Review – The Revenant by Michael Punke

I finally finished The Revenant by Michael Punke, after struggling through it for over a week. I’m really not sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed it, but it was also such an effort to get through. I think I just really wanted to like it a lot more than I did.

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The Revenant is set in 1823 and tells the story of Hugh Glass, a member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company who treks up the Missouri river in search of…something? (I think they’re hunting, maybe?). A little way into the journey, Glass is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. He is not expected to live much longer, and two men are instructed to remain behind in order to give him a proper burial when he finally does die. Unfortunately, one of the men who volunteers for this task, Fitzgerald, is impatient and bad tempered (to put it lightly). He orders the younger boy, Bridger, to steal Glass’ possessions, including his rifle, knife and flint and steel. They leave as Indians approach their camp, leaving Glass still alive.  Glass makes a miraculous recovery and embarks on a journey of revenge.

The story is great, and one I didn’t realise was true until I read the author’s historical notes at the end.It is full of gritty excitement and tension, yet this is interspersed with moments of unnecessary back story. Each character receives a short chapter explaining who they are and why they’re here, but this doesn’t really add to the story, perhaps with the exception of Fitzgerald. It is explained that Glass had a fiance, who had died while he was away. This could have been used as a vice to explain Glass’s emotional reactions, regarding his need for revenge, but it wasn’t. It was hardly mentioned again and really could have been left out, along with everyone else’s back stories. Although there are so many great moments in this book, the excitement and tension is immediately lost by including these chapters, almost at random intervals.

Punke also has a rather strange writing style. Rather than focusing entirely on Glass and having to story from his perspective (although in third person), Punke randomly switches between characters mid-paragraph. This becomes confusing and meant that the reader isn’t as absorbed in Glass’s character as they should be. I got to a point towards the end where I just didn’t really care what happened to him anymore.

I also found the story quite repetitive. They spend weeks travelling up the river, then spend weeks travelling back down, then back up, then back down, etc. They encounter different problems on each journey, running into different groups of Indians (I know this isn’t the correct term to use in modern times, this is just what they are referred to in the book set in 1823) and different dangerous animals each time. Oh no, he’s lost his gun again; oh no, there’s another blizzard, etc. When I said the story is a good one, maybe I exaggerated. What I mean is that it really should be a great story, perhaps with a different author at the helm. In this regard, I’m sure I would enjoy the film, if not more, than in an entirely different way. The problems here lie in how the story is told, rather than the story itself.

As I said in one of my Currently Reading posts, I also really struggled with some of the terminology Punke uses. He talks about guns as if I should already know about guns. I really don’t, please explain! I also know nothing about wilderness survival and the equipment that surrounds it. I suppose this is my own fault for being ignorant. Maybe people who read Western type novels regularly would have been alright with this? I ended up skipping words and guessing what they mean.

There’s also a LOT of gore in here. They are constantly killing animals (which makes me sad!) and there are some really gruesome death scenes. Not that this is an issue, but it does put me off watching the film. I’m fine reading about gore, but I don’t want to watch it!

Other than what could have been a really decent story, I have very few positives to reflect on. The book was a real struggle to get through. I really couldn’t wait for it to end so I could read something better.

Would I recommend this book? No, probably not.

6/10 Alright

Review – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

This is a book that I’ve seen on bestseller lists, on posters in train stations, and floating around online for a while. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a debut thriller released in 2014, proclaimed as being the next Gone Girl. I loved Gone Girl, so I was really excited to get my hands on a copy.

 

From the first few chapters, I was a little disappointed. The prose read as a debut novel, Mackintosh’s inexperience shown in awkward and cliche conversations between the characters. A few chapters in, however, it began to settle and I began to enjoy myself.

I Let You Go begins with the tragic hit and run of a five year old boy, followed by the investigation into his death. That’s really as much as I want to tell you. This book has one of the most shocking and unpredictable twists I’ve read in a long time; one that left me sat in disbelief and pure confusion, gathering my thoughts before I could move on. I really don’t want to ruin it for anyone, as this is what makes the book so good. The first half is mildly entertaining. You become comfortable and are lulled into a false sense of security, and then BAM. TWIST. WHAT!? HOW!? The second half is fast-paced and gripping, full of twists and turns.

