Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Burning Air - Erin Kelly


The MacBride family - on the surface they are a perfect nuclear family. Sadly, the matriarch of the family, Lydia has passed away and the family is gathering all together for their annual bonfire night celebrations for the first time without her. She is survived by her huband, two daughters, one son and several grandchildren.

But not all is as it seems. This family, which prizes education, justice and a fair chance for all has a dark secret and an enemy they don't even know about. The idyllic atmosphere is soon shattered. Firstly, the son brings a girlfriend along - a stranger encroaching on their shared grief. Next thing, this stranger has disappeared and taken eldest daughter, Sophie's newborn baby with her!

At first, I thought this book was going to be (another) snatched baby-hysterical mother plotline, which seems in vogue at the moment. Wrong. As with Erin Kelly's other books, this is a dark, twisty tale full of brooding resentment, obsession and revenge.  I can't say much more without giving away any of the (many) twists. This is probably one of the best books I've read all year, and Erin Kelly is firmly one of my favourite authors.

My only slight irk with the book was - there is a character called Darcy who appears about a third of the way in. For about 50 pages or so I thought Darcy was a woman, when its actually a man!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Son-in-law - Charity Norman


Joseph Scott has been recently released from prison and wants to get his life back on track. He wants his kids back, living with him, and although his career as a teacher has been ended by his prison sentence, he wants to start again, find a new job and a new future.

The only fly in the ointment is that it was murder he was jailed for (reduced to manslaughter, if I remember rightly) and its was his children's mother he murdered. In front of them.

Scarlet, the eldest of the childrens, is in her teens now and a young woman. She remembers it most clearly and isn't ready to accept her father back into her life. She and her two younger brothers have been living with their maternal grandparents since it happened. The grandparents, although both showing the signs of aging, are definitely not ready to let Joseph Scott, the murderer of their only daughter anywhere near them.

This book really wasn't what I thought it was going to be. I'm a bit in two minds over it. I found it a little bit overly forgiving of the man who murdered the mother of his children - there were extenuating circumstances of course, and probably the most interesting thing about the book is the exploration of what happens to 'you' when you do something so terrible you can't forgive yourself.

I agreed with the grandparents all the way through - although I think the author intended you to be sympathising with Scott, so therefore I didn't really like the ending. Joseph Scott was okay. I liked the characters of the Granddad and Scarlet the best. Overall slightly disappointing and a bit too PC.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson


Nova's eight year old son, Leo has been in an accident and lies in a coma. The real story, however, is how Leo even came to be. We soon discover that Nova never really bargained for a son. She was carrying a surrogate baby for her childhood friend, Mal and his wife. Close to the end of her pregnancy, they inexplicably changed their minds, literally leaving Nova holding the baby.

We go back further into Nova and Mal's 70s childhood together. They grow up together, but somehow never get the timing right to actually be together. Eventually they both meet other people. Mal falls in love with Stephanie, someone who is the exact opposite of Nova. They never see eye to eye but make the effort for Mal. Stephanie has problems of her own too. When they find they can't have children together Nova is the obvious choice for a surrogate for them.

Back in the present, Nova, who understandably has not spoken to Mal and Stephanie since they backed out of the surrogacy now has to bring Mal back into her life as it appears Leo isn't getting any better.

Unlike the other Dorothy Koomson books I've read this year, Goodnight, Beautiful: Everybody has secrets ... will this one break somebody's heart? (apparently the full title!) is much more firmly in the romance, tear jerker genre. I think Dorothy Koomson's early books were much more like this (very chick-lit) but her later ones have more of a dark side with murder, lies and intrigue. There's no deliberate deception and lies in Goodnight, Beautiful, it's more a victim of circumstance and unfortunate timing. It's still a good book - Nova is very likable and Mal is too, if not sometimes a bit of a wet weekend. I preferred the flashback story to the 'present' story. It's not really about the kid. There's a few other twists and surprises I haven't mentioned here too! 

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Sleeper - Emily Barr


Lara Finch is bored. Terribly bored. She lives in an ideal little house in picturesque Devon, with her all too perfect husband, Sam, but she's not happy. Following failed IVF attempts, their family is incomplete and their marriage is falling apart. Sam wants to try and adopt. Lara wants to move on.

