Friday, 20 October 2017

Book Review: OURS IS THE WINTER by Laurie Ellingham

Author: Laurie Ellingham
Publisher:
HQ Digital
Read:
October 2017
Expected publication: 17 November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Book Description (Goodreads):

Journeying across the Arctic, their pasts are about to catch up with them. 

Erica, Molly and Noah are embarking on the challenge of a lifetime, driving Siberian huskies across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic. Cut off from the world and their loved ones and thrown together under gruelling conditions, it isn’t long before the cracks start to show.

Erica has it all. A loving husband, a successful career and the most adorable baby daughter. But Erica has been living a double life, and as she nears her fortieth birthday her lies threaten to come crashing down.

Molly was on her way to stardom. But when her brother died, so did her dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. Consumed by rage and grief, she has shut out everyone around her, but now she’s about to learn that comfort can come from the most unexpected places.

Noah has a darkness inside him and is hounded by nightmares from his past. Tortured, trapped and struggling to save his fractured relationship, he knows this journey is not going to help, but try telling his girlfriend that.

As their lives and lies become ever more entwined, it becomes clear that in the frozen wilds there is nowhere to hide. 

My musings:

To be honest, this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and I will probably be very unpopular when I say that I was majorly disappointed with it! I was initially drawn to the beautiful cover and the premise of a tense survival story in a merciless remote setting, where personalities clash and tension simmers. Unfortunately it was none of that. True, we do have a remote setting, and I loved the interesting facts about huskies and mushing, which I knew very little about. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the snow covered landscape and the rock where the boundaries of three countries come together. However – here it comes:

I didn’t like any of the characters – sorry! How old were these people? For the best part of the book they act like hormonal teenagers, sulking, being snippy to each other and storming off in a huff not talking to each other, and then – SPOILER ALERT – it suddenly all gets resolved in one happily ever after moment that was so far fetched for me that I wanted to throw the book and get back the time I had invested in it. All the affirmations and positive thinking in the world is not going to get you a bow-tied ending like this, where all the threads come together so perfectly. At times the book felt preachy to me, as if it was trying to give lifestyle advice, when the angry hormonal characters reflected on some deeper level and had some insights into life and its mysterious ways. And the romance – no, just no. In fact, the whole situation these people found themselves in was based on an action by one of the characters that was so immature and far-fetched that it seemed like a looooong stretch for me to be even remotely credible. Phew, I had to get that off my chest!

Personally, I think that a great opportunity was lost here. With a setting that provided an excellent opportunity for some simmering tension and an undercurrent of menace and danger that kept the reader engaged, and the opportunity to create real drama, the author focused instead on some stereotypical elements that did not live up to my hopes for the tense story of survival I had hoped for. None of the characters rang true for me, and the primary emotion when reading was irritation. I wanted to slap each and every one of them and tell them to “grow up”! I concede that I probably set my expectations too high and was just the wrong audience for this book. For me, this was definitely NOT a thriller, or a mystery. I am sure that other readers will enjoy it, even if just for the gorgeous huskies and the unusual setting. Unfortunately not a good fit for me – life’s like that. I may now go into my corner and sulk. 


 Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book Review: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: 
Little, Brown Book Group UK
Expected Publication:
11 January 2018
Read: October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

"It’s not a question of deserving. I just think a mother has a right to raise her own child."

Book Description (Goodreads):


In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster. 

My musings:

I admit that Little Fires Everywhere wasn’t on my radar at all until I heard so many good things about it from the bookish community that it became a “must-read” for me. I was delighted when I received a copy from Netgalley for review. And as it so often turns out, this little gem of a book easily made it on my favourites list for 2017 – I loved it!

Little Fires Everywhere is a character driven drama set in the ordered suburb of Shaker Heights, where everything is carefully planned and controlled by many rules residents must adhere to. It is obvious from the start that the arrival of a non-conformist person would wreak havoc in the lives of people no longer used to individuality. I had no doubts that artist Mia, with her mysterious past and unconventional lifestyle, would cause some ripples.

Not even a real bed, she thought. Not even a real couch. What kind of grown woman sits on the floor, sleeps on the floor? What kind of life was this?

