This lovely little novel is a bit simplistic (it's told from the view of a cat, after all) but as Solomon goes through the ups and downs of his life -...moreThis lovely little novel is a bit simplistic (it's told from the view of a cat, after all) but as Solomon goes through the ups and downs of his life - or I should say mission - so does the reader; I even teared up once or twice. The novel is not a masterpiece of prose but it's got a beautiful story and a lot of heart and it was worth the journey for that alone. 3.5 stars(less)
A delightful and heart-warming tale of friendship and kindness. I wish I had the patience to wait for the whole story to be released together though,...moreA delightful and heart-warming tale of friendship and kindness. I wish I had the patience to wait for the whole story to be released together though, as having to wait several months for the next instalment is going to be agony!(less)
Jenni Clark loves writing but not being in the spotlight, so ghostwriting other people's stories provides the perfect creative outlet for her. It also gives her the opportunity to get up close and personal to the people she studies and learn something new along the way. Through an acquaintance she's put in touch with an elderly Dutch woman by the name of Klara with the opportunity to write the older woman's memoirs. Now living in South Cornwall, Klara spent her childhood years in the Dutch East Indies; first on a big plantation and later in various internment camps across Java during the Japanese occupation. Her story while incredibly harrowing is also a fascinating one.
Admittedly Ghostwritten wasn't on my radar until the author contacted me with the question if I'd like a copy for review, but this is exactly the kind of novel I enjoy reading (though perhaps, 'enjoy' isn't the right word to use in this instance). Author Isabel Wolff has taken a subject that I knew shamefully little about at the start of the book (and being Dutch myself I really should've been more informed about it) and turned it into a vivid piece of history that I can now not let go of.
The novel has an incredible sense of place, transporting the reader from rural England to the tropical heat of Java as soon as Klara starts telling her moving story. At the start of the novel I could see the lush plantation appear before my eyes, with Klara and her friends playing in the sunshine and enjoying this thus far idyllic exotic location. But of course their happiness doesn't last long and her family is soon torn apart as the Japanese occupy her home and she is sent to an internment camp with her mother and little brother.
The journey that follows is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. As so many children caught in a war she's forced to see and do horrible things and grow up far quicker than she should have otherwise, her childhood disappearing as soon as she sets foot in the first camp. Interspersed with Klara's recount of the Japanese occupation is the story of Jenni. Despite being decades and continents apart there is an eerie similarity between the two women's lives and not only are Klara's memories enriching for both Jenni and the reader alike, but they also help Jenni to finally face a horrible secret from her own past.
I'm in awe with this amazing novel. Hugely gripping both in the present and past storylines and incredibly realistic, Wolff's descriptions of Klara's life in Java are immensely detailed and vivid. Despite having never been there myself, I now feel a sense of connection to the place. I don't read a huge amount of historical fiction, but now and again I come across a gem like this and I ask myself, why not?
This beautiful, harrowing and ultimately extremely moving novel mesmerised me from the start. It was hugely educational as well and for that alone I cannot recommend it highly enough. If like me your history lessons in school have mainly focussed on how the second world war affected Europe, this will certainly be a heart-breaking eye-opener.(less)
I love Carole Matthew's delightful novels; filled with heart-warming characters and a sweet story her books are the perfect escapism from the woes of everyday life. So whenever a new one gets released I get my hands on it as soon as possible, ready to lose myself for a few hours in someone else's world. Despite its adorable flowery cover there is a much more serious story at the hard of her latest novel, A Place to Call Home, however. It's one of an abusive marriage, fear, dominance and cultural differences, but also of tolerance, personal growth, an unlikeable family bond and finding love in the most unexpected places.
Ayesha moved from Sri Lanka to Milton Keynes a decade before the start of the story, marrying a virtual stranger by the name of Suresh. Her husband seemed caring enough at first and she enjoyed her new life in England, even if she did miss her family and friends back home. But as her husband becomes more possessive and her world grows smaller, every day becomes a little more terrifying. She could almost handle the mental and physical abuse if it wasn't for her young daughter Sabina and her fear that she may be next. So after a lot of planning she one day escapes with Sabina in the middle of the night and travels to London, to find help for the both of them.
While the women's hostel she found during her research has no space for her and Sabina, the woman who helps her calls in a favour from a friend. And that is how Ayesha ends up in the unlikely household of Hayden, an uber rich former musician turned reclusive who has already opened his home to two others who for different reasons needed a place to stay; stripper Crystal and an older, stubborn woman by the name of Joy. What seems like a strange combination of people is actually the perfect environment for Ayesha and her daughter to flourish and in return they bring a lot of warmth and welcome change in the other people's lives too. But while the two are happy in their temporary new home, Ayesha lives with the constant fear that Suresh will find her and take Sabina away, which would be the worst thing that can happen to the both of them.
Ayesha and Sabina's heart-breaking story felt close to my heart and all throughout the novel I was on the edge of my seat, worried about what was going to happen to them. And I freely admit the novel made me tear up more than once. The characters felt so real to me that every setback, every time they hurt, I could feel it myself. This proves what a master of storytelling Matthews really is. It wasn't all doom and gloom though. There were plenty of laughs, an unlikely bond between the three women living together in the house, cuteness galore with Hayden taking little Sabina under his wings, delectable descriptions of Ayesha'd cooking, and a beautiful blossoming romance which made my heart flutter in excitement.
