Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne

3.5 Stars

Whilst this was an enjoyable read with liberal sprinkles of humour I never really believed the central relationship.  Somehow the social gulf between Amy and Leo never really seemed to be breached and, as Amy frequently complains it did feel like money was just thrown at any problems.  There are also plenty of really cringy moments between the two that would have felt like red flags in a real relationship that Amy seems to think are the ultimate in Romantic gestures once she gazed in to Leo's eyes.

As characters Amy, and her flatmate Jo, are fun and realistically feisty.  Some 7 years after publication the situations still work and the pervasiveness of social media has only increased so it reads as fresh.  The seeming exception to this is whatever heinous atrocity Amy's sister Kelly perpetrated.  Yes, I know it all happened a number of years ago (10?) but as it seems to have destroyed lives then I am pretty sure it would have snuck online in the intervening period and a quick google of Kelly's name and her home town would bring up some information.

Then there is hint at a sabotage sideplot by a member of the Nironian Royal Family.  This never gets addressed at all and is just left to flounder forgotten in the shadows.  Even worse is that it pays off the perpetrator as they ultimately get exactly what they want.  What happened to justice for the bad guys in fiction?  I know it is dressed up in striking for the rights of women but the methods do not justify the end result - you don't break another person to get what you feel you deserve.

This was a fun and frothy read but I never really got involved in the life of any of the characters.  This came as a surprise to me as I have always found myself thoroughly sucked in to rarefied worlds I know nothing about in the previous Hester Browne books I have read.

The Silent Children by Carol Wyer

3.5 Stars

I have to be really, really careful about how I review this book as the thing that irritated me the most about it would constitute a major spoiler so I can't really put it into a review.  Even an oblique reference would blow the story or would spoil the guessing game for a reader that was unfortunate enough to have read one my waffly reviews first.  So now I have to think about how I am going to review this book and it isn't easy.

I think I'll start by saying how much I am enjoying the Robyn Carter series overall.  Robyn herself isn't a superwoman, she is flawed and has moments of frailty.  She has a dark personal history (loss of her romantic partner Davies, subsequent miscarriage), struggles with work/life balance and is determined to be the best she can at her job.  Even better she seems to have garnered genuine respect from her team and that is what they are - a team.  I think that is what really keeps me reading this series, the dynamics of the investigations through the whole series so far feel realistic.  Yes, there is room for hunches and gut feelings but a lot of it is simply soul destroying mundane and repetitive work coupled with long waits for the processing of forensic evidence - no CSI style instant results here.

In this particular book we have a series of seemingly unrelated deaths, one that may not even be a murder.  They are allocated to Robyn's team because they just happen to be on shift at the time.  As the reader you know they must be at least tangentially related or else they wouldn't be in the tale but it is as difficult for us as for the team to link them together.  Then you have the flashbacks to an abused childhood, a plagued adolescence and an early adulthood that is reflective of those situations.  Just who the boy is that suffers these injustices is hidden from the reader until quite late on, we only really find out the identity close to Robyn's shocking discovery about two people who are not what they seem throughout the majority of the book.

I wasn't really on board with the final denouement either.  It just seemed all a bit of a let down somehow.  Yes, the team cracks the case but there was just something missing and the motive(s) seemed flimsy at best.

Still a really good read, but mainly because of Anna, Mitz and the rest of the team taking their starring roles.  To be honest I think I could read about this lot not having a case to solve and just sat in their office shooting the breeze and enjoy it.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Girls Beneath by Ross Armstrong

This was a good mix of the personal and the procedural, and I do love a good procedural. 

Tom Mondrian is just a normal, rather boring guy who decides to become a Police Community Support Officer.  After passing his training he gets let loose on the streets of Tottenham and starts to do whatever a PCSO is asked to do.  Then tragedy strikes and he is hit in the head by a stray bullet.  Rather than dieing he beats the odds and survives with the shrapnel lodged in his brain.  It has a profound effect on him though, he now has a limp, he cannot recognise faces, his inhibitions are lowered, he struggles to always find the words to articulate his thoughts and he cannot read.  Despite all this the police force welcome PCSO Mondrian back to the beat - after all he is a wonderful PR opportunity.  They team him with Emre Bartu, a Turkish PCSO, and together they pound the city streets investigating vandalism and helping little old ladies.  At least, that is what they are supposed to be doing, what they are really doing is crashing in to the investigation of 3 missing girls.

As a character Tom Mondrian is very flawed, less so after his traumatic brain injury.  As a narrator he is warm, funny and entirely believable.  He also takes the reader down so weird and wonderful side alleys to the actual story.  Like his reasoning for pronouncing Paranoia as Paraneea, the history ot the Tottenham riots.  Most importantly he gives us a glimpse of a PCSO's life that is entirely believable and gives rise to some witty exchanges (I particularly enjoyed the one over communicating via the Airstream Radios...Over).

For this reader I found that I was not really that invested in the investigation.  I was much more interested in Tom's view of the world and his interactions with Bartu.  As things start to spiral to the denouement there is a good build up of tension and a sense of menace is generated by the author.  It wasn't a wholly unexpected outcome which usually annoys me but I had such an enjoyable time in Mondrian's company that I can forgive the transparency of some of the plot devices.

This was definitely not your normal thriller, not your normal narrator and one that I did derive great reading enjoyment from.

Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley

4.5 Stars

The real star of this book is not Hetty, Dan or any of the other human characters.  It is definitely the pies and I am all about the pie.  Unfortunately, some of Hetty's creations sound, quite frankly, awful.  Yes, I know cheese pairs well with apple but in a pie, the texture alone would be offputting and as a warm creation extremely disturbing.  The only flavour combination I could get behind was the apple and dark chocolate.  There seemed to be a surfeit of extraneous ingredients in every pie and a preponderance of lamb (Yes, I am aware Hetty and Dan have a sheep farm) which is possibly the worst meat for a pie filling ever.  I was lusting after a good old-fashioned steak and ale pie but Hetty would never make anything so mundane it seems.

Okay, the story is about more than pies - but only just.  I just happen to love a good pie and did expend a fair amount of brain power imagining that golden crust and little puffs of steam coming from the top whilst I was reading.

The main thrust of the story (apart from pies) is about Hetty and Dan's relationship, they have been together since school and are married with a teenage daughter - Poppy.  Still living in the same small Cumbrian town in Dan's childhood home where he has taken over the reins of the sheep farm.  Life is comfortable and plods along following the same formula day after day.  That is until Dan's sister intervenes and gets Hetty to bake some of her pies for the Farm Shop she runs and just so happens to enter one of her more exotic creations in to Cumbria Finest Food competition.

