Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

 

The Wonder

I have been doing the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge for, well, 2017 to date!  Sometimes I’ve shoe horned some of my TBR pile into a category – and sometimes I’ve followed up on recommendations from friends.  However, I was struggling for some categories – but a little Google revealed that Popsugar had some recommendations for all of the categories – so I thought that would be a good place to start!

So – for the category ‘A book about food’ I went for The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.

Here is the blurb:

“An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.”

First things first I was a bit shocked that the main character, and the person whose view the book is written from – the English nurse sent to investigate – is called Lib – like me. That had to be a good sign?!?

I found this a bit of a slow burner (which looking back I also did with the other book I’ve read by Emma Donoghue – the critically acclaimed ‘Room’).  I kept expecting for it to get going – but it definitely took over half of the book to do that.  There was a lot of descriptions of the Irish Midlands, and the house where the young girl and her family lived.  It all felt a bit repetitive and dull.  Lib wasn’t that nice – and definitely looked down her nose at the family she was ‘observing’ and the other ‘locals’ – particularly their religious faith.  However, most of them did need a good shake – so I can see where Lib was coming from.

I’m not a massive fan of historical fiction (or TV programmes or films) so I guess it’s not a massive surprise I found quite a lot of it a bit dreary (like the Irish Midlands by the sounds of it!)

However, about 70% through (got to love a Kindle!) the book finally picked up – and was a real roller coaster through to the end with numerous twists and turns.  This meant that overall it was an ok book – but definitely just ok rather than brilliant!

I’m not sure how much of it was based on fact – and how much was artistic licence – but terribly sad if this did happen a lot.

In conclusion, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to read any more Emma Donoghue – but that’s another category ticked off the list.  Just 13 more categories to complete in the next 2.5 months #nopressurethen

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker

The Woman Who Ran

I feel like I’ve known Sam Baker for years (not in a weird stalkery way – honestly!) but initially as editor of Red Magazine – and now as joint founder and regular contributor to The Pool website.  I’ve read some of her previous books (way back when I didn’t bore everyone with book reviews of everything I read!) but somehow this one, published last year, had slipped through my net.  However I needed a book with an unreliable narrator for one of the categories on my 2017 Reading Challenge – and Helen,  the main character in this book, definitely looked like she’d fit that description.

“What is making Helen Graham so jumpy and evasive? Newly arrived in a tiny Yorkshire village, she finds the locals’ curiosity her worst nightmare.

Looking over her shoulder every day, she tries to piece together her past before it can catch up with her. But with everything she knows in fragments, from her marriage to her career as a war photographer, how can she work out who to trust and what to believe? Most days she can barely remember who she is…

She can run. But can she hide?”

I just want to say up front I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I read it as quickly as I could – even staying up late reading one night (which is ridiculous given how sleep deprived I am at the best of times!!)

It is set in the current day – but then also in flashbacks as Helen recounts her story – or what she remember of it – to a man she meets whilst hiding out in the Yorkshire Dales. He, Gil, is a recently retired journalist – with relationship issues of his own.

The book twists and turns and keeps you guessing.  It’s also beautifully written – quite often in books I spot chapters or chunks that feel like they’re ‘padding’ to up the word count – but at no point during this novel did I think that.  Everything is described brilliantly without being verbose – and it’s really atmospheric.

The descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales are stunning – and it also cleverly intertwines digital footprints, domestic violence, everyday sexism and village life throughout the book.

When I read the interview with Sam Baker at the end – along with the book club discussion suggestions – I realised that it was loosely based around The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. And having just Googled the novel (to check which Bronte wrote it) I’ve realised that the character names of Helen Graham and Gilbert Markham are also the same.   Having never read that classic, I didn’t see that of my own accord, but some of you may – and I suspect there are super clever plot alliances that I’ve missed too!  **  Note to self: I must read the original to compare!! **

I can’t say much more without giving the plot of the book away (and I loathe reviews that do that) but it’s definitely a thumbs up from me!

