Month: November 2021

‘The Search Party’ by Simon Lelic #BookReviews

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her. 

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party. 

It’s a witch hunt. 

And not everyone will make it home alive…

THE CHALK MAN meets THE HUNTING PARTY in this gripping story; witness four suspects as, alongside DI Fleet, you attempt to discover the truth about what happened to Sadie…

An excellent and intriguing premise, and a solidly-written novel too. DI Fleet is engaging and likeable, and the mystery at the heart of the story has a great deal of potential.

However, this novel didn’t really work for me. I found the teenagers to be difficult to believe in – their relationships with each other and the way they interacted didn’t feel very authentic. I did wonder why they were friends at all. And I felt that the way the real story was revealed in the end wasn’t really effective. It just felt as though all the ins and outs were just relayed, with no human interaction or reaction.

Fleet, as I say, is a great character and his past trauma adds a real depth to him. I felt that this could have been more drawn out and explored.

It’s a clever idea with a lot of potential, but it missed the mark for me.

‘The Other People’ by C.J. Tudor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Driving home one night, Gabe sees the face of a little girl he knows in the rear window of the car in front.

She mouths one word – ‘Daddy’. It’s his five-year old daughter, Izzy.

He never sees her again.

The police believe she’s dead. But three years later, Gabe still drives the roads, searching for the car that took Izzy, never giving up hope . . .

Meanwhile Fran and her daughter, Alice, aren’t searching – but running.

Always one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.

Because Fran knows the truth about Gabe’s daughter.

And she knows what the people chasing her will do if they ever catch them . . .

The beginning of this book is fantastic – such an exciting and interesting premise. What a clever idea for a novel. 

It’s gripping, dramatic, exciting, with plenty of twists and some characters to get behind too. I so wanted Gabe to find Izzy, or at least find out what happened to her – his grief, his guilt, his longing for her are palpable; he’s so well-written.

I really loved Katie too – at last, a realistic portrayal of single motherhood, the boring, badly paid job, rushing here and there to pick up the kids, she felt very real and, like Gabe, was so likeable.

Living far from family, we spend a lot of time on the M4 and a lot of time in service stations, and the idea of Gabe driving from services to services is compelling. Motorway services are odd places, and the author’s descriptions are spot on. Standing in the queue for a coffee, I often wonder where everyone has come from and where everyone is going – this book opens up a whole new set of possibilities!

A clever, entertaining, and gripping read.

‘The Water Dancer’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates #BookReview #FridayReads

Lose yourself in the stunning debut novel everyone is talking about – the unmissable historical story of injustice and redemption that resonates powerfully today

Hiram Walker is a man with a secret, and a war to win. A war for the right to life, to family, to freedom.

Born into bondage on a Virginia plantation, he is also born gifted with a mysterious power that he won’t discover until he is almost a man, when he risks everything for a chance to escape. One fateful decision will carry him away from his makeshift plantation family and into the heart of the underground war on slavery… 

‘A transcendent work from a crucial political and literary artist’ Diana Evans

‘I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Toni Morrison

This is such a powerful book. The way in which the author is able to write so compellingly about the historical and the magical with equal skill, is astounding. Imaginative, beautifully written, almost lyrical in places, the prose flows effortlessly, and characters are written with authenticity and heart.

As a white woman, I cannot possibly understand the complex ramifications of slavery, of the legacy of such a horrific time in history. Literature and film can often be the most evocative ways to show this history. Coates’ skill is in using his wonderful imagination, his beautiful prose, to make this supernatural tale historically significant.

Hiram is so complex, so well-written, he is a compelling narrator. There are moments that are terrifying, moments that are full of hope, of love, moments that are so frustrating and infuriating. And the magic, the supernatural, feels seamless, such a natural part of Hiram and such a natural part of the narrative.

The historic details add a further layer and there are stories within this story that are astounding to read. 

An absolutely brilliant novel.

’Dominicana’ by Angie Cruz #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

‘This book is a valentine to my mom and all the unsung Dominicanas like her, for their quiet heroism in making a better life for their families, often at a hefty cost to themselves. Even if Dominicana is a Dominican story, it’s also a New York story, and an immigrant story. When I read parts of Dominicana at universities and literary venues both here and abroad, each time, audience members from all cultures and generations came up to me and said, this is my mother’s story, my sister’s story, my story’ Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

What a wonderful book. Warm, heartfelt, honest and beautifully written, I just loved Ana and so wanted her to be happy. I felt all her frustrations, her dashed hopes, her spirit, and felt so invested in her story.

