her name, and escapes from Boulder, Colorado, leaving behind everyone she knows including Linc Sebastian, the man who has been her best friend since childhood and who knows her better than anyone.

Susanna lands in Annapolis, Maryland – lonely, frightened – and always looking over her shoulder for someone who might recognize her. Just as she’s beginning to feel safe in her new surroundings, she stumbles across information that could save the lives of many people… if she’s willing to take it to the police. But going to the authorities means revealing her identity, admitting her guilt and, worst of all, losing her son.

The story is primarily told from Susanna’s point of view, although there are some points from Peggy or Linc. At parts of the book I could empathise with Susanna and her predicament, but I found the characters in this book particularly unbelievable. I couldn’t really relate to any of them, and didn’t really care about their problems they were facing, which was surprising because the premise of the book really appealed to me when I saw the book in the charity shop.

The main question in the book is whether Susanna should hand in the list she finds on her computer or not. However this question doesn’t really get left in her hands, and so feels a little redundant to the story. The problem is, as this is the only thing the plot is relying on, there is not much story left without it.

My favourite thing about this book was the plot of the list that Susanna finds on her computer, and trying to figure out what it was referring to.
The book had a rather predictable ending, like most of Chamberlain’s books but this time it felt a little boring rather than the usual satisfaction I get from the endings of her books.

I gave this book 2/5 on Goodreads. Unfortunately I don’t think this Chamberlain book is one of the memorable ones. I didn’t engage with the plot or the characters, although I’m not really sure why. I probably couldn’t recommend this book to somebody newly discovering Chamberlain’s books. I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t set in North Carolina or whether there was something in the plot that turned me off, but I really didn’t care about this book – it wasn’t that it was a badly written book, more just a bit dull.

Book Thoughts: The Good Father

The Good Father – Diane Chamberlain – 2012 – Drama

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The Good Father tells the story of Travis, a man in his early twenties trying to raise his 4-year-old daughter Bella. He loses his job and his home and is offered a chance to make money, although he will have to commit a crime. Will he choose to commit the crime, even though he may lose his daughter in the process?

Diane Chamberlain is very good at characterisation and developing people that are interesting to read about. I really liked Travis as a character, he seems (as the title suggests) a good dad to Bella, although quite naive and weak-willed. It is understandable that he is like this but it feels a bit convenient for the story as he is also supposed to be intelligent. My favourite character was definitely Erin as I just felt like I could relate to her the most. Although I felt she was a bit convenient to the story rather than it being particularly realistic, I couldn’t help empathise with her story. I did also feel that the problems of the main characters were generally believable – Chamberlain often writes about problems people face in their everyday lives (poverty, grief…) and makes them more dramatic for the plot.

As I said the book’s central theme is whether to commit the crime and earn some money for Bella, or to potentially live on the street but not commit any crime. Although the answer is obvious as to what he will do (for the plot if nothing else) I don’t think this itself particularly affects the enjoyment of the plot.

Another of my favourite things about Chamberlain’s books is the setting of North Carolina. Perhaps to Americans North Carolina is not an “exotic” setting, but I love reading about the state as she describes it in her book, and it has made me really want to visit one day so I can properly experience the places she is talking about.

My main problem with the book was that it all just felt a bit too convenient. When Travis and Robin meet again, Robin’s status as the governor’s wife, Erin’s personality and overall presence in the book. There was not a lot of actual plot unfortunately, it just seemed to rely on these convenient situations to move the plot along.

I do however like the way that the book ended. Something I like about Chamberlain’s books is that she always adds an epilogue to finish the book and tie up the characters’ stories. Although they sometimes end up a bit “twee”, I always have nice feeling when I finish one of her books.

On Goodreads I gave this book 3/5 stars. Although I do enjoy the book overall, the plot isn’t the most interesting and I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone as a first Diane Chamberlain book.

Book Thoughts: The Silkworm

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith – 2014 – Crime

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The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series. A fairly unsuccessful author has gone missing and his wife wants Strike to find him. When the author turns up dead, Strike tries to prove that the killer was not his wife.

The main point of view in this book is obviously Strike himself, although I find it difficult to warm to him. He has a full of himself attitude, and at times it is tiring to listen to his internal pity party. I really hope that Strike develops more as a character in the next few instalments of the book, or that we learn something new about his character. I definitely preferred Robin, his assistant, in this book. Rowling always writes strong female characters and knowing what I have now read in the third instalment it is interesting to go back and read her again.

The suspects in this book were particularly interesting, although I do find it difficult to keep their storylines separate in my head. My favourite characters in this novel was Orlando and Pippa, and I think the book handles their storylines sensitively.

Some people on Goodreads have criticised Rowling for describing the London setting too much in the book. Although I’m sure it might be a bit much for people who live in London to see their city described in a slightly-fantasy way, for the majority of readers who live outside of the capital it’s helpful to read Rowling’s description of the world Strike and Robin inhabit.

My favourite thing about this book was the fact that it revolved around the literary world. It was interesting to see different characters from this industry, and to speculate whether any of the characters were influenced by real people Rowling might have met in her 20 plus years in the book-world.

However, I think the book was a bit too long and I don’t like the storyline as much as the first book, although I do like that it is still a traditional crime-book plot. I sometimes find it difficult to visualise the scenes in the book, and I wish that when the TV adaptation had been on television last year it had been more faithful to the novel.

