Book Review

‘The Cottingley Secret’ by Hazel Gaynor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

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1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.

This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.

Frances is portrayed so authentically – her fear about the world in which she finds herself, her anxiety about her father, her unease as things develop out of her control. And Olivia, coping with grief and her own insecurities and fears about life, brings the story up to date, adding an extra depth and dimension to the story.

It’s slow-paced, almost gentle, but the story flows well and the tone is entirely appropriate for the subject. The settings are really well-drawn, without being bogged down in detail, particularly the beck at the bottom of the garden, where the sense of something magical is always rooted in reality.

If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

A lovely book for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

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‘Tapestry of War’ by Jane MacKenzie @JaneFMackenzie #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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From the deserts of North Africa, to the waters of Scotland, the Second World War touches the lives of two women from two very different worlds. In Alexandria, Fran finds her world turned upside down as Rommel’s forces advance on the idyllic shores of Egypt. The life of luxury and stability that she is used to is taken away as she finds herself having to deal with loss, heartache and political uncertainty. Meanwhile, in the Firth of Clyde, Catriona struggles between her quiet rural life and her dreams of nursing injured servicemen on the front lines. As the war rages on, the two women’s lives become intertwined – bringing love and friendship to both.

It’s always a real pleasure to read a novel with real, strong, intelligent, and likeable female lead characters, and here we have two. Fran is privileged, living in relative luxury in Alexandria, surrounded by the gentile society of Britons abroad. But she works for the local newspaper, and deals steadfastly with the changes that bring instability to her life. Catriona, on the wild Scottish island of Islay, couldn’t be any more different. But she too, working as a nurse, shows strength, intelligence and resilience.

Too often women like this are portrayed as perfect, as feisty (how I hate that word!), as lovable anomalies that other characters shake their heads at while smiling indulgently. Fran and Catriona are not like this at all. They are beautifully portrayed, warm and human. It’s a real pleasure to follow their stories.

The details of the war are explained really clearly in a way that never holds up the action of the novel. The relationships these two women develop, their friendships and family, are detailed with affection and honesty. I really cared about them, and what would happen to them.

The author has researched her settings well and it’s easy to picture the drinks parties on green lawns of big houses in Alexandria, the hustle and bustle of the city’s streets and bars, and the bleak, windswept beauty of the Scottish islands, but the description never gets in the way.

My only issue was that I felt the last few chapters were rather rushed, but aside from that this is a lovely novel, and was a pleasure to read.

5 stars

 

Summer Reading Part 1 – some recommendations #amreading #summerreads #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s June – and summer is (sort of) here. If you’re setting off on a holiday to the sun or just spending a few days in the garden (or probably indoors if you’re in the UK!) then you’re going to need some books to read. Here are my recommendations – unlike some other lists that seem to appear this time of year, these books aren’t necessarily new; some are old favourites, some not so old. More to follow shorty – I’ve read so many good books that ii want to share that there are too many recommendations for one post!

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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Don’t Trust These People

Don’t Trust Yourself

And whatever you do, DON’T give away that ending…

Louise – Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets…

David – Young, successful and charming – Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife…

Adele – Beautiful, elegant and sweet – Louise’s new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her.

But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks… Is David really the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears?
Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

This one has mixed reviews, so a bit of a ‘Marmite’ book, but I really liked it. Great for those who like a twist.

Mad by Chloe Esposito

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What if you could take the life you’d always wanted?

Alvie has always been in the shadow of her glamorous sister Beth.

So when she’s invited to her identical twin’s luxurious Sicilian villa, Alvie accepts.

Who wouldn’t want seven days in the sun?

With Beth’s hot husband, the cute baby, the fast car and of course, the money.

The thing is it’s all too good to let go . . . and her sister Beth isn’t the golden girl she appears.

It’s Alvie’s chance to steal the life that she deserves.

If she can get away with it.

Hilarious, mad, bad and dangerous. And ‘Bad’ will be out soon.

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell 

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‘I was twenty-six years old and an associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the top fashion magazines in America. That’s all that most people knew about me. But beneath the surface, I was full of secrets: I was a drug addict, for one. A pillhead. I was also an alcoholic-in-training who guzzled warm Veuve Clicquot after work alone in my boss’s office with the door closed; a conniving and manipulative uptown doctor-shopper; a salami-and-provolone-puking bulimic who spent a hundred dollars a day on binge foods when things got bad (and they got bad often); a weepy, wobbly, wildly hallucination-prone insomniac; a tweaky self-mutilator; a slutty and self-loathing downtown party girl; and – perhaps most of all – a lonely weirdo. But, you know, I had access to some really fantastic self-tanner.’

