My reading material recently seems to be full of borrowed crime novels (my latest book reviews of The Darkness, and HeadHunters) and this is another! This is how it ends was really popular around the summer of last year and was The Times Crime Book of the month and Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month and had rave reviews. I saw it in Tesco, quite a few times but didn’t get round to purchasing the book. So when my friend recommended the book, I added it to the pile.

The story starts with a man that has been murdered and is found by Ella Riordan. Ella is a social activist, blogger and PhD student researching social activism from Durham but living in London. The body was found at a party celebrating her Kickstarter project to help her fund a book on giving those residents that have been forced out of their homes a voice. Ella calls on her best friend, social activist Molly Fader as she is in shock and doesn’t know what to do. The story is about who is the murderer and becomes an interesting game as Molly becomes more suspicious as to who Ella Riordan really is and her involvement with the deceased man that night.

The story is told through two narratives, Molly’s and Ella’s. Molly is a seasoned campaigner, she used to be a teacher and still does teach occasionally to keep the money coming in. But she is also a photographer and campaigner and has been campaigning or photographing campaigns for decades. Molly meets Ella after a protest they both attended and Ella broke her arm after being hit with a police baton. Molly provides Ella with the contacts that she needs for her PhD and is Ella gets involved with a protest regarding Molly’s flat being pulled down.

The book honestly explores the negative effects of gentrification. Particularly in London how that property developers are ruthlessly developing London for their own gain. How families are having new flats, that they could never afford replace their homes and the social tension that this creates. For those of you reading that live in the UK. We all know the problems about London and other large parts of the UK being unaffordable for the majority of people that work in those areas, particularly if you are a first time buyer.

A quote which stood out for me regarding this was a family that was moving out the block of flats that Ella is campaigning to save. Molly speaks to the family and the young girl, Beth, is at a Russell group University in London which she will leave when she moves to her new area.

“She can take the points from her first year and transfer them to another college,’ Stacey says with the confidence of someone who doesn’t realise the huge gulf between the educational standards of a Russell Group University and whatever her new city has to offer…”

Molly really feels for Beth and young person growing up in the UK today and feels that she did have it slightly easier than young people today.

“My generation ‘stood on our own two feet’ thanks to generous grants and affordable rents and no security tags hidden in the back of expensive textbooks, jobs you could pick up and leave on a whim, knowing the place across the road would be hiring. It’s easy to forget how wide and well sprung our safety nets were.”

I found the narrative at times hard to follow, it didn’t help that I didn’t like either Ella or Molly. The ending did catch me by surprise and was not what I was expecting as I was constantly second guessing on what really happened. If you like a book that is quite a slow burner and an explosive ending than this book would suit.

Nordic noir books seem to be very popular at the moment (in case you were wondering what Nordic noir is (yes I had to google it too) it is a type of scandinavian crime fiction featuring bleak urban settings and dark storylines). I am a bit late jumping onto the bandwagon having unintentionally got on as my friend gave me a few books to read which happen to be from that genre. One book which landed in my lap and I love is The Darkness.

The Darkness is a story about Detective Inspector Hulda Hermansdottir. Hulda has been working for the Icelandic Police for most of her life. She is due to retire at the end of the year and although often she has been frustrated at work as she felt her talent has been overlooked and that she has never been popular at work. It is better than the alternative which is sitting in her flat alone.

Hulda finds from her boss Magnus (who like every other male has risen through the ranks quickly) that Hulda’s retirement is being brought forward to make way for another male high flyer. Hulda determined to finish the week out and to prove a point (more to herself than her boss) chooses a cold case where a russian refugee, Elena died. It was written down as a suspected suicide but Hulda wasn’t convinced. Especially as the person in charge of the case, Hulda felt was incapable.

Hulda opens the case and on discovering another young woman is missing. The reader finds themselves on a journey through Iceland, seeing how small and isolating it is. But also on a journey through Hulda’s life as we understand why she makes the decisions she makes.

The book has a really good plot and the ending is such a surprise but completely logical. I genuinely did not know who killed Elena until right at the end because there were potential suspects with possible motives.

The geographical descriptions of Iceland with me being a huge Geography geek, I really enjoyed and I felt that it easily transports the reader away from the train/chair/bed location of where they are reading the book to wherever Hulda is or where an unnamed narrator is in every other chapter of the book. Those descriptions are a very important part of the book and really help set the scene.