This proves to be the cue for Hetty to discover long buried ambition and to want to do something for her.  Dan is then cast in the role of very unsupportive husband.  A long lost friend pays a visit.  Hetty's best friend reveals the identity of her son's father and, as it does in all good books, our heroine's world falls apart.  Fortunately the falling apart comes quite near the end so we are saved from long soul-searching passages and morose flopping about from our characters.  Of course everything comes together in the end and although Hetty's world has changed she is stronger for it and we have our Happy Ending.

I am aware that the above all sounds fairly snarky, but the book does follow a tried, tested and reader approved formula.  Going in to this genre you know you are guaranteed a happy outcome that is tied up in a big, floppy satin bow.  That is why we read these books, to lift our mood and for sheer escapism from the day to day garbage that fills all our lives.  Fortunately, Cathy Bramley knows what we like and knows how to deliver it in spades and put a smile on my face as I was reading.

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

3.5 Stars

This could have been a superb book, a shining example of the genre.  Unfortunately, it all goes a little bit off the rails and strays in to territory that is, quite frankly, absurd bordering on the ridiculous.  This is a real shame as the author has worked hard to get the reader invested in the characters, to get them as confused by the events as Aimee is and then off we wander in to sensationalism and baffling decisions.  The tale does tug itself back in to line for the denouement but barely.

What Ms Feeney does startlingly well here are the flashbacks to Aimee's early years, her formative years.  Importantly the years where she learned to act, to become someone else to please others.  The voice of young Aimee comes through wonderfully in the written word and feels, dare I say it, authentic.  The adult Aimee is far more circumspect and cautious, jealously guarding her privacy.  The contrast between the two voices works well and even manages to create a bit of tension between the two versions of Aimee we are introduced to.

The insecure actress trope did grate on me a little, it is so overused and it did feel a little slapped on; particularly as Aimee is clearly resourceful and tough so to paint the adult as this fragile woman just didn't really work once you get a few chapters in.  On top of that you have a red herring stalker that even if you are reading casually you can see through.  Couple this with a police investigation that we only really see from Aimee's perspective that is, not to put too fine a point on it, is facile and it can make for a very frustrating read.  This is certainly no procedural drama.

The bits that work do so very well but there is such a lot of filler that I did become frustrated with Aimee and her adult whiny neediness.  Child Aimee is a much more rounded character, pity there is so little of her remaining in the adult.  Their are two events that could be described as the "killer twist" one of which invites us to suspend disbelief that she genuinely did not recognise this person from her past, the other loses some of it's impact because it comes after such ridiculousness.

Overall I did enjoy the read.  However, I would not rush out to buy another book by the author.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED VIA THE PIGEONHOLE.

The Witches Of St Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones

1.5 Stars

This sounded so enticing from the blurb - 2 mysterious beauties married in to Russian Aristocracy from a small land who bring their magical talents with them.  Throw in a little Rasputin and you can almost feel the icy winds of St Petersburg caress your cheek.  I couldn't wait to get started on this one as it looked to have everything you could want in a book.

Unfortunately, it turned out to have everything you don't want in a book.  Rambling and repetitive prose, dialogue that feels forced, a plotline that is so loose it is almost non-existent and characters that are strangely character-less.  This is all the more confusing as the notes from the Author at the end tell us that Anastasia and Militza were real people.  I was convinced that Stana and Milly were fabricated heroines (of a sort) thrown in to a mixing bowl with a bunch of real life people and situations.

Even worse, virtually everything takes place at some party or ball or get together at someone's house.  Laudanum and Cocaine taking is rife and nobody seems to do anything apart from get stoned and then very, very drunk.  Doesn't matter who the character is - the Tsar, the Tsarina, a Doctor, one of the Goat Sisters - this is all they do day in and day out.  Now, I am sure there is a sound basis for the levels of reliance on opiates in the Russian Court prior to the Revolution but this book makes it sound like this is all they did - that and gossip.  Gossip that the reader is never privy to, the sisters just moan about all the gossips in the Court Circle.

I genuinely disliked this book and struggled to finish it.  The only reason I kept reading was I had a sort of car crash mentality towards it after the first 25% - I kept hoping it could and would improve and couldn't believe that it was continuing in the same vein page after interminable page.  Some of the court intrigue stuff seemed promising in the beginning but every flame of interest gets snuffed out without a resolution as we move on to another banal situation.

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver

I'm not entirely sure what this book was actually supposed to be about.  There are a range of topics sort of covered here but none of them are ever really fully explored.  Initially I thought this was going to be about the, certainly peculiar world, of gaming but that is a very tiny portion of the book.  This was a bit of a disappointment if I'm being honest.  Yes, there appears to be a link between a MMORPG and some kidnappings but it is fairly flimsy and tenuous and there is a distinct lack of research in to the whole phenomenon of professional gamers and, indeed, gaming as a whole.  I haven't gamed for years but even I could spot the flaws in the plot, technology and the cliche of the type of people who game stuck in my craw.

Then you have out hero, Colter Shaw.  Kudos to Mr Deaver that I can remember the character name (something that I am famously bad at) some 5 days after reading this book.  Colter is a bit of a poor-mans Jack Reacher to be honest.  He works for reward but he isn't a bounty hunter, oh no sir, nothing as distasteful as that - and believe me Shaw tells us this often enough.  Brought up by survivalist parents he knows all there is to know about wilderness survival and is an expert tracker.  He is also strangely alluring as a character and has a wry wit that comes across on the page.  Unfortunately I also found him to lack any humility or to have a depth of character beyond survivalist training; this hero is no Lincoln Rhyme.

What else is there, oh yes, his dotty father that has left something somewhere and the clue is in a package of papers that Shaw has managed to steal.  This thread pops up a few times in the book, mainly because Shaw constantly worries he's going to get busted for pinching it - if I was him I would be more worried about inherited dementia.  To be honest I never really understood what place this had in the book, apart from opening the way for a second book (at least) and it is never resolved in this tale.  Instead it leaves us on what is supposed to be a cliff hanger as Shaw realises what happened to his father and where he may have hidden something (no idea what he may have hidden).  As a cliff hanger it didn't work for this reader.

