2012 Thriller

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

I Remember You Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton

Five words from the blurb: Iceland, isolated, suicide, vanished, terrifying

Iceland is very suited to scary stories – the isolation, the dark days, and the snowy weather all combine to produce a chilling atmosphere. I planned to read this book in Iceland, but after reading the quotes on the cover about it being “seriously scary” and “not to be read alone”, I decided to read it before I went. I’m really pleased that I decided not to read it in an isolated Icelandic cottage, but part of me wishes I’d read it after I’d come back!

This book is very creepy. It begins with a group of three friends heading to an isolated village in order to renovate an old cottage. They soon realise that they are not alone and whatever is out there doesn’t want them to stay. This narrative alternates with one in which a doctor, whose six-year-old son recently disappeared, investigates the suicide of an old woman. The two stories eventually combine to become a very cleverly plotted thriller.

I almost abandoned this book after about 50 pages as I found it too scary. I don’t normally read horror and some scenes in this book really spooked me. Luckily the plot was intriguing so I stuck with it, reading only short sections so the atmosphere didn’t become overwhelming. I also admit to skimming over some of the more disturbing scenes in an effort to keep the worst images out of my mind altogether. 

The author did a fantastic job building the tension. Even the most mundane scenes could become scary at a moment’s notice:

It was then that Putti stopped abruptly and started growling again. Although Katrín couldn’t work out how it was different from the previous growl, it was, seemingly loaded with gravity and fear, as if the dog sensed something threatening it. Or them.

As the book progressed I became less fearful of the story. This was mainly because I realised it was a ghost story. The supernatural element was good in that it allowed anything to happen, but it also didn’t scare me as much as strange people lurking in the dark.

The only problem with the writing was that the characters all sounded the same. They had a few interesting flaws, but this wasn’t enough to make them into well-rounded individuals. The benefit of this was that I didn’t care if/when they died!

Overall this was a compelling chiller-thriller with all the elements needed to keep you awake at night. Recommended to anyone who likes to be scared.



Two Board Game Reviews: Castles of Burgundy and Bora Bora

Earlier in the year Ravensburger Games asked if I’d be willing to review a couple of games for them. I enjoyed Asara and Indigo so was happy to repeat the request by reviewing two more: Castles of Burgundy and Bora Bora

Ravensburger The Castles of Burgundy

Castles of Burgundy

The basic idea of the game is to build large estates by placing hexagonal tiles on a board. Points are scored for numerous things including: acquiring animals, placing buildings and gaining knowledge.  The limited supply of tiles on the central board encourages players to compete against each other to obtain the best ones, although the clever use of knowledge tiles ensures that every player may use a different strategy to win. Play is controlled by the roll of dice, but luck is minimised by collecting appropriate tiles and the most skillful player will almost always win.

Age range

Castles of Burgundy is for players aged over 12. The complexity of the rules mean that it isn’t a good starting point for strategy games, but if you are a serious gamer you’ll find a lot to enjoy.




The game is beautifully designed, but it is let down by a few components. The central board and playing pieces are of a high quality, but the individual player boards are made from a stiff paper that is easily damaged. The box is also poorly designed. The game involves 5 different coloured hexagon tiles plus several other pieces and there are no separate places to put them in the box. This means they all get mixed up, leading to a long, fiddly set-up. 

Number of Players: 2-4

The game is equally good with 2, 3 or 4 players. Each version requires a slightly different strategy to win, but this makes playing with differing numbers of people more interesting. I also liked the fact that numerous different playing boards are provided. This adds an additional layer of skill and extends the appeal of the game.


This is a well thought out game and is one we’ll be playing on a regular basis. I loved the complex strategy and the numerous paths to victory.



