Review – Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor


Today, I’m going to tell you about an audio book that has been on my shelf for quite a while. It’s BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor.

Sherlock Holmes' Rediscovered Railway Mysteries
Image provided by BBC Physical Audio¹

The audio book features four short stories -“An Inscrutable Masquerade”, “The Conundrum of Coach 13”, “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” and “The 10.59 Assassin”- inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Each story is approximately 30 minutes long and is read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

When I started listening to the first story, I noticed right away that the British accents Cumberbatch uses to narrate the stories take some getting used to. He voices each character differently which makes them easy to distinguish, but some of them a bit hard to understand. Fortunately, I soon adapted to Cumberbatch’s reading style. Sometimes however, he tends to overdo his voice acting, like when he tries to imitate a woman’s voice, which turns out to be rather comical.

As some of you might know, I usually don’t read crime fiction, but these four whodunnit stories aren’t scary at all, so I was okay listening to them. Unfortunately, most of the stories aren’t really that engaging. I only really liked “The 10.59 Assassin” which is very clever and held my attention throughout.

In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries could be good company on a two-hour train ride. You should, however, listen carefully or else you’ll miss important details. Even coloring my Grumpy Cat Hates Coloring book turned out to be a bit too distracting at times. 😉

3 Star Rating: Recommended


Review – A Boy Called Christmas & The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

Merry Christmas!

Okay, I get it, it might be a bit too late for that. But hey, it’s less than 49 weeks until Christmas, so you might as well start your preparations. 😉

Today I got two books for you. I read Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas in one go and thought it would be appropriate to just review them together.

A Boy Called Christmas
Image provided by Canongate¹

Nikolas and his father Joel live in a humble cottage in Finland when one day Joel joins an expedition to find elves in the Far North. When he doesn’t return after more than three months, Nikolas gets worried and follows him on a dangerous journey that will change his life forever.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas
Image provided by Canongate²

It’s Christmas Eve when catastrophe strikes and Elfhelm and Santa’s sleigh are destroyed by trolls. There is no choice than to cancel Christmas. At the same time Amelia, the girl who once had enough hope to create the magic necessary for Father Christmas to travel around the world, loses all hope when she is locked up at a horrible workhouse. Will there still be enough hope left for Father Christmas to deliver toys next year?

If you aren’t drawn to these novels by their beautiful covers with illustrations by Chris Mould – which can also be found throughout the books – I can’t help you, but you might want to know that I think Matt Haig has written another Christmas essential with A Boy Called Christmas in particular.
This story of a small boy setting out to find his father touched my heart. It teaches us a lot about bravery, friendship and forgiveness. Throughout his journey Nikolas also learns one very important thing: that family isn’t necessarily about the blood you share.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas, which is set in London and Elfhelm, deals with similar themes than its predecessor A Boy Called Christmas. Under desperate conditions, young Amelia has to learn to believe and trust again. Her perseverance has shielded her from becoming one of the many robotic faces at the workhouse that has become her home. Unfortunately, the second narrative thread revolving around the preparations for Christmas in Elfhelm pales in comparison to Amelia’s story. It is a nice background story but nothing memorable.

With A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas, Matt Haig shows that he is a versatile author who can write more than fiction and non-fiction for adults. These two novels have the potential to become Christmas classics that will enchant children and adults alike.

5 Star Rating: A Boy Called Christmas  A Boy Called Christmas

4 Star Rating: The Girl Who Saved Christmas  The Girl Who Saved Christmas

Review copies of the books were provided by the publisher.

Review – A Snow Garden by Rachel Joyce

Happy New Year Everyone!

We’ve got lots of snow over here right now, which is the perfect weather for Rachel Joyce’s short story collection A Snow Garden & other stories.

A Snow Garden
Image provided by Doubleday¹

A Snow Garden features a woman having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit, two parents deconstructing their marriage on Christmas Eve, as well as a young woman giving birth at a crowded airport. There is a chance encounter at a Boxing Day Ball, two little boys spending the Christmas holidays with their divorced father, a superstar coming home for a belated Christmas party and an elderly father asking his son to plant trees on New Year’s Eve.