 

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan

Earlier in the year I tried – and failed – to read my first Steampunk novel – for my 2017 Reading Challenge.  I struggled with the book I chose – and so a friend suggested this.  Her reasoning for choosing it for this category was it was young adult and so wouldn’t be too onerous or long to read – but she’d actually enjoyed it, and gone on to read the rest of the trilogy.  She and I have similar tastes in lots of things (in fact there’s potentially a whole series of blog posts in that single comment!) so I went for Leviathan so I wasn’t beaten by Steampunk.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The year is 1914 and Europe, armed with futuristic machines and biotechnology, is on the precipice of war. Prince Aleksandar is fleeing for his life, having discovered that his parents have been assassinated and he is now a target for the Clanker Powers, a group determined to take over the globe with their mechanical machinery. When he meets Deryn Sharpe, an orphan girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can to join the British Air Service, they form an uneasy, but necessary, alliance. But the pair will soon discover that their emerging friendship will dramatically change their lives – and the entire course of the Great World War…”

So……

It was better than the first Steampunk novel I tried – but still not really my bag.  I romped through it – but because I was desperate to finish it and read something I wanted to, not because I was really enjoying it.

I’d been warned the YA style ‘swearing’ could be a bit annoying – and it was!

The Clankers and the Darwinists – with their traditional machinery and weird hybrid animal machines respectively were all just plain odd.

I quite liked Alek and Deryn as characters – and despite massively different backgrounds – their loyalty and bravery were parallel.

My favourite part was after the book finished (I could just put a full stop there?!)  and there was a section telling you what was based on fact and what was purely fiction – that showed it was quite clever – definitely more clever than I’d appreciated as I was reading anyway!

I also felt a bit short changed, as I did with the penultimate Harry Potter film, it didn’t really stand alone – and felt like a big introduction to the next installment.  The story was not concluded and you need to read on to discover what happens – whether anyone works out that Deryn is a girl, if it ends up being a love story, who wins the war etc etc.  Now I don’t mind a book being the first in a trilogy – but it’s good if you can read it on its own – but in this case, I don’t feel like I’ve finished.  However – I have – and I can finally say I haven’t been beaten by Steampunk – but I know I won’t be venturing into it ever again!

Now – back to a nice thriller or chick lit book for me!!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Family Ghouls by Alex A King

Family Ghouls

This was recommended by a friend as ‘a book with a cat on the cover’ as part of our Reading Challenge 2017 – and so I downloaded it purely on that basis!

Here’s the blurb:

“Allie Callas has a normal-ish job: she’s the owner and sole employee of Finders Keepers, a service dedicated to the time-consuming task of finding (and finding out) things on the tiny Greek island of Merope. The fact that she’s been seeing the dead ever since she can remember is incidental. It’s nothing more than a … a … a birthmark on her soul and a pain in her butt.

Except now death is getting personal and the dead are getting bossy. Her best friend (and neighbor) has been murdered, and her ghost is back to tell Allie that the events leading up to her death are hazy (very unhelpful), and that she wants Allie to figure out whodunit.

Allie isn’t a cop, but the wall-banging, hump-happy Detective Leo Samaras is just one floor away. Does he want her help? Nooo … But he wouldn’t mind taking a good, hard look at her bedroom.

With the dead starting to make unreasonable demands on her time, can Allie figure out who killed her friend, without taking a one-way trip to the grave herself? Will she start cursing the day she started seeing ghosts? And where did the hefty ghost cat that has moved into her apartment come from anyway?

FAMILY GHOULS is the first book in the Greek Ghouls series: a comedic mystery set in Greece and steeped in ouzo.”

I have to say I really enjoyed this!  It was an easy read and a mixture of romantic comedy / murder mystery / ghost story – but all very cleverly written and amusing.  I liked Allie immediately – and would quite like to be her friend and share her supply of cupcakes.

It’s set it Greece – and I sometimes struggled with the names and Greek words – but it added a different element which was fun – and I now know some rude words should I holiday in Greece in the future.

My only minor misgivings were that there were occasions when there were words missing in sentences, only little words like to / of / in etc – but still a bit frustrating. There were also 2 instances of continuity errors – once when Allie’s sister’s car is described as a sedan in one chapter and a people carrier in the next, and another where a previous event was described as happening at ‘Starbucks’ when it had happened at ‘Merope’s Best’  – the local coffee shop.  I realise that I am completely anal – and I have clearly missed my calling as a book editor!!

But these are only minor issues, it really did leave me wanting more – which

a) is the sign of a good book and

b) is particularly good when it’s the first book in a new series (which is another topic I need to tick off my reading challenge list – so I can always move this sideways should I find another book I want to read with a cat on the cover #winning)

Book Review: The Kicking The Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins

Kicking The Bucket List

“Meet the daughters of Iris Parker. Dee; sensitive and big-hearted; Rose uptight and controlled and Fleur the reckless free spirit.
At the reading of their mother’s will, the three estranged women are aghast to discover that their inheritance comes with strings attached. If they are to inherit her wealth, they must spend a series of weekends together over the course of a year and carry out their mother’s ‘bucket list’.