What did save the book for me - to a limited extent - was the procedural side of things.  Great explanation of the various levels of Law Enforcement in California.  Now, I have taken this at face value so if it is wrong then it is certainly believable (if that sentence makes any sense).  The Law Enforcement individuals Shaw comes in to contact with are a fairly innocuous bunch with no real Goodies or Baddies just working stiffs trying to uphold peace and community in the best way they can.

It was a pleasant enough read and allowed me to unplug my brain and just go along for the ride.  I didn't really get invested in the characters or wonder about who could be perpetrating a dastardly Whispering Man plot in real life.  It was sort of thriller by numbers and endearingly daft in places.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED VIA THE PIGEONHOLE

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A Store At War by Joanna Toye

2.5 Stars

Rightly or wrongly, from the title I was expecting something a little more Mr Selfridge from this book.  The setting of Marlow's Department Store is really just a device to bring together Lily with Grace, Jim and Betsy and there was sadly little about the store within the book.  I was hoping for tales of internecine warfare between departments and spiteful spinsters enforcing strict regimens on the junior staff.  It is far more gentle than that, and, probably less interesting because of it.

Even worse I got really confused about Lily.  The point is heavily stressed that she just left school in order to start work because her widowed mother needs the income.  This means she is 14 - let that settle for a minute Lily, our heroine is 14 years old.  Now, I know there is a war on and the teenager hadn't been invented yet but 14 is 14 and from the tales my Grandmother told me nothing really ever changes.  So, she is hormonal and irrational and to be quite frank a child.  No, our Lily has a poised self-assurance and is a stalwart to her new friends and family.  Honestly, she reads more like a worldly mid-twenties than a mere slip of thing of 14.

That then leads to my second big issue with it.  Just how old is Jim?  It is clear from early on that there is flirting going on between him and Lily but he certainly seems to be much older than her.  The only thing that perhaps belies this is that he is clearly hale and hearty and hasn't been called up yet so he is likely under 20 (yes, I did just google conscription age).  However, he reads much older and even the thought that he could well be 18 (or more) makes the flirtation seem a little off.

The book does deal with some issues that were relevant to the times.  How to deal with the privations of war, how to organise a celebration under rationing, the part the Black Market plays in every day life, unmarried mothers.  One unusual topic that was more or less just tossed in there was the treatment of disabled people at the time (I did like the little bits we found out about Susan and her family).  Nothing that hasn't been covered before or will be covered again - sort of unavoidable in this time period.

It was just all kind of underwhelming, which is a shame as there are some interesting themes explored.  Robert and Cedric's relationship was outlined in sketchy detail but I felt that much more could have been made of this - certainly the motherless son and grieving older father angle was interesting.  The bending of Government Legislation to make a fast buck and give the "gentry" the service they still felt entitled to was also only lightly touched on, again this could have been explored further.  In fact, the whole Black Market that was flourishing is mentioned and everyone seems to universally accept it as a good thing for the housewife - this is not what I have been led to believe from family members who lived through it.  Mixed messages there really as the scam at the store is vilified whilst the desire for some tinned salmon off ration seems to be okay.

The characters were also rather difficult to pin down.  It doesn't help that they fit very distinct formats.  So you have Grace - frumpy and rather downtrodden, wouldn't say boo to a goose and desperate to get a boyfriend; so much so she fixates first on Lily's brother and then on one of his service mates.  Betsy - blowsy and thinks she is so much better than she, determined to climb socially but turns out to come from a tragic background and really has a heart of gold.  Dora - tough Matriarch, can turn her hand to anything, loves her children dearly but never shows it in traditional ways.  I don't think I really need to go on. 

Rather more miss than hit I'm sad to say and I will readily admit to more or less scan reading the last half of the book as it all felt like a bunch of stereotypes thrust together, none of whom really gel.  It doesn't help that although there is a plot it was very loose and seemed to have been allowed to wander wherever it felt like going.

Holly Freakin' Hughes by Kelsey Kingsley

If asked I would say that one of the few genres I don't read is romance.  However, this book firmly slots in to that category and I realised I do sneak the odd one on to my TBR, usually though they are the paranormal version.  However, it's been a while since I read anything that could possibly be "naughty" and the blurb sounded appealing so I went for it.  to be honest, I don't dip my toes in to the full on Romance genre very often as I find the more intimate scenes usually toe curling (I'm being careful with the language here not because of prudishness but because of overly stringent algorithms that label perfectly normal words as "bad" and won't let your review go through).

On the whole I actually really enjoyed the book, you wouldn't think so off a 3 Star review would you but I did.  The characterisations are well written and the people really do come to life on the page and enter in to your consciousness.  Holly is particularly appealing, which is happen as well as the book is about her.  Yes, she is also completely and utterly infuriating at times and you desperately want to slap her but at others you just want to give her a big hug.  Normally, the whole "woe is me" pity party after a break up in a book makes me angry but Holly's reasons for descending in to a dishevelled mess are actually pretty understandable.  If you were living with someone and were convinced the posh restaurant date meant he was finally going to pop the question and then it turns out it is so he can dump you in favour of another guy I think you are allowed to have a bit of a breakdown.  Then throw on losing your job because you are too old to give advice to teens and yeah, you can spend the next 6 months in a cocoon licking your wounds.  Fortunately Holly's sister comes to the rescue and looking after Alice at least keeps Holly functioning on some level and then throw in the foul mouthed Esther (Oh, how I loved this old woman) and there's no way Holly can allow herself to crumble.

Her relationship with Brandon is actually pretty well done.  After the first passionate clinch I genuinely thought it was all going to be a bit cringy but I kept with it and I'm rather glad I did.  Despite the fact they clearly fancy the pants off each other they are both hurting from failed relationships and reluctantly Holly agrees to be just friends, no benefits, just friendship.  This means they actually get to know each other as actual breathing people rather than it just being this whole bosom heaving passion thing.  Yes there is a fair bit of that but much less than I had anticipated going in.

What did annoy me about the book was really two things:

Brandon.  This guy just has everything.  Honestly, he is the perfect physical specimen (if you like gym rats), has a compassionate personality and is seemingly uninterested in casual hook ups.  Couple this with a bestselling Fantasy series that has given him celebrity status and pots of lovely cash; oh and don't forget his modelling sideline.  clearly this man is just perfection.  Oh and he is prone to depressive fits of naval gazing because nobody will love him for him, they just want him for his looks/money.  Of course he does this while working out to keep the perfection going.  Brandon is far too good to be true and his sections of the book really started to grate - there's only so many times you can read about someone wistfully longing without wanting to punch them.

