Monthly Archives: June 2016

Review – Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

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The Blurb

Held Captive for eight years, Lily has grown from a teenager to an adult in a small basement prison.  Her daughter Sky has been a captive her whole life.  But one day their captor leaves the deadbolt unlocked.  

This is what happens next…

…to her twin sister, to her mother, to her daughter…and to her captor.

My Review

Anyone who is familiar with my reviews will know that I love a strong character driven book and a book that really stirs up my emotions and makes me think and feel deeply. I was, therefore, very excited about reading Baby Doll, as it starts at the end of the crime with Lily escaping from her abductor after being help captive for eight years. I was keen to see the impact being abducted had on her and how she would re-adjust to normal life.

I have pondered over this review for a while as while I found the book fairly enjoyable it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. This is mainly due, I think, to the execution of the novel which consists of the story being told by four points of view – Lily, her mother Eve, her twin sister Abby and the perpetrator Rick. I don’t normally have an issue with books that are narrated in this way, I like it, but it felt, for me, that there were too many voices and none of them had any real depth. I understand why Hollie has done this – to get across the impact it had had on all of the family – but they felt short lived and I didn’t empathise with the characters or gain any real insight into them. I feel it would have been stronger if the point of views concentrated on Lily and Rick.

I would have liked to know more about how Lily felt about the changes that had occurred in her family during her abduction, how she coped with the outside world after being isolated for so long rather than her catching up with reality TV and being concerned about re-gaining the love of her high school sweetheart. I also would have liked more about how she helped her daughter re-adjust.

Her twin sister, Abby, irritated me. Certainly she felt guilt, but this came out as over-dramatisation than any real exploration about her feelings.

The novel started out really promising and Hollie’s descriptions of the fear felt by Lily are really well written.  I didn’t expect what happened at the end and I was caught by surprise and enjoyed the twist. I also liked hearing the abductor’s perspective and the impact his crimes had on his wife and family.

Baby Doll is a quick and easy read that is mildly entertaining, but it didn’t have that certain something for me. I know a lot of other reviewers have loved it and that’s what’s so great about reading – everyone has different opinions, likes and dislikes, but this fell a little flat for me after a promising start.
Thank you to Hollie Overton, Random House UK, Cornerstone and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Published on 30 June 2016 by Random House UK, Cornerstone.

#10BooksOfSummer Book #2 The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

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The Blurb

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs; a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, lie racing, isn’t simply about going fast.  On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.

 A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

My Thoughts

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a particular favourite book of mine – how could it not be, it’s narrated by a dog! – and when it came up as the book chosen by my reading group I was chuffed as I had not read it for a while. I decided it would also be great to add to my 10 books of summer.

Narrated by Enzo the dog, we get his unique perspective on the events that occur in his owner, Denny’s, life.

For me, Garth perfectly captures the essence of the canine through his narration. Anyone who has ever owned a dog will know that they are more intelligent than we often give them credit for and are acute observers of us humans. They pick up on our body language, our moods, energy and our scents;

‘So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is comprised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.’

Enzo talks about the strength of will and how we each control our own destiny, although I don’t necessarily believe this is always the case, Garth writes about it beautifully;

‘That which you manifest is before you.’

I have no interest in car racing, but the paragraphs about this in the book are great metaphors for life and how we deal with all it throws at us.

I could not help but fall in love with Enzo. His loyalty and devotion to Denny and his family, his concern and care for them and his humour make him very endearing. Denny is a character I empathise with deeply. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place and tries so hard do what is right for all concerned, despite the impact it has on him. As Enzo states;

‘I marvelled at them both; how difficult it must be to be a person. To continuously subvert your desire. To worry about doing the right thing, rather that doing what is most expedient.’

There are some truly heart breaking moments in this book that Garth writes with understanding and sensitivity. Have tissues ready when reading it as you will need them!

An insight into the psychology and complexity of human beings and a perspective on how we manage events given to us, that could only be captured by another species. The Art of Racing in the Rain never fails to move me. A beautiful book that will both break your heart and make you laugh, it will remain on my favourites list for a long time to come.

