books

‘All the Tomorrows’ by @nillunasser #tuesdaybookblog #RBRT #bookreview

 

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘All the Tomorrows’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

tomorrows

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sometimes we can’t escape the webs we are born into. Sometimes we are the architects of our own fall.

Akash Choudry wants a love for all time, not an arranged marriage. Still, under the weight of parental hopes, he agrees to one. He and Jaya marry in a cloud of colour and spice in Bombay. Their marriage has barely begun when Akash embarks on an affair.

Jaya can’t contemplate sharing her husband with another woman, or looking past his indiscretions as her mother suggests. Cornered by sexual politics, she takes her fate into her own hands in the form of a lit match.

Nothing endures fire. As shards of their past threaten their future, will Jaya ever bloom into the woman she can be, and will redemption be within Akash’s reach?

Jaya is trying to make her arranged marriage to Akash work. She loves him, but he is cold towards her. When she discovers his affair, her reaction is horrific and extreme. Her recovery sees her grow in strength and she discovers her own mind, though she is haunted by her past and restricted by the constraints society places on women. Akash, however, is sent on a downward spiral, into the depths of the city, experiencing degradation, cruelty and shame.

This is an exceptional story; it covers so many human emotions – betrayal, loss, friendship, love, redemption. Jaya and Akash are beautifully drawn and it is easy to sympathise with them both. The other characters are realistic and three-dimensional, Jaya’s sister Ruhi, and Akash’s friend Tariq, in particular. And the settings are described so eloquently, so authentically, that it is easy to picture each scene.

The author is certainly a talented story teller and a skilled writer. Some of the writing is beautiful and there were parts of this book that were really page-turning. However, I do feel that it is too long. There are elements of the story that could have been condensed and other parts that could have done with more detail. It is a fine balance in a story with so much going on, and covering such a long period of time, but I did feel that there were places where things needed tightening up. That said, this is a lovely book, and I’ll certainly read more by this author.

4.5 out of 5

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‘Best Day Ever’ by Kaira Rouda #bookreview #FridayReads

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

A loving husband. The perfect killer?

‘I wonder if Mia thinks I have a dark side. Most likely as far as she knows, I am just her dear loving husband.’

Paul Strom has spent years building his perfect life: glittering career, beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in the suburbs.

But he also has his secrets. That’s why Paul has promised his wife a romantic weekend getaway. He proclaims this day, a warm Friday in May, will be the best day ever.

Paul loves his wife, really, he does. But he also wants to get rid of her. And with every hour that passes, Paul ticks off another stage in his elaborately laid plan…

Behind Closed Doors meets Liane Moriarty in this creepy, fast-paced psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming!

This is a really tense, and, at times, deeply disturbing read. I deliberately didn’t look at any reviews before reading, because I wanted to be surprised. And I was.

Paul and Mia are having a weekend away, some time together as a couple. But something isn’t quite right. Paul keeps calling it the best day ever, he seems desperate to make it so, but the dynamics between the couple tell a different story.

As the weekend unfolds, things are obviously falling apart – and Paul’s idea of the best day ever isn’t what the reader expects.

What works so well in this book is that we are in Paul’s point of view – a decidedly uncomfortable place to be. Paul is an unusual narrator. He is vile, and the author does a splendid job of revealing him to the reader. As we get to know him better, we slowly realise what he is and what he’s up to, and this is what makes for some difficult reading – his justifications and his motivations are really hard to accept, but they are completely believable too.

My one issue with the book is that I wasn’t keen on the epilogue. I won’t say too much here for fear of spoilers, but it felt very ‘told’ and, while it was necessary to have this information, from this point of view, I felt that it could have been done in a more interesting way.

That said, I really enjoyed this and would definitely read more by this author.