A girl with dreams, hopes, aspirations, Ana hopes she will have a better life as a married woman in the US, even if she feels nothing for husband Juan, a man twice her age. Only fifteen, she has to grow up far too quickly and do her best to make a life for herself. She has so much to contend with, so much responsibility, and so much pressure from her mother, still in the Dominican Republic, always demanding that she send home money. 

It’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have to make a new life in a country where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t speak the language, where you have no money, no job, no friends. The resilience and courage Ana shows is a testament to all of those who have been forced to build a life in a strange, often hostile land. 

Her story is told beautifully; the author is incredibly talented. 

Highly recommended.

‘Dear Edward’ by Ann Napolitano #BookReview #FridayReads

A transcendent coming-of-age story about the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles: there are 192 people aboard. When the plane suddenly crashes, twelve-year-old Edward Adler is the sole survivor.

In the aftermath, Edward struggles to make sense of his grief, sudden fame and find his place in a world without his family. But then Edward and his neighbour Shay make a startling discovery; hidden in his uncle’s garage are letters from the relatives of other passengers – all addressed him.

Following the passengers’ final hours and Edward’s unique coming-of-age, Dear Edward asks one of life’s most profound questions:

What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

I used to love flying – I even flew to Singapore by myself at the tender age of nineteen. I didn’t give safety or plane crashes a second thought. Then once I had children, it began to really bother me and I’m not sure why. Now, I really, really don’t like it and have to take Valium before a flight.

So a book centred around a plane crash may not have been the most sensible choice, but this was a really unusual and thought-provoking read, full of emotion, without being sentimental, and a really sensitive and intriguing take on a very unusual situation.

Edward is lovely, really sympathetically portrayed, his awkwardness, his confusion, his guilt, his grief, all so well-written. I really wanted him to find a sense of peace, contentment, and happiness.

The reactions of those around him, family, friends, strangers, is an interesting commentary on how we often feel entitled to bits of a person’s life, even if we don’t know them. For me, the interactions with the families of those who died in the crash were a highlight of the book.

My only niggle was that I really didn’t warm to Shay at all. Their friendship didn’t feel authentic to me. Otherwise  a lovely book, beautifully-written, and intriguing.

Hasn’t made me feel any better about flying though!

’Big Girl, Small Town’ by Michelle Gallen #Book Review 

Routine makes Majella’s world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

*Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. 

Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.

Some aspects of this novel are fabulous. The writing is excellent. The author brings life to every scene, however mundane the setting, and is obviously a talented writer. There is definitely a place for main characters like Majella – there are far too few of them, and far too few portrayals of the ordinary lives that are somehow extraordinary.

I did enjoy the first half of the book, but then it did all begin to feel a bit unrelenting. I don’t mind ‘gritty’ in the slightest, but I couldn’t find any humour here, despite the reviews. There was nothing to lift things, not a great deal of warmth and I did feel a bit disappointed in the end.

That said, I’d certainly read more by this author.

 ‘The Bodies That Move’ by Bunye Ngene #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read and reviewed ‘The Bodies That Move’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

“But what other options are available to you when you’re stuck in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a tiny dinghy other than to reflect on your life and how the decisions you made brought you there?”

The Bodies That Move tells the riveting story of a man who embarks on a journey in search of greener pastures.

Abandoned by his father as a child, Nosa is forced to bear the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings. Seeing no future in Nigeria, he is persuaded by an old schoolmate to migrate to Europe. In order to achieve this, he employs the services of smugglers.

His journey takes him through many transit cities, safe houses and detention camps in Nigeria, Niger and war-torn Libya, and sees him cross the Sahara Desert. On his journey, he meets other travellers, each with unique stories. They are all united, however, by the desire for a better life in Europe.

This is a powerful and moving story of a young man who wants so much to improve his life, to provide for his family, to be safe and happy – the basic things that we all want.

For Nosa there isn’t a way to do this if he stays in Nigeria. Although intelligent, well‑qualified, and ambitious, he can’t get a job because he doesn’t know the right people. He has no future in Nigeria, so he has no choice but to try and make a future elsewhere, even if that means risking his life.

His journey is horrifying, the things he sees and experiences terrible. Women raped, men beaten, people left to die. Exploited, abused, treated like nothing, these people are desperate.

It’s a sobering story. And one that needs to be shared. It’s all too easy, from your sofa, or behind your keyboard, to judge refugees and asylum seekers. But it could just as easily be you or me, had we been born somewhere else, in different circumstances. 

The author tells Nosa’s story unflinchingly, without sentiment, and the result is a really well-written, and important novel.