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.

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Katie Dale’s Little White Lies.

LittleWhiteLies

LITTLE WHITE LIES

Gorgeous Christian is a mystery. Why does he dye his hair, clam up whenever Lou asks about his past, and have no family photos? But when Christian’s secret is publicly revealed, Lou finds herself in terrible danger – and keeping secrets of her own…

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?

I’m very pleased to welcome Katie Dale back to my blog as she tours her brand new book, Little White Lies. Over to you Katie!

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So, having written a book entitled LITTLE WHITE LIES, in which the characters are somewhat truthfully-challenged, it got me to thinking about the little lies we all tell. Some are white – eg we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so it’s kinder to lie. Some are perhaps more on the greyish side – eg no one gets hurt but it gets us out of trouble! And after some reflection, I’ve come up with the five “white” lies I confess I’m most guilty of telling…

1) “I’m not scared”
Okay, so I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat (I can’t even watch horror movies – even Scream freaks me out), but I try to put on a good front. I trained as an actress, so when I’m talking in front of a large crowd or walking down a dark street at night I try my best to convince everyone (and myself!) that I’m cool, calm and confident – even if my heart’s racing a mile a minute and my legs are turning to jelly!

2) “I have read the terms and conditions”
I know, I know, I should read the terms and conditions of anything I agree to, but they’re just on everything everywhere and they’re so LONG! I know it’s a gamble, and a risk, and they’ll probably come back to bite me on the bottom some day, but life’s just too short!

3) “Oh that’s lovely, thank you so much!”
One Christmas, my little niece opened practically every one of her presents with an exclamation of “It’s just what I always wanted! What is it?” which made us all crack up, but she’s learning early. No matter how inappropriate/boring/unwanted a present may be, I always try to make the giver feel like I’m really delighted – it’s the thought that counts, after all. (Even the tactful lemon-scented deodorising footspray I got for Christmas that time, Mum! Nice!)

4) “If you don’t come now, we’ll leave without you…”
Another white lie I’ve learned since my niece came along. Sometimes it’s just impossible to get her to leave the swings/ducks/toys so this lie makes her hurry up, even though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t believe it.

5) “The dog/cat/hamster ate my homework”
When I was at school I was the queen of excuses. It wasn’t deliberate, but somehow on the bus in I’d always discover some piece of homework I’d forgotten to do – and I’d try desperately to do it on the bus – but sometimes there just wasn’t time. I still have a recurring nightmare about not having done my homework on time – it’s really stressful!

So these are five of the white lies I’m most guilty of telling – what are yours?

Little White Lies is out now, published by Simon & Schuster UK. You can find Katie’s blog here, and can find her on Twitter as @katiedaleuk.

Blog Tour

Guest Post : Katie Dale on Researching A Killer.

I’m thrilled today to be welcoming Katie Dale to my blog as part of her Someone Else’s Life blog tour.

When I started writing Someone Else’s Life, I had never heard of Huntington’s disease. I was writing a story about Rosie, a girl who was deliberately swapped at birth, and had my scenario all worked out: After a string of miscarriages, Rosie’s “mum” Trudie goes into labour, just as her husband is killed in a car-crash. Trudie is so heart-broken, her midwife, Sarah, can’t face telling her her new-born baby is extremely ill and is also unlikely to survive the night. Then Sarah discovers a healthy new-born abandoned by her teenage mother and decides to switch the babies – thereby both saving Trudie additional devastating grief, and giving an unwanted baby a loving home.

But why would Rosie ever discover the truth?

I decided that the reason could be genetic – that if Trudie died of a genetic illness, Sarah would feel compelled tell Rosie the truth, to reassure her.

So I started researching genetic diseases and stumbled upon Huntington’s disease, a hereditary condition with symptoms similar to the physical effects of Parkinson’s plus the mental decline of Alzheimer’s. Symptoms generally develop between the ages of thirty-fifty, and including jerky, uncontrollable movements, mood-swings, weight loss, dementia, and usually result in death from pneumonia, heart disease or physical injury.

This seemed to fit what I was looking for – a late-onset hereditary disease, which you can be tested for from age eighteen – the age Rosie was about to become. However, I was surprised that while there are around 6,000 reported cases in the UK it’s thought that there may actually be up to twice as many cases, because people often hide their condition, are mis-diagnosed, or even decide not to be tested.

Why?

Because there is no cure.

This got me thinking. What would Rosie do? What would I do, if I were at risk?

What would you do? Knowing that you could never change the results – that there are only two possible outcomes:

a) Negative – a normal, healthy life.

b) Positive – a life knowing you’ll get HD, filled with tough choices:

Would you have children, knowing they’d be at risk?

Would it be fair to get married, knowing your partner will probably become your full-time carer?

If you already have children, what then? Would you tell them, or keep it secret?