Bora Bora

Bora Bora

Bora Bora works in a similar way to Castles of Burgundy, but is much more complex. Players must collect shells, workers and Gods in order to score as many points as possible, but there are so many different tiles and combinations that it is very difficult to learn. My husband and I spent about 10 hours learning how to play this game and still didn’t feel we really understood which strategies would be effective. We couldn’t go more than about 5 minutes without having to refer to the instruction book – it was a very frustrating experience. As an example of the number of different options here is a small selection of the game board:


Things might have been easier if we’d been taught by someone who knew the rules, but I still think this game is more complex than necessary.

Age range/Number of Players

The game is advertised for players over 12, but I think it is far more complex than that. It needs to have a minimum IQ quoted (about 140) and a minimum number of game hours under the belt (1000?). We felt that it was too complex for our friends and family to try (and we didn’t have 10 hours to spare to teach them!) so we were unable to try it with more than 2 players. This was a major drawback for the game – I prefer ones which are simple to learn, but difficult to master. Bora Bora might be an amazing game if you put in the effort to learn it, but you need a spare week, rather than just an evening or two.


The game is well designed with helpful bags to separate all the components in the box. All the pieces are of reasonable quality, but some of them were small and fiddly. 


This game was too complex for me. Recommended to serious gamers who have large blocks of time available to play.


Have you tried either of these games?

2013 Recommended books

The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

The View on the Way Down

Five words from the blurb: brother, died, family, apart, truth

Emma is nine-years-old when her brother Kit dies. Her older brother, Jamie, disappears after the funeral and Emma is suddenly the only child in a grief-stricken household. Emma, Jamie, and their parents take turns to narrate the story, which shows how each individual is affected by Kit’s death. The book looks at depression and suicide and enables the reader to understand what depression feels like for both the sufferer and those around them.

I think the taboo surrounding suicide has finally been lifted as this is the third book I’ve read this year that deals with the subject. It was interesting to get an insight into what motivates people to end their life and by the end of the book I felt I understood the pain they go through:

He did nothing, simply carried on as before. Head down, struggling through the days. Keeping going, getting through. He’d always known, without having to consider it, that there was no chance of recovery. Not for him, not for any of them. The passing years hadn’t changed a thing. There was no getting over this.

The subject was handled with great sensitivity and had clearly been very well researched (if not personally experienced?). It provided a lot of useful information about interacting with those who suffer from depression and it would be wonderful if this book helped to reduce the stigma faced by families who have lost someone to suicide.

The writing was simple, but effective. It was compelling and managed to maintain my interest throughout – mainly because the characters felt so realistic. It is rare to read a book that manages to capture the thoughts and emotions of so many different people and I loved the fact I could understand and empathise with them all, despite their differing viewpoints. The View on the Way Down didn’t quite move me to tears, but it produced the biggest lump my throat has experienced this year – a surprising accolade that I didn’t think could be taken away from the real-life heartbreak of The Son.

I hope that word about this book spreads and everyone reads it quietly, with an open mind. It is very sad, but the world would be a better place if everyone understood the heartache and challenges of living with depression.

Highly recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I don’t use ratings on my blog anymore but if I did this book would get 6 out of 5. Little Reader Library

…(a) spell-binding debut that has completely blown me away. The Unlikely Bookworm

 a stunning novel and one which I’ve been unable to review yet because every time I’ve tried, I start crying. The Bibliomouse

2013 Non Fiction Uncategorized

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Five words from the blurb: solution, happiness, embracing, negative, thinking

I don’t normally read self-help books, but something about this one caught my attention. I loved the way it went against the grain of popular opinion by promoting the power of negative thinking and so I requested a review copy.

The book concentrates on the idea that our society’s habit of seeking happiness is actually making us miserable. It suggests embracing failure, pessimism and uncertainty in order to find happiness in a more realistic way. The book looks at a varied group of people who take this different view of life and shows how it has worked for them.

The great thing about The Antidote is how entertaining the reading experience is. Several sections are very funny and the examples are perfect for sharing with family and friends. I found myself repeating anecdotes from this book on numerous occasions and think I’ll continue to do so for a long time.

