Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 1.

The first part of this week’s catch up on the books I read in July and August.

Reasonable Force by C.T. Sullivan. Pegasus Publishing.
This book is a debut novel published by an independent publisher and therefore something that would generally pass beneath my radar. I was approached for a review however and the book sounded interesting to me, so I duly received a copy and got reading.

There are a number of plotlines within this book, they’re well balanced and directly affect one another so that as something changes for one character you find yourself wondering what impact that’s going to have on the other characters. The initial event, where Nick kills an intruder and Nathan advises him on how to cover it up, throws up some interesting discussion about how much force is reasonable in a burglary (hence the book title), but the ever evolving situation means that the plot moves further away from this as time goes on.

There was a lot to enjoy about this book, as I say there were some interesting thinking points, and I found I liked some of the characters. One thing that didn’t work well for me was the character of Mel, Nick’s wife. She doesn’t get the same attention or development as the other characters, instead existing as a convenient (and unfortunate) plot device on a couple of occasions – there was a point where she suddenly made a statement about religious beliefs that had a significant impact on the plot, this came out of nowhere and also didn’t appear to then be applied consistently for the remainder of the book.

The overall flow of the book worked well. There is a real tension in Nick’s plotline in particular, I found myself getting quite anxious on his behalf – I was definitely invested in his story and was satisfied with the overall ending of the book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Tor.
Before reading Uprooted all I had seen about it was glowing praise. It almost started to become a little intimidating as a prospective reader, what if I was The One who didn’t like it. Eventually I decided I needed to just dive in and hope for the best.

This book is every bit as good as everyone had said! I was immediately drawn into the world created by the author, a world of magic and wonder, and of an evil wood determined to wreak havoc and misery. It begins with the choosing, an event that happens every ten years when the Dragon – an aging wizard who acts as guardian to the people living in the villages surrounding his tower home – chooses another young girl and whisks her away to said tower for ten years. When Agnieszka is unexpectedly chosen her life is instantly turned upside down.

There is something very sympathetic about Agnieszka, the reader is straight away drawn to her cause – I think because of the downright unfairness of what is happening to her. This is good because as the plot develops Agnieszka becomes, rightly, obstinate and focused and this feels right rather than petulant as it may have done if the reader didn’t care about her story this way. I loved her as a character and I loved reading her story.

For Holly by Tanya Byrne. Headline.
This book is wonderful. It’s a slow burner that draws you deeper and deeper into the characters’ lives, pulling you into their world and making you entirely invested in what happens to them. I read it over a couple of days and whenever I wasn’t reading I was thinking about the book and wanting to get back to reading it. Typical of a book from this author this book is twisty and tugs you emotionally – I loved the way I kept thinking I had worked out what was behind the story and then quickly realised I still wasn’t right.

One thing I really liked about this book was its structure. The story is told in a non-linear manner, the jumps in time are seamless and work brilliantly. On top of this the story is a continual stream and whilst initially I found this a bit unusual (I’m very much a read to the end of the chapter type of reader) the more I read the more I loved it and the more I felt it served the story well. This is a stunning book, definitely one of my best of 2015.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Random House Children’s Publishing.
This is a fantastic debut novel with a truly brilliant concept – Cara and her family suffer dreadful accidents for a month each year, serious accidents that involve hospital visits and necessitate the removal of anything potentially dangerous from the home. The story follows the characters as they enter this year’s accident season and explore both what is happening to them and why it might be happening.

This is a really difficult book to review as the twists and turns and reveals are so deftly handled and I desperately don’t want to give even the tiniest hint away. I really recommend this book, I’m looking forward to re-reading it with the knowledge I picked up while I read it for the first time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten. Electric Monkey.
Some books start great and then lose something along the way, sadly for me this was one of those books. The book begins by introducing us to the main characters in what appears to be a fairly standard contemporary novel. Part way through big twists and reveals change the course of the book and this for me was where I found myself disconnecting from what I was reading. I don’t mind big reveals or twists if they feel like they’ve been coming all along but in this book they just don’t work that way unfortunately and I found the more I read the less I was actually invested in what was happening.