A Place to Call Home was pretty darn perfect; combining the sweet and fun aspects I've come to know and love from Matthews' novels with a more serious topic that was told sensitively but also realistically and that will hopefully make readers aware of the dangers of a controlling partner. For all the Haydens and Crystals out there there are unfortunately also people like Suresh, and the Ayeshas of the world need their voices heard.(less)
I don't read many contemporary young adult novels nowadays, but I will always make an exception when a new Jennifer E. Smith is published. The pages of her work are filled with heartbreakingly beautiful teenage romances that embrace such a realism that I have to remind myself that I do not in actual fact know these people she so vividly describes. They're merely characters in a fictional world, a lovely one at that though.
Lucy and Owen live in the same apartment building in New York City; Lucy, or her parents to be exact, are long-term residents whereas Owen shares a small basement flat with his father who has recently been hired to manage the building. The two teenagers have passed each on numerous occasions in the hallways, but each lost in their own little world they haven't exchanged a word until they get stuck together in an elevator during a power-cut on a blistering hot day in the city. Tentatively they open up to each other and what starts off as a way to pass time until they're released from their temporary sanctuary, they soon find themselves clinging to this brief perfect moment they shared together.
The power cut could've been the start of an epic apocalyptic tale filled with people wandering the streets in confusion, rioting and looting, and the start of a new order in society, but this isn't that kind of novel. Nonetheless the charge of opportunity and the unexpected thrill of freedom, created the perfect atmosphere for Lucy and Owen to form this incredible quick and intense bond; like conspirators they now share a secret comprised of stolen moments in the elevator and on the roof top, watching the glittering of thousands of stars dotted all across the sky, a stunning display which is normally hidden behind the curtain of artificial light that consistently embraces the city.
The time Lucy and Owen spend together is only brief as both their parents yet off elsewhere and they're obliged to follow, but their incredible connection lasts. Through infrequent postcards with brief messages (Owen) and emails talking about everything that's happening (Lucy) from across the USA and even Europe the two young protagonists remind each other and themselves of those special moments during the power cut and cherish the memories.
As they travel from one place to the next, meeting new people along the way who make them temporarily happy but never truly give them what they've left behind, the reader witnesses their beautiful and hopeful journey, but one which has a bittersweet ending. It didn't finish with the happily ever after I was hoping for, though in a way it adds to the incredible sense of realism Smith douses her work in and perhaps it is also what makes their story even more special. Their love may not last lifetimes (or maybe it will, who knows?), but the brief moments of intense happiness they have shared together are worth more than spending an entire life stuck in the not entirely unhappy but still incredibly mundane.
As with Smith's previous novels my one gripe with The Geography of You and Me is that it is far too short. Just when I got myself fully immersed in the world of Owen and Lucy the story had already concluded, which was such a shame as I didn't want to let go. Not yet. Nonetheless, the time I did spent with the two of them was beautiful. This is an incredibly sweet yet honest coming-of-age novel, which doesn't romanticise the characters or their ever-changing relationship (there's plenty of awkwardness and insecurities and perhaps not quite fitting together after all) as they grow and come closer to themselves, creating a pure and heartfelt story.(less)
This is a stunning novel and I am not just talking about the strikingly beautiful cover. I expected it to be heavily focused on a romance storyline, but instead it's a much more raw and honest look at the purest form of human connections and some of the very heart-breaking flaws that seep into the British care system, despite so many people working tirelessly and in an almost inconceivably selfless way to try and make a difference.
As readers we become acquainted with Clifton Avenue care home through the eyes of Rachel. She is a single mum of three in desperate need of a job to support her family and more by accident than on purpose she ends up working in the care system. It turns out to be the perfect environment for her to not only do some much-needed good for the people who live there and need her help, but also to blossom as a person and mother herself. Her intense role as a carer inevitably influences her personal life and unexpectedly provides exactly that what had been missing since her relationship with her ex-husband fell apart. She'd been just as lost as some of her patients and throughout the novel they help her as much as she helps them.
While Rachel joins Clifton Avenue as a carer, at the same time Philip arrives as a new resident. He's an incredibly confused and vulnerable person with little means of communication, making it difficult for anyone to get through to him. They know he is distraught by the death of his mother, his sole caretaker for the thirty plus years he's been alive, and that he's never been to school or outside of the family home really. So after losing not only his mother but also the only environment he's ever known, he's very withdrawn when Rachel is assigned to be his key worker.
What follows is simultaneously an incredibly difficult but also a beautiful and rewarding process as Rachel patiently and painstakingly tries to win Philip's trust so he will allow her help him. I was in awe by her endless patience and kindness as I don't think I would've been able to stay as gentle and focused in a similar situation. This novel has not only opened my eyes about the difficulties faced by those trying to make a difference in the care system, but has also given me a huge admiration for these amazing human beings who work so hard and lovingly to take care of someone else.