To start with, I found the detectives a little bit annoying and the sexual tension between them made them slightly unlikable. I did warm to them as it went on, I just struggle to find people who consider having an affair likeable or relatable. I felt as if Mackinstosh wanted us to like them and to understand their personal struggles, but it ruined them for me slightly. That being said, I do wonder whether she will continue these characters into the next book she writes. It would be interesting to see how they develop.

I also have a small issue with the final twist at the end (I won’t give any spoilers). I just felt that it was unnecessary and implausible. Read the book and see if you agree with me.

Despite this, on the whole, the characters are compelling, the story is fast paced and shocking. Not for the faint-hearted – it is quite gory and upsetting at points, but this only adds to a wonderful and gripping thriller.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading whatever Clare Mackintosh comes up with next.

8/10 Solid

Review – The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty tells the parallel stories of three women of varying ages, experiencing various family and marital issues. It begins with Cecilia finding a letter from her husband. Written on the front is her name and a note requesting it only be opened in the event of his death. Naturally, she opens it after debating with herself, discovering her husband has been hiding a terrible secret from his past.

This is a book that has been sat on my shelf for a year or two, waiting for me to finally get round to reading it. The premise was intriguing, and anything with the word ‘Secret’ in the title has a natural draw for me, but it was lent to me during a time that I was off reading, so it ended up getting shelved.

 

I’ve recently begun reading a lot of thriller/mystery novels, and this showed up frequently in recommendations on Goodreads, alongside several books I have recently read and enjoyed. It was described as being very suspenseful, so I decided to finally give it ago. I was unbelievably disappointed.

This book is boring. I’m not sure where the good reviews and descriptions of it being ‘gripping’ and ‘suspenseful’ come from. It wasn’t either of these things. It was boring, predictable and much more family drama/soap opera than suspense thriller.

I’ll start with the characters. The story centres around three women. Cecilia is a middle class, 40-something mother of three, who spends her time being perfectly organised and hosting Tupperware parties. Rachel is a 60-something widow, whose teenage daughter was murdered twenty years ago. Tess discovers her husband is in love with her best friend and leaves Melbourne for Sydney with her young son to live with her mother. Each one of these women are boringly perfect and terribly bitchy. None of them are relatable; perhaps Tess more than the others. The prose reads as if Moriarty thinks all women are like this, and perhaps they are! What do I know, I’m a twenty-something from the UK, maybe I’m too young for this?

Secondly, the so-called ‘suspense’. There is a glimmer of suspense there in the first few chapters, as we wait for Cecilia to finally open the letter. By the time she finally does, however, we’ve pretty much guessed what’s inside. Anticlimax. After that, I was counting the pages to the end and was glad when it came. I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters and very little actually happened after the Big Reveal that we were all expecting.

Tess’s story thread also seemed quite irrelevant to me, although this was the thread I enjoyed the most. Other than a couple of conversations, and being in the same place, she wasn’t connected to the other two characters at all. She was only needed to set up the events for the final few chapters, and even then it could have been explained another way (I don’t want to give any spoilers, so sorry I’m being a bit vague).

On a positive note, this book was very easy to read and I raced through it. The writing is good enough to keep you gripped until the halfway point, after which you’ve invested too much to give up. I imagine the target audience is more 40+; women who have experienced family life and can perhaps empathise with these women more than I can. It has some great reviews elsewhere; I suppose I was just disappointed as I was looking for something a bit more gripping and I feel this book is wrongly categorised.

Would I recommend this? Probably not. There are hundreds of much better books more worthy of your time. That being said, if you find yourself in a position where this book is the only one on offer (stuck in an isolated cabin somewhere with no nearby bookshops and this abandoned on the lonely bookshelf), then I’d say give it a go. You might enjoy it more than I did; you might be closer to the target audience than I am.

6/10 – Alright

Currently Reading

The Revenant by Michael Punke is taking me longer to read than I anticipated. Admittedly, I’ve had quite a busy week, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I’m just over halfway through and I’m only just starting to get into it. I told myself to stick with it and I’m glad I have.

There have been so many action filled moments so far, but these have been interspersed with history that is perhaps a little too researched. I don’t know much about early 1800s USA/Wild West, and I feel Punke is expecting me to understand more than I do. I am finding it interesting, but I’m struggling with some of the terminology. I’m having to guess and hope I’ll figure out what things are as I go on.