I also like the way the book reveals the killer – I’m not very good at realising who the killer is before they are revealed in crime books and programmes, and the first time I read the book I was definitely taken by surprise. Re-reading the book, I can see the clever clues that are slipped in and I really enjoyed seeing those clues add up this time.

I always like the cover of these books because they reflect the London setting of the books.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. If you’ve read and enjoyed the first instalment in the series, then you should definitely give this one a go.

Book Thoughts: Marley and Me

Marley and Me – John Grogan – 2005 – Memoir

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In case you didn’t see the 2008 film, Marley and Me is a memoir by John Grogan about his dog Marley that he raises from a puppy and the funny memories he has about their time together.

My favourite part of the book is hearing about Marley’s attempts at training. Although I haven’t seen the film of the book since it came out 10 years ago, it really reminded me of the film. The book was easy to visualise and as a dog owner I could empathise with many of the things that Grogan was saying and the book was very relatable. When the inevitable happens at the end of the book I had tears in my eyes because it was described so beautifully.

My least favourite part of the book was that in places it was slightly boring, for example when it gave a lot of detail about the Labrador breed – however this was only a small part of the book and most of the book was very story driven.

The cover of this book features a beautiful picture of Marley on the front and some cute pictures on the inside – it really helps you to visualise the stories Grogan is telling.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. If you are a dog lover I would definitely recommend reading this book – it’s very moving. If you’re more of a cat person, I’d probably skip it as I think you have to be able to personally relate to the feelings Grogan is describing.

Book Thoughts: The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith – 2013 – Crime

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This book is the first in the Cormoran Strike series written under J.K. Rowling’s pen-name Robert Galbraith. A young model dies and the police put it down to suicide as a result of her mental health problems. A few months later her brother comes to Cormoran Strike, a private detective, as he doesn’t believe that her death was suicide.

The main character in the book is clearly Strike, who is my favourite character in the book. I found him relatable and I enjoyed reading his back story. Another character is Robin – from the reviews I have read of books in this series, she seems to be the most popular character, and although it is great to read a strong female character in a crime book, I find myself not really caring about her. In particular I wish that less time was spent on the relationship between her and Matthew – I don’t really find it adds anything to the story or Robin’s character.

The first time I read this book I also found the Bestigui characters the most interesting suspects and I really enjoyed finding out what was happening in their back story.

The story is told from a third person narrator, which makes it easier to follow the storylines of both Strike and Robin. It is obviously also Rowling’s traditional style, which makes the writing feel more familiar.

I would have liked to see more development of Strike’s character within the novel. You could see a clear development of Robin throughout this book, but the only thing I think would improve this novel is if you could see more development of Strike.

I think the real strength of this book is the dialogue Rowling manages to create and the way she creates believable characters with depth. I don’t usually read crime novels so the first time I read this book, I enjoyed reading the reveal of the killer, and on my recent reread I enjoyed picking up on all the clues I didn’t see the first time.

I would definitely recommend this book – I’m not usually a crime reader but this book is easy to read and has some well defined characters (bad character development is usually something that puts me off reading crime fiction). The writing feels similar enough to Rowling’s Harry Potter series that it is comfortable to read, while exploring a genre that I don’t usually read.

I rated this novel 5/5 on Goodreads.

Book Thoughts: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – 2015 – Thriller

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The plot:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking, and in one moment everything changes. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

The characters: 

The main character of this book was Rachel and most of the time I found that despite her (very obvious) flaws I actually liked her. I could sympathise with her and I was really rooting for her at the end of the book. Although I’ve never had similar problems to Rachel, her story was believable and I found it hard to blame her for her situation. I did wish that she had developed more over the story, as she often just seemed to blame others for her problems, rather than taking action and didn’t really do anything meaningful until the last few pages.

Another of my favourite characters was Megan – for the most part I felt sorry for her and the tragedies she had in her past, although present-day Megan was a bit more difficult to empathise with – I find it hard to empathise with people who play with other people’s partners, so after a while I did start to feel a bit fed up with her. Although I much preferred Rachel to Megan, I did enjoy reading her parts of the book the most, as it was often the parts where you found a new answer.

The book is also told through the viewpoint of Anna, who I really didn’t like – I found her a bit pathetic without any real action – she blamed Rachel for all her problems, but it is hard to be on the side of the mistress.

My thoughts:

Although I liked this book, I didn’t really understand the hype it received back in 2015. It was an interesting read, but thrillers aren’t really my favourite genre.

I found the plot a bit predictable (particularly the ending), although the way it played out was quite original. I did wish that characters had more of a meaningful relationship with each other, as that’s something I tend to read. I did find it easy to read the book though, and the time jumps were easy to understand. I think if I had seen the film before I read the book it might have been more confused though.

My Goodreads Rating:

4/5. Despite not being a particular fan of thrillers, I would recommend this book. I really liked the way that information was fed to the reader throughout the book, making you feel like you couldn’t trust anything you were reading.

Books Thoughts: The Orphan Choir

The Orphan Choir – Sophie Hannah – 2013 – Horror

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The Plot: The Orphan Choir is about Louise, a woman whose son is away at boarding school and whose neighbour plays loud music, which keeps her awake at night. She decides to buy a second home in the countryside but finds that the music follows her there. Only now she is hearing a ghostly choir of orphans.

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