In seven loosely connected short stories, Rachel Joyce reintroduces well-known characters as well as new ones and shows us how they experience the time between Christmas and the New Year. Each story deals with interpersonal relationships on different levels and they all teach us that the time we spend with our loved ones is precious.

I guess which stories we find more memorable than others depends on our own experience in life. My personal favorites were the last two – “A Snow Garden” and “Trees”. Rachel Joyce did a great job depicting the difficult father-son relationships in these stories.

Overall, A Snow Garden & other stories is quick read for a cold, snowy winter weekend. I enjoyed this book much more than Perfect and Queenie.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

Review – An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney


Some of you might know Sally Gardner, a British children’s book author. She decided it was time to write a book for adults as well and in November she released her first novel An Almond for a Parrot under her pen name Wray Delaney.

Image provided by HQ¹

In 18th century London, Tully Truegood, one of London’s finest courtesans, finds herself in prison because she is accused of having murdered her husband.
Growing up in an isolated household with only the cook to keep her company, Tully is glad when she can finally escape the influence of her father, a heavily indebted gambler, who always treated her like a maid. She finds a new home at Queenie Gibbs’ Fairy House where she soon becomes one of the most sought after women and a magician’s apprentice – because what many don’t realize is that Tully has powers that even she doesn’t quite understand.

An Almond for a Parrot is written like an 18th-century autobiography. It very much reminds me of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders. Our heroine Tully writes about her fortunes and misfortunes, about how she turned from an uneducated child to a well-read, rich courtesan who wants to be her own woman.
The novel’s writing style fits the time it is set in. While it is still readable for someone living in the 21st century, the language carries you back to 18th-century London. This also means that the large amount of graphic sexual content reads like a poetic description of a vegetable garden.

In this 400-page novel, Wray Delaney keeps you glued to the pages. If it weren’t for the magical element, you would almost believe you were reading a true account of a courtesan’s life. An Almond for a Parrot is a mix of historical and erotic fiction with a pinch of magical realism. If that sounds good to you, you should give this novel a go, you won’t be disappointed.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding


One week before the movie Bridget Jones’s Baby was released in Austrian theaters, Helen Fielding’s book was published and so I had enough time to read it in yet another LovelyBooks reading group.

Bridget Jones's Baby
Image provided by Jonathan Cape¹

Bridget Jones has once again gotten herself into a love triangle with Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver and to her surprise, she soon finds out she’s pregnant. There is only one problem: she doesn’t know who the father is.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is set between Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. The novel starts out five years after Bridget and Mark have broken up over a misunderstanding.

Bridget and her friends are around forty and still I got the feeling that the characters haven’t matured at all. Bridget’s friends haven’t stopped drinking and partying, Daniel is acting like a child, Mark lacks empathy and Bridget is naive and hasn’t learned one bit from her past mistakes.

Nevertheless, with about 200 pages, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a quick and entertaining read. I laughed here and there, but I didn’t find the story overly funny. What bothered me was that the ending felt very rushed. It didn’t fit the overall pacing of the book. There is lots of drama up until a certain point and then the story is quickly wrapped up like nothing ever happened. Overall, reading the book was a nice diversion and I liked the idea behind Bridget Jones’s Baby, but I would have wished for it to be better executed.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Some Rain Must Fall by Michel Faber


There was a time when I associated short stories with school or university. Due to their length, they are just too popular with teachers and, because of all the work that is associated with them, not very popular with students. For years, I’ve tried to avoid short stories until I started to see them in a new light. Nowadays, I think short stories are great, because you can read one when you are in between books or during a commute and they contain whole worlds within just a few pages

Michel Faber’s short story collection Some Rain Must Fall And Other Stories certainly is a gem among short story collections. It was first published in 1998 and has recently been reissued as a Canons edition with a beautiful new cover designed by Yehrin Tong.