Kate Anthony has written a beautiful, thoughtful, poignant and heart-warming read, one which tells an incredibly important story. I'm astonished that this is her debut novel as it is eloquent, complex and tackles difficult issues in a sensitive way. It's also one of those rare novels that will make you want to be a better person yourself. Because if Rachel - who suffers so much hardship in a short space of time in her personal life - can remain endlessly imperturbable, gentle and self-sacrificing for her patients, then we really have no excuse to not reach out to someone else as well and try to make their world a little brighter and better. (less)
I must have been living under a rock as I had no idea there was a prequel to THE MUMMYFESTO, one of the most powerful and inspiring women's fiction no...moreI must have been living under a rock as I had no idea there was a prequel to THE MUMMYFESTO, one of the most powerful and inspiring women's fiction novels I've read. As with so many short story THE RESOLUTION doesn't leave a lot of space for characterization or plot development, but as I was already familiar with the women this was okay. It was a sweet and hopeful little addition to the book. (less)
I'm not normally a fan of short stories, whether presented on their own, as a tie-in to an existing novel or as a collection around a particular theme. I generally find there simply isn't enough space for the proper plot development and characterisation that usually draws me into a book, and they lack a certain spark which could have made them more than just an unpolished draft of a much-longer story.
When I initially heard about Truly, Madly, Deeply I figured this wouldn't be one for me. However, some of the authors involved I admire greatly and so despite my normal stand on short stories I found myself tempted by the idea of the novel and eventually decided to give it a go. And I am very glad that I did as this is a surprisingly meaningful collection of contemporary and historical women's fiction.
The great variety in authors, settings, characters and even genres within the larger women's fiction umbrella makes this not only a book in which everyone will be able to find that one special story that will make them laugh out loud on the train or tear up vehemently, but also a delightful discovery of new writers and lesser known but still very significant historical affairs.
Each story is introduced by a brief summary of the author's life and writing accomplishments, whetting the reader's appetite before they've even read a single word of the story. In my case, while I picked up the novel to read something new from favourites such as Carole Matthews and Miranda Dickinson I ended up falling in love with many other authors too.
Particular highlights were Anna Jacobs' A Sensible Proposal, which offers a small glimpse into the lives of people in the mid-19th century who made the extraordinary brave decision to travel to the other side of the world in the hopes of finding better prospects, and Sue Moorcroft's incredibly funny Shocking Behaviour, which made me simultaneously snort out loud and recoil in horror at the thought of 'Rosie' being on the loose.
The format of short stories makes Truly, Madly, Deeply ideal to read in short chunks at a time, as each individual segment probably doesn't require more than a twenty minute attention span from its reader. This makes it perfect for people who are usually too busy to tackle a larger book or are unable to keep their focus on the story, as well as those who are in the middle of an intense read and would like something different to take their minds off for a bit.
I initially set out to see if this book would make a good Mother's Day gift and while it certainly does, once you've got your hands on the gorgeous cover (which I instantly fell in love with myself) you probably want to keep it for yourself. You have been warned. (less)
Lucy Clarke's debut novel The Sea Sisters was one of my favourite reads of 2013 - highly engrossing and filled with complicated family dynamics, exotic locations and a good dose of intrigue, it made for a perfect addition to my summer reading list. It was also a memorable novel and one that I have been recommending extensively to my friends since. So when I heard about Lucy's newest novel I couldn't get my hands on a copy quick enough!
Once more the story is set in an foreign location, Tasmania this time around. This was particularly fascinating and exciting for me as I spent a few weeks on a road trip across the island as part of a wider Australia trip and so it was wonderful to get the chance to return to this beautiful and lush location without having to dig deep into my pockets the funds to buy a plane ticket. Plus I could see if Lucy would do a place I had actually been to (opposed to the mostly foreign to me locations in The Sea Sisters) justice on paper and she most certainly did.
This is the story of a young British woman called Eva. She loses her husband Jackson in a tragic accident and in an attempt to find closure she impulsively books a flight to Australia to connect to her late husband's estranged family and to get the chance to explore the place he grew up. They'd only been married for a short while and she knew little of his life back in Tasmania, but what Eva hadn't expected was that on her journey she would discover that she didn't really know her husband at all.
Almost each chapter there is new shocking revelation, putting everything Eva thought she knew about Jackson in a new and more sinister perspective. As she tries to cope with this adjusted view of the man she loved so intensively - even if it was for only a short period of time - she finds a great support in her quiet brother-in-law, Saul. She inevitably grows closer to him, but struggling to make sense of her already confused feelings she's unsure if she really likes him for him, or because in so many ways he reminds her of what she loved about her husband.
What makes this novel even more intriguing from a reader's point of view is that somewhere along the line it changes from a beautiful and poignant story about love and loss, into a riveting psychological thriller along the likes of Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep - keeping the reader on the edge of their seat for the remainder of the novel. It becomes a fast-paced page-turner, which makes it impossible to put the book down as you simply have to know what happens next, even if it means forgoing some much-needed sleep (trust me, I know...).
Lucy Clarke cleverly balances her engrossing thriller with rich descriptions of the lush Tasmanian landscape, transporting the reader from the miserable grey British spring weather to warmer climates where the days are spend fishing and floating in the water to watch the magical world that's hiding just underneath the surface. It's those few relaxing moments in which both Eva and the reader get the chance to reflect on the revelations thus far and connect the translucent flaws in Jackson's backstory which had been there all along.