Published on 13 March 2009 by HarperCollins.

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Review – What We Didn’t Say by Rory Dunlop

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The Blurb

Jack and Laura have separated.  Jack thinks It’s all Laura’s fault.  

Laura disagrees.

Jack writes to Laura, desperate to put across his side of the story.

 Laura interrupts.

Wryly sarcastic and intensely well-observed, What We Didn’t Say is about the gap between words and feelings where relationships live – and die.

My Review

What We Didn’t Say is a poignant anatomy of the breakdown of a marriage told by both the husband and the wife.

I adored the unique way Jack and Laura’s story is told; through Jack’s diary with edits from Laura where she has put her point of view. I got really immersed in their lives and felt I got to know the characters personally. Dunlop has effectively got their unique personalities across with all of their emotions, thoughts and sense of humour. I empathised with both Jack and Laura and understood their feelings and how they reacted despite not always agreeing with their actions. This book is all about the characters within and how they respond to the emotions and thoughts that are raised through their relationship with each other.

Dunlop provides an acute and accurate portrayal of how the destructive forces of insecurity and jealousy slowly erode a relationship and how we get caught up in the height of the emotions we are feeling. How it causes misinterpretation of everything – what is said, body language and an over analysis of the innocent remark or comment – and how difficult it is for the person on the receiving end of these negative emotions to change their partners thought processes. For Jack, who is the insecure and jealous partner, the negative emotions and arguments that ensue become so all-encompassing it’s almost addictive;

‘Every word she said was painful but I wanted more of them.’

At the same time Dunlop also writes with tenderness and beauty about love;

‘I meant that being with you was not like being with other people because you weren’t other people. You were a part of me.’

And he has encapsulated the wry humour that often appears in these otherwise difficult and painful situations. I think that anyone reading this novel will be able to relate to parts of it and the emotions, thoughts and reactions that are described.

I love a book that evokes a strong emotional reaction in me and makes you think about the nuances of human behaviour and What We Didn’t Say certainly did this for me. A wonderful debut novel by Rory Dunlop. This is a moving portrayal of how mistrust, misunderstanding and misinformation can impact on a relationship. A book I highly recommend.

Thank you to Rory Dunlop, Bonnier – Twenty7 and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Ebook published on 30 June 2016 by Twenty7.

Review – Without Trace by Simon Booker

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The Blurb

For four long years, journalist Morgan Vine has campaigned for the release of her childhood sweetheart Danny Kilcannon – convicted, on dubious evidence, of murdering his 14 year-old stepdaughter. 

When a key witness recants, Danny is released from prison.  With nowhere else to go, he relies on single mum Morgan and her teenage daughter, Lissa. 

But then Lissa goes missing. 

With her own child now at risk, Morgan must re-think all she knows about her old flame – ‘the one that got away’.  As the media storm around the mysterious disappearance intensifies and shocking revelations emerge, she is forced to confront the ultimate question: who can we trust…?

My Review

Simon Booker’s Without Trace had me hooked from the very first chapter.

Morgan Vine is a journalist who runs a reading group in the local prison, the prison in which her childhood sweetheart, Danny Kilcannon, is serving time for the death of his step-daughter, Zoe. His wife has also been missing since the death of Zoe. Four years into his sentence, he wins his appeal and is a free man. This is where the story starts and what a story it is!

Morgan hopes their relationship will be re-kindled, however following his release her daughter, Lissa, goes missing and this event puts doubt in Morgan’s mind about Danny’s innocence. Throughout the book I changed my mind constantly as to whether I thought Danny was innocent or guilty, whether or not he had done something to Lissa and whether or not I liked him. I also found myself at various points in the book doubting every character. If Danny is innocent then who is the guilty person?

I wondered how Morgan could be sure of Danny’s innocence at the beginning, especially as she hadn‘t seen him for two decades prior to his conviction, however, we learn about her past through flashbacks to 1989 and it becomes clear why she views him through rose-tinted spectacles.  This, for me, was in integral part of the book and helped me to empathise with Morgan.