I also wasn’t surprised that Mia was a magnet to young Lizzie, who didn’t fit into the Shaker Heights world at all, whilst Pearl felt drawn to the Richardson family, whose lives seemed so ordered and predictable compared to her own. Don’t we always long for the very thing we can’t have? Ng’s characterisations are spot-on, and all her characters literally leap off the page because they seem so real! I found her use of names interesting: Mia was always mentioned by her first name, whilst Elena Richardson was always “Mrs Richardson”, which cleverly created a distance between her character and the reader and reflected her somewhat stand-offish nature.

In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng raises several moral and ethical dilemmas which still haunted me long after finishing the book . For example: is motherhood determined by biology, or by the love and security one can give a child? Should motherhood be determined by wealth, and the ability to provide? Won’t that mean that parenthood becomes a luxury of the rich? I felt myself torn with empathy for each and every character, knowing there would be no solution that would ever suit all involved. Most of all though, I loved and felt for Izzy, and my heart broke for her many times over.  I just wanted to hug this child and tell her how great she was!

So whilst Little Fires Everywhere explored several different topics through the eyes of these very different characters, the main theme that stood out for me was motherhood in all its varied forms and guises. Elena Richardson, who is so stunned and confused about her youngest daughter, who just doesn’t fit the mould. Mia, who is much more liberal in her views but has still imposed an exile of sorts on her only child. And Linda McCullough, who wants a baby so badly that she would not hesitate to take it from its own mother.

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind on Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.

Ng’s writing is beautiful, her characters multi-dimensional and realistically drawn. The book drew me into its world like only few novels can, and left a ripple of unease and questions in my mind that cannot be easily answered. One of my most memorable reads of the year, and one I cannot recommend strongly enough!



Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Image result for 5 stars

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Book Review: WHITE BODIES by Jane Robins

Title: White Bodies
Author: Jane Robins
Publisher:
Touchstone
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda's unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix's domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix's uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister's arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies--or was he murdered? 

My musings:

When I was offered to read and review a “creepy and addictive” psychological thriller by the publisher, I jumped at the opportunity and I was not disappointed! If I had to describe White Bodies in two words, it would be “disturbing” and “original”. On starting this book, I had no idea where it was headed, except that it could not possibly lead to anything good. There is a constant tension underlying the story that created a sense of dread and foreboding, and yet had me totally hooked, to a point where I sat up way too late into the night reading.

Love or obsession? In a nutshell, White Bodies centres around the sister relationship between twins Callie and Tilda. Tilda has always been the successful, beautiful and self-confident sister, overshadowing the slightly awkward Callie, who desperately tries to be part of her twin’s life at all costs. As the girls grow into women, this dysfunctional dynamic leads to some quite bizarre events!

I admit that in the beginning I found the narrator and main protagonist Callie strange and disturbing, and was worried that this would prevent me from bonding with her and enjoying the story. But my fear was unfounded. Whilst Callie definitely has problems, I warmed to her as the story went along, even though I was questioning how reliable she was as a narrator. Just when I thought I could trust her, she would be off on another tangent that had me questioning everything I had read! In fact, each and every character in this book is flawed, and some are downright unlikeable. I had a few “Ewwwww!” moments of disbelief and surprise, and believe me, I see a lot of weird things in my job as RN in an emergency department, so am not easily shocked. Anyway, I certainly won’t spoil the surprise here, you will have to read it yourself to find out the gory details! This is not a cosy, feel-good twin mystery, but a solid psychological thriller that certainly packs a punch!

In the vast sea of books that call themselves “psychological thrillers”, this one stood out from the fray with a concept that is as original as it is disturbing, not afraid to tread where others wouldn’t. Yet it always managed to maintain a sense of empathy for the characters, pulling back at the very moment when I felt it may go too far. It is this art of subtlety that created the “psychological” aspect, the thrill, the suspense for me. Robins proves that a creepy thriller doesn’t need blood, guts and gore to shock and confront. In fact, there was none of that, as the story in all its head-shaking horror was purely character driven. I just love it when a book messes with my mind like this!


Summary:

If you are looking for a character driven, disturbing and original psychological thriller that stands out from the rest, this book is perfect for you. Even for those sleuth readers who may have an inkling of the whodunit aspect, the journey to the conclusion is well worth the effort. And I dare anyone who thinks they know how it will all end! White Bodies messed with my mind like few thrillers can, and I fully recommend it to all lovers of the genre. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Touchstone for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Audiobook Review: THE SILENT WIFE by Kerry Fisher

Author: Kerry Fisher
Narrator:
Emma Spurgin-Hussey
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Lara’s life looks perfect on the surface. Gorgeous doting husband Massimo, sweet little son Sandro and the perfect home. Lara knows something about Massimo. Something she can’t tell anyone else or everything Massimo has worked so hard for will be destroyed: his job, their reputation, their son. This secret is keeping Lara a prisoner in her marriage.