Sister, Sister by Jess Bright. Oxford University Press.
This book grabbed my attention with its title – there was an American tv show with the same title back in the 1990s. When I read the synopsis, that the book was about a girl who suddenly discovers a whole family she doesn’t know that includes a half-sister who is seriously ill I was really intrigued to see how the story would work, particularly for the tween audience it appeared to be aimed at. Very quickly after I started reading I became impressed – this continued for the entirety of the book.

Willow, the main character, was easy to identify with – particularly with her love of writing. I clearly remember how much I loved reading about characters who liked to write too, this book would have been a very easy sell to younger me. I thought she was a very real character, she reacts to the situations she’s experiencing in what feels like a very genuine manner – her life is turned upside down and at times she doesn’t handle it brilliantly, I like it when authors allow characters to be real. There are strong themes in this book of friendship and of family, and of the overlap between the two. This is a debut novel and an accomplished one at that, Jess has revealed the cover of her new book this week – based on the synopsis I’m already looking forward to it!

Homecoming Ranch by Julia London. Montlake Romance.
I’m a long time fan of contemporary romance, if I see one that has some reference to a ranch in the title or blurb chances are I’ll be clicking buy before I’ve stopped to think about it. This was one such purchase.

The book is not narrated by one of the main characters but instead one of the supporting cast. This seemed like an interesting choice, it didn’t necessarily always make that much sense as a choice but I found that I quickly forgot about this most of the time while I was reading.

The main plot focuses on Madeleine and Luke, she is one of three half sisters who’ve recently inherited the ranch in question and he is one of the family whose home it used to be. They naturally butt heads immediately, and continue to do so for much of the book. They both have other things going on in their lives – this makes their story work even better and makes them more rounded characters. I enjoyed this book and am glad that there are follow up books featuring the other sisters – I think they’ll be automatic purchases too!

Book Review · Vlogs

February 2015 Reads.

Apologies for the tardiness of this, but yesterday I finally filmed my February 2015 Reads vlog. I explain in it that the beginning of March was incredibly busy for me (by the 10th March I’d slept at least one night in 4 different towns and cities) and then my household was hit by an attack of germs that would have meant me trying to vlog with barely any voice.

Better late than never, here’s my run down of the books I read in February:

The books, in order of reading, are:

  • No True Echo by Gareth P. Jones. Hot Key Books.
  • Captive by A.J. Grainger. Simon & Schuster UK.
  • Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan. Electric Monkey.
  • All Balls and Glitter: My Life by Craig Revel Horwood. Michael O’Mara Books.
  • Worry Magic by Dawn McNiff. Hot Key Books.
  • Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell. Headline.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Titan Books.

There are still lots of things I want to improve on in these videos, I am pleased however that I managed to discuss 7 books in less time than it took me to introduce myself and talk about 3 books in my last effort! Just.

My copies of No True Echo, Captive, Marly’s Ghost, Worry Magic, Three Amazing Things About You and A Darker Shade of Magic were provided by the publisher for review consideration. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.

TGoYaMOwen and Lucy are stuck in a life. As they await help, they start talking…

Though brief, the time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can’t shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can’t, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy – and pain – of first love.

As each makes their separate journey in search of home, they will discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.

I absolutely love Jennifer E Smith’s books. I’ve previously reviewed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This Is What Happy Looks Like – both were the sort of books that made my heart feel like it was singing. The synopsis for this new book made me think I was in for another treat, what could be better than a romance blossoming out of being trapped in a lift?

This book is slightly different to the ones I’ve mentioned, with the romance element having more of a slow burn quality. It’s gorgeous and wonderful and I found myself entirely wrapped up in the characters and their lives very quickly. The first part of the book introduces us to our main characters, Lucy and Owen, first with them stuck in the lift and then with them working out how to spend the time whilst the power cut causing the blackout is resolved. Their lives then pull them apart physically, and to an extent emotionally – though never once did I believe that these distances wouldn’t be bridged (yes, I’m a hopeless romantic).