4.5 out of 5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy

‘Starlings’ by @mirandagold999 #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Starlings’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

starlings

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘But I suppose Steven and I knew something about broken things–that sometimes you just couldn’t mend them. Never stopped trying though. Because you can’t-until you do: stop and leave the broken thing behind.’Struggling to bear the legacy of her grandparents’ experience of the Holocaust and her mother’s desperate fragility, Sally seeks to reconnect with her brother Steven. Once close, Steven seems a stranger to her now that he has left London for Brighton. The echoes of their history once bound them–but it is an inheritance Steven can no longer share. Starlings reaches back through three generations of inherited trauma, exploring how the impact of untold stories ricochets down the years. As Sally winds her way back to catch the moment when Steven slipped away, she collects the fractured words and sliding memories that might piece together her grandparents’ journeys. Having always looked through the eyes of ghosts she cannot appease, she at last comes to hear what speechless mouths might have said: perhaps Before may be somewhere we can never truly leave behind and After simply the place we must try to make our home.In delicate brushstrokes, this extraordinary first novel captures a family unravelling as the unspeakable finds a voice. It is by turns sad, hopeful, and deeply compelling.

Sometimes book reviews are really hard to write. There were aspects of this book that I absolutely adored. The writing is clever, beautiful at times, and the way the author uses her writing to so accurately portray the chaos going on in Sally, the narrator’s, head is so very clever. And it works, for the most part. The repetitions replicate the way we have of going over and over a problem, and give a real rhythm to the prose, and the language is poetic at times. Sometimes I stopped and re-read a sentence, or a whole paragraph, because something was so well-written that I just had to read it again.

The story of Sally, and her troubled relationship with her brother Steven, who she adores, and her guilt and mixed feelings about her parents with who she lives, is interesting and thoughtful. The back story about Sally’s grandparents, who escaped the holocaust, is so well done, drip-fed almost, intriguing and sorrowful and poignant and a real strength of the novel.

But the strength of really good poetry is that it’s concise. Every single word matters. It requires precision. And that’s what I felt was somewhat lacking here. Sometimes an image, a feeling, the description of a moment, was taken too far, stretched too thinly, repeated too much. And reading then became a chore rather than a pleasure.

It’s not an easy novel to read. It requires patience and the prose does take a bit of getting used to. It is too dense in places, the story lost under the prose, rather than shown through it. I wish an editor had used a restraining hand, and allowed the really good bits to shine the way they deserve.

So do I recommend it? Yes. If only because there are moments in the writing that are truly brilliant, and it’s worth it for that. And for the passages that sweep over you with their rhythm, when it is like reading really fantastic poetry. And because Sally, is, at times, compelling and her story is a powerful one.

4 stars

‘Lindisfarne’ by @TerryTyler4 #FridayReads #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘You’re judging this by the standards of the old world. But that’s gone. We don’t live there anymore.’

Six months after the viral outbreak, civilised society in the UK has broken down. Vicky and her group travel to the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where they are welcomed by an existing community.

New relationships are formed, old ones renewed. The lucky survivors adapt, finding strength they didn’t know they possessed, but the honeymoon period does not last long. Some cannot accept that the rules have changed, and, for just a few, the opportunity to seize power is too great to pass up. Egos clash, and the islanders soon discover that there are greater dangers than not having enough to eat.

Meanwhile, in the south, Brian Doyle discovers that rebuilding is taking place in the middle of the devastated countryside. He comes face to face with Alex Verlander from Renova Workforce Liaison, who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. But is UK 2.0 a world in which he will want to live?

‘Lindisfarne’ is Book 2 of the Project Renova series. You can read my review of the first book, ‘Tipping Point’, here.

Vicky and Lottie and their new group of friends have travelled to the small island of Lindisfarne, where they find an existing community, and Vicky’s partner Dex, who she hasn’t seen or heard from since the outbreak. The community seems like a haven, and they quickly settle in, but, as with all societies, there is tension beneath the surface, and cracks begin to appear.

