Book Review

Book Review: The Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomson.

FlavoursOfLove‘I’m looking for that perfect blend of flavours; the taste that used to be you. If I find it, I know you’ll come back to me.’

It’s been 18 months since my husband was murdered and I’ve decided to finish writing The Flavours of Love, the cookbook he started before he died. Everyone thinks I’m coping so well without him – they have no idea what I’ve been hiding or what I do away from prying eyes. But now that my 14-year-old daughter has confessed something so devastating it could destroy our family all over again, and my husband’s killer has started to write to me claiming to be innocent, I know it’s only a matter of time before the truth about me and what I’ve done is revealed to the world.

My name is Saffron Mackleroy and this is my story.

I’ve been a big fan of Dorothy Koomson for a long time now, I’m always so excited by her new books. There are certain things I’ve come to expect from her books; characters to root for, emotional plotlines that keep me glued to my seat until I’ve finished reading them, skilful use of different time periods. The Flavours of Love delivers on all three counts.

At the start of the book Saffron and her family are grieving for their dead husband and father, the opening chapter throws the reader straight into the story with the family being hit by yet another life changing bombshell before jumping back to the time when Saffron first met her husband Joel. I liked this a lot, introducing him through flashbacks so quickly meant that he felt like a vital character despite the fact that in the contemporary storyline he’s present only as a memory.

There are so many different facets to this story. It is a thriller, with Joel’s killer making increasing contact with Saffron and becoming increasingly disturbing. At the same time it’s a quiet story about grief and working out how to carry on when it’s the hardest thing to even imagine yourself doing. And then it’s about family and how your relationships change and reform after they get pulled and tested in the hardest of circumstances. Reading it, no single facet felt more than the others, they’re deftly balanced and woven around one another.

I really felt for Saffron and her children Phoebe and Zane. All of them do things that are hard to read about, the distance you have as a reader means you can see implications more easily and understand the potential ramifications of actions. I found Saffron particularly difficult to read at times, some of the things she felt and said were so familiar to me it was like looking in a mirror. This ultimately only made me feel more connected to her and more invested in what was going to happen to her – something I’ve found before with the lead characters in other books by the author (I remember in particular being amazed by how similar Ceri in The Cupid Effect was to me).

This is not a book with a neat ending tied in a pretty bow, and it’s brilliant because of this. The plot aspects that need a concrete resolution get one, and this is very satisfying. Many of the plot elements don’t require endings, they simply require progress and this again is exactly what they get. The characters are works in progress, like we all are as humans, rather than the ending being one that is neat and finished it is one that holds potential and hope for the characters – I closed the book feeling like they were all going to get there in time.

This is another excellent book by Dorothy Koomson, I’m already looking forward to the next one!

The Flavours of Love is published by Quercus Books. Whilst my copy was provided by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes and Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver.

Books 3 and 4 are both read, my totals now stand at 5 hours 10 minutes reading, and 1,213 pages read.

Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes. Quercus.
SummertimeYukio’s two best friends are dead. Tormented and blackmailed by the Yakuza – the Japanese mafia – they have taken their own lives. Yukio is a kendo champion and he knows all the stories of the samurai. Heartbroken and furious, he is determined to avenge the deaths of his beloved Hiroshi and Miko.

And so begins a deadly struggle between Yukio and the Yakuza, and between Yukio’s capacity for love, and his thirst for revenge. Shot through with the beauty of Tokyo in spring, this is an unforgettable and uncompromising read.

Wow, this was such a contrast to the first two books I read this morning. A tale of grief and vengeance, this is a dark and at times disturbing read. It’s utterly captivating, I put off stopping to have lunch because I was so desperate to find out what was going to happen.

It feels quite claustrophobic at times, the way it is written really evokes the sense of the hot, bustling city – I felt that this worked so well to mirror how everything is weighing down on Yukio. This was paired with the lighter, almost redemptive sub plot focusing on Yukio’s visiting niece – a really welcome addition to the story.

One thing I did find was that I had to remind myself at times that Yukio is only 14 years old. I found that the decisions he makes and actions he takes often made it feel like he is much older than he is. I think this book’s probably better suited to slightly older teens than Yukio, I think it could make an excellent book group title – there’s certainly lots of scope for discussion.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. Hodder & Stoughton.
LieslAndPoLiesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.

Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

How I loved this book! It’s an absolute gem of a read, a lovely fairytale-esque story complete with the most beautiful illustrations courtesy of Kei Acedera. I fell in love with the book within the first few pages, it was a reading experience I didn’t really want to see end.

The story is relatively simple, a number of mix ups send the various characters on paths that cross each others’ throughout, but it is the deeper themes that really make this book sing. Liesl’s quest to take her father’s ashes and bury them under the willow tree where they buried her mother years before really tugs at the heartstrings, even though I could see the problems with this plan I was still willing her to achieve her aim.

