Book Review – ‘Roar’ by Cecelia Ahern ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollinsUK, Harper Fiction, and Cecelia Ahern for the chance to read and review this book.

This book of 30 short stories starts with the Epigraph: “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore” by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton.  I expected that sentence to set the tone for this book but it got off to a slow, rather than a roaring, start.

Having never read a book of short stories I didn’t really know what to expect but I was excited to read this book as I’ve been a big fan of Cecelia Ahern’s work ever since reading P.S I Love You many years ago.  I knew this book was not in her usual style and admittedly I found the way some of the stories were written a little difficult to get to grips with at first.

This is a book of metaphors; all the stories have a physical context to how each woman feels about herself or her life.  They all have a title that begins with ‘The Woman Who..’ and finish with things such as ‘…Slowly Disappeared’, ‘..Forgot Her Name’ and ‘…Was A Feather Brain’.  The stories were well written, if sometimes a bit odd. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this book at first but as I went on I found myself glad I’d persevered.

The stories cover a wide range of subjects from reproductive rights, transgender rights and acceptance, obsession with self, racism, sexism, confidence, and unhappy marriages. I suppose you could call this a feminist book but I think that undermines the topics covered and that while it is a book about women, it’s not just about women’s rights, it’s a book about humans and their rights.

My personal favourite stories were ‘The Woman Who Wore Her Heart On Her Sleeve’, ‘The Woman Who Grew Wings’,‘The Woman Who Walked In Her Husband’s Shoes’, ‘The Woman Who Blew Away’ and ‘The Woman Who Wore Pink’.  Some of the stories made me laugh, some were emotional, some perplexing and some heartbreaking. The subject matters were a good social commentary and I think that while I prefer the author’s usual style, she has written about important issues in an inventive and interesting way.

I would recommend this book and having short stories means it is one you can pick up at any time and enjoy as much or as little as you are able.  I would say don’t stop reading if you find you aren’t sure what to make of it at first. This book is a grower and is worth taking the time to read from beginning to end.

Out November 1st.

 

October Wrap Up

 

 

Well, October is over so it’s time for my monthly wrap up. I didn’t think I’d read many books this month but I’ve managed 13 again!  I also read most of my planned list with two exceptions to the six I settled on: I didn’t finish Song of The Damned as I just couldn’t get on with it and the price of The Shuddering doubled between planning and when I was ready to buy so I decided to read it at a later date.  

I’ve read a number of debut novels this month and have particularly enjoyed the two Historical Fiction books I read; this seems to be a genre I’m leaning towards more and more lately. This month I’ve also completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 100 books much to my amazement and it felt apt that my one hundredth read was the latest release by my favourite author.  So here’s what I’ve read this past month:

1. ‘The Impossible Girl’ by Lydia Kang ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Not only was this my first read of the month but it is also my favourite.  It is a historical fiction about a girl born with two hearts who has been forced to hide her condition all her life, even living as a boy for many years, so she doesn’t end up as a curiosity to be examined or displayed at a museum.  I’ve always lived the era this book was set in and also have a fascination with the history of medicine, so this was a perfect read for me. It is a beautifully written and remarkable book that I couldn’t put down.

2. ‘Matilda at 30’ by Roald Dahl⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – A children’s classic that, unbelievably to me turned 30 this year. I loved this book as a child and enjoyed rereading as an adult. This book stands the test of time and is as funny and fresh today as when it was released.

3. ‘The Winters’ by Lisa Gabriele ⭐⭐⭐⭐– Inspired by the classic novel ‘Rebecca’ this is a story of a young woman who marries an older man after a whirlwind romance. Upon their arrival at his ancestral home she is unwelcomed by his teenage daughter and finds herself in the midst of dark secrets that could not only threaten her marriage but her life. A breathtaking combination of romance, mystery and thriller this book deserved it’s title of “October’s book of the month” from Netgalley.

4. ‘The Visitors’ by Catherine Burns  ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I had never actually read a horror book before but was drawn to this debut novel. There was fear in every facet of this story from the start. Marion and John are brother and sister who live together in their run down childhood home. Marion seems scared of John and in the basement also live The Visitors, a mysterious and ominous presence that we know little about until the book nears its end. A scary and riveting read.