Having read the first in the series, I was itching to know what would happen next, and, if I’m honest, was wondering if the author could keep up the tension and the pace. This doesn’t disappoint. As with the previous book, the settings, the characterisation, the situations are all so well-drawn that it is easy to become totally immersed – which is what a good book should do. And this is a really good book.

The character development is so well done – completely plausible; it’s easy to see how Lottie has become strong and independent, how Vicky has begun to trust herself more, and how everyone still has their insecurities and issues that prevent them from making the right decisions. As with the last book, these characters are real, and they are vulnerable and they make mistakes.

What works so well though is the way that the changes in society, in the world, have allowed people to reveal their true selves. There’s no need to pretend anymore, and sometimes those true colours aren’t what you think.

Another page turner, definitely recommended. So looking forward to the next in the series.

5 stars

‘White Lies’ by @EllieHWriter #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘White Lies’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

white lies

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sam Davenport is a woman who lives her life by the rules. When her husband Neil breaks those rules too many times, Sam is left wondering not only if he is still the man for her but also if it’s time to break a few rules of her own.

Actions, however, have consequences as Sam soon discovers when what starts out as an innocent white lie threatens to send her world spiralling out of control.

White Lies is a warm, engaging read about love, deceit, betrayal and hope.

Sam and Neil’s marriage is already on dodgy ground – his affair has left her shaken, unable to move past what has happened. But she’s trying. Then they’re involved in an accident, a motorcyclist badly injured, and the lie they tell leads to bigger lies.

‘White Lies’ is about relationships, and trust, and how the past can blight the future. And it’s also about how the best intentions can leave us vulnerable and how we can be our own worst enemies.

It’s very well-written. The characters are believable, and the situations they find themselves in wholly feasible. At first, Sam annoyed me. Her life, despite the affair, was perfect; she was perfect – beautiful, talented, well off, gorgeous husband, thriving business, lovely kids, beautiful home. But as the novel unfolded, her vulnerability came through, which made her more likeable (if really frustrating at times). Her confusion was very well-drawn; she really didn’t know what to do, and everything she did do seemed to make the situation worse – that’s something most of us can relate to.

My only issue is that I felt the rather dark traits in one of the main characters (I don’t want to give spoilers here, so can’t say too much) were, I felt, handled a little too lightly. The way this character behaves is quite disturbing, and I felt that this was dealt with a little too flippantly. The character’s experiences weren’t excuse enough for that behaviour and I felt that they shouldn’t have been quite so easily forgiven.

I loved the side plot around Daphne – it was really lovely; genuinely heart-warming without being sentimental.

Overall, really well-written and definitely recommended.

4 stars

‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M. Li #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.
On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.
In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.
Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives.

‘Dark Chapter’ isn’t an easy read. It details the brutal rape of Vivian by young traveller Johnny and the aftermath of that attack, including the trial. It is honest and vivid and brave, especially as the novel is based on the author’s own experience.
The story is told from two points of view, Vivian’s and Johnny’s. This makes for a difficult read at times. Johnny has few chances in life, he is brutalised and uncared for. Seeing Vivian, (whose own sections draw us into her life, who has our sympathy, our concern), from Johnny’s point of view is challenging, uncomfortable, horrible to read. I was pleased that the novel was unflinching though – Johnny has dehumanised women, his attitude borne of what he sees around him (his father’s treatment of his mother, his brother’s attitude to girls, the pornography he’s watched) and it’s shocking that he has no real remorse.
This is not just about the rape itself. It’s about the aftermath and what that does to both survivor and perpetrator. It’s about how the effects of this horrible crime last and exactly what they can do. It’s about the horrible processes involved afterwards, the endless recounting by Vivian to this expert and that doctor, this psychologist, that friend, of what has happened. It’s about the dreadful way she’s treated in court. But it’s also about her inner strength and her determination.
And it’s about Johnny, and how a young boy can become so full of anger, of hate, of violence that he can treat another human being like this.
I can’t imagine where Winnie M. Li found the strength to write this novel. But she has, and she’s written it with enormous skill. The shifts in point of view are seamless. Vivian is three-dimensional, complex and relatable. Johnny is the bad guy, undoubtedly, but he too is complex and uncomfortably compelling to read. This isn’t sentimental or melodramatic. It’s gripping, unsettling and difficult.
And in the end it’s about Vivian’s survival, and her humanity.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for an honest review.