When the chance at a job in London presents itself, Lara jumps at it. She begins to regularly take the sleeper train to London every Sunday night, only returning home on Friday nights. Distance begins to grow between her and Sam, but she feels alive again, part of something important.

Then - she disappears. Boarding the sleeper train back to Devon one Friday, she never arrives, leaving Sam and her only Devon based friend, Iris floundering for explanations and clues as to what has happened.

A past that her husband had no idea about has finally caught up with Lara, and she's very soon wishing for her quiet life back in Devon again!

The Sleeper is a story which travels. I found it a little slow at the start, perhaps bordering on predictable, but then when the twist comes and the story delves in to Lara's secret past, it pick up speed and becomes a lot more interesting. The first half of the story is from Lara's perspective, but she doesn't give away much. She seems childish, spoiled and a bit of a brat. It hints at a checkered past but doesn't give much away. The second half is from Iris's point of view - Lara's Devon based friend who is hiding from a tragic past of her own. The books a bit slow in places and not all the characters are as well drawn as they might be, but makes for quite a good read anyway. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Close My Eyes - Sophie McKenzie


Gen's life is turned upside down when a stranger arrives on her doorstep with a secret to share. Eight years ago Gen's baby was stillborn. Since then, she's been unable to fall pregnant again despite IVF treatments. The stranger on her doorstep tells her she's been deceived - her baby is alive, her husband knows all about it and Gen's whole life is a lie. At first she dismisses it as a cruel trick - but unable to leave it alone, she begins to search for information and starts to uncover other things that just don't add up...

Close My Eyes is a book about secrets, lies and deception. As you read it, you will go from one side to another and back again - who is lying and who is telling the truth? The charming, albeit slightly too perfect husband, Art? Gen's oldest friend, Hen? The strangers trying to convince Gen all she knows is false? Even through the book is told from Gen's first person point of view, you begin to wonder if what she's experiencing is true - or does she just see it that way because on some levels she desperately wants it to be true?

I found the first quarter of the book a bit hard to get into - I kept thinking get on with it then! But then when it does get going its a thrillingly pacey read - a real page turner to coin the cliché!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Date A Girl Who Reads

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent.  Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by God, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does. She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

By Rosemarie Urquico 

(In Response to You Should Date An Illiterate Girl.)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Grahame Green School of Writing

In January, I made a new years resolution to write more - as I suppose most wannabe writes will. June, and it's going... okay... However, I have made an amendment. I found an interesting old post on author, William Landlay's blog about Grahame Greene.

Grahame Greene, (who wrote one of my favourite books, Brighton Rock, among lots of other classics) wrote 500 words a day. That's not really a lot - just under about 2 pages. And did that five days a week. Later in his life, as William Landlay noted, it dropped to only 300, and perhaps not every day.

I think this is great idea - to write 500 words a day shouldn't (in theory!) take that long to do and means that if I wrote every day (except for Christmas day, of course!) I would write 182,000 words. Enough for about 2 and a half average books. (Although, what is an average book?!) I tried it out last night - it was a struggle to get started at first (I'm a little stuck in my latest story) but then when I did get closer to the magic 500, I found it flowed a lot easier and ended up writing about 900 words instead. (I work full time - actually, more than full time - so spare time to write is a rarity). Grahame Greene was a little bit more OCD about it - he would stop dead on the 500, even in the middle of a scene (or sentence, I think). I think I will try for a minimum of 500 and hopefully more should the muse permit it! Of course, I have the advantage of a word count on my word processor - poor old Grahame Greene would have had to counted each word himself!

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Sea Sisters - Lucy Clarke


Katie's world falls apart when she learns of the death of her younger sister, Mia. Mia had been backpacking around the world with her best friend, Finn, but when the police arrive on Katie's doorstep one night, they tell her Mia was not only traveling seemingly alone, but that they suspect she committed suicide as well. Katie cannot accept that her fun loving, spontaneous sister would kill herself, so she shirks off her planned and structured life to trace Mia's footsteps around the world in an effort to understand both what happened and who her sister really was.