The second big problem for me was Holly's reaction on finding out who he really is.  Seriously, you know he's called Brandon Davis and you didn't indulge in online stalking and, even more unbelievably, neither did your sister or Esther (seriously, Esther already knows who he is and probably what size briefs he wears as well as style).  Even more appalling was her whole "I'm not worthy" meltdown after they finally get it together.  Who on earth would genuinely react like that?  Fortunately this was near the end so instead of launching my eReader at the nearest wall I stuck with it and finished the book but it did spoil the whole thing for me.

Generally quite a fun read with a lot more depth than I expected.  If you like your men buffed and perfect (I don't, I like them slightly paunchy and normal) and don't object to needless melodrama then you will probably love this book.  Sadly, it just missed the mark for me but I would definitely read other of this author's works.

Haunted On Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase

2.5 Stars

It's been a while since I've read a paranormal romance so I thought I'd give this series a chance.  Sounded a little different to my usual vampire/shifter preferences and I have soft spots for anything set in New Orleans (thanks for that Anne Rice!).  Also the premise of a ghost story and a bit of witchy goings on sounded light it would be entertaining.  So, I was actually eager to begin this book.

Unfortunately, I found it to be fairly disappointing.  There are some really good bits and then it spirals in to a bit of waffle and your mind drifts off and then, luckily, you get to a good bit again.  I think the biggest issue is the Kane / Jade thing.  I really couldn't get a handle on the attraction between these two at all, apart from a good old dose of physical want there seems to be nothing else attracting them to each other and yet we, the reader, are supposed to believe it is this grand, unescapable passion.  I just couldn't wrap my head around why.

To be honest that was my entire issue with the book, the characters.  At first I liked that we just jumped in to these people's lives.  We arrive in New Orleans with Jade and are slap bang in the middle of her life.  I like this, means we get to see the character develop on the page and find out about her gently rather than pages of exposition to find out who our heroine is - I like a bit of organic character development so I do.  The problem is I never really felt like I got to know her at all.  Yes, her fractured childhood is explained, yes we learn how much she hates her gift of empathy but other than that I don't think I really figured out what made her tick (apart from Guinness and Glass Bead making).  Even worse are the supporting cast, especially Kane who is central to this story - he is just a cipher on the page and, if we're being honest, rather stalkery.  Pyper, Charlie and Kate have so much more scope in them that it became quite disheartening to learn little to nothing about them as well. 

That is, sadly, not the total of my issues with the book. 

My other very large problem was the nature of Jade and Kane's relationship.  It made me feel exceptionally uncomfortable as it is almost predatory on Kane's part.  In fact the whole romance bit of the book left me feeling uneasy and quite disturbed.  It is not in the least #relationshipgoals it is more red flag after red flag.

However, what saved the book was the ghost plot.  That worked very well and it did keep me reading.  I was even able to overlook my issues with the characters and their choices.  With the seeming appearence of one ghost manifesting in two very different ways it soon got interesting, especially as his behaviour (for it is definitely a male) is so differentiated between Jade and Pyper.  The world building around his appearances and the subsequent ghost hunting sub-plot with Ian was well handled and did get me flipping pages.  It does all go a bit off-piste with the introduction of angels to the tale but it worked and the final showdown had all the tension you could want.

Overall, it didn't leave me wanting to read more of the series but I could see myself picking the next in the series up and hoping that the characters start to show development and that the relationships become less Stockholm Syndrome.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Beekeeper Of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

          This is one of those books that you feel you should give a glowing review to simply because of it's subject matter.  It does give an insight in to the plight of the refugee and what some people go through simply to get away from a regime, a war or simply to try and make a better life for them and their family.  All too often refugees are demonised politically and this book attempts to give their side of the story.  Unfortunately, it is only a partial success.

Told from the point of view of Nuri Ibrahim it tells the story of one family from war torn Syria who are struggling to reach England.  Terrifying boat journeys, unsafe camps, smug officialdom and corrupt smugglers.  All counterpointed with flashbacks to their earlier life in Aleppo, a life that was happy and fulfilling until war strikes.  Yes, it manages to explain their reasons for flight.  Yes, it manages to give a small insight in to the trauma of that escape.  What it didn't manage to do was really engage me.

The time points of the story leap about all over the place, seemingly at random so there is no continuity in the story.  I understand the use of flashback but by these being of random events and having no contiguity it becomes a little confusing.  Is this before the war? During the war? Before Afra and Nuri even meet?  To be honest it could be any of them at any time.  Yes, this does show how scattered Nuri's thought processes and behaviour have become but it makes for a frustrating reading.

There is also no resolution to Afra and Nuri's story.  It leaves them still in the limbo of immigration, but no indication of whether they will be accepted or deported.  Descriptions of life in the hostel they have finally reached are good but it is really the vast range of characters they meet along their journey who make the story.  People that we meet very briefly and are given no backstory for and just have to take them as we find them; much as the Ibrahims have to.  From Angeliki to Nadim, The Moroccan to Domenico, very different people but all in the same situation.

I did like the use of the bees as a signifier for hope.  A thread that runs right through the story and, I suppose, acts as a metaphor for all that is wrong with society as a whole.

In general an okay read but confuses itself frequently.  A more linear telling of this story would probably have worked better.

THIS IS AN HONEST REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED FROM READERS FIRST.
       

Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Woman Who Wanted More by Vicky Zimmerman

          This was a joy of a book to read.  From the book cover with the delicious iced biscuit to the surprise of photographs from the author in the back I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.  The only strange thing was I started reading it on the day it dropped through my letterbox and when I picked it up the next day I found my bookmark at page 147, meaning I'd stopped at Page 146 (read the book you'll see why this made me laugh).

Kate is rapidly hurtling towards 40 and is childless and not yet married; this bothers Kate.  However, her boyfriend Nick has asked her to move in with him and now they are going on holiday to France so things are looking good.  They have a sedate relationship, no fireworks and almost parallel lives but a shared love of food.  Then, it all goes wrong and Kate just dissolves in to a puddle of self-recrimination and melancholy.

This is why it didn't get 5 Stars.  Her reliance on a mate seems to be her whole raison d'etre initially and her moping in her mother's spare room drove me to distraction.  Fortunately the inimitable Cecily Finn seems to feel the same way I do and teaches Kate the real path to happiness through the wonderful cookbook Thought For Food.

Apparently this is a story about friendship, for me this was all about the food.  The wonderful menus for quirky circumstances.  The comfort that the right dish can bring.  Although the duck lasagne did sound pretty horrendous.