The characters are also difficult to engage with. I’m not feeling much for anyone other than Bridger at the moment.

I’m also finding the writing style and narrative a little odd, though not in a bad way. Punke frequently switches character perspective mid paragraph and it can get a little confusing. I like it though; it’s very different to anything I’ve read recently.

Sundays are the day I tend to power through books, so I’ll probably get through some more this evening. Hopefully it’ll continue to get better as I read on.

In other news, I won another Goodreads Giveaway (yay!), The End Game by Raymond Khoury. It’s number five in a series of crime novels, but reviews have assured me that it can be read on its own. It arrived on Friday, so I’ll be reading that next.

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Review – The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I bought this book on a whim. I felt a need to read something a bit gritty and shocking, and this stood out to me in the Buy One Get One Half Price section of Waterstones. Describing itself as a psychological thriller, The Passenger by Lisa Lutz is an attempt at a twisty, turny, Gone Girl-esque tale about a woman who has been forced to go on the run and frequently change her identity.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

This is a quote taken from the book’s blurb. It does its job of provoking questions and immediately intriguing the reader. Who did kill him? Why would people think it was you? etc etc.


The story begins with Tanya Dubois finding her husband dead at the bottom of the stairs. Instead of alerting the authorities, or reporting it in any way, she packs a bag and runs. We soon discover that Tanya Dubois is a fake identity and she is forced to find a new name and a new life. The story takes us through several different names and identities until we find out who she really is and why she is on the run.

This book is fast, fast, fast. I raced through it, unable to put it down, enjoying every minute of it. Once I had finished and looked back, however, I realised I was a little bit disappointed. Although a lot happens and it all seems very exciting at the time, there isn’t much of a twist. The main character (I’ll call her this to avoid confusion) spends most of her time sat in bars drinking whiskey and worrying about getting caught. I don’t think the narrative does a very good job of dealing out the reasons for her being on the run in small doses. There are a few hints, and you start to wonder, but then a chapter comes towards the end where it is just explained out of nowhere, simply because she’s a bit bored of being on the run.

I read another review that said something along the lines of ‘this is a 3 star book, but I had a 4 star time reading it’. I think that sums up my feelings pretty accurately. I really would recommend this book because I really enjoyed reading it. The different identities were well thought out and all interesting. There are some shockingly violent moments and moments of tension. However, overall it was mainly:

Change identity – Drink some whiskey – Oh dear, I think I’ve blown it – Find new identity – Repeat x4 – Get Bored – Go Home – Tell Truth – End

But please, ignore my negatives and go and read this book. Make up your own mind.

7/10 Something Missing

Currently Reading

I’ve been busier than usual this week, so I’ve only just started my next book –The Revenant by Michael Punke. You’ve probably heard of it because of the recent Leonardo DiCaprio film, the same reason I decided to read it. I have a theory that if somebody decided to make a film out of a book, it must be at least half decent. I don’t watch many films, and I haven’t seen this one, but I always scan through the Oscar nominations to see if any are book adaptations. This is also what lead to me reading Room by Emma Donoghue earlier this year (Review to come at some point).


Like I said, I haven’t seen the film and I feel that’s a good thing. Books are, more often than not, better than their film adaptation. The plot is much different to anything I’ve read recently; I suppose that’s what gave it so much appeal. I’ve been trying to vary the things I read and not get stuck in one genre. This book begins with a man, Hugh Glass, being savagely attacked by a bear. I haven’t got any further, but as suggested by the blurb, he is left alone to die and resurfaces to take revenge on those who left him. I think.

The first couple of chapters were a little confusing. I’m still not entirely sure who this man is and what these people are doing in the Rocky Mountains. I think I might need to read the first chapter again, or maybe I’m not suppose to know yet? I’m only about 10% in and I admit, I was lagging a bit. However, I’ve just left it after the bear attack and the pace is picking up. I just feel like I don’t entirely know what’s going on. I’m confused.

I’ll report back.

EDIT: I also realise that the picture is terrible. I’ll take a better one later.