A Single Breath's layered story remains unpredictable until the last page, making it very gripping indeed. Add to that the rich descriptions of Tasmania (which have me yearn to return to the island) and you've got a beautifully written and engrossing read from start to finish.(less)
Hello my name is Zarina and I am a Chanceholic... I have a serious addiction to Rebecca Chance's novels and even though I just turned the final page of Bad Brides, I'm already craving more of the delightfully scandalous and glitz and glamour world of her books. She always manages to combine the most outrageous scenarios and deliciously saucy scenes with well-written characters and a continuously intriguing storyline so the over the top plots suddenly read like a very real possibility. In this novel she tackles weddings, but instead of going for the obvious Bridezillas (although there is one of those) and notorious My Big Fat Greek Wedding scenarios, it's actually some of the people surrounding the soon to be husbands and wives that surface as the most colourful characters of them all.
I won't go into detail as to not spoil some of the more interesting romantic twist and turns the story takes along the way, but the very short summary is that Style UK is launching a wedding magazine and two of the hottest young couples - one consistent of a beautiful starlet and the front man of a popular folk-rock band, the other of an American model and a British Earl - are up for the much-coveted cover. To gain extra publicity around the first edition both couples are told they're in the running and what follows is a more often than not dirty competition between the two, which makes it evident that some people (read: Milly) are willing to do anything to get what they want.
After tackling the royals in Killer Queens I wasn't sure how Rebecca Chance could top that world of luxury, but she managed to do so with the introduction of 'The Fracking Queen', who probably has more money to throw around than the entire British royal family together. The very lavish lifestyle of the main characters was described into detail, making their astonishing wealth practically leapt of the pages in a flurry of scrumptious cocktails and delectable canapés. Despite some of the characters being hideously spoiled and entitled as a result, it did all sound incredibly enticing and made me wish I have a few million pounds laying around so I too can take an impronto trip to the Italian countryside.
Of course it wouldn't be a Rebecca Chance novel if there weren't some really creative and steamy sex scenes written in, and there were plenty of those in this book as well. After each new novel I do start to wonder if there could possibly be any outlandish sexual preferences she hasn't covered yet, but once again she managed to outdo herself. Some of the scenes might make you blush when reading them on public transport but that doesn't make them any less brilliant - the ones involving Tamra were particularly eye-opening.
Compared to Chance's previous novels I was surprised by how genuinely nice most of the main characters were (save Milly, she's a selfish little brat with absolutely no redeeming qualities). Sure there was backstabbing and scheming going on in an attempt to gain that coveted Style Bride cover, but I didn't think the scenarios were quite as bad as in for instance Killer Queens - or perhaps I'm becoming a little bit more used to it all? Either way, it ensured the characters didn't become caricatures of themselves but instead remained reasonably realistic, which added to the fact that despite Chance's novels being mostly known as bonkbusters, they also consist of genuinely good writing and storytelling.
Bad Brides is scandalous, fabulous, sexy and most of all a lot of bonkers fun. It'll simultaneously make you want to join the inner-circle of the rich and famous, because their glamorous lifestyle sounds oh so tempting, and run away screaming from the terrible people it consists of. Perhaps the best option is to enjoy it all from a safe distance by reading about it in Rebecca Chance's books, rather than risking the wrath of the Milly's of the world.(less)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is all sorts of amazing. Intelligent, poignant, witty, provocative and deeply touching - I freely admit it made me cry big fat ugly tears while I was reading the final chapters on the train home from work.
Leonard Peacock is a self-absorbed and highly unlikeable character yet I sympathised with him immensely and through author Matthew Quick's raw and honest portrayal of his main protagonist I came to understand what could drive Leonard to such extremism. I don't condone his choices nor do I believe it is ever the solution, but I did came to feel greatly compassionate towards him. After all, as Herr Silverman in the book says, we can simultaneously be human and monster - both those possibilities are in all of us.
At the heart of the novel is the very sensitive subject of suicide which could have easily made this a melancholy and emotionally draining novel, and while there were certainly occurrences of that it was also surprisingly witty and humorous. Furthermore, Leonard is highly intelligent and his fascinating and depressingly accurate perspective of the world, his existence and that of the drones around him made for a riveting read.
The book was also incredibly thought-provoking. Not just about the more obvious topics such as suicide and the immense impact bullying can have on a person, but also about subjects that are covered in Leonard's classes such as Shakespeare and the holocaust; these were less touched upon but equally attributed to making this such a unique and brilliant piece of writing.
Quick has a magical way with words and I relished each and every one of them within this novel, they conveyed so much in their simplicity. For example:
"It's a depressing reality how my classmates make love to their ignorance."
"You're different. And I'm different too. Different is good. But different is hard. Believe me, I know."
After this nothing short of brilliant introduction to Quick's writing I'll be sure to check out his other novels as well, because I definitely need to read more books of this calibre and which are both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
It's been a while since a piece of fiction has reduced me to incoherently gushing over its contents, but Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is all kinds of special and I cannot seem to find the right words to do justice to just how much it has touched me and made me think.
Beautiful and utterly brilliant this is simply one of the best books I have ever read. Thank you Matthew Quick, thank you very much. (less)
In January of last year I read Tom Winter's memorable debut novel Lost and Found, a poignant story of ordinary people whose stories become extraordinary through Winter's excellent writing and I was excited when I heard he had a new novel coming out this year, let alone the opportunity to read it early. Once again Winter takes seemingly average people and with a flair for great storytelling he pulls the reader in and gets them invested into these people's lives.