Morgan’s life is pretty sad – her relationship with her daughter’s father failed, she has no contact with her ailing father, her journalism career has failed, her daughter is a spoilt brat and yet she has the tenacity to find out the truth and follow every lead to find her daughter. I really travelled this journey with Morgan, Simon has done a great job in building her character and this is a huge strength in this book. I look forward to the next novel featuring her.

The suspense build up is second to none and I had to keep turning the pages and reading more to find out the truth. The sentence structure during tense times is cleverly done, making you hold your breath in anticipation. Full of perfectly placed red herrings, this book had me questioning everyone until the shocking, unexpected end.

A fantastic , well written debut thriller that will keep you guessing throughout and on the edge of your seat. Cannot wait to read more by Simon and meet Morgan Vine again. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon Booker, Twenty7 and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Ebook published on 28 January 2016 by Twenty7.
Paperback published 16 June 2016 by Twenty7.

#10BooksOfSummer Book #1 – The Children Act by Ian McEwan

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The Blurb

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court.  She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law.  Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious.  But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. 

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife.  Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house.  His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears.  She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen -year -old boy whose parents will not permit a life saving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case – as well as her crumbling marriage – tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book due to the moral dilemmas it promised to throw up as I love a book that makes me really think and feel. I was also interested to get a, albeit fictional, judge’s perspective after spending many years in the courtroom myself – not because I’m a naughty girl, but because I used to be a child protection social worker. I am, therefore, very familiar with The Children Act.
It was clear from the outset that McEwan had thoroughly researched The Children Act and the court process, including the issues that are brought up in hearings. The memories of the ‘he said, she said’, tit-for-tat of private law proceedings I had been involved in came flooding back and the unfortunate consequence of the children caught up in the middle of these battles.

‘And the children? Counters in a game, bargaining chips for use…’

To be honest, I don’t think my previous career helped me in reading this book as I read it with my professional head on which prevented me from considering the moral dilemmas in any depth. I could not get past the fact that Adam, the child at the centre of the story, was still a child in the eyes of the law despite being months off his eighteenth birthday and that the child’s welfare is paramount. The child’s wishes and feelings need to be considered, however, Adam’s welfare exceeded these, especially when it came to the price his wishes may ultimately cost him – that of his life. I would have made exactly the same decision as Fiona, the Judge.

Adam, brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, begins to question his faith and his parents following the court ruling. This leads to his confusion and, unfortunately, the very thing designed to save him is the very cause of his downfall;

‘Without faith, how open and beautiful and terrifying the world must have seemed to him.

The ending did not come as a great surprise but it touched me deeply.

This book could also be classed as a character study. We meet the main character, Fiona, a Judge, as her marriage is on the rocks and we follow her day to day life. I empathised with her feelings – her marriage has been affected by the demands of her work and she had put off having children to focus on her career which, ironically, centres on taking care of the children of others. McEwan eloquently writes about her thoughts and feelings on this matter and I forgot that it was a man who had written this book.

McEwan’s prose throughout is perfect and beautiful. Despite being a short novel he does not scrimp on detailed and stunning descriptions that led me to reading sentences repeatedly to enjoy them again. He also manages the court hearing regarding Adam with tact and diplomacy and at no point did I feel he was being disparaging towards the beliefs held by those of different faiths.

This book saddened me deeply. It is an insight into human nature, society and all their flaws and the children caught up amongst this;

‘Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty.’

It is also an insight into the state of the protective services, with it’s emphasis on form filling and box ticking and the dilemmas faced by professionals everyday, which they ultimately have to live with;

‘Now, fewer delays, more boxes to tick, more to be taken on trust. The lives of children were held in a computer memory, accurately, but rather less kindly.’

I highly recommend this beautiful, intelligent and moving book.

Published on 2 September 2014 by Vintage Digital.