Review – Lexington and 42nd by Kim Carmody

If any of you are members of Goodreads, you probably know about the Giveaways section of their website. I actually didn’t until about six weeks ago, when I frantically entered about 100 different giveaways. So far, I’ve only managed to win one book – Lexington and 42nd by Kim Carmody.


This is a debut sports romance novel by Australian writer Kim Carmody, who I believe works in the sports industry. I have to admit that I had no idea about the ‘sport’ part of the genre, I was just expecting generic chic-lit. I honestly didn’t even know it was such a large and popular sub-genre until I started reading other reviews of this book. Who knew!? I have issues with this, as I can’t imagine any other sports romance novel to be much different to this one – large, manly, famous sports star woos young and attractive female etc etc.

That being said, I do like the occasional chic-lit, and as I’d won it and a debut author was counting on my review, I gave it a go.

The book begins with young, tall, attractive Australian sports PR person (I’m really not sure what her job title was supposed to be), 25 year old Emma Lexington, getting a transfer to work for a New York NFL team for 12 months. When she gets there, she meets, and becomes slightly obsessed with the huge, manly, sweaty, charming  quarterback star Will Jensen. Worried she might lose her job if she takes their relationship any further, she repeatedly turns down his (rather stalkerish) advances, until they finally get it on and live happily ever after.

It was alright. I read it pretty quickly over two days, despite it being quite lengthy, but looking back, I skimmed through quite a bit because it started to get quite boring. My main issue was the lack of descriptive language used. Carmody fails to describe any of the settings; any of the clothes they’re wearing; what anyone looks like. I really struggled to lose myself in it because I just could picture it in my head. She uses phrases like ‘I went to his apartment and it was incredible’. Why is it incredible? What does it look like? What aren’t you telling me!? She also makes a big deal about Emma wearing the dress she first met Will in, to make him jealous when they’ve fallen out over something trivial. Yet again, we get no description of the dress. Not even a colour. We’re just told she looks sexy in it. By the way, she ALWAYS looks sexy.

I know, I know, chic-lit isn’t supposed to be up there winning literary prizes or anything, it’s just supposed to be a bit of escapism. I struggled to escape because I wasn’t given anything to escape to.

Another issue I had was Will’s character. I didn’t find him attractive at all, I found him overbearing and unable to take no for an answer. He has a complete lack of respect for what Emma wants or needs, and comes across horribly arrogant.

I didn’t mind the first half of the book; the ‘chase’ section, if you will. There is the will they, won’t they excitement. After they finally get together, however, it just gets boring.

One thing that was a pleasant surprise, was the lack of NFL in there. I was a bit worried, being from the UK and knowing absolutely nothing about American Football (is that the one that does the Superbowl?). It was hardly mentioned. Other than Emma working for the team and Will playing for them, there wasn’t much else. No descriptions of games, very little sports lingo. I was happy with that.

I feel quite bad because I’ve only really listed negatives here. The book was mildly entertaining, I quite liked Emma as a character. She came across as fairly realistic, other than being a bit too beautiful. I understood her dilemmas, but thought she was a bit stupid in her decisions. As other reviews suggest, I was probably the wrong person to be reviewing this book. There’s loads of positive reviews out there, with people saying how much they loved Will etc. It was just not for me. I’m sure this wasn’t the kind of review Carmody was hoping for (sorry!).

I rate this book a solid 5/10. It was an easy read, but not particularly enthralling, unless you’re really into that sort of thing.

5/10 – Begrudgingly Finished 

Review – Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. So close to being perfect, I absolutely adored every page.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller tells the story of an eight year old girl, Peggy, who is kidnapped by her father and taken to live in a cabin in far away European forest. She is told that they are the only two people left on Earth, and there is nothing but the Great Divide, an endless black space, beyond the forest.

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This book is haunting, sinister and unsettling. Fuller’s language and description is beautiful. She fills the reader’s head with magical imagery and gives the book a fairy tale quality. It explores the relationship between father and daughter, as well as between mother and daughter in a way. It also has themes of mental health, childhood naivety and trust.

I spent longer on this book than I have on any other recently, despite it being under 300 pages long. I spent the entire time with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. This book is weird and unbelievably thought-provoking. I don’t want to give any spoilers here because I’d rather people just go and read it for themselves. The story hints at things throughout that are only half confirmed at the end.