I love the way the author creates characters we can really care about, Lucy and Owen are no different. Both of them are quite isolated in their own way, Lucy because her parents spend much of their time travelling abroad, and Owen because his father is trying to work out how to make a life for them since the death of Owen’s mother. I found it interesting to see how both of these family circumstances were explored, they’re not just convenient plot devices to remove the adults from the book – whilst they may not be all that present the parents are definitely felt in this book and their far from uncommon situations are handled deftly and thoughtfully.

Travel in books is a sure fire winner for me, both Lucy and Owen spend part of the book travelling. I particularly enjoyed Owen’s travel in the USA – he visits a few places I haven’t seen in books before and I love getting to experience new places through the eyes of characters.

This is a highly satisfying read. I would say though that unless you’re the sort of reader who reads a few pages at a time and then puts a book down you’ll probably want to start this book at a time when you can read and read and read. This is not an easy book to walk away from, you’re so quickly drawn into it and don’t want to leave the characters for any longer than you must.

The Geography of You and Me is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard.

ConquestEarth is no longer ours. It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilised yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun…

Whilst it is often the cover of a book that makes the initial grab for my attention, in this book’s case it was John Connolly’s name. Discovering that he’d co-written a new YA science fiction series was enough to make me want to read this book. If I’m being entirely honest it’s a good job the book had his name attached and a great synopsis – that cover art for the paperback version of the book does absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid.

I found the book a little hard to get into initially. The necessary world building is a little wordy, the first chapter feels a lot like that opening sequence found at the beginning of many sci fi movies or tv series (the ones that usually end up being a teacher telling a class their collective history). The world that Connolly and Ridyard have created is an alternative version of our own – in their version an alien race, the Illyri, invaded towards the beginning of the 21st century and the ensuing war has been fought ever since. The Illyri are now in charge, various shows of power and control have forced humanity’s surrender, but it’s an uneasy situation with the Resistance still fighting to regain the Earth from the Illyri’s control. The level of detail that is brought by the plot means that the world building and exposition comes into play throughout the book, I found that the further I got into the book the more seamless this felt – I was glad I’d persisted with the book, the first few chapters made me consider giving up a few times.

Much of this book centres around the power struggle between the Illyri and the Resistance, our main character Syl gets herself entirely embroiled in the battle and we see her personal struggles both for survival and with making sense of the world, she’s been kept away from much of it and taught solely from the Illyri point of view. Mixing with humans leaves here questioning some of what she’s been taught and realising there may be other perspectives to take into account. The book is told from a number of points of view, hers is our primary way into the world – as she learns so to do we the reader.

Syl’s human equivalent is Paul, an up and coming voice in the Resistance. They along with Syl’s best friend Ani and Paul’s younger brother Steven make up the central cast of characters. Around them is an extensive collection of supporting characters, there are many and at times this meant I found I wasn’t quite tracking who everyone was, and what each one meant to who. I’m not generally a fan of character lists at the beginning of books, I don’t want to have to flick back to remind myself who’s who, but in this case I could have done with one. I think perhaps the combination of all of the supporting characters plus all of the specific vocabulary that comes with an alien species may have been a little more information than I could hold in my head simultaneously.

All of that said, I did enjoy the book and once I’d settled into it I was completely invested in finding out what happened next. There’s peril littered throughout the book, at various times I expected to turn the page and find a bloodbath. I cared about the central characters, and about a couple of the supporting characters. Conversely there were other supporting characters I was willing to meet a sticky end, when this happened I was pretty much always satisfied (I could argue a case for a couple of them deserving more gruesome deaths).

There is a romantic element to this book, it draws of course on the forbidden love thing – over the course of the book the relationship between Syl and Paul develops a little and changes. I really liked the way this was gradual, I don’t have the same issues with so-called insta-love that a lot of readers do, but for these characters anything other than a slow, tentative closening would not have felt true to them or to the world in which they live.