Arms Wide Open is the story of one family and their many ups and downs as they go about their everyday lives. Meredith has two children, Jemima and Luke, and a twin-brother by the name of Jack. She always felt that her brother got the better end of the deal, having a great job and plenty of money with which he's always jetting off, whereas she's achieved little with her marriage falling apart a year before being the absolute low point - one from which she's still trying to recover.
But when the twins find out that the father they never knew and assumed to be dead may be alive after all they go on the search for answers, which not only provides Meredith with some much-needed distraction, but also shows her that Jack's life isn't as charmed as she thought it was. He can be wonderful with her children, but his glamorous job has disappeared between all the sabbaticals and his forgetful mind looks to be a more serious condition than him just being a scatter-brain.
While reading the novel I felt particularly invested in the journey of Jemima. Neglected by a mother who is too busy grieving for the loss of her marriage to notice what is going on with her children, Jemima has little interaction with teenagers her own age. Instead she escapes into a virtual world of dating men far too old for her, which could have extremely serious consequences. Having a younger sister roughly the same age as Jemima I was horrified when reading her part of the story, but it also served as a wake-up call to the dangers that lay just around the corner for teenagers in today's digital society.
Despite the many tragedies the characters are faced with, Tom Winter has packed his second novel full with surprising wit and hope too. Depressing on one page yet humorous on the next, he has created a story which goes from the mundane to the downright bizarre (such as an explosion at the next door neighbour's which implicates a character who in a strange twist of faith was sort of romantically involved with both Meredith and Jemima, without any of them realising this) in quick succession. He balances these opposites in a very effective way, creating an engrossing and unique kind one novel.
It's a thoughtful read as well - tackling subjects from dementia and complicated family dynamics to rebelling teens and death - which will have the reader think about it long after turning the final page. This also makes it an ideal book club choice as the wealth of issues raised make for plenty of interesting and, no doubt, heated discussions.(less)
Whenever I talk to people who don't often read the genre many define as "chick-lit" there's one author that stands out from the crowd and that's Jane Fallon. Even the most crime-obsessed amongst my friends has read at least one of her books and when I mention I like women's fiction she comes highly recommended. So when I had the opportunity to read her new novel early my interest was instantly piqued as I was keen to discover if this author is truly is amazing as everyone tells me she is.
Perhaps it was my high expectations, her books have made non chick-lit readers gush after all, but I was extremely disappointed by Skeletons. The story was perspicuous and predictable and the characters were insipid. I found it difficult to connect to any of them, even main character Jen wasn't relatable or even remotely likeable. I understand that just as in life you can't like everyone, but feeling at least some sort of interest in what would happen to them next is very helpful in a novel, otherwise it becomes a struggle to finish it at all.
My main issue lay with the fact that the characters' relationships faltered on the unrealistic for me. It seemed unconceivable for instance that Jen had shared years of her life and secrets with best friend Poppy, only to be shunned completely and seemingly forever when she was simply the messenger of some very bad news. Add to that Jen's whining and self-absorbed tendencies as well as her spineless husband and I simply stopped caring about the book's conclusion.
While the novel was just about enjoyable enough for me to continue reading until the end, the journey there was amateurishly put together (I saw every twist and turn coming from miles away) and instantly forgettable afterwards - even a mere week after finishing it I'm struggling writing this review as the story and characters have blended together with so many similar novels in my memory.
This would have been an adequate debut novel from a writer venturing into the genre for the first time, but from an apparent master of storytelling such as Jane Fallon I expected much more. (less)
I have a weak spot for pretty covers and how adorable is this one? The beautiful pastels, the lovely leaf-shaped heart and the bright yellow have "fun spring read" written all over them - perfect for the (reluctant) sunny weather we're currently having in the UK.
The book's opener was simultaneously hilarious and excruciatingly embarrassing, setting up what I expected to be a very funny story, but it turned out to be much more serious than that. Main character Cassie is a new mum and she's struggling to juggle the job of mother with that of being an employment lawyer - and her seemingly clueless husband isn't much help in the matter.
The novel gives a fascinating insight into the difficulties of becoming a new parent; it turns your life upside down in more ways than you can possibly imagine and prepare for beforehand and you have to work hard to ensure your sanity and marriage don't succumb under the pressure of being a good parent.
Perhaps it's the fact that I am not in this stage in life myself yet, or it were the characters of Cassie and her husband Jonathan, but despite the many problems they were faced with over the course of the novel I found it difficult to feel sympathetic towards them. I understood how incredibly difficult it was for them to adjust but at times I just wanted to slap some sense into them.
Jonathan especially got tremendously on my nerves as he seemed completely oblivious to how hard it was for Cassie to cope with it all. In fact, it started with the very first email that opened the novel, which while funny from an outsider's point of view, was actually an incredibly stupid and thoughtless act on his part - and it just went downhill after that.
While the novel was certainly funny at times and I appreciate author Lucy Lawrie's efforts in conveying the difficulties of becoming a parent beyond sleepless nights and smelly diapers, for me it didn't work and I felt there was something crucial missing that would make me feel more interested and invested in the characters and as a result the story as whole. (less)
When Nathan Filer won the Costa Book Award for his debut novel last month, The Shock of the Fall was all over my Twitter time line. Everyone was raving about a book I had heard little about before that day - my interest was definitely piqued. So when I was offered a copy for a review I didn't have to think twice as I was keen to see if it would manage to live up to the hype. Spoiler alert: it does.