Ragnar has two more books in his ‘Hidden Iceland’ series both of which I will get round to reading at some point! Have you read any Ragnar Jonasson books?

World War Two literature (both fiction and non-fiction) I really enjoy reading. I got Home Front Girls from the free bookshelf at the local gym so was really excited to get stuck in.

Home Front Girls tells the story of three women, all who have lived completely different lives meet after taking roles at OwenOwen a department store in Coventry. Dotty, a woman who has spent all of her life living in an orphanage and at the age of 18 has moved into a flat on her own and is standing on her own two feet for the first time. Lucy who lives in a house with her little sister Mary and her older brother and finally Annabel, a spoilt girl who has always have everything she wanted. She throws tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wants and is gutted that her mother forces her to get a job and ‘make do and mend’.

Set in the backdrop of Coventry just before and during World War Two, the story interweaves true events such as the Coventry Cathedral bombing through the story. The story has many twists and turns for all of the women. Poor Dotty doesn’t get a break as she gets bombed out of her house twice and writes stories in her spare time as she used writing as a way to escape when she was at the orphanage. Her talent of writing stories gets discovered and through this she finds love.

Annabel was my least favourite character, she had been spoilt as a child and the way she comes across in the book (and Rosie is persistent at presenting Annabel as a spoilt brat) almost makes you want to chuck the book at the wall. However she does become a Red Cross Voluntary Aid Worker, partly I feel as a repent for being a selfish woman.

Lucy is the most unique character, both her parents have died but she has this dark secret, which almost suffocates her as she keeps herself to herself. We see throughout the book this deep friendly relationship with her next door neighbour Mrs Price (Mrs P). Mrs Price has three kids, two that have been evacuated and one that has gone to war (the banter between her and her husband is quite sweet).

The book does get a bit silly after a while. It feels like every truly awful thing that can ever happen to a person (because being set in WW2 just isn’t enough) happens. If you want a book to kill some time whilst on the holiday or train (like the one I take to work everyday) then you can do much worse than pick this one.

Image of the front cover of the book The Bed and Breakfast Star with the wording book review at the top left corner and becbec.uk at the bottom right corner.

The Bed and Breakfast Star by Jacqueline Wilson is a childhood book that still provides an impact to me, years after I first read it. Unlike Vicky Angel and The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star is what I consider Jacqueline Wilson’s less well known books.

The story is about Elsa, a ten year girl who ends up living in a bed and breakfast hotel after her family becomes homeless. She details her life from her Dad not being in her life to Mack becoming her step-dad. The arrival of Pippa and Hank her half sister and brother and her dreams of becoming an comedian.

Reading the book again as a 27 year old compared to a 12 year old at the time, I was really surprised at the number of hard hitting topics the book covers – homelessness, violence (her stepdad smacked her whenever she was being naughty), truancy, family separation, benefits and the impact of drink and gambling. Although you could see that her mother loved her, I don’t think Elsa’s mum was the best. Her mother struggled to get out of bed some days (in her situation you could completely see why) and really relied on Elsa too much to look after Pippa and Hank which isn’t Elsa’s role and to her detriment meant that Elsa didn’t go to school. You could see, however, why her mother fell apart, anyone would in that situation.

For those children that are going through similar issues it must have been a comfort to know that they are not the only one and that other children go through situations like this as well. For children like myself at the time, who had a warm bed and a roof over my head which wasn’t going to be taken away from me. My only grumbles was sharing a room with my sister (which was rare for children of the 90’s to do), which looking back was so stupid and short sighted of me.

As an adult, you do realise that it is likely Elsa isn’t going to have a happy ending and Jacqueline Wilson doesn’t give her one as that isn’t always the reality for those in Elsa’s situation. This is what I like about Jacqueline Wilson and why her books have done so well as she isn’t afraid to tackle real life topics which to be honest at that time most other authors didn’t for that age group. Jacqueline Wilson interweaves these topics through the first person narrative. To me this was ideal as you got to experience for a short while what it is like to be Elsa and I feel has more impact than if it was written in third person.

Finally, the illustrations by Nick Sharratt are awesome as usual. I completely forgot most, if not all of Jacqueline Wilson’s book’s are illustrated inside as well so it was a little extra treat and complemented the book as well.

Have you read The Bed and Breakfast Star? What is your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book?

Book that I hated

I love reading books and spend a small fortune in Amazon and charity shops purchasing books. However some books I have purchased often end up being real disappointments. Since I take my unwanted books to the charity shop, I delved back in my amazon purchases to see which books ended up being disappointments.

