#bookreview

A week of book reviews – ‘Notes to Self’ by Emilie Pine #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

I have been absolutely snowed under with work over the last few weeks – not that I’m complaining – and although I’ve been reading as much as I can, I haven’t got round to reviewing. So this week I’m determined to catch up with a review a day.

‘I am afraid of being the disruptive woman. And of not being disruptive enough. I am afraid. But I am doing it anyway.’

In this dazzling debut, Emilie Pine speaks to the business of living as a woman in the 21st century – its extraordinary pain and its extraordinary joy. Courageous, humane and uncompromising, she writes with radical honesty on birth and death, on the grief of infertility, on caring for her alcoholic father, on taboos around female bodies and female pain, on sexual violence and violence against the self. Devastatingly poignant and profoundly wise – and joyful against the odds – Notes to Self offers a portrait not just of its author but of a whole generation.

I have to say the blurb makes this sound like a misery fest, but that is very far from the truth. This is a brilliant book – emotional, insightful, intelligent, terribly sad in places but a joy to read. In a world where there are so many bad books, so much badly written TV, endless remakes of mediocre films, it’s easy to sometimes forget that there is still real talent out there, and Ms Pine’s voice is like a breath of fresh air. 

There were things here that really resonated with me, but even those experiences I didn’t identify with were still so beautifully written, so informative, so honest and real.

One of my favourite books of the year.

Available from Hive.

‘Generation W’ by Urban Kingdom #BookReview #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Generation W’ forRosie’s Book Review Team.

Generation w

Amazon

Generation W is a collection of 100 uncensored interviews with 100 unapologetic and leading British women from all generation who answer the same ten questions about what it was like to live through the 100 years since women began to receive the vote.
Including:
Dr Averil Mansfield – The first British female professor of surgery.
Sally Gunnell – The only female athlete to win Gold at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth level.
Laura London – At 16 years old Laura was homeless, at 18 years old she was the youngest female magician to be inducted into the Magic Circle.
Alice Powell – on the centenary of women receiving the vote, Alice Powell became the first female racing driver to win a race in Saudi Arabia, in the same year it was finally made legal for women to drive in the country.
Stacey Copeland – growing up, boxing was illegal for women to compete in, in 2018 Stacey Copeland would become the first British woman to win a Commonwealth Title.
ALSO INCLUDING:
The great-granddaughter of legendary suffragette Emmeline Pankurst, HELEN PANKHURST
The first Black leader of a British political party MANDU REID
Former Vogue cover model, leading actress and environmentalist LILY COLE
Beyonce ‘Freedom’ and ‘Runnin’ songwriter CARLA-MARIE WILLIAMS
The first mainstream celebrated female of rock music SUZI QUATRO
Ten times European Gold Medallist Speed Skater ELISE CHRISTIE
BBC Radio 1 DJ JAMZ SUPERNOVAM
PR legend and activist LYNNE FRANKS OBE
Elusive grafitti artist BAMBI
Former Chair of British Library and principal at Newnham College, Cambridge University DAME CAROL BLACK
And many more.
Reading within you will find inspiring stories and truths on how remarkable women have overcome their toughest moments and be able to discover what makes them truly happy, beyond the accolades and legacy. Generation W is one of the most intimate and inspiring books of the 21st century. Now that is on Ebook you can read it anywhere and any time. Perfect for when you need a reminder what you can achieve when you fight for what you want in life. 

There’s so much inspiration to be found in this book, that asks one hundred women the same questions, resulting in some very different answers.

The interviewees come from so many diverse walks of life and all have their own very individual stories to tell. Each woman featured has their own take on what it is like to be a woman in the modern world, what has inspired them, what advice they would give to other women, and how they feel women are portrayed.

It’s lovely to have the voices of so many different women showcased and the interviews provide a varied and inspiring look at just what women are capable of and can achieve.

I do feel that things became a little repetitive and formulaic with the same questions being asked, but I can really appreciate why the authors chose to do this. I think that, because of this structure, this is really a book to dip into, to read two or three interviews and then to dip into again on another day.

I liked that the women were given the freedom to use their own voices and that their replies were included exactly as they were given. That said, the introductions to the interviews and the other sections of the book could have done with a bit of tidying up – the book would really benefit from an edit and proofread, which is a shame, because it does detract somewhat from the interviews.