 

‘The House’ by Simon Lelic #FridayReads #BookReview

the house

Amazon.co.uk 

Whose story do YOU believe?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

AND NOW THE POLICE ARE WATCHING THEM.

The blurb of this book makes it sound as if this is a creepy mystery, perhaps a crime involved, perhaps something more sinister and nasty. Well, there is a crime, there are sinister things going on, but it’s not what I was expecting at all. And that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

The novel takes us deep into the lives of Jack and Syd, and the dual narrative, switching from one to the other, really helps with this. I felt close to both characters, invested in both, and I cared about what happened to them. Both of them. This was conflicting at times, and confusing. But it kept me turning the pages.

Syd’s relationship with teenage neighbour Elise, who she identifies with so closely, is a strength of the book. There are some genuinely heart-stopping moments in this part of the narrative. And Syd’s back story was utterly heart-breaking; it was difficult to read at times, but that shows how strong the writing is in places.

The plot is a little confusing at times – you do have to work at this book, but that, I think, is part of its appeal. The protagonists are confused, and the reader is confused along with them. What lies behind the house, and their lives, is complex and twisted and surprising.

There were a few plot points that I found a little hard to believe in completely, and that’s why I can’t give this novel five stars. But it’s a really good read, gripping, complex, clever. Definitely recommended.

4.5 out of 5

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

‘Whispers in the Alders’ by @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Whispers in the Alders’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

whispers

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Alder Ferry would have been just another nondescript suburb living in the shadow of its urban parent if not for one detail: the mysterious stand of alder trees anchoring the town to its past and standing as a reminder to the wilderness that once stood in its place.
In the shadows of the alders a boy named Tommy found refuge. There, an eclectic book collection was his only companion through a tumultuous childhood, serving as his escape from the brutal realities of his life. That was, until Aubrey appeared.
Born of different worlds, the alders become their escape while their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love that few people ever come to understand or enjoy—proving that true friendship is a romantic pursuit in its purest form.
Together they come of age in a town hostile to their friendship—a friendship that challenges the intersecting boundaries of class, gender and sexuality. Prejudice and privilege masquerade to destroy their dreams while class, gender and faith collide. All are tested as Tommy and Aubrey carry each other through their teen years and into adulthood. Whispers in the Alders is an impassioned experience that will test the emotions and is a story that will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

This is a beautifully-written novel by a very talented writer.

The story centres on the relationship between Aubrey and Tommy – both living in the small town of Alder Ferry and both trying to survive adolescence.

Aubrey is wealthy, but her privilege doesn’t bring her happiness. She is taken from pillar to post by her cold, uninterested and self-centred parents. Her father is responsible for takeovers of local firms, resulting in the dismissal of the employees, something that makes it incredibly difficult for Aubrey to fit into whatever school she has to attend. Tommy is poor, unwanted, his life brutal and cruel. They find comfort and companionship in each other, and they develop an intense relationship that helps them to cope.

The alders provide a sanctuary where the two of them can breathe, where they can be teenagers, away from the hostility and hate they are both subjected to in their small town.

The narrative here is dense, intelligent, poetic in places. This is an author who can really write, who has a detailed and complex knowledge of words and how to use them. This doesn’t make for an easy read at times, but some of the prose was astounding. That said, there were times when the writing overtook the story and I did feel that the narrative could have done with some trimming in places. The writing is beautiful – but sometimes it is too much, and for me this lessened the impact somewhat.  It is a skill to write like this, but there is also a skill in knowing when to cut some of those beautifully composed lines – when the story needs to be allowed to come through. Aubrey and Tommy are complex, interesting characters and they need to be at the fore – a brave and honest edit would help to make this book really shine, and to be the story it deserves to be.

