Book review – ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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This month’s #frydayfavourite – where we post a 5 star read from before bookstagram – is one of the last books I read before I joined. I did write a full review as at that time I’d started reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads but I realised I’ve never posted it on here. 

Also, I know I’m nearly two weeks late getting this post up on the blog. I will make sure the #frydayfavourite is posted here on the same day as on Instagram in September.

SYNOPSIS:

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life.

She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy.

Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything……

REVIEW:

Eleanor lives a secluded and strictly scheduled life. She seems to have no friends but says she’s “fine”. Social rules and graces are very important to Eleanor and she laments at the decline of manners and people skills in today’s society. She is also immensely naive about life and wonders why she’s seen as weird when, to her, everyone else is strange. She is the regular butt of the office jokes, talks to no one besides the shopkeeper every weekend, has had no visitors to her house in a year and is tremendously lonely. Eleanor also has secrets about her past that she seems unwilling to face herself and the reader is given just small glimpses of what is haunting her nightmares.

The author paints a vivid picture of Eleanor’s colourful and quirky personality from the start. I found myself creasing with laughter and cringing with second hand embarrassment at her antics and misunderstanding of what to us are normal aspects of life. I was rooting for her even when she was wrong, getting angry at the way “Mummy” talks to her with such venom and hoping she will find the love and happiness she deserves.. Eleanor isn’t your typical heroine, and that’s why you’ll fall in love with her; she’s socially awkward, doesn’t get cultural references and, is unashamedly herself despite it leading to others calling her weird. I found her both frustrating and oddly endearing. The writing was so emotive that Eleanor became real to me. I was living in her and my heart broke with hers.

A phenomenal and powerful story about loneliness, how we are able to survive the worst of times and how a little kindness and love can transform a person’s life.

As I neared the end of this book I couldn’t foresee what the ending would be. I was sad to say goodbye to Eleanor and am (not so secretly) hoping for a follow up. Whether or not that happens I am sure I’ll return to her again between the pages of this book.  

Review: ‘The Retreat’ by Sherri Smith ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy Publication Day Sherri Smith and her gripping thriller The Retreat. Thank you to Titan books for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.7

SYNOPSIS:

Sherri Smith illuminates the dark side of the self-care and wellness industry in a thrilling ride of revenge perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers. The Retreat is a twisting, bone-chilling suspense that asks: how well do you really know your friends?

Four women.

Four secrets.

A weekend that will change them forever..if they survive.

Katie Manning was a beloved child star until her mid-teens when her manager attacked and permanently scarred her face, effectively ending her career and sending her on a path of all-too-familiar-post-Hollywood  self-destruction.

Now twenty-seven, Katie wants a better answer to those clickbait “Where Are They Now?” articles that float around online. An answer she hopes to find when her brother’s too-good-to-be-true fiancee invites her to a wellness retreat upstate. Together with Katie’s two best friends – one struggling with crippling debt and family obligations, one running away from a failed job and relationship – Katie will try to find the inner peace promised at the tranquil retreat. But finding oneself just might drudge up more memories than Katie is prepared to deal with.

Each woman has come to the retreat for very different reasons. Each has her secrets to hide. And at the end of this weekend, only one will be left standing. 

“This place made a killer out of me.”

The Retreat is a dark and twisted tale of secrets, lies, hate, revenge and murder. It starts with a chilling prologue that had me immediately hooked. 

Former child star Katie Manning has been wandering aimlessly through life ever since her T.V show ended over a decade ago. Her recent planned comeback has been scrapped afTer she drunkenly wrote a homophobic tweet, leaving her with no idea what to do next. Her brother Nate encourages her to go on a wellness retreat with  his fiancee Ellie to see if she can find focus in life and heal her demons. It’s the last thing she wants to do, particularly with someone she can’t stand, but she agrees for her brother and secretly invites her two best friends, Ariel and Carmen, along with them. We soon discover that each of them have things they’re hiding from the others and things that they’re running from. 

When they arrive at the retreat they’re greeted by the owners, Naomi and Dr. Dave. The couple look like strange cult members, insist everyone give up their phones and declare that everyone can become a new person in one weekend if they follow their instructions. Ellie seems excited, while the other girls are skeptical and disappointed; this isn’t the spa like sanctuary they thought they signed up for. As the weekend progresses it’s clear that none of them will leave the retreat the same person. If they leave at all…

I really enjoyed this novel. It was atmospheric and the opening chapter gave the book as sense of foreboding that made me excited for what was coming. 