That said, this is a very thought-provoking book that’s most definitely worth a read.

4 stars

‘The Hunger’ by Alma Katsu #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #Supernatural

hunger

Hive   The Big Green Bookshop

 

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Combining historical fiction with the supernatural, the author cleverly blends the actual horrors of the pioneer wagon trail with something even more terrifying and deadly. It all adds up to a novel that is so interesting in so many different ways.

The hardships the families face are bleak enough and they are told unflinchingly in a narrative that is full of historical detail that never overwhelms. The characters are authentic, honest and engaging – some you hate, some you love, every one of them is three-dimensional.

The portrayal of their journey would be interesting enough, but the addition of something lurking in the woods, ready to pounce, adds to the claustrophobia that surrounds the travellers. And the author uses restraint so well, biding her time, building the suspense slowly, racking up the tension, making this a true page turner.

Accomplished, unusual, and a truly thrilling read.

5 stars

‘Sleep’ by C. L. Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

s-l640

Hive

All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty…

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.

Each of the guests have a secret, but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.

‘Sleep’ is very well-written, has a fascinating setting, and, while I’m usually good at guessing the culprit, I had no idea who it was in the case, until very close to the end.

So the novel works very well on that level, and if a good solid mystery is what you’re after, then this should definitely be your cup of tea.

But, having read the blurb, and some of the reviews, I was really expecting this to be an edge of the seat, scary and thrilling read. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that to be the case. While there are all the elementsthere for a creepy, terrifying suspense, I just didn’t work for me on that level.

A shame, but I have previously read ‘The Fear’ by the same author which I really enjoyed, so I would definitely read more of C. L. Taylor’s work.

three and a half stars

‘Deleted’ by Sylvia Hehir @shehir853 #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Deleted’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Deleted

Big Green Bookshop    Hive

How much worse can Dee’s life get? Having already suffered a traumatic break up with her boyfriend, her best friend is now warning her off the handsome new boy in the village. So what if his dad is a traveller? And that’s without all the problems she’s having with her mobile phone. A young adult romance with a hint of mystery.

As an editor I read a lot of YA fiction, and one thing that annoys me is when the author clearly doesn’t know anyone who is actually YA! This often comes through in writing that is patronising and preachy. Sylvia Hehir ‘s writing is neither of those things. She is a writer who obviously likes her audience and has a great deal of respect for them.

This means she writes characters that are authentic, well-rounded, likeable and easy to identify with. Their concerns feel real and she doesn’t belittle their hopes, fears, anxieties and ambitions.

Dee is a lovely main character and, even as a middle-aged adult, I found her story engaging and interesting. The author portrays Dee’s world so well, it’s easy to imagine the village, the club, the wild countryside. And her relationship with Tom is explored sensitively and thoughtfully.

The writing is excellent and the novel has a lovely pace too.

It’s made me really angry to see young people criticised so nastily by some aspects of the press during this pandemic. All the young people I know are thoughtful, compassionate and really care about the world. A lot of older people don’t seem to grasp how dreadful it is for young adults to see their futures become so uncertain. It’s lovely to read YA by an author who has a real grasp of how much there is to like about the younger generation.

All in all, an outstanding YA novel, and highly recommended.

5 stars

 

 

‘The Teacher’ by Katerina Diamond #BookReview #FridayReads

The Teacher

Big Green Bookshop  Hive

A web of a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. This formidable debut is a page-turner, but don t read it before bed if you re easily spooked! SUN

You think you know who to trust? You think you know the difference between good and evil? You’re wrong …

The body of the head teacher of an exclusive Devon school is found hanging from the rafters in the assembly hall.

Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end.

As Exeter suffers a rising count of gruesome deaths, troubled DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must solve the case and make their city safe again.

But as they’re drawn into a network of corruption, lies and exploitation, every step brings them closer to grim secrets hidden at the heart of their community.

And once they learn what s motivating this killer, will they truly want to stop him?

SMART. GRIPPING. GRUESOME.

This is a psychological crime thriller in a class of its own.

WARNING: Most definitely *not* for the faint-hearted!

This certainly promised a lot – but unfortunately it didn’t deliver.