The telling is warm and you really feel that you know both Kate and Cecily and you are pulling for both of them.  Even I nearly shed a tear at the end and that rarely happens.  The pacing of the plot is gentle and it really does feel like life is unfolding on the page rather than being forced to follow the "constraints of plot".  Of course there needs to be a plot or it would just dissolve in to a garble of words with no real meaning but the art of the author is in disguising it and Ms Zimmerman disguised it beautifully.

I did find that I was startlingly uninterested in Kate's friendships with Bailey and Cara and her relationship with Nick.  It was her relationship with Cecily that really drew me in and what held me there was a combination of Cecily's reminiscences of her life and all that beautiful food - double pasta is a thing of joy.  For me this book was a love letter to Cecily Finn.

Not recommended for the commute as you will become so absorbed that you are going to miss your stop.  Ideally this is one for when you are on holiday or having a lazy weekend at home as you will struggle to tear yourself away from it.

THIS IS AN HONEST REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED FROM READERS FIRST.
       

Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause

Let's start this review by stating that there is a twist at the end of the book.  A twist that I didn't see coming but that when it came I could see all the little hints that had been given to it.  Now, I may well have missed all the little clues because, quite frankly, I was bored after the first couple of chapters and was generally skim reading rather than actually reading.  So bored I almost gave up on this book completely.

Valencia has a number of psychological issues, the main ones being Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Severe Anxiety.  She is seeing a therapist, Louise, who (in Valencia's eyes) is pretty much useless.  Stuck in the same Debt Collector's job for 17 years, single, friendless and living alone.  Every day is Groundhog Day for Valencia.  Unfortunately it is for the reader as well.  The same descriptions of her mental turmoil, the same reaction to situations, chapter after chapter after chapter.  Honestly even after Peter and Grace start at the Debt Collection Agency Call Centre and she starts speaking to the mysterious James Mace (yeah, I did see that one coming - amazing that Grace didn't) it is the same thing in every chapter.  After 2 or 3 chapters worth of the same information being regurgitated in different words I gave up trying to engage and realised that this book was as bad as I thought it was.  There is nothing that brings you in to Valencia's world, as narrrator of her sections you should be able to feel what she is feeling but with needlessly convoluted sentence structures and obfuscating language it is impossible to empathise with Valencia or see the world through her eyes.

Fortunately there is another protagonist in play; Mrs Valentine.  Elderly and living alone she lives in the same building as her friend Mrs Davies.  When Mrs Davies's Granddaughter is co-opted in to doing regular housework for Mrs Valentine she convinces her to share the story of her romance and marriage with her.  These sections, now these sections, I could get on board with.  Wry humour, plenty of empathy and a grand and glorious tale of travel and love.  Thank goodness that the book is arranged as a chapter from Valencia and then one from Mrs Valentine or else I certainly would have given up.

Initially I felt quite bad about giving my honest opinions on this book.  Mental Health is hard to convey in writing, it's probably even harder to talk about.  However, in my opinion, this book does a dis-service to sufferers of even the mildest forms of Anxiety or OCD.  Something about the portrayal of Valencia makes them seem shameful.  Even worse there was a real touch of "brought this on herself" threading through the story, almost as though Valencia was going out of her way to have these feelings and compulsions in a bid for attention; attention that she would then reject.  Very, very unsettling and peculiar.

Not a book I could recommend at all.  It did leave me feeling unsettled after reading it, like I had witnessed a fatal car crash or something.  From the ending you can tell it is supposed to leave you feeling uplifted and like anything is possible if you just "go with the flow".  It really, really doesn't.

Playgroups and Prosecco by Jo Middleton

          3.5 Stars

Let's deal with elephant in the room first.  This novel is clearly inspired by Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, there is no getting away from it - the diary format, the little synopsis at the start of each entry detailing alcohol imbibed, jaffa cakes eaten etc..  The only real difference being that this heroine is divorced, has 2 children and definitely doesn't live in London.  Replace big pants and a pole at the Fire Station with swimwear and a 3 Year Old in a changing room and voila you have Playgroups and Prosecco.  There is the unfulfilling job, the dating struggles, honestly all the way through I kept seeing the parallels to Ms. Fielding's book (I've never seen the film because there's something about Renee Zellwegger that creeps me out).

That said it is a mildly amusing book - not laugh out loud funny but enough humour to raise a wry smile.  Most of which, for this reader, was centred around the hiding of treat foods from the fruit of your loins.  Admittedly I didn't go so far as hiding Elizabeth Shaw mints in packaging in the bathroom cabinet but if I'd thought of it I definitely would have done it.

It doesn't bode well when you can't remember the main character's name and I couldn't, I just had to whip the book out to remind myself she was called Frankie.  Maybe this is because she narrates the whole story so her name doesn't crop up that often in the text.  Maybe it is because it is now 3 days since I finished the book.  Who knows?  Let's just say I can't really remember any of the character names except for the awful Cassie from Busy Beavers Playgroup, not even the children - was the oldest Lily?

Some fairly decent situational set pieces are to be found in the book.  The horrors of the six week summer holiday.  The soft play centre that is something from a nightmare.  The incessant need for a 3 year old to have your attention on them at ALL times.  Despite the premise of the book being about a single mother I have to say Frankie's family sound pretty much perfect; the relationship between teenager and toddler is close and loving and there is no real friction with the divorced father.  Frankie also seems to have really good support from him and soon makes friends with other mums.  None of the isolation and claustrophobia that seems to be common for a lot of women in this situation and yet Frankie still seems to feel put upon rather than counting her blessings.

Moderately fun and, as it is written in diary form, with really short sections it is very easy to pick up and put down.  You can read an entry or two whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.  Nothing outstanding but it will raise a wry smile or two and is perfect reading for anyone who struggles to cram reading time in to their day.

THIS IS AN HONEST REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED FROM READERS FIRST.
       

Friday, 10 May 2019

Night By Night by Jack Jordan

          2.5 Stars

Okay, that's it I am officially done.  This is the third Jack Jordan book I have read and I have the same issues with this one as I did with the previous novels - I can suspend belief when reading but not to this extent.  Everything appears intended to shock and stun the reader and decisions made by the characters are just stultifyingly dumb to achieve this end.  Honestly, I thought this one may have been an improvement on his previous works as it started off so promisingly and then, well, it was more of the same.  That's it, I am not going to do this to myself anymore I officially give up on this author.