5.‘Who Is She’ by Ben Cheetham ⭐⭐⭐ – Sadly this book didn’t live up to it’s great synopsis and promising start.

6. ‘Keep You Safe’ by Rona Halsall ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – A gripping debut novel about a woman who has just been released from prison after serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. Her only thoughts are of finding and protecting her young son and uncovering the real criminal that set her up. An easy and exciting read.

7. ‘Roar’ by Cecelia Ahern ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I’d never read a book of short stories before and overall I enjoyed this book. It covers a wide range of topics from reproductive rights to sexism and unhappy marriages. Not all the stories were great but it was a good read an perfect for when you only have a short time to pick up a book.

8. ‘The Doll Collector’ by Joanna Stephen-Ward ⭐⭐ – This book was disappointing and not at all like the synopsis. You’re sold a book of murder and suspense but most of the killings at historic and it is more focused on the character’s so-called romance. The character was also annoying and boring and the plot predictable.

9. ‘Perfect Silence’ by Helen Fields ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The author blew me away with this book. It is her best yet. A tense thriller about a sadistic killer who kidnaps his victims then cuts away skin from their back and abdomen, leaving them to slowly bleed to death. The skin is then made into a doll that is the replica of the victim. I love how this author writes: her vivid descriptions the horror, anticipation and suspense. I found this book impossible to put down.

10. ‘This Lie Will Kill You’ by Chelsea Pitcher ⭐⭐⭐ – This book sounded great but unfortunately fell flat. It started well but became predictable and the characters became one dimensional. The bad guy was obvious so there was no big reveal and the ending felt like a let down.

11. ‘A Spark of Light’ by Jodi Picoult ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – My 100th book of 2018 and a book I’ve been waiting all year for.  I consoled myself with the fact I was missing the UK release and book tour by buying a copy on holiday in the US and reading it on the beach. Jodi Picoult never shies away from controversial topics and this book is possibly her most controversial yet as it deals with the pro-choice/pro-life debate. A Spark of Light is a spectacular, important and unforgettable novel that is well researched and written without judgement of either side. It shows you how life isn’t black and white and how two people with opposing views can ultimately make very different choices for the same reason. I enjoyed the way this book started at the end even though it took a little getting used to. A must read.

12. ‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Due for release in May 2019 this debut novel is a captivating piece of historical fiction. Set in Victorian London in the world of Pre-Raphaelite art it is a tale of self discovery, love, obsession and darkness. Iris, who paints dolls and aspires to be a true artist, meets Silas, a taxidermist, while watching The Great Exhibition be erected. She soon forget the encounter while he is sure he’s found true love. Iris later leaves the Doll Factory and becomes an artist’s model and learns to paint, opening up a new world to her. Meanwhile Silas feels rejected and his obsession grows, leading him to make dark plans to ensure Iris falls in love with him.

13. ‘Before Her Eyes’ by Jack Jordan ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Naomi, who has been blind since birth, is struggling living in her small town and considering ending her life. When she stumbles on the lifeless body of a young woman she senses someone is close by and the hunt for the killer begins. But though she can’t see them, they can see her and they are intent on making her suffer and scared for her life. I haven’t yet posted my review but I loved this book and thought thought making the main character blind added a level of fear to the story that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

Are there any books here you’ve read, are on your tbr pile or you’re looking forward to? How many books did you read this month? Comment below.

Thank you to Jack Jordan for my copy of Before Her Eyes, and to NetGalley, publishers and authors for my copies of Matilda, The Winters, Keep You Safe, Perfect Silence, Roar, The Doll Collector, This Lie Will Kill You and The Doll Factory.

Book Review – ‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal 🌟🌟🌟🌟

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Thank you to Picador Books, NetGalley and Elizabeth Macneal for the chance to read and review this novel.

“Picador’s most spectacular debut for 2019”

The Doll Factory, the debut novel by Elizabeth Macneal, is an intoxicating story of art, obsession and possession.