By the age of 15, Cat Marnell longed to work in the glamorous world of women’s magazines – but was also addicted to the ADHD meds prescribed by her father. Within 10 years she was living it up in New York as a beauty editor at Condé Nast, with a talent for ‘doctor-shopping’ that secured her a never-ending supply of prescribed amphetamines. Her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, while she struggled to hold down her high-profile job during the day.

Witty, magnetic and penetrating – prompting comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – Cat Marnell reveals essential truths about her generation, brilliantly uncovering the many aspects of being an addict with pin-sharp humour and beguiling style.

An entertaining, sometimes shocking, and completely honest autobiography.

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

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I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong…

As Ma and Alex make their way from Virginia to California, each new state prompts stories and secrets of a life before Alex. Together they put to rest unsettled scores, heal old wounds, and search out lost friends. But Alex can’t forget the life they’ve left behind.

Clever, unusual, subtle,  deep and thought-provoking.

One other recommendation is for the outstanding ‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M. Li.

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This is a very dark story based on the author’s own experiences and some may find it upsetting. However, it is a hugely important book, written so well, and should be read widely. Maybe not for the beach though.

 

‘Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum’ by Margaret Halliday #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Good Vibrations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk

Margaret Halliday’s second book, Good Vibrations: a Story of a Single 60s Mum tells the poignant tale of her harrowing and often hilarious experience of unmarried motherhood in pre-Abortion Act Scotland. 17-year-old Margaret’s Glaswegian romance results in unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak but she battles on overcoming all obstacles which will make you laugh, cry and sometimes scream.

Margaret’s story makes for a very interesting read and offers a real insight into how things were for young woman in the sixties.
She’s an intelligent girl, with a bright future, but she finds herself pregnant. With a supportive sister, she has somewhere to turn when she has to leave college and give up her dreams of a future in horticulture. But the baby’s father doesn’t want to know, and Margaret still wants the chance of a career, so she decides to give her baby up for adoption.
After the birth however, she has a change of heart, and the remainder of the book charts her struggle to provide for herself and her son, through a series of dodgy housekeeper positions, refuges and housemates.
Margaret’s bravery and determination to fend for herself come through really well and you’re rooting for her even when you’re willing her not to make the wrong decisions. The story really shows how difficult and dangerous it was for a single mother back then.
This has the potential to be such a great book. Margaret has a lovely voice, funny, clever and honest, but there isn’t enough detail here, and the text really needs a bit of reorganisation. There are some fabulous characters that need developing further. With some restructuring this would be so good, a really brave and important book. But it’s a little patchy at the moment. Well worth a read though.

3.5

‘The Bad Mother’ by Amanda Brooke #BookReview #FridayReads

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That’s what he wants you to think…

A good mother doesn’t forget things.

A good mother isn’t a danger to herself.

A good mother isn’t a danger to her baby.

You want to be the good mother you dreamed you could be.

But you’re not. You’re the bad mother you were destined to become.

At least, that what he wants you to believe…

Lucy is pregnant with her first child. She is happy with her husband Adam, and has a strong relationship with her mother who has brought Lucy up since the death of her father. But not everything is as it seems to be.

Lucy, an artist, has left behind her days of festivals, of going out and having fun, and is looking forward to a steady future with Adam, who, at eight years older, seems dependable and steady, who she trusts and who makes her feel safe. But always lurking in her mind is the shadow of her dad, and his depression, and the fear that she could be the same.

As Lucy’s pregnancy continues, she finds herself forgetting things, minor things at first, like losing her keys and leaving the freezer door open. But soon the little slip ups become bigger ones, and she begins to worry that she’s a danger, not only to herself, but to the child she’s carrying.

This is a frustrating read – but only because the reader soon knows exactly what’s going on. I felt so angry on Lucy’s behalf as times, and that, to me, shows what a good book this is. I really cared about Lucy, and wanted her to wake up. The manipulation is so subtle, the undermining and the planting of little seeds of doubt; small things that build and build until Lucy no longer trusts herself. I’ve seen some reviews criticising the book for the way Lucy behaves, questioning how someone so confident could ‘allow’ this to happen. Unfortunately this happens to lots of women, whether they are ‘strong’ or not. And the author writes so well that you can really see how Lucy could end up in the position she’s in.

The relationship between Adam and Lucy is really well developed. Their arguments are authentic and Lucy’s reactions are believable. The shift in the balance of power between them is genuinely unsettling to read. My only quibble is that I wanted to understand more completely how Adam came to be the way he is and I do think that adding more depth to this would really add to the novel.