This book is the first in a trilogy, it ends not so much with a cliffhanger but more a situation where the various characters the reader has come to care about are pushed in directions that seem hard to reconcile. I have absolutely no idea where the plot of this series is going to go, so many new paths seem to be opening up alongside the number of plot threads not yet resolved. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books and discovering what on earth is going to happen in the long run.

This is a good book, but sadly not a great one. I’m hoping that with much of the world building done the rest of the trilogy will reach the greatness I’d hoped for from this book.

Conquest is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Lost by Claire McGowan

Today I’m welcoming my Dad back for another guest review.

TheLostNot everyone who’s missing is lost…
When two teenage girls go missing along the Irish border, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has to return to the hometown she left years before. Swirling with rumour and secrets, the town is gripped by fear of a serial killer. But the truth could be even darker.

Not everyone who’s lost wants to be found…
Surrounded by people and places she tried to forget, Paula digs into the cases as the truth twists further away. What’s the link with two other disappearances from 1985? And why does everything lead back to the town’s dark past- including the reasons her own mother went missing years before?

Nothing is what it seems…
As the shocking truth is revealed, Paula learns that sometimes, it’s better not to find what you’ve lost.

This was the latest book to come from the pile I have available to read and another new author.

I was immediately interested when I found that the lead character was not the usual male detective inspector with a passion for Fast Cars/Vintage Cars/Playing Rock Guitar/Part time magician (delete as appropriate) and was in fact a female forensic psychologist. I know it tells you this on the back cover, but I generally don’t pay attention to the cover synopsis and nor do I read through the credits which try and persuade you how good the book is before you make up your own mind.

So back to the story, it is based in Ireland and features a Daughter / Father sub-theme which was curiously similar to the last book I reviewed, Black Irish set in offshore Ireland. It also featured the main character returning to their roots which again parallels the last book and an underlying mystery of a mother who has been missing for many years.

The story this time round involved a number of themes which have affected British and Irish communities in the real life past; the problem of teen pregnancy, the influence of cult organisations from across the pond, and a few nods to the conflicts which have beset both north and south. All of this supported the main storyline of teenage girls going missing over a wide timespan.

The writing style was straightforward and the plot lines easy to follow. The early suggestion of the end result was cleverly combined with a constant doubt that the outcome would be as expected. This was supported with twists and turns along the way which suggested other possible scenarios, but I won’t spoil the end here. It involved the usual tangle of characters that all seem to obey the rule of six degrees of separation which is a regular device in this type of thriller.

In summary, the book was a good read, with interesting sub plots, the usual amount of tension, violence and love interest/disinterest, and just enough characters to support the story without causing me to constantly go back and remember who was who.

As I said, this was another new author for me and one that I would seek out again having read this book.

The Lost is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.

Book Review

Recent Reads: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith & Little White Lies by Katie Dale.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Headline.
HappyIf fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?

I loved Jennifer E. Smith’s previous novel The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight (see my review here) so was really excited to pick this book up to read. The prologue sets up the story beautifully, an email sent accidentally to the wrong address initiates a conversation between two strangers. The spark between the two jumps off the page and you find yourself instantly invested in what’s going to happen between the two of them. I actually paused when I reached the end of the prologue so I could hug the book – I loved it that dearly already.

The rest of the book lives beautifully up to the joy of the prologue. Reading the book gave me lovely warm, happy feelings – the blend of humour, romance and fun makes for a delightful read. There is a quest aspect to the book, this is something I love when it’s done well and as you’ve probably already guessed it’s done well in this book.

I loved both Ellie and Graham they were the sort of characters I’d have like to have hung around with as a teenager. My only sadness came from the fact that the book had to end, I could have read about them for far longer. That said, I was highly satisfied by the ending and was left with an entirely content feeling.

Little White Lies by Katie Dale. Simon & Schuster.
imageThe first time Lou meets tall, dark, and handsome Christian, she knows he’s hiding something. Why does he clam up every time she asks about his past? Why doesn’t he have any family photos and why does he dye his blond hair black?