The four girls each narrate the story offering a great insight into their experience and different perspectives on the retreat. I liked that each of them were multilayered and had depth. Katie and Ellie were the hardest to like but were fun to read. Katie was the perfect spoiled, out of touch Hollywood brat but I did feel for her being made to be the family breadwinner at such a young age and how she didn’t have parents who cared past the money she made. Her only parental figure was her manager who betrayed her and disfigured her in an attack that essentially ended her career at just 15. She’s a lost soul and I really wanted her to find meaning in life beyond money and her former career and feel able to just be herself instead of the former child star. My heart broke for her as she started to remember things she’d long repressed and I understood why she was so messed up. It was a great reminder of that money and fame are far from a guarantee of a good and happy life. With Ellie I had a radar go off about what her real motivations were in her relationship with Nate from early on. She seemed to be harbouring the biggest secrets and have secret motivations for everything she did. She was also very controlling but battled to contain it in order to keep up her perfect facade. 

The girl I probably liked most was Carmen. She was intelligent, level headed and caring, though I felt for what she was going through in having to be the provider and carer for her father and siblings. It’s clear she had a bright career ahead of her until life got in the way and the parallels with Katie as the family breadwinner, albeit in a completely different capacity and wage bracket, were interesting. Especially in how it affected their relationship. Lastly there was Ariel. I had a lot of sympathy for her lack of confidence and need to be loved, even if the choices she makes are questionable and she came off desperate a lot of the time. She seemed like a lovely girl underneath it all if only she could finally feel loved and accepted for who she is. 

At varying times I suspected three of the four might be the mysterious person in the prologue before settling on who I thought was the one. In the end the identity of the survivor involved many twists and was far more complex than I imagined and I was on tenterhooks as we reached the story’s shocking, macabre and gruesome climax and finally learned the answers to our questions and the identity of the final girl.

Out today. 

One year of Bookstagram

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Today is my first “bookstaversary”.

It was Book Lovers Day and I decided this was the perfect day to take the leap I’d been considering for about a month and start a page dedicated to book reviewing. When I did I had no idea that I was joining such a kind, loving and supportive community. I didn’t know that I would find people I now consider genuine friends. I didn’t know that I would find a home.

I had been unable to work due to multiple chronic health conditions for seven years at this point and had spent that time languishing and without any real sense of purpose, particularly as my children got older and I became sicker and less able to do things around the house. I was a prolific reader since childhood but I’d not been reading much over the last few years because pain and brain fog made it so difficult. But in December 2017 I gave in and asked for a kindle for Christmas, hoping it would mean I’d be able to read more without the pain of holding a book. Despite how hard it is to read because of varying levels of brain fog, I found that I was now reading every day and consuming more books than ever. I started to share my thoughts on my personal Instagram and people told me I should write reviews. So I did. I followed a few book bloggers after finding one of them when I was looking for a pretty picture to share and crediting one of them in a post and it started me thinking that maybe I should start a page too.  This led to me starting a blog on September 9th as my reviews often didn’t fit into the 2,200 characters allowed on Instagram. As well as creating these accounts I joined NetGalley and an obsession began. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to read an review books before they’re released.

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My first post on my bookstagram account

When I joined bookstagram my only wish was to share my love of books. I didn’t expect to get many followers, after all who’d be interested in what little old me had to say about books? A year later I’m in awe at how it has grown and that so many people are interested in my reviews and recommendations or that I’d be taking part in blog tours.

I couldn’t let today pass without an acknowledgement or without something special so I asked my boyfriend to design me a new logo. He’s a fantastic artist and I was very happy with what he came up with  on his phone.

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What do you think of the new logo?

Book reviewing has given me back a purpose in my life and brings me so much joy. This last year I’ve been happier because of it and because of the wonderful people I’ve met. Thank you to every one of you for following and for your friendship. I’m excited to see where this blog and my bookstagram are in another year.

 

Review: ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite ⭐⭐⭐.5

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SYNOPSIS:

My Sister, The Serial Killer is a backly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach.  This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

MY REVIEW:

“Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

The first line of this book sent shivers down my spine. I’d been excited to read this much-hyped book for a while and was pleased when it was chosen as July’s book for my book club. But sadly this was a book that didn’t live up to it’s promise or the hype.

It started well and had a lot of good points. Initially there was a lot of tension: would the sisters get caught at the crime scene and while disposing of the body? Will the social media search for the victim lead to their exposure? I like the short chapters and though I never quite got to grips with the Nigerian-English, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. 