I can imagine this book becoming an A Level English set text in 50 years time. There is so much to analyse and question. Nothing is entirely clear and that is part of the beauty of it. Both writing and storytelling is exquisite.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure about, I’m rating this book 9/10 – Almost There. My only criticism is the lack of progression in the middle section. It seems to skip several years in a couple of pages, whereas I feel there could have been another 50 pages, perhaps with another event half way through their stay in the forest.

Despite that, I will be recommending this book to anyone that asks. Please, go and read it!

9/10 – Almost There

My Rating System

I have used Goodreads for years and obsessively rate and review all the books I read, but I have a few issues with their rating system. 5 stars just isn’t enough for me so I’m going to rate books out of 10 instead. Maybe. It might not be as organized as that. When rating books out of 5, I have very specific criteria:

5 stars – This is reserved for very special books that will stay with me for a long time. I have only given this rating to a handful of books, however there are several that have come very close and would be more worthy of 4.5, had this been an option. Examples include The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

4 stars – This is the widest category of all, and one I would really like to break down into (at least) three sections. I have more books rated 4 stars than anything else, but I didn’t like them all the same amount, or for the same reasons. I often give books 4 stars because 3 stars seems too harsh. Other times I feel harsh only giving it 4 stars, just because there’s something very small missing for me to raise it to the next level. Examples include Room by Emma Donoghue, Life of Pie by Yann Martel, and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, each of which would be in seperate ratings categories if I had my way.

3 stars – I give every book I have finished at least 3 stars. I’m not the kind of person who can read anything; I give up if I can’t get into it. I know this isn’t good, I am trying to be better at persevering. 3 stars is for books I finished but didn’t enjoy. Often easy reads with boring plots that a miserably hope might get a bit better towards the end. I also often use this for books that have been over hyped. I feel like I should be enjoying because everyone else did. Examples include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, One Day by David Nicholls, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

2 stars – This is for books I give up on. Books that are boring, or annoy me in some way. It doesn’t happen often, because I am quite good at choosing books I know I’m going to enjoy. Occasionally, I am mistaken. Examples include Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, and Paper Towns by John Green.

I don’t think I’ve ever rated anything 1 stars. I’m not sure why I would, I suppose if someone’s taken the effort to write something and a publisher has given it the go ahead, there must be something worthy in it. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong in the future.

I think I’ll use my first few reviews to decide on a solid rating system. I might do it out of 10, but also have a word system to categorise it. Maybe things like:

10/10 Top Ten Books

9/10 Almost There

8/10 Solid

7/10 Something Missing

6/10 Alright

5/10 Begrudgingly Finished

4/10 Regret Finishing

3/10 Gave Up

2/10 Would Happily Burn

I might add a few more later. Or get rid of some. I’ll see how they fit into the books I read.

Currently Reading

I’m going to use these posts to keep you updated on my thoughts and feelings about whatever I’m reading at the minute. I read quite quickly so there might just be one at the beginning and then my full review at the end. Maybe a few if it’s a long book, or if I’m struggling through it.

I am currently reading Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. This is a debut novel that won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2015. The synopsis taken from Goodreads is as follows:

1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.

Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.

Her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival. And a tiny wooden hut that is Everything.

I was intrigued by this book. I think I was browsing through the Amazon 3 for £10 section, looking for a third book and came across this. It sounded dark and shocking, yet had an air of innocence and magic about the cover that drew me in.


I am about 25% into the book, having started it three days ago and am enjoying it overall. Fuller immediately informs the reader that Peggy makes it back from the cabin in the forest, although she does not mention why or how. This was a bit surprising. The first chapter, however, is used as a sort of prologue, although it’s labeled as chapter one. From there she looks back and the story really gets going. The story from there on is a discovery of how she got to that moment.

The language used is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I thought that maybe it was a little bit unrealistic, considering it’s narrated by an eight year old girl, but reading a bit further, it’s more like she’s reminiscing after her return. Having just read a book that had very little description (more on that in another post), any book where the author has actually thought about the words used is a welcome change.

It is taking me longer than usual to get through, maybe because the language needs to be fully absorbed and appreciated. Maybe I’ve just been a bit busier than usual this week. I don’t think it’s a reflection on my enjoyment of the book though.

Right now, I am hooked and can’t wait to carry on.