Maggie is married to Massimo’s brother Nico and lives with him and her troubled stepdaughter. She knows all of Nico’s darkest secrets – or so she thinks. The one day she discovers a letter in the attic which reveals a shocking secret about Nico’s first wife Caitlin. Will Maggie set the record straight or keep silent to protect those she loves?

For a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price. 

My musings:

I accidentally stumbled across The Silent Wife when browsing Amazon’s monthly deals, and ordered it on Audible for my upcoming holiday. It turned out to be one of those random purchases which worked in my favour, as the story and characters soon drew me in.

This is a slow burning drama, focusing on family and husband-wife relationships, and there were a few intriguing dynamics being explored here. Since I was the same age as Francesca when my mother died and my father married again, I could draw quite a few parallels between our lives, and it was interesting to get a different perspective. Fisher’s writing is lively and evocative, capturing my attention from the very first page. I especially liked Maggie’s tongue-in-cheek voice, which provided a few laugh-out-loud moments, but also some reflection points. Some of her observations about her step-family were hilarious as she doesn’t hold back! Lara, the other narrator, provided a good contrast and it was refreshing to see this character change as the story went along.

There are many different  themes being explored through the eyes of these two very different women: death, remarriage, domestic violence, and cultural differences are just a few issues that drove the storyline. The Farinelli family truly were a force to be reckoned with, and I found myself gnashing my teeth in frustration a few times. The story did flag a little bit for me in the later half and perhaps needed a bit more action or a twist to move it along. Luckily I was listening to that part of the book on a train and found it entertaining enough to provide a narrative to the landscape flashing by. Had I read it in print it may not have been enough to keep me interested right until the end as the resolution was fairly predictable for me. I’m not sure what happened to the promised “twist that will take your breath away” because I thought it all worked out a bit too neatly –something unexpected would have made it more memorable.


Summary:

All in all, The Silent Wife was a light, enjoyable book for me whilst providing some food for thought with the themes it explored – a perfect holiday read. 



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book Review: THE ROMA PLOT by Mario Bolduc

Author: Mario Bolduc
Publisher:
Dundurn
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 21 November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Max O’Brien may be a professional con man, but that doesn’t mean you can’t count on him in a bind. So when he hears that his old friend Kevin Dandurand is a wanted man over a seemingly racially motivated killing spree, he heads to Bucharest to try to make sense of what looks like an impossible situation.

The buried truths he uncovers reach back to the Second World War, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and an entanglement between a Roma man and a German woman whose echoes pursue O’Brien and Dandurand into the present day. But if they can’t escape the long shadows of the past, the two will find their present cut all too short.

My musings:

I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to books about WWII, and was instantly intrigued by the premise of The Roma Plot. I admit I know very little about the fate of the Roma, except that, like other ethnic minorities, they had been ruthlessly persecuted during Hitler’s regimen in the name of clearing the country of everyone but the championed “Aryan” race. Bolduc’s knowledge of the issue is astonishing, and he has obviously done a lot of research into the subject matter, which he clearly feels passionate about. It was interesting to learn more about Roma culture and their ongoing struggles to be accepted as a people, and their fate during WWII – Emil’s life was simply heartbreaking! Needless to say that I found the chapters about Emil and his life the most interesting and captivating, and I admit that the modern day part of the book took a bit of a backward step for me.

In The Roma Plot, Bolduc delivers a multi-layered, very intricate plot with a true historical background and some famous historical characters interspersed with fictional ones. I must admit that whilst I found the history fascinating, the book was at times a bit too political for me, and I found it difficult to keep track of the multiple characters who come and go between the chapters. Some characters even changed their names and identities throughout the story, which presented an even tougher challenge. This was not a book you could easily put down and pick up again. I often found myself flicking back and forth in confusion: “And who is this again?”

The story plays our over several different time frames, with one thread set during WWII and the other starting in the present time. But as Max is reminiscing about the origins of his friendship with Kevin, his story also contains elements from the past few years, skipping back and forth over events that have brought him to his current predicament. Whilst Emil’s chapters are clearly labelled as being in the past, I found myself struggling a few times to work out the timings in the “present”.