Korede and Ayoola had what is understandably a tense relationship, though to those who don’t know Ayoola’s deadly secret it seems Korede is unnecessarily harsh towards her and even gets accused of victim shaming when others believe Ayoola’s lies. I liked her character for the most part and understood her desire to protect her little sister as it must be a complex range of feelings to have someone you love do such terrible things and ask for your help. Korede seemed like a decent person put in an impossible situation. She’s forever scared of being found out while Ayoola seems unbothered by her crimes and doesn’t understand why her sister is edgy and anxious. She sees herself as the victim, claiming each man died in an act of self-defense, though this seems a sketchy claim from the evidence. There were also things in their past that were teased that I was excited to learn more about and if that could be where Ayoola’s “tendencies” began.

Unfortunately, for me things soon went wrong as the atmosphere evaporated in a novel that was too lighthearted for its subject matter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like black humour – Sweetpea is one of my favourite books and Rhiannon a character I love – but I just didn’t think it was done well in this book. Instead of funny it came across flat. 

Once the tension had gone the story plodded on mundanely before ending abruptly in a way that made me really mad. I can’t say too much about why because I do think everyone should make up their own minds about any book and I don’t want to spoil things for anyone yet to read it. I felt as if the author had written a longer book and explored some of the plot points in greater detail then this would have been a great book. Instead it felt too short, unsatisfying, lacking in depth and like everything was tied up in a bow far too neatly. So, I’m joining #blacksheepofbookstagram in being one of the few people to say this one didn’t live up to the hype and wasn’t for me.

Out now.

Review: ‘What Happens Now?’ by Sophia Money-Coutts ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

‘No question about it, there are two purple lines. I’m pregnant’

After eight years together, Lil Bailey thought that she’d already found ‘the one’ – that is, until he dumped her for a blonde twenty-something colleague. So she does what any self-respecting singleton would do: swipes right, puts on her best bra, and finds herself on a first date with a handsome mountaineer called Max. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well it’s pretty bad actually. First Max ghosts her and then, after weeing on a stick (but mostly her hands), a few weeks later Lil discovers she’s pregnant. She’s single, thirty-one and living in a thimble-sized flat in London, it’s hardly the happily-ever-after she was looking for.

Lil’s ready to do the baby thing on her own – it can’t be that hard right? But she should probably tell Max, if she can track him down. Surely he’s’ not that Max, the highly eligible, headline-grabbing son of Lord and Lady Rushbrooke, currently trekking up a mountain in South Asia? Oh, maybe he wasn’t ignoring Lil after all…

REVIEW:

Side-splittingly funny, hypnotic, steamy, honest and outrageous, this book was one that I didn’t expect to fall in love with, but I was engrossed and devoured it in practically one sitting. You couldn’t tear me away and I never wanted it to end. 

When Lil braved the world of online dating and reluctantly headed off on her first date since splitting with her boyfriend of eight years, she gets much more than she bargained for. She is surprised to hit it off with Max, her charming and deliciously handsome date, and enjoys a steamy sleepless night with him, but when he ignores her afterwards she decides to forget him. Only that won’t be so easy. A few weeks later two little lines confirm she’s pregnant with his baby and she has no idea what to do next. It’s not the right time or way to have a baby but what if this is her only chance? But could she actually keep a baby alive? And how will she tell her feminist mother and strait-laced boss that she’s accidentally knocked up with the baby of a man she doesn’t know? And what if Max wants to be involved? This mesmerising book follows Lil as she tries to navigate her complicated situation and finds out what happens now…

Sophia Money-Couts now has herself a new fan. I fell in love with her writing style and immediately bought her first book after finishing this one. Riveting, saucy and hilarious, I was laughing out loud by the end of the first page and I it made me laugh more than any other book I’ve read. The characters are fantastic – I loved Lil, was seduced a little bit by Max, and Jess is the bestie every girl hopes to have. The author perfectly describes some of the perils of online dating and how daunting it is to be back out there after many years in a relationship. She managed to convey all the anxieties and concerns Lil had in a realistic way while also making me laugh. The sex scenes were hot and hilarious. Lil’s inner monologue in those scenes had me crying with laughter. I think all of us can relate to some of the cringy things in those scenes though I  can honestly say I’d never before thought of others – I’ll just say dolphin on the duvet!