4 stars

‘The Lauras’ by Sara Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

Lauras

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

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.

This is a really beautiful story with relationships and identity at its core. Alex, the narrator, is a complex and incredibly well-drawn character – leaving home in the middle of the night with Ma as the story begins, and embarking on a journey that will explore not only the places they stay during their journey, but Ma’s past and their relationships – with each other, with Alex’s father and with their wider family as a whole.

The book makes the reader think about identity and what makes you who you are. It is about Ma, and her feelings about not belonging, her rootless and disjointed childhood when she was moved from pillar to post; her need to be on the move, held in check while Alex is too young, until she just can’t stay anymore. And it’s also about Alex, and being a teenager, and being confused, and sometimes wanting to fit in, and sometimes wanting to be different – to be you, and for other people to allow that, and to not question it.

On their travels they meet people from Ma’s past, and Alex gradually learns about that past. There are moments of real beauty and honesty here, and this is done without sentiment. The descriptions of the places they travel through, the places they stay – for an hour or for months – are beautifully done, as are the depictions of the people they meet and the people in Ma’s past that Alex learns about.

This is a really different book, with really unusual and complex characters. It’s about coming of age, and about coming to terms with the past, about accepting who you are. Evocative, complex, and moving – I highly recommend it.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘Long Road from Jarrow’ by Stuart Maconie #FridayReads #BookReview

cover (1)

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.’

In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade.

Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable.

Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.

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2016 wasn’t only the year that Bowie died, or the year that brought us Brexit and Trump (so a bad year all round), it was also the year that marked the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow March.

In 1936, struggling to feed their families after the destruction of the shipbuilding industry, the men of Jarrow were desperate, and no one seemed to be listening. So they set off on a march to London, to deliver a petition to parliament. The march was led by one of the first women in Parliament – Ellen Wilkinson, a passionate feminist and socialist.

There are plenty of myths and legends about the march – many unfounded – but what drove those marchers was their desperation, their frustration that they were forgotten, that no one cared. Sadly, many people today feel like that. And what’s really interesting about this book is the insight it gives into the lives of ordinary people today, and the ordinary (and not so ordinary) history and society that often goes unnoticed and overlooked.

This is, in a way, Maconie’s own tribute to the marchers. He retraces the march, following the same route, covering the same miles on the same days. And as he walks he talks to the local, ordinary people, about politics, about Brexit, about the places they live and about life. He also visits some of the more interesting and quirky places in England and the book includes some unusual and really interesting snippets from history.

There is also a lot of background about the march itself, the politics in which it was born, and the terrible conditions the people of Jarrow experienced. Maconie draws parallels between now and then and it’s quite scary how we seem to be locked in a circle where these terrible things are happening again – and there seems to be no will to change them.

I disagreed with a few things and with some of the conclusions that Maconie draws from his experiences – the reasons behind the Brexit vote and a certain political leader (although his view may have changed since the book was written), but that didn’t detract at all from my enjoyment of the book. It’s really well-written, with a friendly, chatty voice – I felt at times that I was walking along beside the writer. There’s so much here – so much history, so much detail about the country, so many strange little tales and strange people. And it’s more than that. I hate it when people say they’re not interested in politics, or that politics doesn’t affect them. Or when people accuse others of ‘politicising’ something. Life is political. Your housing, your wages, your pension, your education, the food you eat, your job. Your life. It’s all political. People are at the heart of politics, and what this book does is give a reminder of that. It’s a tribute to the marchers, a tribute to Wilkinson, something of a tribute to England. It’s history, politics, geography and sociology all rolled into one. And it’s very entertaining too.

5 stars

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