I’m not bothered by gore or the gruesome. I’m happy to read most things as long as they’re well-written. So the subject matter didn’t worry me at all.

The idea behind this novel is really sound and has loads of potential. A series of grisly murders, a couple of potentially likeable detectives, some interesting characters and a twisty conspiracy theory. All the elements for a great page-turner are there.

But the editing is dreadful. The dialogue is unwieldy and strangely formal (use contractions for goodness sake!). There are lots and lots of long-winded sentences that drag on and on. I couldn’t believe this was published by Harper Collins.

I can’t blame the author for the poor editing, but I did feel that the motive behind the conspiracy was really woolly and not at all convincing.

Frustrating, because there’s a clever story here, that could be brilliant.

three stars

 

 

‘Women’ by Chloe Caldwell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

women

Big Green Bookshop      Hive

A young woman moves from the countryside to the city.
Inexplicably, inexorably and immediately, she falls in love with another woman for the first time in her life.
Finn is nineteen years older than her, wears men’s clothes, has a cocky smirk of a smile – and a long-term girlfriend.
With precision, wit and tenderness, Women charts the frenzy and the fall out of love.

This novella is incredibly well-written. Every sentence is put together beautifully. It’s a masterclass in how to write evocatively, almost poetically, while still producing prose that is eminently readable and that flows effortlessly.

The unnamed narrator of this story is refreshingly mixed-up and chaotic. She doesn’t know what she wants, or what makes her happy, and she makes mistakes. She’s confused about her feelings for Finn, confused about what she wants, and she makes the wrong choices.

Finn is an enigma – we never really get to know her, but then neither does the narrator. And that adds a real authenticity to the narrative.

That said, I did find the characters a little self-absorbed at times, the narrator in particular. There were times when I wanted to scream ‘grow up!’ but that reaction certainly means the character got to me!

Perhaps the current situation in the world has made me suffer fools less gladly, and perhaps I may have been more tolerant of the narrator’s issues a few months ago – but I did feel at times as though I wanted to give her a kick up the backside! It’s hard to really love a story when you don’t particularly like the main protagonist.

That said, this takes nothing away from the writing itself – which really is beautiful.

four-and-a-half-stars

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

mirror

    Hive       The Big Green Bookshop

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

Back in December 2012, on the release of ‘Bring up the Bodies’, I went to a talk given by Hilary Mantel at Draper’s Hall in London, the site of Thomas Cromwell’s London home. She talked about the third in the series, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ and I’ve been waiting since then to read it.

Hilary

Me and Hilary!

It’s been a long eight years! But it was so worth the wait.

I pre-ordered ‘The Mirror and the Light’, obviously, and then decided when it arrived that I would have to read ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ again first. So these weird weeks of lockdown have seen me immersed in Tudor London again, and, very weirdly, falling in love with Thomas Cromwell. Again.

I have read a lot of books. I have spent my life reading. My two degrees have involved a huge amount of reading, and reading, in the words of Anne Bronte, in my favourite occupation. And in all this reading, all these books, Hilary Mantel is my absolute favourite author. If I could only read one author, ever, it would be Mantel, by a huge margin

She has this amazing ability to draw you so completely into her world, to be able to picture each scene, to feel everything. In Cromwell, as with Danton in ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, she has created an unlikely hero, but she makes him so fully formed that you can’t help but love him, and feel for him.

The writing is beautiful. There are turns of phrase that stop you in your tracks. And the amount of research she must have done to bring the Tudor world to life so accurately and authentically, from the food to the smells to the dress to the customs, is astonishing.

I particularly appreciated the way the story of Anne of Cleves was told – a woman whose attractiveness and personal hygiene has been horribly falsified. In fact, Mantel treats all her ‘characters’ with honesty and respect, showing how the politics, the treaties, the hierarchies and social systems of the time often forced people to lie, and betray others out of fear.

Whatever you think of Cromwell, he was an extraordinary man – to rise from his humble beginnings to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom, after the king, he must have had incredible intelligence. While we can’t ever really know what he was actually like, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ and the previous two books in the series, provide a fascinating and compelling journey through one of the most interesting periods of history.

I finished this book in absolute floods of tears – I can give no better review or recommendation than that. In my opinion, Mantel is our greatest living writer – and I’d be hard pressed to think of another, living or dead, whose work I would rather read.