I found Max to be an intriguing and interesting character, who makes for a refreshingly different protagonist. Being a con-man he certainly stands out from your average detective, and got himself into some unusual situations. I initially found it a bit hard to get into his head, which may have something to do with the book being the second in a series. Since Emil makes his first appearance here, I had no trouble identifying with his character and feeling his pain as his life unfolded in a series of tragedies and struggles.


Summary:

In summary, The Roma Plot was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand I loved the historical content and appreciated the rich background information the author provided. On the other hand I felt that I may not be the right audience for this book, as I found it a bit too political and involved at times. I am sure it will appeal to readers who love spy fiction and books set against the backdrop of political events, and who can fully appreciate the intricate, multi-layered plot.


Thank you to Netgalley and Dundurn for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
  


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Audiobook Review: FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall

Author: Laura Marshall
Narrator:
Elaine Claxton
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren't. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria's sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she'd severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there's more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what's known to Maria--or whoever's pretending to be her--is known to all.

My musings:

With social media playing such a big part in our lives these days, I was intrigued to read a book that had its plot based on the hidden dangers of airing our lives on the web for everyone to see – and there were times when I felt like deleting my facebook account and going undercover! Luckily I have no big dark secrets like Louise (or even if I did I wouldn’t tell – lol), so being stalked by some long dead friend from high school should hopefully not be a problem. Or maybe there is a reason I moved to the other side of the world? Without giving too much away, the story revolves around our main protagonist Louise, who receives a facebook request from an old friend from high school, who she believes to have died as a result of events involving Louise and her friends. Quite terrifying, really. But instead of tightening her privacy settings and running for the hills, she accepts the request, and even plans to go to an upcoming school reunion. Things quickly go south from here, and soon Louise is convinced that she is in danger.

I loved how Marshall incorporates details from our everyday lives into her story that could potentially have devastating effects. I have seen plenty of people air all their dirty laundry on facebook and give away details that could make them prey to some twisted mind. Even though Louise at times struck me as a bit naive and not overly proactive in trying to protect herself, I guess that this would reflect a good percentage of the population – as opposed to those who shy away from social media all together, believing that big brother is watching them ....

Reading Friend Request was like a ticket on the nostalgia train straight back to my high school days, which made me shudder. I was never one of the cool crowd, only surviving with all my limbs intact by letting the worst bullies copy my maths homework on a regular basis (if you’re a nerd, you have to make it work for you). Everyone has a Sophie Hannigan and her crowd in their class at one time or another, and I had vivid flashbacks to our own group of cool girls, who regularly made other kids’ lives pure hell. And to make matters worse, as a mother I had to witness both of my children experience similar bullying. So whilst this made me resent Louise for playing her part in tormenting other girls, I could also see her as a victim of circumstance, which was a balance well played by the author.

For me, the book started out really strong and had me totally captivated. My only letdown was the end. I know that endings work for some readers and not for others and there is never a solution that will please everyone, but I thought that with all the unlimited possibilities to create an ending to really stand out from the fray, the resolution to the mystery was a bit of a cop-out for me. After all that building tension and nail-biting suspense, I felt slightly cheated – I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but some of the threads did not come together for me and some of the motives seemed a bit far fetched. Which was a real shame, as I had imagined the ending to be some wild and wonderful conspiracy theory that would take my breath away.

Anyway, enough said. Overall, this was a contemporary mystery with many interesting premises that kept me interested until the very end, and I recommend it to anyone who has a facebook, twitter, instagram or other social media account. I bet you will look at your privacy settings a bit more closely after reading this!
  



Monday, 9 October 2017

Book Review: THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfeld

Author: Rene Denfeld
Publisher:
Orion Publishing Group
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Those who are loved are never lost.

Book Description (Goodreads):

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

My musings:

It’s always a special moment when I stumble across a book that’s just perfect for me in every way, containing all the elements I look for in a good thriller: a gutsy, interesting and enigmatic main protagonist with a cast of intriguing supporting characters – tick! An atmospheric, claustrophobic setting with a wonderful armchair travel component – tick! Plenty of mystery and suspense – tick! And, as an added bonus, a mystical element that adds to the intrigue and lends a dreamlike quality to some of the scenes – tick, tick, tick.