The book looks at a range of topics including Buddhist meditation, Stoics, and socities that embrace death, but I particularly liked the chapter on products that had failed:

I laughed when I encountered Goff’s Low Ash Cat Food, with its proud boast, ‘contains only one point five percent ash!’ (As the journalist Neil Steinberg has noted, this is like marketing a line of hot dogs called ‘Few Mouse Hairs’.) Yet several people presumably invested months of their lives in creating that cat food.

Although many examples were light-hearted there was a serious message under the surface. The chapter showing how becoming too focused on goals can be dangerous was unnerving. It gave the example of climbers who die trying to reach the summit of Everest – showing that people can sometimes become so focused on the result that they don’t realise what they risk when trying to achieve it.

I don’t think this book is life changing, but it raises some thought provoking ideas. Recommended to anyone interested in the power of negative thinking!





Fortunate by Andrew JH Sharp


Five words from the blurb: Zimbabwe, decision, catastrophe, farm, clues

Four years ago I read Andrew Sharp’s debut novel and fell in love with it. Ghosts of Eden is a fantastic book and I urge everyone to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised when a copy of his second novel dropped through my letter box. This turned to great happiness when I discovered that my name was on the back cover. I’d been blurbed for the first time!


Fortunate begins with Beth, a doctor, visiting a new patient in an old people’s home. The old man is originally from Zimbabwe and he trusts Beth with his secrets. This knowledge eventually takes her to Africa in search of his son where she becomes involved in some dangerous political situations.

The book is different in style from his first novel. It has a faster pace and is more plot driven. The characters were easy to connect to and I especially loved the medical details. The author’s experience as a doctor is clearly evident and I love the way he isn’t afraid to use medical terminology.

Unfortunately this book wasn’t as good as The Ghosts of Eden. There were a few too many coincidences and the reader has to suspend their disbelief on several occasions. Events developed too quickly to be realistic and although this helped the plot develop I would have preferred a longer book in which things happened at their natural pace.

I also found that some of the sections in Africa didn’t interest me as much as the others. There were times when it felt more like a political thriller (a genre I have no interest in) and the car chases and assassination attempts left me cold.

Overall this book is a strange mix of genres. Some paragraphs read like the wonderful literary fiction of The Ghosts of Eden; some felt more like a contemporary romance novel; and other sections will appeal to thriller fans. There were some great scenes, but overall it didn’t quite work for me.



The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs

Five words from the blurb: alone, unseen, passion, art, betrayal

The Woman Upstairs grabs the reader’s attention from the very beginning. The narrator, Nora, is very angry and over the course of the book the reader discovers what has upset her.  Nora is a teacher and she becomes friends with the parents of one of her pupils. They share a passion for art and Nora enjoys looking after their son. Her relationship with this family develops, but it is obvious that sooner or later something will go wrong…

I loved the anger and passion in the text – it is rare to read a book that demands attention in this way. Some readers will hate this direct approach, but I loved it and actually missed the raw emotion when it disappeared towards the centre of the book.

Much of The Woman Upstairs reminded me of Notes on a Scandal. Both books look at the difficulties of being a single woman without children; showing their invisibility in society.

When you’re the Woman Upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you best of all. It’s a small thing, you might think; and maybe it depends on temperament; maybe for some people it’s a small thing. But for me, in that cul-de-sac outside Aunt Baby’s, with my father and aunt done dissecting death and shuffling off to bed behind the crimson farmhouse door, preparing for morning mass as blameless as lambs and as lifeless as the slaughtered – I felt forsaken by hope.

My only problem with the book was that the plot felt very familiar. The writing style was refreshingly different and ending was good, but there were too many points during the course of the novel when I felt I’d read something similar before.

Overall this was an engaging read and I loved the increasing sense of foreboding. Recommended to anyone looking for a loud, confrontational read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

...a deeply contemporary novel that reflects back the darkness and the light of ourselves as we try to shape our own worlds and how we define the meaning of success.  Free Range Reading

…mediocre at best. Cerebral Girl in a Red Neck World

Messud does such a good job of creating a sense of dread. Reading the End