This book feels like the childrens’ books I read and loved as a child. There is a timeless quality to it that I think would make it as enjoyable for the parent reading aloud as for the child listening to it. It’s a real departure from the author’s YA books, but I think it’s going to be the one I will return to time and time again.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [6]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby. Bloomsbury Childrens.
I liked the way this book throws you right into the action from the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the main character – teen paparazzo Jo – as she tries to get photographs of teen heartthrob Ned. I found that I liked Jo straight away, and then as the book progressed there was more and more to like. When she’s sent undercover to try and get highly private pictures of Ned at a rehab retreat her dilemma over whether she can bring herself to invade his privacy for the amount of money being offered feels genuine and draws the reader in.

I often find books where one character is hiding a pretty big secret from the other really stressful to read. There was a small part of this book that had me feeling a bit stressed but the way the plot is handled and evolves meant that I found myself really enjoying it. There’s a lovely blend of humorous moments and more thoughtful moments, the latter in particular may well leave readers thinking about our current celebrity culture and its cost.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally. Sourcebooks Fire.
I absolutely loved this book. I expected it would be one that I would really enjoy, I’m a huge sports fan so the idea of a book about a female quarterback trying to lead her high school team to the championship final sounded like something I’d really enjoy. I was hooked within the first chapter and I didn’t put it down until I’d read the final page. The plot is wonderful, yes it’s a story about high school football but it’s also a story about friendship, about love, and about family.

I loved Jordan and found that I could really identify with her, despite the fact I’d never been remotely sporty let alone so entirely sport driven. The various team mates who played significant parts in the book all made me smile, they really came across well as a group of friends who all cared for and supported each other. I found myself wishing I was part of their social circle! I have a feeling that when I’m deciding on my top ten reads of the year this book may well make the cut.

Love at Second Sight by Cathy Hopkins. Simon & Schuster UK.
I hadn’t read anything by Cathy Hopkins before but I knew lovely Liz from My Favourite Books is a big fan so when she offered me a copy of this to read I snapped it up. I have to admit that before I started reading I wasn’t 100% sure about it, the plot surrounds a teen girl being told by a clairvoyant that her true love from a former life is someone she knows in this life so she has a second chance of love with him. I needn’t have been concerned though, the plot is well constructed and really works.

Jo, the main character, is a lovely character. She’s a little bit different to a lot of the girls who get to take centre stage in YA fiction and I found this refreshing. Her friendship with Effy and Tash is lovely, I particularly liked the way that they complemented one another without having to agree on everything. I also liked the focus on genealogy within the plot, it was good to see it described well.

I enjoyed this read so much that I already have my next Cathy Hopkins on reserve at my local library.

Sammy Feral’s Diaries of Weird by Eleanor Hawken. Quercus.
This book is a lovely, quick, funny read that I’m sure middle grade readers will love. Written in diary form this is a really entertaining read about a boy whose family are all turned into werewolves at the zoo they run. After discovering his family’s misfortune Sammy is desperate to find a cure and to get them all back to normal. He’s helped along in his quest by the mysterious Donny and Red, a team of cryptozoologists who arrive at just the right time.

There are plenty of laughs in this book along with some moments that I’m sure the target audience will be appropriately scared by. I think this book has a lot of potential as a read aloud book, I can imagine a group listening very attentively to it. There are plans for a second book in this series, I’m looking forward to it already.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [5]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by Justin Richards. BBC Books.
I was really excited when BBC Books announced this eBook tie in to the final episode of the first half of the current series of Doctor Who. TV tie in books are a real love of mine and having seen Melody Malone’s book play such a prominent part in the episode I couldn’t wait to read it. Initially I was really disappointed, this book is not the book featured in the episode but another Melody Malone Mystery. Once I’d got over that and got stuck into reading I was soon won over.

The book is a really enjoyable read, I thought Melody’s voice was captured really well which really added to the reading experience. It was good to read a story about the Weeping Angels – they’re a little less scary in prose than they are on the tv screen! I thought it was interesting that they had facets that hadn’t been explored in the tv series, I wonder whether this will be brought into the tv canon at any point. I’d love it if the BBC produced more Melody Malone books though I imagine there’s a limited number of stories they could do featuring the Weeping Angels.

Playground by 50 Cent. Quercus.
The book opens with a title page crediting both 5o Cent and Laura Moser, which pleased me to see the ghost writer clearly credited, and a foreword from 50 Cent where he talks about how the book is a semi-autobiographical account of his youth and his time as a bully. I must admit I was a bit unsure about the book when I picked it up but these things made me more interested in what was held within it.