Al least

5 stars

 

‘Night Service’ by @john_f_leonard #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Night Service’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Night Service

Amazon.co.uk

It’s been a great night, but it’s getting late. You need to make tracks and cash isn’t king.
No worries …all aboard the Night Service. It could be the last bus you ever catch.

Every journey is a journey into the unknown, but this trip is an eye-opener, unlike anything that Luke and Jessica have ever experienced. They’re going to learn a few important lessons. Being young and in love doesn’t grant immunity from the everyday awful …or the less ordinary evil that lurks in the shadows.
There’s no inoculation from the horror of the world – it’s real and it’s waiting to touch you.

Public transport tends to divide opinion. Some folks think it’s fantastic. They love rubbing shoulders with strangers, seeing life anew through condensation-clad windows. Others consider buses as nothing short of easy-on-the-pocket cattle trucks that the enviro-friendlies promote and never use.
There are drawbacks, that’s for sure.
A nagging distrust, an under the radar sense of unpredictability.
You never know who’s going to be in the seat next to you. You never know, with absolute certainty, if you’ll arrive where you need to be.
Especially on those rare darktime buses that run when the sensible folk have done their business and gone home. The last dance, last ditch, leftover choice. The get on or get walking option. They’re the worst.

All the night owls out there need to take care, buses after midnight are decidedly dodgy affairs. Unreliable and loaded with the potential for unpleasant.
That said, life doesn’t always leave you with very much choice. Love them or loathe them, sometimes you just have to climb aboard and hope for the best. How bad can it be?
Just jump on and enjoy!
Time to shut up and let someone else drive. You’re not in control when you travel in lowlife style.
No standing, there’s room on top.
No smoking and don’t distract the driver.
Don’t scream and don’t cuss.
Just get on the bus.

Night service is a wild ride. One you’ll never forget. It’s going to take you to places you’ve never been before.
Oh, one thing. Don’t expect to get off alive. And don’t expect to see another sunrise if you do. Happy endings can be elusive little devils.

Definitely a horror story. Part of the Scaeth Mythos and one of a number of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive. Some places, just like some objects, aren’t quite what they seem. Ordinary on the surface, but underneath crawling with incredible.
They’re scary. They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation.

I do love a good horror story, and this is definitely a good horror story.

Luke and Jessica take the bus home one night, and find themselves racing through the darkness straight into a nightmare world where Luke has to dodge the horrors around him as he struggles to come to terms with this new reality.

This is a creepy and clever story, with enough twists, turns and shocks to keep you guessing and turning the page. It’s really well-written too, with some wonderful turns of phrase and descriptions that making reading a (very scary) pleasure.

Two things did bother me though. In terms of the story, I wasn’t completely convinced by the final reveal. And in terms of the writing, the predominance of the subordinate clause did start to grate a little. These short clauses work really well to build tension, but they need to be used sparingly and here they seem to be an integral part of the author’s style – and I found it too much, to be honest. Which is a shame, because, on the whole, this is a cracking story, and one I really enjoyed.

4 stars

‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley #FridayReads #BookReview #crime #thriller

hunting party

Hive     Waterstones

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

I love a good thriller where the story is character-driven, and this doesn’t disappoint.

A group of friends gather in a hunting lodge to celebrate New Year, but their apparently close friendships aren’t all they seem. In fact, they don’t seem to like each other very much.

Heather is the manager of the lodge, she’s there to escape something in her past. Doug, the enigmatic gamekeeper, is also hiding something. And the so-called friends seem to be hiding a lot of things from each other.

The story is told in flashbacks from the day a body is found, back and forth with the New Year celebrations, so we know what all the tension is leading up to – but we don’t know who the victim is or who did it. And there are so many skilfully placed clues and red herrings that the final revelation is a real surprise.

The landscape is almost a character in itself, beautifully described and so atmospheric.

There were just a couple of things that didn’t work for me. There was one aspect of the final outcome that didn’t quite ring true but I won’t say what that was for fear of spoilers. Also, I liked Heather so much, but I felt as though I didn’t get to know enough about her or her history.

That said, this is a really gripping and enjoyable read.

4 stars