I don’t give out my five-star ratings easily, but the Child Finder was without doubt one of the best books I have read all year. From the very first page, Denfeld captured my full attention and drew me so deeply into the storyline that I only surfaced – slightly dazed and confused – for absolutely necessary tasks such as food, drink and toilet breaks, and then only reluctantly. Denfeld’s writing is beautiful, evocative and descriptive in ways that the story played out in my mind in vivid technicolour glory, to a point where I felt like an invisible spectator amongst the characters, witnessing events as they unfolded.

Naomi is a wonderful main protagonist – with her mysterious past that has shaped her personality and is fuelling her obsession, she not only got my interest but also tugged at my heartstrings. Thinking back, I realise that this was one of the rare books where there wasn’t a singly truly despicable, unlikeable character featuring in the story, despite some very dark and disturbing elements being explored here. With the current trend of featuring casts of unlikeable characters in mysteries, I welcomed the opportunity to get to know a heroine I actually liked and admired, to a point where I hope to see her back in future books to be able to follow her journey a bit longer. Showing perfect insight into the human psyche, Denfeld created a rich cast of intriguing characters, lending even the most disturbed ones a background that inspires compassion and understanding rather than disgust, as only very few books dealing with similar themes can. I loved the way Denfeld wrapped her most disturbing scenes in layers of magical realism, bringing her message across in a non-confrontational manner and highlighting the human survival instinct and ability to mask trauma with dissociation from one’s experiences – in this instance in a child’s ability to identify herself as a character out of one of her fairy tales. The story, with all its darkness, brought with it a prevailing sense of hope for me. I think that the power of the story lies in exactly this element – one becomes so emotionally engrossed in the book that its message burrows its way right into the heart of the reader. 

Summary:

To cut a long review short, and without giving anything away, The Child Finder is a wonderful book that easily made it onto my list of favourite reads for 2017. I am definitely going to get a copy of the author’s first book, and am hoping for many more to come. If you are a lover of the genre or are simply looking for a book to get lost in, you can’t go wrong with this one. Very highly recommended. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review. I loved it!

Image result for 5 stars


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sunday Confessional: SEPTEMBER SOJOURNS (or the travelling book blogger fail)

I am back from three weeks of road tripping through Spain and Portugal, which was a great little adventure, even though I did not get nearly as much reading done as I had planned. Too busy! 

Initially, I was too tired after night shifts to read on the plane, watching 10 episodes of The Black Lake (a terrifying Scandinavian crime series) instead in between regular naps during our whopping 18 hours of flying time. The train and car rides in Spain and along the Portuguese coast were way too scenic to have my nose buried in a book, and my husband complained that I wasn’t much company when I had my earphones in listening to an audiobook when he felt like talking – especially as I was chief navigator next to Manuela, our tireless GPS guide, who kept sending us down wrong roundabout exits and calling for death defying u-turns in city traffic. Evenings saw me collapse exhausted after walking up and down hilly, cobblestoned streets all day, and my eyes grew heavy after a few pages. However, I did read a little bit, and even found another five-star mystery to go onto my list of favourite reads for 2017. My Netgalley ratio reached 80% at one point (which it hasn’t been for a long, long time due to my greedy requesting), so all was not lost.

As for blogging – well, a bit of a train wreck on that front I’m afraid. Even though I pictured myself tirelessly typing my reviews in seedy little hotel rooms like an intrepid war correspondent of the 60’s, in reality I was painfully battling autocorrect and bad wifi signals, and cursing my fat fingers as I stabbed away in the semi dark on my Samsung S5. Maybe I am not dedicated enough, but after three mini reviews that took me hours of cursing technology and feeling like crushing my little phone under my hiking boots, I decided that the wandering blogger just wasn’t going to be me. I am hoping to catch up on my reviews now that I have my computer back.

Sooooo – to the holiday wrap-up:

Books read: 6

The Roma Plot: A Max O'Brie... The Winter People Then She Was Gone Exquisite The Silent Wife The Child Finder 



Famous book shops visited: 2

Livraria Lello, Oporto, Portugal:
This apparently is the place that inspired J.K. Rowling when writing Harry Potter. It surely had something magical about it, and I don’t mean simply the ability to disappear like 12 Grimmauld Place – I swear we walked past it at least 3 times and it wasn’t there! So after trudging around Porto for hours (and this is one hilly city!) with DT (“dumb tourist”) tattooed on our foreheads and trying to ask for directions when our knowledge of the Portuguese language consisted of exactly 2 words between us, we finally found it at the exact moment when I was ready to give up and admit defeat. It was worth the painful calves though, as it is every bit as beautiful as described in travel blogs, despite the sizeable crowds lining up outside and the 4-euro entry fee.