Rose Shaw is an insomniac, has been ever since she had her twin daughters.  The descriptions of how the insomnia affects her are heartbreaking and really cut to the quick.  So far, so good.  We then have a detailed look at one day in her life which leads to an unspeakable tragedy.  At this point all my sympathies were with Rose, not only because of the "incident" but because of her condition and how judgmental everyone around her seemed to be.

We then jump on 4(?) years and Rose is still living with her husband and teenager but is singularly estranged from them.  Somehow she seems to be existing in a hermit-like bubble whilst in the same house and she very firmly lumps all the blame on them.  Fair enough, the insomnia is still raging and the "incident" looms large in all their lives so I can forgive this as being a symptom of major trauma.  Things then begin to get a wee bit odd when she comes in to possession of the journal - being a normal person she cannot help but peek (again, with you all the way).  It's when she decides that, after reading, the journal she is going to search for Finn Matthews that I began to feel the threads unravelling.  I get the parallels with her brother's suicide but honestly? really?

Things then ramp up with the local police force being full of homophobic bullies who go on to target Rose because she won't let it drop.  Chuck in a therapist who is painted as being sinister.  An ex-policeman who adds to Rose's paranoia by telling her the whole force is corrupt (not just one or two of it's members but the entire station if not the whole institution).  A strange interlude at a shooting range.  As Rose's husband and former Best Friend accuse her of paranoia and needing to see a professional I did find myself hoping that they were right and that we weren't really expected to believe that Rose was right - sadly we are expected to believe that she is right and everyone else (apart from the ex-policeman) is blinkered and wrong.

As we approach the denouement it just gets more and more bizarre and end sup having more in common with a Richard Laymon novel than a thriller.  Honestly, remote farmhouse, thunderstorms and shallow graves.  There were also issues with Rose's leg injury vanishing when it suited the story and then reappearing to ratchet up tension.  The only tension I felt was in the tendons of my neck from shaking my head in disbelief.

There is no subtlety here, everything is broad strokes and either black or white (frequently gore doused).  I am not naive and know that there are issues within the Police Force as a whole but the mocking tone used throughout for this institution really set my teeth on edge.  Couple that with Rose herself who starts off as a sympathetic character but one who I soon became heartily frustrated with - she does not appear to even try to help herself or be able to see anyone's point of view but her own.

In short, best left alone.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED VIA THE PIGEONHOLE.
       

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

          Okay, Jennifer Donnelly is a completely new write to this reader but I am fast becoming a fan of the reworking of classic Fairy Tales so was eager to give this one a try.  I've read quite a few now and the best ones always keep the darkness of the original story and Step Sister is no exception to this; in fact the first time we meet Isabelle and Octavia is when they mutilate themselves to try and get the Glass Slipper to fit - something that oftentimes gets missed from the Cinderella story and was always one of my favourite bits as a child.  Throw in a dollop of Greek Mythology with The Fates and the handsome Chance and you know from the opening chapters that you are in for a great story.  Let me tell you it does NOT disappoint.

This book is all about Isabelle, one of the ugly sisters.  We do get to meet her sister Octavia but only see her through Isabelle's eyes and I think she may have been my favourite character - bookish and irascible though she is.  we also meet Ella, however briefly, and she does not come across well - self satisfied and smug is probably the best way to describe her but nobody else seems to see that.

Things aren't going well for the sisters after Ella is swept away by Prince Charming.  Their mother has descended in to madness, they are running low on funds and the townsfolk have ostracised them.  Even worse Chance has a bet going with The Crone from The Fates that Isabelle can choose her own path in life and not be dictated to by them and they are both interfering with her life.  Throw in the Fairy Godmother (more like a Fairy Nightmare) and her bizarre gifts - a jawbone, a seedpod and a walnut shell - and you just know this is going to be good.

The world built is rich in detail and the war ravaging the French Countryside ads just the right touch of dire peril.  From wagonloads of moaning wounded to the horrors of Madame Le Benets hayloft there is genuine danger for the sisters.  The characterisation is empathetic and multi-faceted and even tiny bit part players feel real in this literary world (yes, I went there - literary!).  There is even a nice touch of anthropomorphism thrown in with Mother Mouse and the horses Martin and Nero.  Although, I have to admit that calling a horse Martin gave me so much pleasure I grinned every time he got a mention.

As with all good fairy tales there is a moral to the story.  In this case a rather uplifting one - be yourself and you can achieve anything.  It may take guts, it may take determination but follow your heart and who knows where it will lead.

This was a fantastically good read and although I only finished it 4 days ago I am already looking forward to picking it back up again as I rushed through at such a gallop that I'm sure I missed things.

I think I just found myself another YA author to follow - although I am definitely way outside the target audience (and, I'm not entirely sure that I am an adult even though my age would give lie to that).

THIS IS AN HONEST REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED FROM READERS FIRST.
       

A Year At The Star And Sixpence by Holly Hepburn

3.5 Stars

When I purchased this book I was not aware that it was 4 novellas bolted together to make one story.  This soon became apparent as when you move on to the next quarter of the year the first chapter is mainly a recap of the previous events.  For some reason I found this vaguely irritating.  The other main irritation was that The Star & Sixpence seems to exist in that strangest of English Villages, one who possibly existed in the 1950's but probably never existed at all.  It has all the stereotypes you would expect - including the world's bossiest Post Mistress.  Yes there are multiple references to modern technology but it still felt all wonderfully nostalgic and old-fashioned.

As sisters, in novels, often are Sam and Nessie are polar opposites personality wise and this is underlined by their pasts so we can be in no way unsure that these are very different people.  Sam loves London, had a glittering PR Career and a string of frivolous "romances" but now has a big dark secret that caused her to lose her job and hide away in this sleepy back water.  Nessie is the eternal doormat, recently split from her husband and this is what seems to delineate her character - I'm not even sure what she did before the move except maybe help run her husband's business.  I also suspect that alcoholism has loomed large in the author's past as you cannot go more than about 10 pages without it being referred to in some way.  Yes, we get it that the girls lost their Dad to alcoholism and that Ruby is an alcoholic please stop beating me around the head with it - I think this part of the storyline infuriated me the most, a gentle sprinkling would have been better than the heavy handed seasoning it sports.

Despite all this there was something touchingly quaint about it all - sort of Pimm's on the Village Green as the sun sets in August.  Of course every business venture they try to bring revenue in to the pub is a thundering success - right down to the very exclusive B&B they set up.  Of course they find their true loves within this tiny village.  Of course they win a major award for the pub during their first year.  Of course Nessie's husband has to turn up and muddy the waters.  Of course Sam's secret explodes across the Front Pages.  Of course they realise that their Dad wasn't as bad as they thought he was and had tried to keep in touch.  Of course they save Ruby from her alcoholism.