But one year doesn’t seem like nearly enough time for them to move past the decades-old layers of squabbles and misunderstandings. Can they grow up for once and see that Iris’ bucket list was about so much more than money…”

I’m not sure how this ended up on my Kindle (potentially prosecco fueled late night purchase?!?) but I started reading it a few days ago and enjoyed it.

It’s based around 3 sisters – although they’re nothing like me and my 2 sisters so can’t draw any analogies there.

I found it really quite emotional – and sobbed a few times (but then I cry at anything – current fave being the Morrison’s pie advert, so other people might not weep as much!)

The chapters are told from the different sisters’ viewpoints – although fundamentally by Dee (official name Daisy).  I liked Dee (although occasionally wanted to tell her to man up a bit!)

The story ends up much more complicated than it starts off – but I don’t want to give any of the plot twists away, as it would ruin it knowing some of the stuff up front!  Occasionally it felt a bit repetitive – but overall I enjoyed it.

An easy summer read – exactly as it says on the cover!

Not sure where it will fit into my  2017 Reading Challenge (and it could easily have warranted a cat on the front cover which would have been one category sorted!!)

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Strong Woman: The Truth About Getting To The Top by Karren Brady

Karren Brady - Strong Woman

I’ve always liked Karren Brady (despite the fact that I’m a Villa fan!) and remember on more than one occasion, back in the day when I had a ‘corporate’ job, we were the only females on  the train from London Euston to Birmingham International.  A sea of dark suited men  – and me and Ms Brady.

I’ve followed her professional career from when she arrived at Birmingham City – despite them being my football team’s bitterest rivals.

Karren is 5 years older than me – but seemed so much more glamourous and grown up than me when I was doing my A levels.  A real aspirational role model – a successful businesswoman who wasn’t prepared to hide the fact that she was most definitely female!

I’m also incredibly nosy – and so have enjoyed following her personal life – marriage to a footballer (Paul Peschisolido), 2 kids, serious health concern – so I knew the headlines – but was interested to know more.

My 2017 Reading Challenge means I’ve been picking a more varied set of books than normal – so when I needed ‘A book with career advice’ – this seemed an apt choice.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Karren Brady is an inspiration to women everywhere, and her incredible success is borne of her passion, impressive business instinct, ambition, and her very genuine, honest, down-to-earth outlook.

This is Karren’s story… before being Alan Sugar’s aide on The Apprentice and VC of West Ham United, how she started out as a sparky 18 year old at Saatchi & Saatchi and at 23, went on to persuade David Sullivan to buy Birmingham City football club – turning that business round to sell it for an incredible £82 million 12 years later.

Strong Woman tells how she balances her personal life with her professional, her priorities, her life as mother of two and wife. Karren reveals how she coped when doctors told her after a routine scan that she had a brain aneurysm, that she must have a complicated operation immediately and had a 30% chance of not surviving, and how it has since influenced her outlook and priorities.

An overwhelmingly inspiring and real look at work and life, Karren Brady defies convention as a directional business woman in a male industry. This is the truth about how she does it, and through her experience, her drive and her skills – it offers brilliant advice on how you can do it too.”

I have to say I really enjoyed the book – for many different reasons.

I was reading it on holiday in the Caribbean – but whilst there, juggling family life with still working – as we have our own business – and so could empathise with a lot of  the content – about not taking days off, and being permanently ‘on call’.  People often say how ‘lucky’ we are to have the lifestyle that we do – and travel all round the world – but there’s not much luck to it – most is damn hard work, day in and day out, which is just what Karren says.

I liked the fact that Karren’s family is also, clearly, really important to her.  Like her, I juggle the kids and work – and sometimes feel torn in two, but wouldn’t be without either part of my life.  We have also been lucky with our childcare, like the Peschisolido kids were, having had one nanny for the last 7 years in our case.  It really is the simplest option when you don’t have a 9-5 job (and in our case, LOADS of kids!)  I’ve blogged about this before – and how people somehow seem to think having a nanny means you’re spoilt! The chapter looking back at Karren’s early years was also really interesting (I am just naturally nosy!)