Igreja de São Tiago, Obidos, Portugal:


This charming bookstore was quite a surprise, located in an old church in the historical walled town of Obidos that goes back to 1186 – so much history there! Apparently the church had fallen into disrepair and was transformed into a bookshop as part of a growing literary movement in the town. I loved this charming place, which still exuded an aura of peace and calm, totally lacking the crowds of the Livraria Lello, making it a pleasure to browse and simply enjoy the history of the place. If you are ever in the area, this town is well worth a visit and was a highlight of our trip.







Book Fairy activity: 2 

After much soul searching, inner turmoil and debate, the eeny-meeny-mo approach and room left in my suitcase decided which physical books made it into my suitcase in the end:
Exquisite The Winter People The Nightingale
I read two of those, taking great delight in leaving them as book fairy gifts in two very lovely locations we passed through along the way: one in Vigo, Spain; the other in Nazare, Portugal (being claimed by Atlantic mist here in the picture).

 


If you haven't heard of the book fairies yet, make sure to check them out here: LINK


Now, after 48 hours of planes, trains and automobiles we made it back home to our lovely little piece of heaven, with three more days off to recuperate before going back to work. I have already requested several more books on NG in anticipation of getting some reading done over the next few days, which dropped my ratio down to 78% again– just can’t help myself! 


Currently reading:

Little Fires Everywhere

Which is off to a great start!


In summary – I may be a failure as a travelling book blogger, but my love for both travel and books remains strong. Watch this space as I try to catch up on reviews ....

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #3: THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Read: September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara's fate, she discovers that she's not the only person who's desperately looking for someone that they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My musings:

The Winter People was one of the books that stowed away in my suitcase, and I was looking forward to a chilly, spooky read that would make a stark contrast to hot sunny beaches – there's nothing like chilling with a good book! Within the first couple of chapters, McMahon had broken my heart as I followed Sara’s tragic account of how she lost all her babies and her beloved daughter Gertie – who would not go crazy with grief and pain in her situation? The atmospheric writing transported me effortlessly into a bleak, snow-covered landscape, chilling my heart and soul.
I really enjoyed the dual time frame and different POVs, which served to make the story more relevant to our present time than a purely historical account could have done. For me it managed to forge a strong  link between the past and present.
This was a bleak and often desolate story, which had its power in the unknown, the mystery surrounding Sara and the legacy of terror living on in her house. The first half of the book duly delivered on its promised creep factor, which made me feel like sleeping with the lights on and the closet doors firmly locked. For me, the story was being let down by its ending, which tried to explain the mystery surrounding Gertie and added unnecessary horror elements, which distracted from the brilliant mystery the author had constructed and forced me to suspend disbelief, which I’m not good at. Why? Up until then, the horror had been communicated in artfully disguised and chilling scenes that showcased McMahon as the skilful writer she is: the scene where Ruthie admires Candice’s house and suddenly notices that everything is dusty and broken was simply brilliant.
Overall, I admit regretfully that didn’t enjoy the story as much as I thought I would, though I loved the author’s writing style and am keen to read her other works.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #2: THEN SHE WAS GONE by Lisa Jewell

Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher:
Century
Read:
September 2017 on the train from Vigo to Porto 
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2



Book Description:

THEN
She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

NOW
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.

Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty - and meeting her completely takes Laurel's breath away.

Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What happened to Ellie? Where did she go?
Who still has secrets to hide?

My musings:

I’m a huge fan of Lisa Jewell’s writing, so Then She Was Gone was one of my most anticipated new releases for 2017. The story starts with Laurel’s POV, and I immediately felt the easy familiarity with her that Jewell seems to achieve so effortlessly with her characters. Laurel’s grief and her efforts at trying to come to terms with her daughter’s disappearance over ten years ago resonated with me and I felt a deep emotional connection with this character throughout the story. I especially liked Laurel’s frank confessions about her feelings towards her husband and other children after Ellie disappeared, and her long journey towards making peace with herself and her family and reestablishing a relationship with her older daughter  (it even made me a bit teary at one point).