Somehow I did quite enjoy this book.  Maybe it was because I started it whilst on holiday - couple of chapters over breakfast in a morning - and my critical defences were down.  It is gentle and oddly reassuring, probably because there are no surprises for the reader.  Based on this read I would try another Holly Hepburn book but would probably wait until I was on holiday before doing so.

A Cottage By The Sea by Carole Matthews

In the interests of full disclosure I read this book whilst on holiday in a British Seaside Town on the Irish Sea coast so my judgement may have been impaired slightly.  This book makes for great holiday reading as it is weirdly comforting, no idea why but it did feel like a nice warm hug to go with my frosty pint.

Basically it is the story of three couples - Ella and Harry, Flick and Noah and Ella and Art - and what happens during a week away in a remote Welsh cottage.  The setting itself is pure escapism, beautiful sprawling cottage, rugged coastlines and gorgeous scenery with a sprinkling of generally exquisite weather that we get maybe once every five years.  The biggest issue with it is that you know, from about Chapter Four where things are going with Ella/Harry and Noah/Flick.  Maybe that's why I gleaned such enjoyment from it, I knew where things were going early on and so there were no surprises within the pages and it gave me the satisfaction of being right.

I think it also helped that the type of holiday they have would not work for me at all - surfing, coasteering and cliff top walks are definitely not on my list of things to do whilst away.  I'm also not sure the remoteness would suit me.  However, it is fun to read about whilst doing exactly what you need to make your holiday suit you - I think I'm more of the Flick and Harry school of thought about how to enjoy yourself and relax.

The characterisation is absurdly good and, with the use of very loose flashbacks, we get to know the three girls pretty well.  The men are more caricatures than characters unfortunately but as this is supposed to be all about the women I found myself forgiving that.  Ella is our narrator through the book and she is full of contradictions, which I actually quite liked.

Honestly, there is a lot that is wrong with this book but I genuinely enjoyed every minute of this book over the couple of days I spent reading it.  Perfect holiday reading but I suspect it would not work half so well if you are picking it up in lunch breaks or on the commute.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard by Robert Bryndza

You've Got Mail and if Coco Pinchard has your email address you will have a lot of it.  This is no bad thing as her emails are full of snark and self-deprecating humour to describe the unravelling tragedy that is her life.  From a teenage son in the throes of first love, a wandering husband, strife with the mother and sister-in-law and a career that is dead in the water.  All that was missing was an overabundance of exclamation marks in her emails - or is that just me?

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, I picked it up as I love an epistolary novel and I wanted something light and fluffy as a holiday read.  What I actually got was a joyful look in to one woman's life with all it's frustrations and prat falls.  Coco Pinchard is winning at failing but refuses to stay down for long.  With her support network of Christopher and Marika you know that she is going to be okay but reading her frequent meltdown emails to the pair of them, and the odd one to her local newsagent and son, provided a great deal of pleasure.

I didn't laugh out loud but I did do a lot of snorting in appreciation.  One of the greatest sources of joy was her wonderfully named son, Rosencrantz Pinchard.  I just couldn't get past that name and it made me smile every time it was mentioned.  None of the situations she found herself I could relate to - apart from the inappropriate drinking and kebab snuggling - from my own life but it was so easy to imagine yourself in her shoes.

The highlights of the book for me where the book pulping (very Alan Partridge) and the Edinburgh Festival.  They may have been the highpoints but only in the way that Mount Everest is the high point of the Himalayas.  It is chock full of knowing observations and genuine zest of living.

The only thing this was missing was seeing everyone's replies to her emails - I so wanted to know what Christopher and Marika thought about some of the situations.

The Anarchist's Club by Alex Reeve

Alex Reeve is a new author to me so I had no previous knowledge of Leo Stanhope and the set up surrounding this tale.  It made no difference at all, within a few pages it was very clear what Leo was hiding from the world and just how dangerous his secret was.  I also felt right at home with the characters and the location very early on; there is a little bit of referencing the first book here and there but no over recapping so if you have read the first one there is no need to skip pages of tedious stuff you already know.  If you haven't read the first one you don't feel like you are missing out on any vital information by jumping in with this book and it works well as a standalone.  That said I will be purchasing The House On Half Moon Street and reading out of order.

One of the great joys of this book was, for me, the world created on the page.  There are no flowery descriptions of the privations of Victorian London, just a few matter of fact words to conjure the place in all it's festering glory.  Somehow this paucity of words allowed the reader a much more fluid experience and somehow brought the streets to life in your head.  This technique is employed throughout the book so whether in Sir Reginald Thackeray's withdrawing room, the Calcutta Theatre, Mrs Flower's Pie Shop or even The Anarchist's Club itself you really felt like you were there; all achieved with a handful of words instead of a handful of pages (if you can't tell one of my pet peeves in Historical Fiction is lengthy descriptive passages).

I found Leo Stanhope to be a bit of a difficult character to actually like.  Whilst I could empathise with the situation he is in, there was just something about him that irritated me.  His behaviour towards others can be downright reprehensible and he just doesn't seem to see that some of the hostility he faces is not because the secret but because he can be a bit of a prat.  On the other side of that coin I did find myself wanting him to come good in the end and to stay safely outside the asylum.

The plot itself is fairly straightforward and explained well in the publisher's blurb.  What it doesn't prepare you for is the richness of the location, the fully rounded characters and the simple joy of story telling that leaps off the page.  One of my favourite characters is Peregrine Black and he appears in a total of about 10 pages throughout the book so that gives you an idea of how well constructed this world is.  The only thing that let it down is that some of the murder mystery element all felt a bit muddled and as though it had to be pulled together to meet the deadline rather than unfolding naturally.

Great entertainment and, despite all the peril, a relaxing read.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED VIA THE PIGEONHOLE.

The Hummingbird Wizard by Meredith Blevins

I really struggled to get into this book, in fact I never really felt like I ever entered the author's world and was always held at one remove by the book.  It just all tries so desperately hard to be different or original or quirky that it makes it almost impenetrable in the early chapters to really get to grips with the characters or the situation, let alone give a toss about any of it.  I persevered with the book though and it did improve about three quarters of the way through - whether this was because I had got used to the characters or the style of the writing I'm not sure.  I think it may have just been that the story itself improved significantly as there was less "writing to impress" going on.

