Book Review

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

cottingley

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

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.

 

Advertisements

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

415XTk2RrNL

Waterstones   Amazon

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 Break’ by Marian Keyes #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

 

91yrAjHmZ6L

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.

‘Everything You Do Is Wrong’ by Amada Coe #BookReview

everything

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Harmony’s teenage craving for drama is answered when a body is discovered by her aunt Mel on Evensand beach. But the naked, lifeless young woman turns out – problematically – to be alive. Unable to speak or remember where she came from, the woman is named Storm by her nurses.

Surrounded by doctors, psychiatrists and policemen, Storm remains provocatively silent. Harmony is desperate to fill in the gaps in Storm’s story, while the responsibility Mel feels for the woman she rescued begins to skew the course of her own settled life. Their efforts to solve the mystery clash with the efforts of rookie constable Mason, assigned to the case and determined to help this damsel he feels to be very much in distress.

Will any of them be able to find out who Storm really is? And what if the distress belongs to everyone but her?

Everything You Do Is Wrong is a compelling exploration of how this enigma sets a family’s good and bad intentions crashing into each other, with unforgettable consequences.

This is an interesting and unusual book, full of some wonderful imagery and description and some really clever little insights into people, places and situations that give the writing authenticity.

I found the descriptions of Evensand particularly well done and very evocative of a typical British seaside town out of season. The rain and the wind and the depressing greyness of it all came over very well. And little things like Harmony sneakily eating a KitKat in the library added to that.

I found it easy to warm to Harmony – while there were aspects to her character that verged on the stereotypical in places, her confusion and unhappiness came over clearly. I felt the hints around an eating disorder should have been more detailed – if she was suffering form something like this, it would have been a bigger aspect of her life, and if she was ‘playing’ with the idea for the sake of drama, then that too should have been developed.

I liked Mel a lot too, and it was nice to have a more realistic middle-aged woman in a novel. Too often they are either old before their time or impossibly perfect for their age – Mel was Mel, authentic, believable, kind and warm but with her own jealousies, and regrets.

I liked the subplot around Storm, the girl on the beach, and thought that the revelation as to how and why she as there was very unusual and made a refreshing change form the usual conclusions to these scenarios. It was a clever idea.

This is a slow burner – don’t expect fast-paced drama and lots of twists and turns. And there are places where I felt things could have been developed a bit further – Mel’s relationship with her husband and sons, Mason’s past, what compels the protagonists in the story behind Storm to do what they do, for example. But there’s some fabulous writing here. I really enjoyed it.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy

‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ by Holly Seddon #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

don't close

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Robin and Sarah weren’t the closest of twins. They weren’t even that similar. But they loved each other dearly. Until, in the cruellest of domestic twists, they were taken from one another.

Now, in her early 30s, Robin lives alone. Agoraphobic and suffering from panic attacks, she spends her days pacing the rooms of her house. The rest of the time she watches – watches the street, the houses, the neighbours. Until one day, she sees something she shouldn’t…

And Sarah? Sarah got what she wanted – the good-looking man, the beautiful baby, the perfect home. But she’s just been accused of the most terrible thing of all. She can’t be around her new family until she has come to terms with something that happened a long time ago. And to do that, she needs to track down her twin sister.

But Sarah isn’t the only person looking for Robin. As their paths intersect, something dangerous is set in motion, leading Robin and Sarah to fight for much more than their relationship…

I seem to be giving almost everything I read four-star reviews at the moment. These are all books I’ve really enjoyed reading, but where something just isn’t quite there. Something stops me from loving the book. And this is one of them.

The premise is really clever – twin sisters, forced apart by circumstances beyond their control, a series of events that cause them to lose contact and to struggle in adult life. The book comes from both viewpoints and is told from the present day and with flashbacks to the past. Sarah and Robin are well-drawn characters and the twists and turns towards the end are clever and surprising.

But I didn’t feel that their past was explored deeply enough. There was a lot more room here to go more deeply, to really get to know that twins and what made them tick. The present day sections around Robin went on for too long and didn’t really add very much to the narrative – I wasn’t convinced by the need for the whole storyline about what she witnesses watching the neighbourhood through her window. And while there are events in the book that explain why Robin is like this, it isn’t clear enough that they have, in fact, affected her in this way.