What if your parents or siblings test positive but you don’t – how would you feel? Relieved?

Or guilty?

I decided to find out more, and through a Huntington’s email list-serve I heard many moving personal stories – children avoiding their own parents because they couldn’t stand to see their own future enacted before them; pensioners caring for their grown-up children with HD; pregnant women forced to choose whether having children at risk of Huntington’s is better than having an abortion.

But it was when I met people face to face, at the Huntington’s Disease Association, that those stories truly came to life, and I realised that amid all this grief and devastation lives the most incredible hope, determination – and love.

Teenage Matty Ellison knows that he’ll get HD, but instead of wallowing in self-pity and bitterness, he is one of the most upbeat, pro-active people I’ve ever met. He runs dozens of marathons, raising money and awareness for Huntington’s disease, and is about to launch The Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation – a website committed to supporting young people affected by HD. His Facebook page insists he is “just 1 more person”. I disagree.

Then, at the annual dinner-dance I watched in awe as crowds of people touched by Huntington’s, danced and laughed freely, surrounded by people who understood what they’re going through, who didn’t stare or judge them, but instead just joined them, relaxing and enjoying themselves.

It’s very easy to think of Huntington’s just as a devastating disease, but it’s a disease that affects people – individuals – and watching how those individuals and their families handle the disease – with courage, with humour, with vitality – was the most impressive, inspiring and humbling experience of all.

So I’d found the compelling reason I needed for Sarah to tell Rosie the truth about the baby-swap – but suddenly, instead of being a novel centred around one girl discovering her true identity, Huntington’s disease became the beating heart at the centre of my story, which consequently evolved into a much deeper, more emotional tale about secrets and lies, devastating ethical decisions, the complexities of family, and the enduring strength of love through any adversity.

I had been quite nervous about attending the HD meetings – fearing that as an observer I might be intruding. But as Cath Stanley, head of care services at the HDA commented, ‘HD is always thought of as a very rare illness and there’s little support for people.’ Consequently, everyone I met was really welcoming, certain that a novel about Huntington’s disease would not only be helpful for those at-risk, but in broadening public knowledge and understanding of this too often hidden and stigmatised disease.

I hope they’re right.

Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale is published by Simon & Schuster, February 2nd 2012

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Huntington’s Disease Association and the Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Book Review

Book Review : Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale.

When seventeen-year-old Rosie’s mother, Trudie, dies from Huntington’s Disease, her pain is intensified by the knowledge that she has a fifty-per-cent chance of inheriting the crippling disease herself. Only when she tells her mum’s best friend, ‘Aunt Sarah’ that she is going to test for the disease does Sarah, a midwife, reveal that Trudie was not her biological mother after all…

Devastated, Rosie decides to trace her real mother, hitching along on her ex-boyfriend’s GAP year to follow her to Los Angeles. But all does not go to plan, and as Rosie discovers yet more of her family’s deeply-buried secrets and lies, she is left with an agonising decision of her own – one which will be the most heart-breaking and far-reaching of all…

I don’t remember how I first heard about Katie Dale’s debut novel, but I’ve been looking forward to reading it for ages. The synopsis really spoke to me, this idea of swapped babies and big family secrets sounded like it’d make for a really interesting read.

The plot worked so well for me, it mixed a pretty hard reality with a bit of romance, a little humour and some wonderful travel. I loved the variety of settings, at times the book really made me yearn to jump on a plane. There are lots of twists in the plot, it could very easily have slipped into feeling very contrived in places but I think Katie managed to avoid this quite nicely. Emotions run high within the book, at times I felt like I was actually going on this journey with the characters.

I knew a fair bit about Huntington’s Disease before starting the book, so I was really interested to see how it would work within the plot. I thought that it was used really well, enough information was given about it so that anyone who didn’t know anything about it would get a good idea of the disease and its effects but there was no irritating info-dump or the feeling of a public service announcement.

I thought that Rosie was a really interesting character. She’s been through so much and that’s clearly shaped the person that she is. I found Holly to be an equally interesting character, she also was driven so much by her emotions and the situation she is thrust into. I found at times it was hard to agree with the actions of both girls, but I could completely understand why they did the things they did. I loved Andy, I liked the way he wasn’t some perfect knight in shining armour but a flawed young man too.

I found that I couldn’t read this book fast enough, I got completely caught up in the story and couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next. I loved the way that so many times the characters had to make really difficult decisions and I found myself wondering what I would have done in the same situation. The way the plot is full of these moral dilemmas means that you’re thinking about it even after you’ve read the final page, always the sign of a good book.

This is a great debut, I’m definitely going to be picking up Katie’s next book.

Someone Else’s Life is published in paperback and eBook by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

I’m a stop on Katie’s blog tour, so make sure you come back on Thursday to read her really interesting guest post.