As I said at the outset – historically on the train sometimes the male / female ratio was not very even!  Having been the only girl at my school wanting to do further maths A level, I had to do it at the boys school next door.  Then I did a maths degree at University – and the trained as an accountant with one of the ‘Big 6’ firms (that’s showing my age as there aren’t 6 any more!).  Finally, I’ve ended up running a construction company!  None of it is QUITE as male dominated as working in football – but I can definitely appreciate working in a male environment.  However, to paraphrase Karren slightly, I’m all for people getting a role because they are the best person for the job, not just because they need to fill a quota based on the shape of their genitalia.

The section about TV work – specifically The Apprentice – was also great, really feeling like you were getting a behind the scenes view.  It’s daft – but I’d never thought before about the long hours that the advisers would work as well as the competitors.  Having to fit the ‘day job’ in after filming hours must also be crazy busy.

I found the chapter on Karren’s aneurysm really moving.  It wasn’t written in an over hyped way – but very matter of fact with all of the issues that happened and how they were dealt with.  But still – it makes you think ‘what if?’  Having had a close friend go  through breast cancer over recent months – she said just the same as Karren did – the worst thing was having to tell her children that she was ill. But as with my friend sharing her breast cancer story,  Karren sharing her ‘journey’ with her aneurysm may help someone else going through the same situation – and definitely makes you grateful for your own health.

The photos at the end were fabulous – lovely seeing all the people that have been important to Karren over the years – and obviously the variety of clothes and hair styles! #priorities

This has turned into a bit of a fan girl blog about Ms Brady – having totally empathised with an awful lot of what she said.  I also think this would be a GREAT book for girls and young women thinking about what they want to do with their futures – lots of food for thought and inspiration to be had.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Break by Marian Keyes

The Break

I have blogged before about my love (bordering on total fangirl-ness) for Marian Keyes, and so was very excited when her next book was put on Netgalley – so I downloaded an advanced review copy for free in return for feedback!

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The Break is the brand new, funny, touching and truly fabulous novel from Marian Keyes . . .

‘Myself and Hugh . . . We’re taking a break.’
‘A city-with-fancy-food sort of break?’

If only.
Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her.
He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in south-east Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.
Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .
However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge.
For a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?
Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then isn’t she?
The Break isn’t a story about falling in love but about staying in love. It is Marian Keyes at her funniest, wisest and brilliant best.”

The central character is Amy – who at 44, is a very similar age to me, which is always a winner.  She and Hugh seem to have a secure – if slightly complicated – family set up.  I was concerned I’d be confused as to which ‘daughter’ was which – but soon settled in to it.

The extended friends, family and colleagues are also an important part of the storyline – and you feel like you get to know all of them – and most are really likeable in their own way.

I liked Amy a lot (although a couple of times wanted to shout at her to get a grip, or at least stand up to her mother about ‘babysitting’ her Dad when she had such a busy life already) but was always in her corner.

The way everyday references are brought in are great – social media, vlogging, internet shopping – all used in a totally ‘normal’ way.  I particularly liked the fact that not ‘liking’ a friend’s Facebook posts for over a week clearly showed you were upset with them!!

I also enjoyed the Strictly references – knowing that the author is a superfan (and quite frankly a joy to watch every time she’s on It Takes Two!) – I could almost hear her reading out that section of the book!

There was also an amusing section about people bringing round casseroles in time of trouble (although maybe the casserole is an Irish thing – as when a friend was having a tough time it was mince and tomato based meals in Worcestershire!!) – but the principle was totally the same.

I really enjoyed that throughout the book you didn’t know what was going to happen after ‘The Break’ – exactly as Amy didn’t.  And obviously I won’t give away what does!

There are so many interesting characters in the book, this could quite easily turn into the start of a series??  #wishfulthinking?!

Overall this is another great book from Ms Keyes – I would definitely recommend you read it when it comes out in September.  Now – to see if I can shoehorn it into my 2017 Reading Challenge! 

 

Book Review: The Forever House by Veronica Henry

The Forever House

I have enjoyed Veronica Henry’s books before (although having checked – none since I started reviewing my reading habits on here) – and we have mutual friends on Facebook (practically a claim to fame I know!)  Anyway – when I saw this had come out I downloaded it – although not sure how I can shoehorn it into my 2017 Reading Challenge – maybe there’s a cat hidden on the front somewhere?!