Main protagonist Matt's journey throughout the novel, from an innocent little boy to a troubled young man, was beautiful, fascinating, confusing, depressing yet ultimately incredibly touching. I've not read a book before that delves into a character struggling with mental illness into such detail and it has been a educational and rewarding experience. Even though it's fiction, it feels as if I've had the privilege to read another person's most raw thoughts and emotions, making Matt very vulnerable but also astonishingly real.
The Shock of the Fall is the story of Matt in its most purest form. He tells his own story, in his own words and in his own time and as he does so we get intimately acquainted with his most private thoughts and struggles. While there is a focus on mental illness and it shows Matt's difficulties increasing as he grows up, this is foremost the story of Matt and his older brother Simon. Even though his brother dies when Matt is still a little kid, Simon remains an important presence as the years go by and this part of Matt's life show him and his family trying to come to terms with what happened all those years ago.
I thought it was fascinating to read Matt's own words in the different types of media that were available to him when he was writing down his story; the different fonts translated really well within the novel and emphasised Matt's scattered thoughts and changing grasp on reality. And while initially his seemed a very straightforward and down-spiralling story there are quite a few unexpected twists along the way too, making this not only an emotionally satisfying novel, but also an intellectually satisfying one.
The only reason I'm giving The Shock of the Fall 4 stars instead of 5 is that I read it straight after Wonder by R.J. Palacio. While the novels centre on different subject matters - main character Auggie from Wonder has a facial deformity making it much more a story about physical appearances and bullying, rather than the inward and often invisible struggle of mental illness - they're both stories about difference and acceptance, of others and of yourself. I believe that Wonder managed to convey that message in a slightly more moving and memorable way, and it personally touched me the most.
Had I not read these books straight after one another my perception on The Shock of the Fall would've likely been even more positive than it already is, as it truly is an extraordinary compelling, poignant and thought-provoking novel - and a deserving Costa Book Awards winner.(less)
One of the most amazing stories I've ever read. The raw honesty of Auggie's perception of himself and the world, and in turn the way the world perceiv...moreOne of the most amazing stories I've ever read. The raw honesty of Auggie's perception of himself and the world, and in turn the way the world perceived him was predictably devastating to read yet there was also a hopefulness within the novel and surprising heart-warming elements. This is a very special piece of writing and I will post a longer review when I've found the right words to convey just how much Wonder has touched me. (less)
In November I read Pivot Point by Kasie West, which I enjoyed so much that it single-handedly managed to get me excited again about the young adult genre after many years of feeling somewhat indifferent about it. YA to me had started to feel a bit too same-y, but Pivot Point was a perfect blend of fresh supernatural and contemporary fiction with unexpected twists and turns, which had me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the read.
However, when I initially heard that sequel Split Second would focus on main protagonist Addie's best friend Laila I wasn't too sure what to think of that as I LOVED Addie in the first novel and, unpopular opinion, I didn't care too much for her friend. Furthermore, I thoroughly enjoyed Addie's relationship with Trevor and if we'd be seeing everything from Laila's point of view I thought we might not see Trevor at all which would have made me very, very sad.
I needn't have worried as Kasie West has once again delivered a spectacular novel which perfectly balances the coming-of-age difficulties of a contemporary teenager with the supernatural elements of the Compound. Yes, half of the novel is from Laila's point of view, but becoming more intimate with her thoughts and feelings I actually came to grow very fond of her - flaws and all. And, thankfully, the other half of the story was still from Addie's perspective (arguably the more interesting character of the two) and came with plenty of Trevor-time.
In this novel we delve deeper into the history of the Compound and the political power play that goes on behind the scenes of what seems like an Utopia for those with advanced brain capacity (ie. super powers). It's an intricately put together operation and the revelations come at just the right time to keep the reader guessing without seeing a plot twist coming from miles away. It's genuinely good story-telling and continues to stay unique enough to be easily differentiated from other recent YA novels (which in contrary to this series are all dystopian stories) with a strong political angle such as The Hunger Games, Divergent and Matched.
Addie continues to be a fascinating character I cannot get enough of her, and discovering the secrets of the Compound through her eyes worked very well. Plus, bonus, there is plenty of Trevor going around for us fans of the pairing too. The relationship between him and Addie is an interesting one as effectively in the first book it all happened inside Addie's head so while to her they're very intimate and they know each other's deepest secrets, to him she's a virtual stranger - which is absolutely heartbreaking but also oddly compelling.
I don't often prefer a series over a stand-alone book but with interesting character developments and a solidly engrossing story this was an absolute page-turner and once again Kasie West has left me wanting more, so I really hope there will be another instalment in the series!(less)
Spoiled by a wealth of stunning book covers lately I've become a bit of a snob and I easily disregard a novel as "not interesting" if the cover doesn't particularly appeal to me (ie. doesn't have any embossing, sparkles or a really stunning image). And unfortunately I didn't like the cover for Take Mum Out - which seemed a bit plain and old fashioned to me. Now there's nothing wrong with that of course, but it simply wasn't my cup of tea.
Thankfully however, this truly was one of those instances where you shouldn't judge a book by its cover and it's been a reminder to me to be less snobbish about how a book looks, as of course it's the content that matters the most. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel book overall. The cover and blurb made me assume this would be quite a straightforward and predictable chick lit and easily forgettable, yet it turned out to be a much more enjoyable and memorable read than that.