For me, this connection was unfortunately lacking with the other narrator, whose name I will not divulge here for fear of giving away spoilers – but anyone who has read the book will know who I am talking about. Personally, I have never been a fan of reading a story from the POV of a psychopathic character because I think that very few authors can pull this off in a way that the person is both believable and relatable on some level  - I just don’t “do” repulsive characters very well. In this instance, I really struggled to connect, which stalled the story a bit for me. I felt that a lot of the subtleties in Jewell’s writing that usually flesh out her characters and make them real to me were missing in this person and he/she needed to have either a few more redeeming features or background to explain some of their actions and motives. This was a slight disappointment for me, as I usually find Jewell’s character development faultless and am normally able to empathize with even her most flawed protagonists. Perhaps these chapters would have worked better for me from an omniscient narrator, but this is purely a personal preference and other readers will undoubtedly disagree with me on that.

Whilst the general story was nothing new, I enjoyed the details that made it different from similar books in the genre, even though I found a few logistics slightly puzzling and somewhat far fetched. I noted Jewell’s confession at the end of the book that her original draft was too twisted for the publisher, which immediately piqued my interest as I think I would have liked a few more unexpected twists!

Despite my minor quibbles I enjoyed the story and found it hard to put it down. So whilst Then She Was Gone is not my favourite from the author, it was an enjoyable mystery with some unusual elements that set it apart from others in the genre, which will undoubtedly appeal to many readers. Jewell’s writing is as ever engaging and captivating and I look forward to her next book.



Monday, 18 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #1: EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell

It's holiday time! I've had my reading list sorted for ages, leaving the most coveted books on my tbr pile for my trip - which you must agree shows great restraint!

After much agonising, I chose this little gem to sneak into my cabin luggage and be first off the rank. Unfortunately I was much too tired after coming off night shifts to read much on the plane, but made up for it once we got to the beautiful city of Barcelona.

I will try to post mini reviews of my holiday reads by painstakingly typing them out on my trusty old Samsung in hotel rooms at night, and challenging myself by trying to figure out my Blogger app as I go, so please forgive me any formatting errors.

Pictured here is the beautiful ancient city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where we are currently staying.




Title: Exquisite
Author: Sarah Stovell
Read: September 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Book Description (Goodreads):

Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it?

Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

My musings:

Ever since its release date earlier this year, I have kept stumbling across raving reviews about Sarah Stovell's dark and unsettling psychological thriller about obsession and lies, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. With a premise that was certain to mess with my mind, I thought it would make the perfect holiday read. And true to its promise, once I started I was well and truly hooked!

Told in the alternating voices of Bo and Alice, the story soon spiralled into the murky waters of lies, deception and a friendship gone terribly wrong. Having two unreliable narrators, each with their own agendas and motives, soon saw me constantly questioning everything I read, which made for an interesting if somewhat exhausting reading experience. To be honest, neither of the two women were particularly trustworthy, both scarred from dysfunctional childhoods that make most of our ordinary lives sound like princess fairy tales. Despite the age gap between the women, and their obvious differences, their rich background stories explained perfectly why they would be drawn to one another. I confess that the young struggling Alice struck me as the more innocent of the two and I warmed to her much more than to Bo, despite her love for hiking (which I share) and being much closer in age to me.You will have to see for yourself whether I was on the right track or not!

Stovell's writing is engaging and seductive, drawing me so deeply into the story that I emerged a long time later like a sleeper out of a disturbing dream. With its constant twists and turns and two narrators who both tried to convince me that there account of events was the right one, I was constantly questioning what I was reading, to the very last page. And to be totally frank with you, I'm still not sure if I got it right, even after the last page has been turned. Yes, it certainly made good on its promise of messing with my mind!

I don't want to give any spoilers, so will not delve any deeper into the story other than to say that there is a lot of tension and foreboding as the two women's friendship blossoms. For me, disaster was always the inevitable outcome, and the power of the story lay in its detail. Personally, I thought that the ending was a bit of a let-down, feeling slightly rushed where it could have drawn out the unbearable tension just a tad longer to make it truly satisfying. However, I can fully understand the hype Stovell's book created, and will be anxiously looking out for her next book in anticipation of another great read.

Summary:

Exquisite is an unsettling and utterly compulsive story of a friendship gone wrong that will mess with your mind and make you question everything you read. A must-read for lovers of domestic noir who are looking for a character driven story with unreliable narrators who will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.