The Sea Sisters is told both from Katie's point of view as she struggles to deal with Mia's death and follow her travels across the world, and from the travel journal Mia kept, documenting her feelings, her self discoveries and the revelations which set her own world spinning.

 So, over the Dorothy Koomson obsession! In comes Lucy Clarke's debut novel, The Sea Sisters. This is a great, clear and concise story of the relationship between two sisters, and namely how love can be so close to hate sometimes it can crossover and blur your feelings. I liked both Mia and Katie, the two sisters of the title. They are both different, flawed people who both envy qualities in their opposing sister without vocalising it to each other, to their regret. Mia, the younger sister, is searching for who she is and where she came from, which Katie, who feels like she's had to take on too much, too young, wants to break out of her organised, structured life and do something daring or spontaneous. Both sisters do these things, but not in the way they'd perhaps planned.

My favourite character was Finn. He has been in love with Mia since he was a teenager, but Mia is unaware. He has to balance the rejection of unrequited love, with the loss of his friendship with Mia if he chooses to move on with her. In opposition to Finn is Noah, the mysterious - and all together, a bit of a selfish idiot - object of Mia's affections. His past is troubling and he doesn't know how to deal with it.

The end of the book is bittersweet - as it was always destined to be. The author was replying to comments on a website, and I commented how much I'd enjoyed the book, but what would happen to Finn and Katie once the story ended? The author replied she hoped they would grow into something beautiful, which I would hope too, but I think in 'reality' their relationship would not be able to cope with the loss of Mia. They would have to adapt to living without her, but I don't think either character would truly get over her death. 

The book is about life and how your plans can change in the blink of an eye, not always to your liking. It's about love - between men and women and the love between siblings. And it's about regret - not telling someone something that you should have, parting on bad terms, words spat out in anger and how you will regret the things you haven't done, perhaps much more than the things you did do.

Very much looking forward to Lucy Clarke's second novel, which I think is out next year. 

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Rose Petal Beach - Dorothy Koomson


When her husband, Scott is arrested for a terrible crime, Tami's world begins to fall apart. Every time she thinks she has reached rock bottom, something else happens and it all falls apart all over again. When she discovers the accuser is her best friend, Mirabelle, Tami has to choose between believing her husband or best friend. Before she's had chance to digest that, something awful happens and Tami finds herself in some real trouble.

It took me quite a while to get into The Rose Petal Beach - I nearly gave up on it, but when that 'something awful' happened, it hooked me in. Each revelation in the story is described as hitting Tami like a truck, and that's how it hits the reader too! A slow start, but then the story becomes twisty and turning and enthralling. Another great book from Dorothy Koomson. Download the free Beside the Rose Petal Beach too for an extra dimension to the story!

"Stories? We all spend our lives telling them, about this, about that, about people … But some? Some stories are so good we wish they’d never end. They’re so gripping that we’ll go without sleep just to see a little bit more. Some stories bring us laughter and sometimes they bring us tears … but isn’t that what a great story does? Makes you feel? Stories that are so powerful … they really are with us forever."

- Dustin Hoffman (Sky Atlantic ad)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

"If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them."

- George Orwell

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Women He Loved Before - Dorothy Koomson


Following a whirlwind romance, Libby marries Jack - but right from the start their marriage is overshadowed by the ghost of Jack's first belated wife, Eve. Jack clams up and refuses to talk about her everytime Libby tries to ask about her. The book starts with a crash - literally! After being involved in a car accident, beauty therapist Libby has to reassess her place in the world, her ideas about beauty and her own self image - and most importantly, her relationship with her relatively new husband.

:: Spoilers below this point! ::

While recovering at home, Libby happens upon the diaries of Eve, hidden in the cellar. Unable to resist, she reads them and discovers Eve is not what she thought. Having to escape from her mother's abusive boyfriend Eve finds herself in London and on poverty row. She reluctantly becomes a stripper, or really, a lap dancer, but it spirals into prostitution, escorting and eventually ends up as the virtual slave of a very nasty pimp. Despite this, you cannot help but love Eve. She was easily the best character in this story, as as you already know she's dead from the start - it's not going to turn out well for poor Eve. All she really wants is to wear her pink dress, to be loved and respected and not to have to live in fear.