I really liked the character of Alice and reading about all the dates she had to endure to find a Mister Right was delightful. The situations she found herself in went from dreadful to ridiculous - with a wealth of laugh out loud moments in between. What also appealed to me within this novel was the fact that Alice runs a meringue business from her home and so there were plenty of mentions of scrumptious baked goods running through the pages - which is always a bonus in my book!
In the end I was so gripped by Alice's story that I finished the book far too little in the middle of the night, when I definitely should've gone to bed as I had work the next day. It's been a while since a novel had me in its clutches like that so that is definitely a testament to how much of an enjoyable read this was.
I also really liked author Fiona Gibson's writing style. It's witty, fun and often hilarious - making something that could've been an average or even dull read, a delightful addition to any relaxing Sunday afternoon.
Take Mum Out is perfect not only to gift your mum on Mother's Day, but also to gift to yourself. Indulge in a nice cup of hot chocolate, put your feet up and get ready for a few hours of relaxation with a funny and charming read.(less)
The charming pastel colours and prominent bakery image on the front of the book's cover initially made me think this was going to be a story along the lines of Jenny Colgan's most recent ones; sweet, cosy and filled with delectable food. And while it certainly included those elements, A Little Love was also more raw and touched upon some subjects I hadn't expected to find in a book that looked as cute as this one does.
Pru Plum is a sophisticated lady and together with her cousin she manages a swanky bakery in Mayfair which has a long list of rich and famous clientele. The two women, now in their sixties, have had to work hard to get to where they are, but nobody realises quite what they had to overcome along the way and how much the two girls from the poor side of town had to sacrifice to make their dream a reality and set up their own business.
Putting years and years of long hours and hard work into the bakery, Pru never really had the opportunity to find the one thing many find so important in life: love - or perhaps, subconsciously, she closed herself off from the prospect of finding 'the one'. Even though she's now well in her sixties and she is proud of her accomplishments in life, she also can't help but feel like she missed out by not finding that special person to share it with.
The characters within this novel almost came off the pages while I was reading about them; they were exceptionally real. Flawed and sometimes unlikeable they were ultimately good people who did what they thought was for the best when faced with difficult choices in life. Infidelity, prostitution and single motherhood are just a few of the hardships that are touched upon within this surprisingly harrowing book.
With a little love and a lot of intrigue this was both a romantic and gripping novel. It starts off as a sweet story filled with sugary treats, but quickly evolves into a more substantial read with unexpected twists and long buried secrets bubbling to the surface. Despite everything the characters endure within the pages though, this is ultimately a story about love and how everyone deserves to find someone to love and to be loved unconditionally in return.(less)
The moment I laid eyes on this book I fell in love with it. The super cute cover is reminiscent of the modern country style patterns from Cath Kidston and Laura Ashley (both of which I adore), I can often be found rummaging around in second-hand stores for random old (I mean, vintage) bits and bobs and I love castles and handsome Scottish men - so having all these things combined made it sound like the perfect escapism read to me.
As soon as we are introduced to Evie I felt like I had found a new friend in her. Not only is she a sweet and very likable main character, but she also reminded me of myself in many ways and I don't just mean that we're both hoarders. She loves anything vintage, is a bit of a dreamer and even if she doesn't admit it out loud, she's holding out for her very own Prince Charming - and let's face it, aren't we all?
Despite Evie seemingly having it pretty together, those around her don't see it that way. Her biggest passion in life is collecting vintage items yet her sister and mother want her to be more minimalistic like them and even her boss Max, despite owning an antiques store, doesn't understand her love for old things and so they all pressure her to give up the one thing she loves the most. What they don't understand is that to Evie this isn't just old junk, but each and every one of the items in her collection have a story attached to them. They've been held and loved by people decades before which is something that Evie finds very romantic, and I can't blame her - it certainly made me look at second-hand things in a different way.
When Evie is asked to visit an old castle up in Scotland for the opportunity to use her expertise in valuing some of the items so the new owners can use the money to pay for the castle's upkeep she doesn't have to think twice. The opportunity to look through all the riches that have been collected there over the course of the last centuries is a dream come true for Evie. And when she arrives at Kettlesheer Castle she not only finds a wealth of old furniture, letters, diaries and other fascinating items from a lifetime ago, but also a place in the final stages of being prepared for a traditional ball - which definitely appeals to the hopeless romantic in Evie.
I'm normally not a girly-girl and balls and fancy dresses don't do much for me, but the inviting way author Hestor Browne described the grand ball in this novel and the reeling that goes hand-in-hand with it, had even me wanting to go back to Jane Austen's time so I could pull out my dance card and fill it with the names of all the handsome Scottish men present.
Sweet and romantic, The Vintage Girl can only be described as a modern-day fairytale. I loved reading about Evie and the history of the castle's owners and thought the book was pretty close to perfect. I only wish it hadn't been quite as predictable as it was, but luckily the journey to the inevitable ending was full of obstacles, surprises and quite a few hilarious moments, making this an utterly delightful read overall.
Gina Bellamy has been through a lot in her young life and just when things seem to be on the mend her marriage succumbs under the pressure of finding happiness. Ironically, without the struggles and the need for her husband and herself to lean on one another there's little left between the two of them to sustain their relationship. So after years of sharing home and life with another person, Gina suddenly finds herself on her own. Starting from scratch in a tiny apartment she decides to truly start afresh and only keep hold of a hundred important things - a hundred pieces of herself.