The romance genre is one I’ve never been a huge fan of but I’ve been expanding my reading with increasingly this last year. After a run of great books in this genre this one still stands out and has now left me declaring that I am in love with this genre. What better way is there to spend a glorious summer day that with an uplifting and uproarious book? Perfect for sitting in the sun with a drink in your hand, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. So if you like to laugh and don’t mind some steamy sex, this book for you. 

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ and Sophia Money-Coutts for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publication date: August 22nd

Review: ‘At Your Door’ by J. P. Carter ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Happy publication day to J.P Carter and the amazing second installment in the DCI Anna Tate series.

SYNOPSIS:

What happens when the past comes back to kill you?

When DCI Anna Tate is called to the gruesome discovery of a woman found on Barnes Common, she is plunged into a high profile investigation involving a prominent MP. London is baying for blood – but is there more to Holly’s death than first meets the eye?

Meanwhile, the hunt is on for Anna’s missing daughter Chloe, who vanished ten years ago when her father kidnapped her. The case has been cold for what feels like forever – but a phone call brings a new lead…

Can Anna solve the murder case whilst dealing with her own personal demons? Or is someone from the past planning to get in her way?

REVIEW:

Bravo, Mr. Carter. Bravo. Nothing in this book happened as I expected and I loved it. I was on the edge of my seat guessing what would happen right until the final page and I didn’t see either ending happening coming until it smacked me in the face and my jaw was on the floor. This was a surprising, salacious, emotive, tense and gripping thriller that exceeded my expectations and left me thirsty for more…

DCI Anna Tate and her colleagues at the Major Investigation Team have barely had time to draw breath after their last high profile case when the body of 23-year-old Holly Blake is found and they’re plunged head-first into a case that will put them under more pressure than ever before. It seems to be a simple case of revenge and murder, but as the investigation continues shocking secrets are revealed, and multiple suspects come to light. As the complexity increases, so does the pressure to make an arrest, but it seems every time they find an answer to one question, another three take its place. 

Simultaneously, the decade-long search for Anna’s missing daughter, Chloe, seems to finally be gaining momentum and she finally has real hope of them being reunited. But she darent get up her hopes too much or allow herself to be distracted from her job so she throws herself into the hunt for Holly’s killer while waiting for what she hopes is the call she’s longed for.

I already knew from the first book that I loved Anna. Her ability to compartemtalise her personal and professional lives even when her mother’s heart must have been screaming to forget about her job and go find her daughter, was remarkable. We saw her strength and how she refused to be intimidated or bow down to pressure, instead searching for the truth and being determined to get justice for Holly. She is a fantastic character and everything in this book made me love her more. 

Poor Sophie. My heart broke for her as revelations saw her world crumble and she was left with an impossible dilemma, a true “Sophie’s choice”. She was superbly written and I loved how she was such a big focus of this book. Her story was vital to Anna’s hunt for Chloe and made the matter more convoluted, no longer simply a case of rooting for mother and daughter to be reunited. I was riveted by the twists in this part of the tale, intrigued by what Sophie was hiding, and found myself wishing there was a way for all parties to come out of this happily. 

The author also wrote some great villains in this book. Nathan was sleazy, vile, aggressive and just simply a disgusting person that I never felt an ounce of sympathy for. From the first moment he’s introduced he made me both furious and cringe at the same time. And then there’s Bruno. His sickening plot for revenge surpassed any other evil in this book. He is a psychopath in every sense of the word and the author gave me chills whenever this character was on the page. 

To create such amazing characters that inspire such a range of feelings in the reader, and write two stories that both maintain momentum and keep you hooked throughout, shows what a skilled writer the author is. He will distract you, letting you think you know the outcome, and then hit you with the truth so suddenly you’re left dazed and confused. I was in tears by the end of this book, my heart was broken and yet I wanted more. 

If you love readable police procedurals, great characters, gruesome murder scenes and addictive, twisty thrillers, then this is the book, and the series, for you. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Avon Books UK and J. P. Carter for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Out today. 

 

BLOG TOUR: ‘The Darkest Summer’ by Ella Drummond ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

 

Today is my stop on #TheDarkestSummer blog tour.

Thank you to Sarah Hardy at BOTBS Publicity for the invitation to be part of the blog tour.

SYNOPSIS:

One hot summer, Dee disappeared. Now she’s back…but she’s not the girl you knew.

Sera and Dee were the best of friends.

Until the day that Dee and her brother Leo vanished from Sera’s life, during a long hot summer thirty years ago.

Now Sera is an adult, with her own child, five-year-old Katie, and has returned to her childhood home after her husband’s death.