I feel I'm not being a very good reviewer, handing out 5/5 ratings for everything - I should be harsher - however, I cannot give The Woman He Loved Before anything lower. I think I loved this book even more than The Ice Cream Girls. At first the book deals with the whirlwind romance between Libby and Jack and for me that dragged a little bit, but once you get through to Eve's story, I found I could not put it down.

In the Kindle edition there were some questions for reading groups, which had also been answered by the author, Dorothy Koomson. Two interesting ones - she said her least favourite character was Jack (mine too - he's the romantic male lead, but he didn't protect Eve and he's rather useless for Libby too) - and the question about themes - there are the obvious themes in this story - love, marriage, death etc but one that wasn't mentioned was loss. I think loss - and the fact that with true loss you cannot do anything about it - you just have to find a way to live with it -  is perhaps one of the most important themes in this book. All the character suffer loss - Eve loses her innocence and home when she has to escape to London, later she loses her respectability - for herself and from others - her baby, her mother, Jack once or twice, and then eventually her life. Libby loses her identity and her confidence. Jack loses Eve, his family and more than he probably even realises.

This is a wonderful book I would encourage anyone to read. Right, plunging into The Rose Petal Beach now! 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Ice Cream Girls - Dorothy Koomson


When they were teenagers, both Poppy and Serena were drawn in to a relationship with the same teacher, Marcus - old enough to be their father and definitely old enough to know what he's doing. The girls are groomed initially with romance and sweet nothings, but both relationships turn darker when he becomes abusive and violent. Flash forward 20 years, and we discover Marcus was murdered. Both girls were accused. Serena was found not guilty but Poppy was sent down for it. Poppy's just been released from prison and is keen to prove her innocence - and the only way she can think to do that is by making Serena confess.

The story is told in a dual format with flash backs and forwards so you experience both the past and present concurrently.

Very much enjoyed The Ice Cream Girls. I had read a Dorothy Koomson book before which I hadn't liked very much and that had put me off reading any more of her books, but this one was excellent! The plot is outside of the normal chick lit realm, but not quite a hard boiled thriller either. Great characterisation and plot - you're never sure who to believe, or which side you're rooting for - you'll choose one side and then something will happen to change your mind. I guessed the twist, but it was still a very complicated, very intriguing plot. I read it in a few days as I couldn't put it down. Very much interested in reading more Dorothy Koomson books now. (Haven't seen the recent ITV adaptation, but I'm sure it can't be as good as the book!)

2012: A Year in Books

4/5 - Very funny, very enjoyable read.

  3.5/4 - Nice book, liked it but not vintage-y enough for me!

  1/5 - Great opening chapters, followed by a dull & predictable plot

  4.5/5 - Loved this book, great story and characters.

  2.5/5 - Okay story, a little bit slow.

 5/5 - Fantastic

 4/5 - Preferred this story to the other Julie Corbin on this list. Great characters, very tense plot!

 3.5/5 - Nice, gentle story, preferred this one to the other Alice Peterson book on this list.

  4/5 - Great story.

  5/5 - My favourite Lisa Jewell book to date. Fantastic story.

 3/5 - Quite good, compelling read.

 5/5 - Fantastic melodramatic story.

  4/5 - Strange story, but very addictive.

  4.5/5 - Lovely story, like only Alice Hoffman can write!

  5/5 - Fantastic book.

  3.5/5 - Good story, but I didn't like the ending - although a 'happy' ending wouldn't have been right either.

  5/5 - Great biography from the forgotten gangster.

  5/5 - Fantastic, gripping read.

  5/5 - A real Apple Scruff's story.

 4/5 - Unusual story for Stephen King. Very good but a bit slow in the middle.

  4.5/5 - Great read. First book I read in 2012!

Total books read: 21

Thriller/Mysterys: 7
Romance/Chick-lit: 7 
Biographies: 2
Literary Fiction: 5

Book of the year: Before I met You - Lisa Jewell
 Fave author of the year: Lisa Jewell