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10 Books of Summer 2016 Update

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So far things have not gone totally according to plan with this challenge!  I have not managed to keep my self-imposed ban on Netgalley due to publishers tempting me with some great looking books, and my June reading has doubled as a result! I need to gain some willpower from somewhere, if anyone has any to spare, please send some my way!  On a positive note I have decided on my final four books for the challenge, they are –

The Children Act by Ian McKewan

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

The things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

I am halfway through The Children Act and The Art of Racing in the Rain, so keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on those.

How is everyone else getting on with the challenge? Would love to hear from you.

#10BooksOfSummer.

 

Review – Last to Die by Arlene Hunt

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The Blurb

He watches, he waits, he kills…

When Jessie Conway survives a horrific mass high school shooting, in the aftermath she finds herself thrust into the media spotlight, drawing all kinds of attention.  but some of it is the wrong kind. 

Caleb Switch, a sadistic serial killer, has been watching her every move.  A skilled hunter, he likes his victims to be a challenge.  Jessie is strong, fearless, a survivor, and now…she is his ultimate prey. 

As Caleb picks off his current victims one by one, chasing, killing and butchering them with his crossbow, he’s closing in on Jessie…but will Jessie defy the odds and escape with her life?  Or will she be Caleb’s final sacrifice…

My Review

Last to Die is a multi-layered psychological thriller that plays on your fears of the darker aspects of American society.

The book begins with Jessie Conway’s survival of a high school shooting. An unusual way to start the book, I thought, as it is not the main premise of the story, however, it becomes an integral part of what ultimately happens to Jessie. The shooting and the subsequent actions around it cause a knock on effect as the media coverage and pursuit of a story brings her to killer Caleb Switch’s attention and impacts on the police’s attitude towards her and how much they are willing to help.

Arlene, through the discussions her characters have, explores the inevitable question of why these shootings happen, covering the lack of moral guidance, growing up in a society in which material possessions are everything, the media and a lack of religion and belief in God. She also describes Jessie’s grief and emotions about the event perfectly, and effectively puts you in Jessie’s shoes.

‘You’re dolling yourself up while your friends lie rotting in the earth, while parents are crying over their injured babies, while children are learning how to be people again’

As a true crime fan, I loved Arlene’s portrayal of Caleb Switch. She writes his parts in a cold manner that reflects his sociopathic personality. He is clever, conniving, calculating and a master manipulator – everything I want in a killer. Reminiscent of Ted Bundy, he knows exactly how to act and what to do to disarm his victims and lull them into a false sense of trust. Brilliantly written, I wonder if Arlene had researched serial killers and sociopath personality traits.

‘He thought of them and the many like them, drifting through life with a big bullseye painted on their backs. If they were lucky, the predator was not looking as they drifted by. If not…well, if not there were people like him.’

Jessie, however, is not his usual vulnerable victim living on the fringes of society and I had no idea how this would end. Has Caleb finally become too cocky and arrogant, which will be his inevitable downfall? Or will Jessie not have the strength of will given what has happened to her to survive?

For me the most enjoyable part of this book was the whole tense build up to what was inevitably coming. That feeling of being an observer to what is going on while the main character is oblivious, culminating in the inevitable outcome was chilling and creepy.

A great thriller that is extremely well written and will keep you on the edge of your seat while giving you food for thought. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Arlene Hunt, Bookouture and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Published on 24 June 2016 by Bookouture.

Review – Love, Or Nearest Offer by Adele Geras

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The Blurb

What if your estate agent could find you not just your perfect house, but your perfect job, your perfect partner…your perfect new life? 

On paper, Iris Atkins, is an estate agent but she’s not just good at finding suitable houses for her clients.  In fact, she has a gift: Iris is able to see into their lives and understand exactly what is missing and what they need – and not just in bricks-and-mortar terms either. 

Of course, concentrating so much on fixing other people’s problems doesn’t leave much time for examining your own.  Over the course of one whirlwind year Iris discovers that while she may know what’s best for everyone else, she doesn’t necessarily know what’s best for herself – and what she finds out could make her happier than she’d ever dreamed of.