Sarah’s story, however, seemed a little rushed, and hers was the story that I found more interesting – so that was quite frustrating. And I thought it was too coincidental that all the different strands came together so neatly at the end. And while I appreciate that I read a review copy, there were quite a lot of errors that were very irritating.

It is a good book though, and a very enjoyable one, and I’d read more by the author. This could easily have been a five-star read for me, with a few tweaks and with some cuts here and there and some additions in other places. Really very good, but not outstanding.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy

‘The Other Side’ by Terry Tyler #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

other-side

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Decision time. Left or right? Mr X, or Mr Y?
Imagine being able to find out what would happen if you’d chosen the other path…
Would you make the same decision?
…and, if you could, would you go back and change all the mistakes you’ve ever made
in the name of love?
“The Other Side” tells of four lives, all very different.Glamorous Katya is certain she can “have it all”, but forgets that some people have
long memories…
Cathy is trapped in a tedious marriage with the in-laws from hell – but why did the
rock-chick marry Mr Pipe and Slippers?
Alexa fears that a ‘friend’ is trying to steal away her perfect life – everyone dismisses
her fears as paranoia…
…while Sandie struggles with a drink problem and life spiralling downwards – but
which came first, the drink or the problem?

Four very different stories – but they are all connected.

“The Other Side” travels backwards through time to unravel the decisions of the past
and their influence on the present lives of everyone concerned – for better or for worse…

The consequences of the choices made in life and the paths taken make for a gripping and entertaining read. The structure of this novel is very clever – we begin at the end, discovering the consequences of those choices, and are then taken gradually back through time to find out what the situations and circumstances were that made those choices happen. It’s an unusual idea and in other hands could be confusing and complicated to read, but Terry Tyler is too skillful a story teller for that to happen.

The characterisation here is brilliantly done. The women are believable and, while you do find yourself sometimes wanting to shake them, their motives become clear as the story unfolds and there are plenty of moments when you think to yourself – ‘Ah, so that’s why she did that’. Their actions and reactions are authentic and you’re left wondering just how much our destiny is in our hands or under our control.

As always with Terry Tyler’s books, the sense of time and place is spot on, with little details adding authenticity. The depictions of Cathy’s Saturday nights spent with her in-laws watching TV and waiting for the lottery were brilliant – I wanted to scream at her for putting up with it and the small mindedness of her husband’s family and their narrow views on life were so recognisable. This is something this author is particularly good at – she can really portray ordinary people and the ordinary, mundane aspects of life and manages to make it entertaining.

There are some very clever twists that are genuinely surprising and the ending works really well.

A clever, classy read.

5 stars

‘Never Coming Back’ by @DLPalmer_Writer #fridayreads #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Never Coming Back’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

never-coming-back-deirdre-palmer

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Your best friend dies. All because of you. How do you go on?
Layla is struggling to come to terms with the death of her best friend, Danni, at a student party almost a year ago. Perhaps she never will – because only Layla knows the truth about what happened that night.
Danni’s parents, Melody and Reece, invite Layla for weekend visits to their Sussex farmhouse home, and she’s happy to accept – until Melody’s increasing dependence on her sends out warning signals. Although she knows it’s time to break away, for all their sakes, Layla’s guilt over Danni’s death has her returning, time and again.
When Layla meets Morgan, the connection between them is unmistakable. But until she confronts the past, she can’t face the future, let alone allow herself to fall in love.
There is only one way out: Layla must confess her secret to Danni’s parents. But can she risk breaking their hearts all over again? And will Morgan still love her, once he discovers the kind of person she really is?
It’s the hardest decision. And time is running out…

The topic of guilt and grief and how different people deal with loss and tragedy is at the heart of this extremely thoughtful and well-written novel. The characters are beautifully drawn and three-dimensional. Layla, in particular, is compelling; her mixed emotions, her grief, her guilt, vividly and realistically portrayed.

Her relationship with Melody and Reece is heart-breaking to read. I was so sorry for Melody, and at the same time frustrated because I so wanted her to move on, to find peace – to write a character that pulls on the emotions like that is a real skill.

Layla’s relationship with Morgan avoids the stereotypical romance that would have, for me, ruined the story. Layla is pulled, by the past and by her potential future too, but the connection between her and Morgan isn’t used as a cure all or a neat conclusion. This was really refreshing.