London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is an encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for a Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint.  Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love. But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening……

This magnificent debut novel is set in the world of Pre-Raphaelite art in Victorian London. It hosts a variety of characters: twin sisters who make dolls for their overbearing mistress, a lonely taxidermist with a sinister side, a loveable street urchin, painters, prostitutes and more. This cast that often seem to have nothing in common are all connected by their struggle to survive and find meaning and magic in the everyday aspects of life.

We start with a mysterious girl who spends her nights secretly painting by candlelight, trying not to wake her sister or mistress.  We later learn this girl is Iris, who works at the Doll Factory painting the porcelain heads and limbs of the custom-made orders, while her twin sister, Rose, sews the details onto their clothing. They work 12 to 20 hours a day with little rest and Iris dreams is escaping her life and painting like a true artist.

Our other main character is Silas, who owns Silas Reed’s Shop of Curiosities Antique and New. He is fascinated by the deformed beauty in the world and makes up histories for the animals he works on. Silas is a proud man who knows he’s destined for greatness and deserves greater respect than he is afforded. A lonely man, he daydreams of his lost love, a girl named Flick, who disappeared when the pair were teenagers and left him heartbroken.

Iris and Silas meet when introduced by Albie, a lovable street urchin who collects and sells dead animals to Silas and also sews skirts and dresses for the dolls made at the factory.  While Iris instantly forgets the encounter, Silas is immediately smitten and is sure that she feels the same. He is so taken with her that when one of the painters who buy his animals to capture in their paintings complains he is unable to finish his latest creation as he no longer has a model, Silas suggests Iris. Louis then approaches her to offer the position and after some negotiations she leaves behind her sister and The Doll Factory to become his model and learn how to paint.

While Iris is enjoying her new freedom and all the opportunities now open to her, Silas is brooding. He has convinced himself that Iris is in love with him too but as moments of reality seep in and he feels rejected by her, we see a worrisome darkness creep in. It seems he will go to any lengths to be with her and make her love him.  Albie sees his obsession and becomes increasingly worried for Iris. He tries to warn Louis but his concerns are dismissed as Silas is seen as a joke, weird but harmless. Will this nonchalance be Iris’s undoing or will Silas be stopped before he can carry out his plan?

I was mesmerised by the beautiful cover of this book from the moment I saw it. When I read the synopsis I knew it was a book I needed to read.  I was right. The author has written a captivating piece of historical fiction with characters you will love and loathe, bringing the world they inhabit to life vividly with intricate details of the time period in which it’s set. I would highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read more from this promising and talented new author.

Out May 2nd.

Book Review – ‘A Spark of Light’ by Jodi Picoult 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

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“It stood to reason that both life and death began with a spark of light.”

Jodi Picoult has done it again.  A Spark of Light is a well written, well researched, culturally and socially relevant book.  Although it is a difficult read at times I do believe it’s an important one. Ms Picoult has never shied away from controversial or difficult subjects and with this novel she tackles what can be one of the most dividing and emotive issues there is.

I have never read a book written in a reverse timescale before. I found it strange starting at the end so to speak, and initially found it hard to get to grips with. But after a few chapters I was used to it and began to enjoy the novelty of it and couldn’t wait to see how the author takes us back in time and reveals what brought each person to the Center that day.  Obviously we know some things from the outset: 15-year-old Wren is there with her Auntie Bex, Hugh is the hostage negotiator and Wren’s father, Dr Louie Ward is the doctor who works at the Centre, Izzy is a nurse and assists him with the wounded, Joy is there for an abortion, Janine is a pro-life protester working undercover, and the shooter, George, is there for revenge after his daughter had an abortion. But as always there is more to their stories; layers that when peeled back reveal hidden secrets and false assumptions and how the characters lives are entwined in unexpected ways.

As you can imagine, this book is not an easy read for many reasons.  It can be graphic in it’s medical descriptions and heartbreaking at times.  In particular I found the scene involving a fifteen week abortion hard as I almost lost my son at that stage of pregnancy. However, it was informative and sensitivity written, and I felt for the character who hadn’t wanted to wait until that point for her abortion.  