My Review

Love, Or Nearest Offer entwines two big moments in our lives – moving home and finding love.

A very character-based book, the story is told from numerous perspectives using third person narrative. The back stories of each character and the reasons leading to their house moves draws you in and keeps you reading to find out how things will work out for them. The character of Aiden resonated the most with me and I could not help but be moved by his circumstances.

A different take on the usual romances with Iris, the estate agent, as the cupid, so to speak, and the premise of people finding love during an unlikely process. People whose paths would not normally cross end up coming together with positive outcomes. I’m not usually a romance reader, but I found this enjoyable as it was not slushy and I found myself rooting for the characters, particularly Aidan. It was the perfect break from the tense thrillers I had been reading prior to this. Adele writes well and draws you into the tale and adds enough drama via Iris and her ex-fiancé to keep you interested.

If you want a light and easy read with an uplifting ending, you can’t go far wrong with this book.

Thank you to Adele Geras, Quercus and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Published on 2 June 2016 by Quercus.

Review – See How They Run by Tom Bale

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The Blurb

How far would you go to save your family?  In the dead of night, Alice and Harry French are plunged into their worst nightmare when they wake to find masked men in their bedroom.  Men ruthless enough to threaten their baby daughter, Evie. 

This is no burglary gone wrong.  The intruders know who they are looking for – a man called Edward Renshaw.  And they are prepared to kill to get to him. 

When the men leave empty handed, little do Harry and Alice realise that their nightmare is just beginning.  Is it a case of mistaken identity?  Who is Renshaw?  And what is he hiding?

One thing is clear – they already know too much. 

As Alice and Harry are separated in the run for their lives, there is no time to breathe in their fight to be reunited.  And with their attackers closing in, their is only one choice:

STAY ALIVE.  OR DON’T.

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My Review

I have just been on a heart-pounding, rollercoaster ride…..I have just finished reading See How They Run!

Harry and Alice are a normal family when their lives are turned upside down following intruders breaking into their home one night.

Bale effectively captures most people’s fears when the place you are supposed to be safe – your home – becomes a dangerous place to be. Bale’s rich descriptions throughout the book make you feel tense and uncomfortable. I caught myself holding my breath when the intruders break into the house. The fact that Harry and Alice are so ordinary plays on your fear even more.

Full of odious characters who commit despicable acts you are left wondering who to trust and what to believe. Some of the acts committed are brutal and graphic and I was left open-mouthed in places. At the end of each chapter you have to continue reading to find out what happens next. This book kept me up late at night as a result! Tom ends each chapter at exactly the right moment to keep you on the edge of your seat.

I really felt that I was living through this with Harry and Alice and felt quite stressed at times. I’m sure my blood pressure rose while reading this book!

This is the first book I have read by Tom Bale and it won’t be my last. The fast pace, action, twists, despicable characters combined with great writing all make for a fantastic thriller in my opinion. I loved it.

Thank you to Tom Bale. Bookouture and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Published 6th May 2016 by Bookouture.

10 Books Of Summer 2016

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So I saw on Twitter that people were taking part in Twenty Books of Summer, it piqued my interest and I had to find out more. Set up by Cathy Brown of www.746books.com from 1 June until 5 September she is attempting to read her twenty books of summer and invited other reading addicts to join in. How could I resist?

Initially I was going for the full twenty, however the number of ARCs I have for review in June and coming late to the challenge made me think this may be impossible so I have opted for ten.

Having a few books on my Kindle and in the house that I have not got round to reading, I thought these would be the perfect choice to kick start me off. So far, the books I will be reading are;

Skin and Bones by Tom Bale

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

Still deciding on the final four but will keep you updated when I have added to my list (and rummaged around in the back bedroom for books I may have missed that are waiting to be read!).

Join in the fun and follow the hashtags on Twitter (#20BooksOfSummer, #15BooksOfSummer and #10BooksOf Summer) there are some great book blogs taking part, all with a varied selection of books.

As always, I would love to read your comments – Are you joining in? Have you read any of the above books and what are your thoughts?