Contest – Matthew Reilly

Synopsis: The New York State Library becomes an arena for Dr Stephen Swain and daughter Holly where Dr Stephen Swain is competing for his life. 

I loved Ice Station and Hell Island so when I was looking for a book to take with me on holiday Contest seemed like the perfect answer. Matthew Reilly’s books are know for being over exaggerating. Ice Station and Hell Island are two but they were kind of believable, Contest was just so ridiculous from the start with. As soon as I was reading about alien creatures that speak to humans, I just couldn’t read the rest of the book. If you are into fantasy it may be one for you.

The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman

Synopsis (from Amazon): Born into a brothel, Ruth’s future looks bleak until she catches the eye of Mr. Dryer. A rich Bristol merchant and enthusiast of the ring, he trains gutsy Ruth as a puglist. Soon she rules the blood-spattered sawdust at the infamous Hatchet Inn.

The Fair Fight will take you from a filthy brothel to the finest houses in the town, from the world of street-fighters to the world of champions. Alive with the smells and the sounds of the streets, it is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention and fighting your way to the top.

A historical fictional novel about female boxers really appealed to me as I read a five star review about it in an magazine. But the book was just such a slow burner that I got fed up and gave up half way through. I found it confusing and didn’t want to spend the time finding out what was going on.

Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture – Douglas Coupland

Synopsis (from Amazon): Andy, Dag and Claire have been handed a society beyond their means. Twentysomethings, brought up with divorce, Watergate and Three Mile Island, and scarred by the 80s fallout of yuppies, recession, crack and Ronald Reagan, they represent the new generation- Generation X. 
Fiercely suspicious of being lumped together as an advertiser’s target market, they have quit dreary careers and cut themselves adrift in the California desert. Unsure of their futures, they immerse themselves in a regime of heavy drinking and working in no future McJobs in the service industry.
Underemployed, overeducated and intensely private and unpredictable, they have nowhere to direct their anger, no one to assuage their fears, and no culture to replace their anomie. So they tell stories: disturbingly funny tales that reveal their barricaded inner world. A world populated with dead TV shows, ‘Elvis moments’ and semi-disposible Swedish furniture.

For those of you reading that know me personally, this does sound like a book that would be right up my street, especially its relevance with today’s society. I found it a choir to get through, quite self indulgent and boring.

Kill All Enemies – Melvin Burgess

Synopsis (from Amazon): 

Everyone says fourteen-year-old BILLIE is nothing but trouble. A fighter. A danger to her family and friends.
But her care worker sees someone different.

Her classmate ROB is big, strong; he can take care of himself and his brother.
But his violent stepdad sees someone to humiliate.

And CHRIS is struggling at school; he just doesn’t want to be there.
But his dad sees a useless no-hoper.

Billie, Rob and Chris each have a story to tell. But there are two sides to every story, and the question is . . . who do you believe?

I had read Junk and absolutely loved it, so when I googled searched more of Melvin Burgess’ books this one appealed to me. But when I had purchased it, I was disappointed, I found the book never got quite going for me.

Becoming: Sex, Second Chances and Figuring Out who the hell I am – Laura Williams

Synopsis (from Amazon): 

When the man Laura Jane Williams thought she’d wed dumped her and married her friend, she was devastated. Empty. Drinking too much, sleeping around, and moving from place-to-place in a refusal to put down roots, she tried to fill the void – the gaping hole – that heartbreak had left behind. She wanted control. To grab life by the balls. To live boldly. But, she rapidly learned it wasn’t that simple.

Resolving that life couldn’t go on as it was – that the backlog of men and sadness that haunted her would not define her – Laura declared a year-long vow of celibacy, ultimately finding herself in a Riviera convent as she slowly put pieces of herself back together.

An honest exploration of a young woman’s soul and a road trip through Italy, America, Paris and… Derby, BECOMING is a book that makes you laugh and makes you cry, but most of all? It makes you realise that even when the going gets tough, no one is really f*cking up like they think they are.

This book, again, I had brought due to a review I read in Cosmo I think. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but found it just too self indulgent. I have to expect that, it is a memoir and what happened to her was truly awful but it was too much for me. A lot of people go through a lot worse and don’t travel around, they have to get on with it. It just wanted her to get over it!

That’s it for now! What books have you read which you were disappointed with?

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