50 Cent says that he hopes to show the various sides of a bully and I think this is achieved well by the book, from the very beginning the lead character, Butterball, comes across as an angry teenager with a challenging attitude. Over the course of the book as you get to know Butterball better you discover the other layers that he has and get to see the whole boy. Whilst this is a book with a definite moral message it avoids feeling preachy – I think this book could be a useful read for a lot of teens. I was surprised by how much I liked this book, if there are to be more YA titles from 50 Cent I will most definitely be adding them to my collection.

Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick. Faber and Faber.
I saw this book discussed on a discussion group and was intrigued by it so requested it from the local library. Whilst I’d read books that included mentions of self harm before I think this book covered the subject in more detail than any of them. It is a book that’s clearly been well researched and it’s thoughtfully written, it never glamorises or demonises self harm but instead carefully explores the subject matter and the different ways people react to it.

I found the book hard going at times because I could identify a lot with some of the pressures the lead character is facing, it definitely reminded me of some of my own year 11 experiences (though I dealt with them in a different way to the lead character). I think if this book had been around back then I’d have found it reassuring just to read that someone else was feeling similarly. This is a book I am sure I will be recommending, though with caution as the author herself advises that it may be triggering for some readers.

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A double post this week after I was away last weekend. I feel a bit bad that in two weeks I only managed to read 3 books, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time catching up on the issues of Rolling Stone I’m behind on instead.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [1]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts. Orion Children’s Books.
Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life.

This is the first book in a new series, Wings & Co, aimed at young readers. I thought it was a great read, it introduces the characters and the magical version of the world that the book’s set in really well. There’s enough adventure and excitement to balance out the scene setting, I think it’ll capture the imagination of most young readers. I love the illustrations included in the book, they really add to the experience. Emily is a wonderful lead character, I’ll be looking forward to reading about her adventures in the next book. A definite thumbs up from me.

Undone by Cat Clarke. Quercus.
A video appears online. And a boy jumps off a bridge. Jem is determined to avenge the death of Kai – her beloved best friend who was driven to desperation after being ‘outed’ by the popular crew at school. Transforming herself from introverted emo to in-crowd acceptable, Jem becomes part of the clique. She’s going to take down those responsible, one by one. But what if Kai was keeping secrets from Jem? Could her quest for revenge be directed at the wrong people? And can Jem find out what really happened before someone else gets hurt?

I was the lucky winner of Cat Clarke’s ARC giveaway, as soon as it arrived I knew I had to read it next. I read it cover to cover in an afternoon, it’s absolutely gripping and I had to know how it ended. Undone is a story of grief and loss, and of trying to find a way through it – in Jem’s case that’s exacting vengeance. The characters are so real, they’re insecure and self-focused and flawed making them seem to leap off the page. It’s a bold, wonderful book that packs a real emotional punch, a fantastic read.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. Strange Chemistry.
And finally a little bit of a cheat for the first week, I won’t make a habit of it – I reviewed this book for Book Angel Booktopia. You can read it here.

Book Review

Book Review : Entangled by Cat Clarke.

‘The same questions whirl round and round in my head:
What does he want from me?
How could I have let this happen?
AM I GOING TO DIE?’

17-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with table, pens and paper – and no clue how she got there.

As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she’s tried to forget. There’s falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there’s something missing. As hard as she’s trying to remember, is there something she just can’t see?

Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here?
A story of dangerous secrets, intense friendships and electrifying attraction.

Within the first few opening lines of this book I was completely hooked, Grace is locked in an entirely white room with minimal furniture and pens and paper. She has no idea how she got there or why she is there, and her only contact with the outside world comes from Ethan who brings her food. She’s confused and scared and angry, and so turns to writing which seems to be what’s wanted from her.

Grace’s writing takes us back into her life before she ended up in the white room, and we get to know her, her friends, and her world. We get a real insight into what makes Grace tick, and how hard it is being her. Grace is such a well drawn teenager, she’s stroppy and difficult and feels everything so strongly. She’s hard to like, but at the same time completely captivating and I found myself really caring for her.

In addition to Grace we get to know Sal, her best friend, and Nat, her boyfriend. We only get to see these characters through Grace’s eyes, but this means we get to really see how she feels about them and what they mean to her. The fact that Grace is writing this all down means she is really open about everything and doesn’t censor herself, I loved this level of honesty.

Whilst we’re drawn into discovering Grace’s life before she was kidnapped we’re also reminded regularly of where she is, and that neither we or Grace know why she’s there. I came up with theory after theory of what was going on, when I reached the conclusion and the reveal I was really pleased to discover that whilst I’d got partway there I hadn’t worked it out entirely – I always like being surprised by a plot reveal.

This was Cat Clarke’s debut novel, her second novel Torn is out now and already getting great reviews. I know I’m really looking forward to reading it and whatever she writes next.

Entangled is published in paperback by Quercus in the UK.