Some Rain Must Fall
Image provided by Canongate¹

It is always hard for me to review short story collections, especially if they are as diverse as this one. Some Rain Must Fall consists of fifteen brilliant short stories that showcase the broad spectrum of Michel Faber’s talent.
The book starts off with the story that lent this collection its name and “Some Rain Must Fall” isn’t for the faint of heart – it actually is one of my favorites and knocked me right off my feet. The next story, “Fish”, has a surrealistic, post-apocalyptic setting and feels quite oppressive, while “Toy Story”, a story about a lonely boy named God who finds a discarded planet in the trash, made me chuckle. Another gem in Faber’s collection is “Somewhere Warm and Comfortable” which is a heartwarming tale of trust between two siblings.

In Some Rain Must Fall, Michel Faber lets his vivid imagination run free. I almost always remarked, “Well, that was weird!” after finishing a story. If you want to ride an emotional roller coaster full of surprising and creative stories, I suggest you start reading soon.

5 Star Rating: Recommended

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Nutshell by Ian McEwan


Long time no see! Five weeks ago, I had nose surgery and I might even do a little blog post about what it was like. I almost look the same and I can already breathe so much better now!
In those five weeks, I participated in another LovelyBooks reading group. This time, we read Ian McEwan’s latest novel Nutshell.

Image provided by Jonathan Cape¹

His home is his mother Trudy’s womb and he has already been in here for about nine months. It is at this point in his life when he notices his mother and her lover Claude making plans to murder someone and his options to interfere are very limited.

Nutshell is told from the perspective of an unborn boy. This young tot spends his time listening. He listens to conversations going on around him and he listens to podcast lectures, self-improving audio books and the BBC World Service. This is why he has an impressive word range that would put most grown-ups to shame. The way he expresses himself, however, isn’t very authentic. To me, this isn’t the voice of an educated unborn, it is the voice of an educated, adult narrator – the voice of Ian McEwan.

The plot of Nutshell is inspired by Hamlet and the plot structure reminds me of Freytag’s Pyramid with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. That does, however, depend on what you think the climax is. In my opinion, it is an outstanding monologue by the baby boy’s father John. After this climax, the plot just takes its course and there isn’t much suspense.

Since I read The Children Act two years ago, I have to say that I think Ian McEwan could have done a better job with Nutshell. Don’t get me wrong, this novel reads well and is written in brilliant prose, but there has to be a way to find an authentic voice for our little baby boy that doesn’t sound like the author himself.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I read Nutshell. This way I had the chance to read this wonderful monologue I was talking about earlier. So if you’re curious about life from the perspective of an unborn infant and a very special monologue, you might as well start reading now.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick


Helen Sedgwick’s novel The Comet Seekers with its beautiful embroidered cover is published today. I was fortunate enough to receive a proof copy, so I was able to read this special novel before everyone else did  😎

The Comet Seekers
Image provided by Harvill Secker¹

2017: When Róisín and François meet at a research station in the Antarctica, they aren’t aware of the many encounters they had in the past.
20th century: Róisín grows up in a small Irish village, becomes an astronomer and breaks out of her monotonous rural surroundings, while François’ mother Severine learns a family secret from her dying grandmother shortly before her son is born. This secret binds her to Bayeux for the rest of her life, but it is also the reason for François’ and Róisín’s shared passion for comets.

Set between 1066 and 2017, the plot spans almost a thousand years and tells the story of Róisín’s life and Severine’s family history. Severine’s family is closely connected to the Bayeux Tapestry and this valuable work of embroidery is skilfully threaded into the storyline. The chapters alternate between the present and the past, just like a needle repeatedly piercing the fabric to see what lies underneath.

While the blurb suggests that this is a story about Róisín and François, for me it is a story about Róisín and Severine. Not only are the two women close in age, Severine’s character is very well developed and the most fascinating in the whole story. Severine, who has a strong connection to the past, is bound to stay in Bayeux for the rest of her life, whereas Róisín travels the world and shows us more than just France and Ireland. She takes us to Hawaii, to Canada, to the United States and, finally, to the Antarctica.