A difficult subject matter, and not an easy read, but definitely gripping.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city’s vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock.

But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .

A compelling page-turner from a gifted new voice in historical fiction, The Wicked Cometh is the perfect read for fans of The Witchfinder’s Sister, Fingersmith and The Essex Serpent.

I’m really in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I really admire the author’s absolutely exemplary research and attention to historical detail. The novel is meticulously researched. The settings are portrayed so well, the sounds, sights and smells of the time and places so well written, you really feel like you’re there.

And Hester has the potential to be a compelling main character. Her circumstances show how easy it was (and still is) to find yourself only just surviving in a cruel and unfair world, and her feelings for Rebekah come across as genuine and are written in a heartfelt way that lacks any sentimentality.

And the subject matter has so much potential too – the poverty of London, the plight of the poor, the terror of mysterious disappearances, all based in the real history of a time when the poor counted for nothing and their lives were viewed as worthless. Fiction mixed with real events and history is something that I love to read.

But for me it was really overwritten. There’s a balance when writing historical fiction in that it needs to be authentic but also accessible. A writer like Hilary Mantel makes this look easy. And Sarah Water’s masterful ‘Fingersmith’ (which this reminded me of) does this beautifully. This book, however, felt overblown and overdone in parts and I did find myself skipping over some of it. A good, brave edit, cutting things down and adding clarity would do wonders for this book. The story felt lost under all the writing at times. Which was a shame, because it could be brilliant.

I can’t fault the research though, or the idea behind the novel. If there was a rating between three and a half and four stars, that’s what I’d give this book – but there isn’t so I’ll go for four as I would read more by Laura Carlin.

4 stars

Thanks to the NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Art of Hiding’ by Amanda Prowse #bookreview #FridayReads

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What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

I really wanted to like this book. It has the potential to be a great story, and one that could be so relevant to the UK today. But unfortunately, it is full of clichés, stereotypes and unrealistic situations that have been really poorly researched.

Nina is insecure, anxious and feels completely out of place in her life. She loves her husband Finn, adores her two sons, and loves living in and taking care of her beautiful home in Bath. But she is out of her depth with the private school mums, and, having married so young, she doesn’t really know who she is or what she’s capable of.

Her husband Finn dies, and as she is grieving she finds out that he was losing money hand over fist and she is now in debt to the tune of eight million pounds.

She loses her house; the boys lose their place at school. She is penniless.

This could be such a fabulous storyline. Nina could find strength and reserves she never knew she had. Her sons could find that life isn’t all about possessions. And she does, and they do – to an extent. But there is no realism here. None at all. Every last one of Nina’s rich friends is horrible and shallow. Conveniently, someone in Nina’s family has a vacant flat in Southampton they can move into. Nina’s sister Tiggy is wonderfully helpful. Nina finds a lovely job in an old people’s home (not one that involves anything even mildly messy though). Nina meets lots of new ‘salt of the earth’ council estate dwellers who are welcoming and friendly and would give you their last pound. I’m from a council estate. Lots of those stereotypes are true. My son went to private school – some of those stereotypes are true. But people aren’t stereotypes. Not everyone on a council estate is generous and welcoming and decent. Not everyone whose children go to private school is snobby and materialistic and shallow.

And Portswood, the part of Southampton that Nina returns to, isn’t a slum. It’s a student area. It’s not Bath, but it’s not a ghetto either. Did Ms Prowse set foot there at all?

And why doesn’t Nina claim benefits? Why doesn’t she ask for help? And where is the gut-wrenching, sickening despair that real people who find themselves in poverty experience? Where is the desperation? The worry that wakes you up at night and that you carry on your shoulders every day. Nina feels none of this. Instead she gets excited by buying a blind for a few pence in a charity shop, and making her new lounge look nice with some well-placed cushions. And of course, her sons love the new comprehensive (even though the youngest son is ten and wouldn’t be at the same school as his older brother). Their grief, their resentment, their anger isn’t fully realised at all. They settle in, find new friends and apparently life seems much better struggling for money and coping with everything on your own.

I don’t like writing reviews like this.  I know how difficult it is to write a book and put it out there. But this book made me angry. It’s glamorising the real struggles that people go through.