One of the reasons that Jodi Picoult has been my favourite author ever since I bought and read My Sister’s Keeper when it was first released is how well she researches her subjects. For A Spark of Light she spoke with 151 women who’d had a termination, interviewed pro-life activists, shadowed a doctor who performs terminations and even observed some procedures at various stages of pregnancy. This thorough research is obvious in the depth of factual details in the story.  Another reason I love her work is that she doesn’t tell the reader what to think. In this book she writes without judgement of either side of the debate and leaves you to make up your own mind. I found it easy to relate to each of the characters, even if I didn’t agree with their viewpoints.

I bought this book while on holiday in the States. Despite having a signed copy on order I was gutted to miss meeting her on her book tour.  So on a late night whim while driving from St Louis to Alabama, I bought A Spark of Light in a Walmart in Mississippi, it having been released four weeks earlier in the US than it was due in the UK. At the time I didn’t know it was set in that state so purchasing it there later felt serendipitous.  I do think that being in the US during this time of such huge debate about the abortion issue helped me have a deeper appreciation for the book and just how important and relevant it is. As a UK resident I was unprepared for the multiple pro-life billboards as we drove along the highway in both Northern and Southern States. Although I would have no doubt still enjoyed the novel I feel being here while reading it gave me a connection to it that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The author has written a spectacular, gripping book that is also informative and unforgettable.  It shows you how nothing is ever black and white, there are many shades of gray and that these things affect our decisions, choices and views in life. It can lead to two people making very different courses of action for exactly the same reasons. I found this quote particularly poignant: “We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”

Out today.

Book Review – ‘Perfect Silence’ by Helen Fields 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

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Thank you to NetGalley, Avon books UK, Avon and Helen Fields for the chance to read and review this book.

“Death was a slowly creeping monster, and the terror was almost unbearable.”

The body of a young girl is found dumped on the roadside in the outskirts of Edinburgh.  When pathologists examine the remains, they make a gruesome discovery: the outline of a doll carved into the victim’s skin.

DCI Ava Turner and DC Luc Callanach are struggling to find leads in the case, until a doll made of skin is found nestled beside an abandoned baby.

After another young woman is found butchered, Luc and Ava realise the babydoll like is playing a horrifyingly game.  And it’s only a matter of time before he strikes again. Can they stop another victim from being silenced forever – or is it already too late?

Wow! Helen Fields blew me away with this book. It was her best yet and contained some of the most sickening killings and a serial killer that is among the most sadistic you’ll find. After finishing this book I was sat in shock and awe at just how brilliant it was. This was truly the perfect read to help me out of a reading slump.

Perfect Silence is book four in this series and bring back with DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner in Scotland feels like reconnecting with old friends.  By this point you know the Team but for anyone reading this as their first book in the series enough information is given for it to make sense and work as a stand alone book. Though I can’t imagine you not wanting to read the previous books after such a fantastic story and I would highly recommended the previous novels.

The horror faced by the first victim, Zoey, as her life ebbs away is a riveting and captivating start to the book. We witness her desperate battle to escape and survive the madman who kidnapped and butchered her, get a glimpse into her tragic life as she reflects on what led her to this moment, and feel her finally accept her cruel fate as she embraces the sweet release of death.

As Ava, Luc and their team hunt for the person who is kidnapping young women, killing them and making macabre skin dolls they find they come up with very few clues. How is he choosing his victims? Why is he killing them? Why make the dolls?

It isn’t until victim four is taken that they finally get some answers and as the police are closing in on their suspect the minutes are ticking by, my heart pounds and the switches in narration between the Ava and the woman being held make the wait agonising. Will they get there in time to rescue her or will a final victim be claimed? Will they capture the dollbaby killer or will they elude them? It is almost too much to bear as we race to the finish line with what seems to be the speed of a tortoise.

Right up until the police are about to knock on their door I’d had no idea as to the killer’s true identity other than the snippets the writer had teasingly fed us along the way. This made the big reveal satisfying for both the reader and fictional detectives.