This is a slow-paced book, but that suits the mood and the subject matter perfectly. My only criticism would be that on occasion things are a little too drawn out. I would also like to have known more about Kate, Morgan’s girlfriend, and why she behaved as she did. The multiple viewpoints work well on the whole, and we do have some of the narrative from Kate’s point of view. Because of this, I did want her to be more complete as a character.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely book and will certainly look out for more by the author.

4 stars

‘Farmageddon – The True Cost of Cheap Meat’ by Philip Lymbery #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #NationalVegetarianWeek

In honour of National Vegetarian Week I’m re-posting a review of one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

farmageddon

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

A caveat before I begin this review – a very long time ago I worked for Compassion in World Farming. I’m also a non-dairy consuming pescatarian (occasionally eat fish but definitely no meat and no dairy or eggs) and am still a supporter of CIWF. Philip Lymbery is the CEO of CIWF, a charity that campaigns to end factory farming and to improve the welfare of farm animals around the world.

‘Farmageddon’ is a thought-provoking and very readable account of what is going on in the farming industry worldwide and how that not only has consequences for the animals but also for all of us. I have to be honest, I have a lot more respect for livestock farmers than I do for the majority of meat eaters who pop into the supermarket,  buy a £2.99 chicken for dinner and don’t for one second think about how that chicken was raised and killed so cheaply. The type of people who put their fingers in their ears and don’t want to know where their food comes from. People seem to still believe that pigs and cows and sheep and chickens all live on Old MacDonald’s farm, happily chomping away at grass in the fields or pecking in the farmyard, despite all the evidence that’s now available to the contrary.

The consequences of humanity’s reliance on meat are far-reaching and potentially devastating. This book explores in a thoughtful and intelligent way the disasters that have already been caused by our appetite for cheap meat – the decline in the number of birds, for example (in the last forty years the population of tree sparrows, grey partridges and skylarks, among others, have plummeted), the threat to bees, and the pollution caused by the need to get rid of the huge amounts of waste produced by the millions and millions of animals now being farmed.

I know from experience that people don’t want to be preached at – and this book isn’t preachy at all. The author isn’t trying to make you vegan – he is just telling you what he has seen, from China to the US, to South America and though Europe, and gives options and alternatives that could see an end to the suffering of those millions of animals (and they do suffer) and better health and a better environment for everyone.

This book is, in my opinion, an absolute must read. It isn’t always comfortable reading, but it’s time we pulled our fingers out of our ears.

5 stars

‘The Woman Who Thought Too Much’ by Joanne Limburg #BookReview

woman who thought too much

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Joanne Limburg thinks things she doesn’t want to think, and does things she doesn’t want to do. As a young woman, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours had come to completely dominate her life. She knew that something was wrong, but it would take many painful years of searching to find someone who could explain her symptoms. 

The Woman Who Thought Too Much is a vividly honest, beautifully told and darkly witty memoir about the quest to understand and manage a life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

As someone with personal experience of OCD, I get extremely cross about the way it is misrepresented. OCD isn’t about being tidy and organised (take note Michelle Mone and anyone who thought her interview on ‘This Morning’ had anything at all to do with OCD – if you want to know what it’s really like then this article is a good starting point). OCD sufferers have intrusive thoughts and obsessions and often feel compelled to carry out an action, such as reciting something or touching something, in order to make those thoughts go away. For Limburg, OCD manifests itself in obsessive thoughts about the danger inherent in everything. She sees danger in normal everyday things and obsesses over it, unable to shake the thoughts, and this has a debilitating effect on her life – for example, she can only cross a road when it is completely clear in both directions, a fear that intensifies when she has to cross a road with her small son.

This book is honest, sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, reassuring, and incredibly well-written. The author is a poet, and her talents show in the writing. This makes the book strangely enjoyable to read as well as disturbing. The author comes across as a genuinely lovely person, and it is hard to read sometimes how her disorder has prevented her from enjoying many things in life.

This is such an important book because there are so many misconceptions about OCD. People still view it as something minor, but it can, and does, prevent people from living a fulfilling life. If you suffer from OCD, or think you may suffer from it, this book will offer reassurance that you’re not alone; if you know someone who suffers from OCD, then this book will help you understand what’s going on in their heads, and if you’re one of those people who arranges their bookshelves in alphabetical order and then proudly proclaims, ‘Oh, I’m just a bit OCD’, then you should definitely read this and maybe you’ll realise that it’s no laughing matter.

5 stars