Then suddenly his terrible secret is unveiled to the world – and it seems everything he’s ever told Lou is a lie. Can what the media are saying about him really be true? Should Lou trust him? Or is she in terrible danger? But Christian isn’t the only one keeping secrets. For what if their chance meeting was no accident at all …?

As lie follows lie, nothing is as it seems, and soon Lou finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit, her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters as she faces a heart-wrenching dilemma: should she shatter the lives of those she holds dearest, or betray the guy who, against all odds, she’s fallen in love with?

This is another book I had high hopes for, having loved Katie’s debut novel Someone Else’s Life (see my review here). The blurb grabbed my attention, I couldn’t wait to dive in and find out what on earth it all meant.

By and large I really enjoyed the book. The university setting is always one I want to see used more (despite it being set at university with slightly older teens this book is definitely young adult rather than new adult) and the mystery builds nicely within the book.

Partway through the book something happened that I found hard to swallow. I’m fine with twists and turns, and I love having the rug swept from under me by a plot but unfortunately in this instance there was a twist that just didn’t work for me and it took me a while to settle back into the book.

The characters are vivid creations, you really feel like you’re surrounded by them. The situations that they find themselves in are big and challenging, the way they deal with them is always understandable even if it doesn’t always seem like the best choice – this helps the characters to feel believable.

My quibble with a plot twist was not enough to stop me enjoying the book. It’s a tense read and one that left me thinking for sometime after I’d finished reading.

Book Review

Book Review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Another guest review from my Dad today, this time a book that took him a little outside of his usual reading comfort zone.

BlackIrishIt was only the first lie…

As the snow drives down and the full force of a Buffalo winter makes itself felt, a man’s body is found. Barely recognisable, the only clues the police have are the ‘1’ carved into the victim’s face and the killer’s sinister calling card, a plastic toy monkey.

This is ‘The County’ – the 27th county of Ireland – a city cocooned in secrets, suspicion and blood feuds, where the residents will do anything to protect their own. And for Detective Absalom Kearney, this case is her one chance to prove to a community more fiercely secretive than ever, that even the most heinous of murderers can be stopped.

But as her investigation develops and the killer starts sending her cryptic messages, Absalom finds herself in a race not only to halt them but also to stop The County’s residents exacting their own form of justice.

Because at the heart of this community there is the darkness peculiar to those forgotten by society, and this darkness will affect Absalom’s life in ways she could never have imagined..

So, having previously said that I don’t care so much for non-UK based crime books, what am I doing reviewing this?

I agreed reluctantly to ‘give it a go’. This on the promise from my daughter that it would broaden my reading horizon. Well she was right, but it did not cure my prejudices completely.

The book is set in Buffalo, but within an Irish community, which presumably is factually accurate, although I did not check. It links back to Ireland so partly qualifies my UK only preference, and touches on some uncomfortable connections and topics around the troubles during the 1970/80s.

The book was enjoyably quick paced, which was curiously in line with the text in places, with a lot of fast car journeys over treacherous ice covered roads. This had me feeling fearful for the main character Absalom Kearney, a female detective returning to the ‘County’ after years away.

Absalom was strangely vulnerable at times, entering dangerous situations alone when any sane person would have taken back-up. She narrowly avoided serious injury or death. This however was all integral to the plot, so her maverick approach could be overlooked even though I was led to worry for her at times.

The sub characters were believable and sufficiently interesting and the relationship between Absalom and her father was a major factor in the whole story. There were some interesting plot points which helped to keep you guessing until revealed and the whole lot was wrapped up in some pretty gory deaths.These had to be described in great, and sometimes stomach churning detail, in order to support the overall significance of the links between the murders.

In summary, I read it and I found the psychological and crime aspects very enjoyable, but as I don’t do blood and guts in real life, was not entirely happy about that aspect of the story. That is more about me than the book, and if you like a deep thriller, and can deal with that, this is for you.

Black Irish is published by Headline. Whilst he was provided with a copy of the book for review all opinions expressed are my Dad’s.