Monthly Archives: August 2013

Star Ratings

Star RatingGiving a book a star rating is tricky business. All commenters on sites like Amazon or Goodreads do it, but not many book bloggers. It is like looking at a resort on Tripadvisor, you are always going to find some who champion the place and others who would never recommend it. A book may get a high rating from me but you might be lukewarm about it. Of course reading tastes differ. Even if I read the same book in another time in my life, I might rate it differently.

The reason I do give a rating is because it requires me to give some indication of the quality of the writing and the quality of the reading experience.  Though mostly gut reaction, I do look at things like writing style, readability, overarching themes, what I learned, level of suspense, conflict, redemption, point of view, emotional impact, character development, etc. It remains an interesting exercise because no book has everything for everyone, but it does help me to identify the really good ones and forces me to form an overall opinion.What do Star Ratings Mean?

Most importantly, it allows you to click on the Five Star and Four Star lists from the “Genre Categories” menu in the right sidebar of this blog,  for quick lists of the very Best Books I’ve read. I hope this is helpful to you!

‘the last time i saw you’ by Elizabeth Berg

the last time i saw youstarstarElizabeth Berg is one of my favourite authors, but I found this one a disappointment. It’s about a group of classmates meeting at a high school reunion. It was cliché and shallow and not up to her usual standard.  Books of hers which I have enjoyed are among others, Open House, Art of Mending, and We Are All Welcome Here. The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted is a hilarious collection of short stories. Her books focus on everyday life but her strength is usually in her ability to pull out and describe extraordinary moments otherwise hidden in the midst of ordinary events. I would say her books are mostly targeted for middle aged women, although the Durable Goods trilogy (Durable Goods, Joy School, True to Form) captures the adolescent girl experience very well.

So whether you are a Berg fan or not, take a pass on this one and pick up another. I know I will until I’ve read them all.

Elizabeth Berg Website

‘Good News Bad News’ by David Wolstencroft

Good News Bad NewsstarstarstarAn easy to read literate spy novel with  a sense of humour, this clever little suspense story is full of entertaining twists and turns. It’s almost like a spoof, playing on the fact that in the spy world, people seldom know whom they can trust, and must be ready to respond to anything at any time.

George and Charlie, two seemingly normal and average guys, work together in a small photo kiosk in Oxford Circus underground station. All normalcy is left far behind though, when they each discover that the other is not who he first appeared to be. Two friends very quickly become lethal enemies.

Creator of British spy drama Spooks (MI-5 in the US), Wolstencroft knows the spy world and knows how to weave a marvellous tale.

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Cuckoo's CallingstarstarstarIn case you missed it in the news, J.K. Rowling wrote another book under a pseudonym to see how her writing would fare without the hype of her very own name attached to it. But the secret was leaked, and the book immediately jumped to the top of the bestseller’s lists. The war veteran’s charity, to whom Rowling committed all of the proceeds because she was touched by their plight while researching the novel, is laughing all the way to the bank. The main character in the story is a wounded war veteran, and the same charity also received a tidy sum from the lawyers who leaked the info, by way of apology to the author. All of this is beginning to sound like a plot for yet another story!

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is a nice little crime novel, complete with the requisite characters: 1) the struggling and troubled yet sharp private eye who despite his shortcomings, is still very loveable; 2) the ‘more than a pretty face’ assistant whose intelligence and quick thinking saves the private eye’s backside more than once, and enjoys working for him more than she thought she would; 3) the glam victim who ‘had it all’ but also had some reason to commit suicide; and 4) of course a whole host of dark and shady characters who all might have had a motive to commit  murder in case it wasn’t suicide at all. At any rate, a crime novel ensues with a far higher vocabulary and complicated sentence structure than I have ever experienced in a book of this genre before. The Latin in the chapter headings should have been the biggest clue!

When the leak first hit Twitter, an expert at Oxford was consulted to use his algorithm program to do a little sleuthing work of his own. He submitted for testing, a Harry Potter book, her other non-Harry novel ‘Casual Vacancy’ and a number of other crime novels. The results were conclusive. This book had the same writing style, word usage, and sentence structure as the other books by Rowling, with less resemblance to the other crime novels. Busted!

Aside from all the hype, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’  actually was a good read. I especially liked the characters who were believable and well drawn. I do not think that this is Rowling’s best work though. A crime novel should have a bit more suspense and a bit less character development to satisfy the die-hard lovers of the genre. The genius she was capable of in the Potter series has, in my opinion, never been repeated in her other works, but I don’t blame her at all for trying. If Cormoran Strike reappears in a sequel, (and it has already been leaked that ‘Galbraith’ will produce a second in the series) I will definitely want to see what he and his indispensable assistant are up to next!