Basically this is a thriller story that has been prettied up by adding a potentially supernatural element courtesy of Madame Mina and her powerful Gypsy Clan.  Throw in her mysterious son, the eponymous Hummingbird Wizard, a couple of outsiders married in to the family (one of whom may be a murder victim), a daughter who teaches Circus Arts and has a major alcohol problem.  Stir in complicated relationships, unknown about major wealth, a conspiracy to defraud, dodgy lawyers and an over the top funeral.  Season with vaguely corrupt city police officers, a dash of good 'ole boy policing and a stake out by the feds.  As you can see there is an awful lot going here, probably way too much to be honest.

Fortunately Annie seems to be as befuddled and confused as the reader as to what is going on here.  Jerry is dead, this much is clear to her.  Jerry was her best friend and it is her fault he is mixed up with the Szabo clan.  Now Annie is also sucked backed in (she was married to one of them but he died in a motorbike accident) and has to deal with her formidable former mother-in-law Mina.  If that isn't bad enough she had a disturbingly erotic dream whilst staying in Jerry's home and it is beginning to look like it was much more than just a dream.  Despite being the main focus of the book Annie is pretty much weak, ineffectual and overshadowed by every other character in the book.  She does get it together a bit after the funeral but it takes until almost the end before a backbone and a bit of intellect sparks in to being.

The dilemma I now face is that the book ended quite well and whether it was because I had simply given up and decided to go with the peculiar flow or whether the author had managed to pull it all together in the end I'm not quite sure.  The first half of the book is a maximum of a 2 Star read but it did improve exponentially so I am going to be generous and give it an overall 3 Stars. 

Do I buy the second in the series?  Possibly, if it is on sale I may give it a whirl but I wouldn't go out of my way to hunt it down.

The Forgotten Sister by Caroline Bond

          This is the second novel by Caroline Bond and it did not disappoint.  Like The Second Child this is a tale all about families and how they operate behind those suburban curtains.  Somehow Ms Bond manages to take you to situations you have no experience of, in this case adoption, and sucks you right in.

The Forgotten Sister is all about Cassie and her adopted family of parents Tom and Grace and their "natural" daughter Erin.  Everything is going as well as can be expected for a family with two teenage daughters until Cassie decides that she is ready to take the next step with her boyfriend and visits the Family Planning Clinic.  When they start asking questions about her medical history she realises how little she knows about her birth mother and this sets her off on a quest to find out all she can.

I have to be careful here to not give too much away about the plot as there are a couple of twists and turns along the way.  All the scenarios in the book do feel exceptionally real with none of the events having that tang of sensationalism for effect that they so easily could have done.  Yes, there is a good dollop of action and threat that keep you on the edge of your seat and breathlessly turning pages but you are so absorbed in the story that they just feel like perfectly natural extensions of the circumstances the family find themselves in.

Told in real time with flashbacks, you get a real feel for the arduous adoption process and also Cassie's early years when she was still with her birth mother.  I really liked that they were depicted as a normal family with challenges that anyone with children could recognise.  It was made clear early on that Grace and Tom were a mixed race couple but the point isn't belaboured and although relevant to the adoption agency regarding placing a child with them it makes no difference to the story - which, lets be honest, it really has no importance to their daily lives.

The story is told mainly from Cassie's viewpoint, with all the mixed up emotions of puberty and peer pressure creating tension within both herself and the family.  We don't really hear much from her sister Erin, mainly getting to know her through Cassie's eyes but it is clear that they are close and have a solid sororial relationship.  We also have sections focusing on Tom and/or Grace and their relationship is quite enviable - they communicate well with each other and their girls - but it also has it's moments of friction as any real life relationship does.  The point is that they are a team and just trying to do their best with (and for) each other.

The secondary voice that we hear from is Leah.  We don't meet her until a little ways in to the book but she appears to have information about Cassie's birth mother and when Cassie appeals for information via social media she gets in touch with her.  From the start it is clear that Leah loves playing games and manipulating people and that there is something "damaged" about her.  Compared to Cassie she has had a terrible start in life and things really don't seem to be improving, in fact, as the book progresses you can't help but think that her situation is worsening.

A sensitively told tale full of emotion and really gives you pause to think about your relationships with the world around you and the people that are closest to you.  Genuinely engrossing and believable without ever sinking in to misery-lit.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK RECEIVED VIA THE PIGEONHOLE.
       

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The Girl Who Came Out Of The Woods by Emily Barr

This was such a captivating book that I found completely sucked me in to it's world.  With a varied, to say the very least, cast of characters and settings it genuinely takes you on both a literal and figurative journey.  I did find it a little heavy handed in places and that some of the themes were laboured upon a little too much for my taste but it was, overall, a cracking good read.

There are two parallel stories being told here.  One is in flashback to an unnamed person trapped in a basement and trying desperately to escape both the physical constraints of their location and the mental images that are encroaching on them.  The second is an in real time telling of young Artemis emerging from her secluded live in an Indian Forest clearing.  The strands are linked together by a white, fluffy teddy bear holding an I Love You Loads x heart.

By far the most interesting sections are those dealing with Artemis.  From the idyllic existence of her early years in the Matriarchal Society established by her mother in an isolated clearing to her emergence in to the hustle, bustle and daunting world of Mumbai.  Touching on themes of innocence, betrayal and friendship it is at times touching but also quite brutal.  For a large chunk of the book you have no idea who you can and cannot trust, just like Artemis.  When the betrayals come, as you know they must, it is all too easy to empathise with our heroine and when things do work out for her, even if only temporarily, you do want to cheer along with her.

No matter the setting the author has done a sterling job of thrusting you right in there.  I have never been to Mumbai but the dusty, traffic and people clogged streets are brought to wonderful life.  You can almost smell the heat and feel the dust coating your skin and throat.  The descriptions of Clevedon are less successful, but perhaps this is because the setting is more familiar to me so there is less temptation to subsume yourself in the location.  Somehow the author even manages to make cricket seem interesting - it really, really isn't.

Very cleverly written and there is much more going on here than the surface story.  It does give you lots to mull over as you read and I can whole heartedly recommend this book to not only the YA readership this has been aimed at by the publisher but by decidedly non-young A's.

THIS IS AN HONEST AND UNBIASED REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK PROVIDED BY THE PIGEONHOLE.

Shopaholic Ties The Knot by Sophie Kinsella

What is it with Becky Bloomwood and completely unrealistic scenarios?  I desperately want to slap her and bring her screaming in to reality ...