Very, very disappointing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Pursuit of Ordinary’ by Nigel Jay Cooper #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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After witnessing a fatal car accident, a homeless man wanders the streets of Brighton, trying to ignore the new, incessant voice inside his head. But he can’t forget the crash, can’t get the face of the woman cradling her dying husband out of his mind. She stared into his eyes, his soul. He has to find her. Is Dan ill or has he really been possessed by the spirit of Natalie’s dead husband, Joe? If he hasn’t, why does she let him into her home so easily? Does she have secrets of her own? The Pursuit of Ordinary is a twisting tale of modern life and mental health where nothing is what it seems… Following the success of debut novel Beat the Rain, Roundfire introduces the second book from bestselling author Nigel Jay Cooper.

This is such an interesting premise. Natalie appears to be grieving – but there is more her relationship with deceased husband Joe than first meets the eye. And homeless man Dan is a complex and conflicted character – is he ill or actually possessed? At first, the reader really doesn’t know, and this adds depth and interest to the novel.

The storyline around Natalie’s marriage and how she got to the point at which she’d arrived at the opening of the novel has so much potential, as do the issues around Dan’s mental health and the failings that have led him to where he is when the two meet. But I felt that these things were overshadowed by the structure of the novel.

I really didn’t like the way the same events were relayed by different characters. This can really work and can give a different perspective to those events, but here there was far too much repetition. The same scenes were rewritten from different points of view – the same things happening and exactly the same dialogue. This became very tedious and repetitive to read, unfortunately, and spoiled, at least for me, what could have been an excellent book.

3.5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Fear’ by C L Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sometimes your first love won’t let you go…

When Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her teacher Mike Hughes, she thought he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her life in pieces.

Now 32, Lou discovers that he is involved with teenager Chloe Meadows. Determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, she returns home to confront him for the damage he’s caused.

But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as Lou tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that she could once again become his prey…

The million copy Sunday Times bestseller returns with a gripping psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

This is the first of C L Taylor’s books that I have read so I wasn’t sure what to expect, although I had read a lot of good things about the book on Twitter.

The story is told from three points of view, Lou, Chloe and Wendy – this is a tricky thing to pull off, but the author does it seamlessly and each character has a distinct voice. The opening chapter works so well, really drawing you in. And straight away you’re invested in Lou, and her story. It was very easy to become very quickly engrossed.

Lou is understandably damaged, but her strength is obvious, even when she makes some pretty terrible decisions. Chloe is heart-breaking. All that teenage angst and isolation is so well portrayed here. And Wendy’s bitterness is well-drawn too, so authentic, and the little details about her garden and her beloved dog make her fully formed and believable.

There are some aspects of the plot where you do have to suspend reality, but the pace is so good and the story so compelling that it doesn’t really matter. And you want to get Mike as much as Lou does. My only gripe is that the ending seemed a little rushed, and perhaps a little too neat. But this is a great example of the genre – I’ll definitely be reading more books by this author.

4.5 out of 5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the copy for review.

‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

 

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Amy’s husband Hugh has run away to ‘find himself’. But will he ever come back?‘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? Will Amy be the same woman?

Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then so is she . . .

The Break is a story about the choices we make and how those choices help to make us. It is Marian Keyes at her funniest, wisest and brilliant best.

I’ve read a lot of books by this author but not for a few years. I’m not sure why – they just haven’t been on my radar for some reason. So I was really looking forward to reading this. I remember from previous books lots of funny, real women, with real lives and believable problems. And this does deliver – some of the time. But it just misses the mark for me.

I really like Amy, and really enjoyed the antics of her Irish family – something that Keyes always writes so well. I thought Amy was well-drawn and her reactions to Hugh’s bombshell were very realistic. I felt so angry with him, but as the narrative progressed, I began to feel a little bit of sympathy. And I think it’s a real strength of the book that Amy isn’t completely blameless.

There are some great characters here, and lots of really interesting and entertaining side plots. And Amy’s relationship with her daughters and niece, and their relationships with each other bring a real warmth to the story.

I see that the author has been criticised by some reviewers for the storyline around abortion. I thought this was really well done – sensitively handled and not at all preachy. Travelling to England for an abortion is the reality for many women in Ireland – it actually happens, and the consequences can be dreadful. Well done to the author for showing what this is like. Novels should highlight the social and political issues of the time and place in which they are set – and any story set in Dublin that has female characters of child-bearing age surely is the place to show what this can be like. There has always been an edge to Marian Keyes’ work that lifts it above other novels in the genre – and that is what she has done here.

So great characters, great storylines and lots of fun and drama, but it was just a bot too long. And I really didn’t like the epilogue. It was too much, and I think the book would have been stronger without it.

It is definitely worth a read though, and I do recommend it.

4.5 out of 5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.