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Hunter’s Moon is the ultimate ‘forever’ house. Nestled by a river in the Peasebrook valley, it has been the Willoughbys’ home for over fifty years, and now estate agent Belinda Baxter is determined to find the perfect family to live there. But the sale of the house unlocks decades of family secrets – and brings Belinda face to face with her own troubled past. . . “

The book cycles between the present day, and present-ish day, and 1967. I enjoyed this aspect – and really wanted to know what was happening in both stories – which are clearly linked – and with ‘Hunter’s Moon’ as a main character in both.  The descriptions of the 60s were great – from fancy London town through to fancy pants clothes – it was all really evocative of the era.

The interactions between the different main characters was also lovely – although a little bit predictable (but lovely predictable, so totally fine!)

I was really rooting for Sally in 1967 and the present day – and Belinda too – both lovely central characters.

I absolutely loved the final chapter – set 4 years on from the bulk of the story – but still want to know what’s happened to everyone subsequently – which is always the sign of a good book.

All in all a perfect, summer, easy, escapist read.

So, to quote Jill Mansell off the front cover, ‘A delight from start to finish’!

 

 

Book Review: Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

PERSONS UNKNOWN.jpg

I read the first Manon Bradshaw book last year and really enjoyed it – so when the sequel came out I HAD to read it – even if it couldn’t slot into a specific category on my 2017 Reading Challenge #shocker (although I will try and fit it in somewhere, of course!!) .

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Manon Bradshaw is back.
As dusk falls a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls; cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life.
DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest – these days she only handles cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works.
She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. And as the Cambridgeshire police force closes ranks against her, she is forced to contemplate the unthinkable.
How well does she know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?”

I read this in about three sittings (because I’m on holiday – and I was supervising the children in the pool – AKA reading on a sunbed!!) and it was BRILLIANT!

It follows on from the previous book (although could be read standalone – but I would highly recommend reading ‘Missing Presumed’ first!)  – and Manon remains a tortured soul in many ways (but aren’t all police officers in such books?  I guess crime dramas would be dull if the cops had a normal, stable home life!!

The chapters are told from different perspectives – I think (from memory, and I can’t be bothered to go and find my Kindle!)  Manon, her colleague Davy and Birdie. Initially you don’t realise how Birdie is going to fit into it – but it all intertwines cleverly.  It mixes the domestic lives of the main characters alongside the main ‘crime’ and keeps a real pace so you’re permanently excited to see what’s going to happen next!  There are twists and turns – and overall a really enjoyable book – especially if you’re a crime drama fan. I really hope this series continues!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party

I’ve been meaning to read an Elizabeth Day book for some time – as I really like her when I see her on TV – and also because as a 5 year old I aspired to be Elisabeth Day, as the boy I loved at school had that surname!!  (We coincidentally ended up working for the same accountancy firm after graduation, and he and his lovely family live in the next village to us now – but my marital aspirations towards him are no more!)

I have read rave reviews in Red Magazine and on social media about ‘The Party’ – and as it seemed that it would fit into my 2017 Reading Challenge in the category ‘A book set in two different time periods’ – I pre ordered it for my summer travelling reading.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“‘As the train pressed on, I realised that my life was in the process of taking a different direction, plotted according to a new constellation. Because, although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to meet Ben and nothing would ever be the same again.’
Martin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.
But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.
At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.
Would he?”

I started reading this on a transatlantic flight – and devoured it all in one sitting – foregoing all of British Airways’s film offerings – which I think says a lot about how much I enjoyed it!

The book cycles between Martin’s life growing up, Ben’s 40th party and the aftermath of it – told in turn by Martin and his wife Lucy.  It’s very intricate (which made me think how good the editor must have been as well as the author – I am such a geek!) and the pace builds up brilliantly.

It is very clever – and similarities with real life people I am sure are totally deliberate!  Boys from posh schools, going on to Oxbridge and then becoming MPs and Prime Minister and including their mates in their political inner circle – remind you of anyone?!

The university period is exactly when I was at uni – albeit not Cambridge (my Head of Sixth Form never did forgive me for not going to my Newnham interview!) – so I enjoyed the reminiscing!

Despite the clear personality defects of all of the main characters at different times, I was always rooting for Martin and Lucy – in different ways.  Lucy was initially cast as the dowdy wife – but her quick thinking smart comebacks to some of the other characters were just perfect.

I don’t want to give too much away – I hate reviews that ruin the story for others – but would definitely recommend you read this book!  And I will definitely be reading more by Ms Day – clever, sharp, well written and very enjoyable.