Helen Sedgwick created a very special story that is so firmly set in this world that I had to Google a couple of things while reading. Its unique plot, likeable characters and references to real-world circumstances make The Comet Seekers a captivating novel that is hard to put down.

4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
4.5 Magic Beans

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger – Avoiding Adulthood by Paul Hawkins


A few weeks ago, Paul Hawkins, author of How to Operate a Human (English title available now), sent me a nice e-mail asking if I’d be interested in reading his new book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”, Avoiding Adulthood. As someone with slight Peter-Pan-syndrome, I was instantly intrigued.

Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger
Image provided by C.H. Beck¹

Do you think your life would be better if you were allowed to spend your days catching snowflakes and licking cookie dough off a spoon? Maybe you’ve already reached your thirties and you freak out every time someone calls you ma’am or sir. Do you keep asking yourself when and how you should start to act like an adult? Yes? Good, then read on.

Unfortunately, Paul Hawkins can not tell you when to start acting like an adult, but in his book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger” he shares lots of tricks to facilitate your life among adults. In the main chapters “Wohnen”, “Leben”, “Lieben”, “Arbeiten” and “Etc.” (E: Work, Spare Time, Relationships, Home and Admin), you will find helpful information to guide you through all kinds of difficult situations. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new apartment (have you noticed that you lower your expectations with every rejection?) or trying to find out if you and your partner are compatible sleeping partners (and I’m not talking about sex), there is a solution for your problem and it comes with a laugh.

And laugh I did. More than once, I found myself wondering if there was a slight chance that Paul Hawkins had been studying me when he wrote this book. Did he watch me grocery shopping when I was on holiday – a very important skill to acquire -, or is it simply because we’re very close in age? Anyway, if you just can’t part with your inner child and have to find a way to deal with this cruel world out there, go on and read “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”. It’s laughing-out-loud funny, I swear!

Update April 2019: An English-language edition called Avoiding Adulthood is now available.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray


John Wray’s The Lost Time Accidents is a novel that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately, I had the chance to read it prior to its UK publication day on June 2nd and I really needed all that time, as it took me three weeks to plow my way through the book.

The Lost Time Accidents
Image provided by Canongate Books¹

On Monday, at 8:47 EST, Waldemar Tolliver excuses himself from time at his aunts’ apartment in Manhattan to come to terms with his family’s past. Ever since Ottokar Toula’s sudden death in the early 20th century, Waldy’s ancestors have been trying to find the lost pages of his great-grandfather’s scientific work to solve the mystery of the Lost Time Accidents, and in the process becoming obsessed with time themselves.

The novel The Lost Time Accidents counts over 500 pages and spans more than one century. Of all the characters Waldy is the one who stays with us from the beginning until the end, so we might as well call him our main character. The plot meanders between Waldy’s current situation in his aunts’ apartment, his past love affair with a woman called Mrs Haven, and his chronologically recounted family history.

In the first half of the book, I had problems with these sudden changes of setting. This is where you are introduced to a great part of the important characters and as soon as I got a feel for one of the narrative threads, it was cut and the plot continued elsewhere. This way, I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters and soon I had to bring myself to continue reading, because the plot moved so slowly. If I were one to just give up on books, I probably would have done so after 1/4 of the novel, but I like to read until the last page and in this case I’m glad I did.
I don’t know if it’s me, or if The Lost Time Accidents really increases its pacing in the second half. This half reads much better than the first one. Maybe because we already know most of the characters and also, because the pieces finally start to fall into place. It’s also this process of digesting the complex plot in combination with a fitting ending (that I still don’t quite understand) that leaves me satisfied that I finished the novel after all.

As you can see, The Lost Time Accidents isn’t an easy read and it isn’t easy to review. It is a very complex novel with lots of talk about physics and time. You will meet many diverse characters, but you’ll never get to know them very intimately (except for their shared obsession with time). If all this sounds good to you and you aren’t afraid to be challenged by this 500-page tome, then you should have a look at The Lost Time Accidents.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

A digital review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.