While she grieves, the past haunts Sera at every turn … and then Dee and Leo return to their small Hampshire village, along with Dee’s young daughter.

But Dee is silent and haunted by her demons; no longer the fun-loving girl that Sera loved. And when Sera uncovers the shocking secret that Dee is hiding, it’s clear that the girl she knew is long gone – and that the adult she has grown into might put all of them in danger…

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REVIEW:

This twisty, readable book is perfect for a hot summer’s day. You can practically feel the heat sizzling from the pages as the author vividly describes the sweltering weather and fires. It is a mystery filled with dark secrets, murder and life-changing revelations.

For fifteen years Sera has wondered what became of her best friend, Dee, and her family after they disappeared suddenly one day that hot summer. When she sees Dee’s brother Leo back in town she’s hoping that she finally gets answers and the chance to rekindle her lost friendship. But it is soon apparent that Dee and Leo aren’t the people she used to know, and that there seems to be something sinister about the secrets they’re keeping. Maybe inviting them into her home wasn’t the wisest thing to do…

The Darkest Summer is set in the New Forest in the present day with flashbacks to the summers of 1990 and 2003. The scenery of the New Forest is described with breathtaking beauty and is a large part of the story. I spent my formative years near that area and as I read it conjured up images of my youth spending time in places like the ones Sera describes. It is an almost idyllic place to be and I was so fully immersed in the book that I really felt like I was back there.

As well as our main storyline there are numerous subplots that run parallel in the flashbacks and ultimately merge together, though I couldn’t see how some of them would. I loved the clever twists and turns the author wrote that made seemingly mismatched the pieces fit together. 

One subplot was Henri, the Sera’s new neighbour. I had a soft spot for Henri from the start and had a gut feeling he was a good guy, so I was hoping I’d be proven right. I loved the blossoming friendship between him and Sera and the mystery surrounding his past. I had no predictions about his past so I thoroughly enjoyed she surprises in his storyline. The subplot concerning Mimi and Hazel was also fascinating and I enjoyed learning more about both mothers and how they came to be the women their daughters now know, particularly Mimi as she’s not the warmest character in the book. 

This book was filled with a host of colourful characters, each of which I loved for different reasons. Sera, our main narrator and our protagonist, was a great character. She and her daughter Katie moved back to her hometown to live with her mother three years ago after her husband died suddenly. She’s still working through her grief and feels suffocated at times by her mother, who she’s always had a difficult relationship with. When she was a child her single mother was mostly learning lines or away working, so she got little of the attention she craved. Instead, she found maternal attention from Hazel, her best friend Dee’s mother, who was the cool, vivacious, affectionate mother she dreamed of. She and Dee were inseparable, had many things in common, and Sera spent most of her time on their farm and felt a part of their family so their sudden disappearance cut her deeply. She’s never recovered from that loss so rekindling those relationships is a dream come true when Dee and her brother Leo first come back into her life and, as a reader I was rooting for that, and for the potential relationship between Sera and Leo. 

Dee was so well written that despite the massive change in her personality and how moody and dismissive she is as an adult, I had a lot of sympathy for her. It seemed like she must have been through something extremely traumatic as she was showing signs of mental health issues and possibly PTSD. Her refusal to talk about anything that had happened was suspicious, especially as Leo was cagey too, but I hoped it was just that she was too traumatised to discuss it yet and he was respecting her wishes. The author made the many facets of her personality completely believable but like Sera I too got tired of her outbursts, how she controlled the entire household with them, her taking advantage of people, and with her strange behaviour towards her daughter. By the end I couldn’t stand her and wanted Sera to get as far away from her as possible. 

This intriguing story started slowly and built the tension steadily until it became a crescendo in the last third of the book. It didn’t feel like a tense thriller but was full of mystery and had me guessing throughout. The many twists and turns were mostly unpredictable, with one in particular completely blindsiding me and turning so much of what I had predicted on its head. 

I hadn’t read any of the author’s books before this one but when I read the description I was sold and I will definitely read more of her work. A compelling, character-driven summer read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys mysteries and literary fiction.

Thank you to Sarah Hardy, Hera Books, Ella Drummond and NetGalley the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Out Now.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Ella Drummond recently signed a two-book deal with Hera Books. Her first psychological thriller, My Last Lie is out now and The Darkest Summer will be out on 18 July 2019 and is available for pre-order.

She lives with her husband on the island of Jersey and you can follow her on Twitter @drummondella1 and Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/EllaDrummondWrites/  

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