While the initial reason behind Gina purging her belongings is a sad moment in her life, it forces her to reflect on all the things she's accumulated over the years and discover what's truly important. Not only that, but by doing so she comes to cherish some items more so than before and she manages to surround herself with what really brings her joy and happiness (that and necessities such as underwear of course - there are some things we are too spoiled to live without!).
Gina is a strong and inspirational woman, who has overcome so much to get where she is now. It was a joy to read about her growing as an individual within the novel, and her unexpected and unlikely friendship with Buzz was a welcome heart-warming addition to what could've otherwise been a desolate and depressing story of a woman struggling to find happiness. The only thing I disliked with a passion is how the novel ended. I can understand from a storytelling point of view that this was where Gina's path would lead her to, but she had already been through so much and she is such a wonderful person that I wanted nothing more for her than find love, health and happiness.
I did however really like the idea behind A Hundred Pieces of Me. Gina's journey, as she was sorting through her belongings one box at a time, was a fascinating one and I learned a lot along the way about myself as well. In my head I started to make a list of the things I would keep were I forced to downsize and whilst doing so I quickly came to realise that even though I am a big hoarder and find it difficult to let go of things, in the end there are few that truly matter. While tough to take the first step to such a big clear-out, I imagine it to be very satisfying and liberating too. After all, if you surround yourself with things that make you happy then logically thinking you would be happy too.
This is a story of starting over and coming closer to yourself. In our life we take a lot of things and luxuries for granted, but not until our eyes are forcibly opened do we usually see what's truly important and where our focus should lie. So imagine yourself in Gina's shoes, what hundred things in your life would you keep?(less)
Anna hasn't seen the friends from her days at Oxford since graduating from university nearly two decades before. She has tried her hardest to put that part of her life behind her but when she bumps into old flame Victor, lingering feelings instantly bubble up and the past she so desperately tried to forget about comes tumbling back and crashing into the rather dull but safe life she has build for herself. The unexpected meeting and the emotional impact it has on her leave her with no other choice than to finally face that which made her run away from her old life in the first place.
Through flashbacks and the reconnection of Anna to some of her old friends, author Alison Mercer weaves an intricate web of intrigue and secrets which has the reader gripped from the moment they venture into Anna's past. Even though the major event alluded to throughout the novel was one I saw coming from the very first moment it was mentioned on the page, there were still plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. One in particular took me by surprise but certainly explained Anna's more than hesitant attitude towards one of the people she cut off contact with.
The close knit friends made for an unusual group of people to bond so quickly and so intensely, yet their inseparability also made perfect sense. On their own feet for the first time in their young lives they needed each other to lean on and to make sense of the harder parts of growing up and being independent. This in particular made it so profound that Anna cut all ties straight after graduation and it meant that nearly twenty years later she was still struggling to find her own place in the world.
Even if the reader's own university days weren't quite as tumultuous as Anna's, it isn't difficult to understand the conflicting feelings and other issues she's struggling with. The strong emotions that go hand in hand with first love and the transition from adolescence to adulthood were portrayed very realistically and were easy to identify with, making this a very relatable contemporary novel. Add to that a healthy dose of intrigue and you've got yourself a riveting read which will have any reader hooked until the final page. (less)
I seem to go through phases where I fall in love with a particular genre of novels. A few years ago it was young adult supernatural stories, then The Hunger Games pulled me into the dystopian genre, for some explicable reason after that I made the leap to chick-lit, which eventually evolved into more substantial women's fiction, and right now I am in love with quirky literary fiction along the likes of Where'd You Go Bernadette and The Rosie Project. Last Bus to Coffeeville definitely falls in that category as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, which was an enlightening bus ride through different times and places. As each of the main characters gets introduced, we journey through their history and that of their ancestors which touches upon a wide variety of subjects, from slavery in America to the origin of the great pyramid in Egypt to the Cuban Revolution. While it was a lot to digest within one novel it was also fascinating and I love how after finishing the book I not only felt I had been entertained but also that I had learned something new and noteworthy along the way.
Don't let the sheer amount of history this book covers scare you off or make you assume that this is a dry bit of reading by the way, on contrary. It's all told with a lot of flair and humour, even if the latter is very morbid at times. Point in case: a mother and child getting killed by a giant donut. Sounds just a teensy bit out of the box doesn't it? And that's just one of the many events within the pages of this novel that sound slightly out of the ordinary. Author J. Paul Henderson has a vivid imagination, that's for sure.
What also really appealed to me was the diversity of the characters that travel together on the old Beatles tour bus the novel is titled after. From a respectable elderly doctor who 'rescues' his old friend from a nursing home to bring her to Coffeeville, the village she wants to die, to an orphaned boy who ran away from a boarding school for the deaf (because he was the only one there who wasn't actually deaf) and who now spends his spare time reading the bible to count the dead.
It all sounds strange and rather comical, but because of the layers of history within the novel it is also a very meaningful read. Add to that the heavy focus on Alzheimer's disease, and in particular the very detailed and heartbreaking insight into the rapid regression of Nancy's mind, and this becomes a fascinating and poignant novel overall.(less)