The tension from the opening chapter is maintained throughout this book and I couldn’t put it down. I love how this author writes: her vivid descriptions, the apprehension that grips you from the first page, the horror mixed in with human empathy and kindness, the awfulness of meeting your fate at the hands of a maniac and knowing you are powerless to change it and the hope you can’t quite lose until that final moment death comes. These things blended together and set amongst the mundane details of everyday life create a story that gets it’s hooks into you the minute you start reading and doesn’t let go until the last sentence. Helen Fields has created one of the best Detective/Crime Series available. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Mystery, Thrillrime books.

Out Now

Book Review – ‘This Lie Will Kill You’ by Chelsea Pitcher ⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster UK Children’s and Chelsea Pitcher for the chance to read this book.

One year ago, there was a party.  At the party, someone died. Five teens all played a part and up until now, no one has told the truth.

But tonight, the five survivors arrive at an isolated mansion in the hills, expecting to compete in a contest with a $50,00 prize… Instead, they realise they’ve been lured together by a person bent on revenge who wants to finally unravel the truth about what actually happened that deadly night, one year ago.

I was excited by the synopsis of this book and was sure I’d love it. It started well with an opening chapter that flashed back to the night of the party when a teenage boy was killed and a mysterious girl swears revenge on those who caused his demise. There was a sense of foreboding and eerie atmosphere that made me eager to keep reading.  The following five chapters introduced our five main characters and I loved that each got their own chapter where we learned about them and snippets of how they were implicated in the events of the party.

Unfortunately, as the characters gathered together at the mansion to compete for the scholarship the story began to lose it’s way. While there were some creepy elements at this point, such as the rooms they were all given, I felt these were not explored to their full potential and became secondary to the asinine antics of the characters, who also became overly clichéd and one-dimensional. My initial connection to Ruby faltered and I didn’t feel enough for any of the characters to really hold an interest in what happened to them.

The atmosphere and tension did increase a little as you reached the story’s climax but the fact that the bad guy had been obvious pretty much all along took away that edge-of-your-seat rush to get to the big, exciting reveal.

The author of this book does have a very poetic writing style in places that I loved, but sadly the lack of mystery and suspense took away from my overall enjoyment of the novel.

Out December 27th.

Book Review – ‘The Doll Collector’ by Joanna Stephen-Ward ⭐⭐

 

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Murders that look like accidents.  An accident that look like murder.

Thank you to NetGalley, Bloodhound Books and Joanna Stephen-Ward for the chance to read this book.

Gloria seems like your average boring, frumpy woman next door who is a little too clingy and desperate to have any real friends or kind of relationship.  But underneath all that normalcy lurks a woman who is driven to kill. She doesn’t like killing, or at least that’s what she tells herself and her doll collection, and she doesn’t know why people are cruel to her and make her kill them.  But they do. So each time she kills she adds another doll to her collection and moves on in her quest for love and acceptance.

The book started off well and I enjoyed the opening chapter and it’s chilling final two sentences whispered to her dolls about more joining her collection and was excited to read what Gloria would do next.  I liked the early 90s setting of the story and the small moments of nostalgia it offered. Reading references to things such as doing the pools and using phone boxes took me back to my youth. I think setting the story in this era worked well as a lot of things the various characters did wouldn’t have been possible with a modern timeline.

Unfortunately I felt that overall the synopsis of this book was a case of false advertising: the murders Gloria commits are mostly historic, she shows no sense of buying dolls for ‘satisfaction’ and she kills only because she feels they’ve driven her too it with their mistreatment of her rather than because she craves it. The thrills in this book were lacking and it concentrated more on her “romance” with Maurice and the subplot of the saga of his housing situation than it did on her killings.  Gloria is a very judgmental and bitter character but instead of this making her interesting and someone you love to hate, I found her quite bland and boring and was unable to connect with her or be invested in anything that she did or that happened to her.. Maurice was a better character but I found the story predictable and lacking in any real excitement. I think the book might have been a better read if it had deliberately focused on Maurice and Gloria had been a secondary character.

Out November 24th