#bookreview

‘Love Lives Here’ by Amanda Jette Knox #BookReview #FridayReads

All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. At school, she was bullied mercilessly, and at the age of fourteen, she entered a counselling program for alcohol addiction and was successful. 

While still a teenager, she met the love of her life. They were wed at 20, and the first of three children followed shortly. Jetté Knox finally had the stability she craved–or so it seemed. Their middle child struggled with depression and avoided school. The author was unprepared when the child she knew as her son came out as transgender at the age of eleven. Shocked, but knowing how important it was to support her daughter, Jetté Knox became an ardent advocate for trans rights.

But the story wasn’t over. For many years, the author had coped with her spouse’s moodiness, but that chronic unhappiness was taking a toll on their marriage. A little over a year after their child came out, her partner also came out as transgender. Knowing better than most what would lie ahead, Jetté Knox searched for positive examples of marriages surviving transition. When she found no role models, she determined that her family would become one. 

The shift was challenging, but slowly the family members noticed that they were becoming happier and more united. Told with remarkable candour and humour, and full of insight into the challenges faced by trans people, Love Lives Here is a beautiful story of transition, frustration, support, acceptance, and, of course, love
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I started following Amanda Jette Knox a couple of years ago on Twitter – admiring the grace patience and humour she showed when dealing with sometimes horrific abuse directed not only at her, but also at her children. 

A brief glance through Twitter most days of the week and you’ll see some of the horrible things transgender people have said to them – things I’m sure people wouldn’t be brave enough to say to their faces. There’s so much misinformation out there about transgender people and transitioning. I would really encourage everyone to read this wonderful book to hear the truth about what transitioning actually entails from a family that actually knows.

The book is honest, brave, sometimes heart-breaking, ultimately uplifting. The author reveals a great deal about herself, her fears, her hopes, and is honest about mistakes she’s made. And it’s all told in a way that makes you feel as though you’re sitting down with her for a chat over coffee – the warmth and humour – and the love – comes through so clearly.

I remember Section 28 in the late eighties, and the misery it caused. I remember the homophobia of those times and it’s dreadful to hear the same old tropes and lies now being used against transgender people. It’s so depressing. It’s so important that transgender voices are heard, that the real people going through this are listened to and reading this book certainly is a great way to do that.

Incredibly important, well-written, honest and authentic, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

‘Cucina Tipica’ by Andrew Cotto #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #Italy #Travel

I read ‘Cucina Tipica’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Escaping to Italy was the easy part. Figuring out how to stay forever is where the adventure begins…

When disheartened American Jacoby Pines arrives in Italy on vacation, he has no idea that a family photograph from the previous century would start a search for ancestry through the streets of Florence and the hills of Tuscany.

Jacoby’s quest includes encounters with a septuagenarian ex-pat, an elusive heiress in hiding, a charming Australian museum guide, a Pearl Jam-crazed artisan shoemaker, malevolent hunters, a needy border collie and one very large wild boar. Along the way there are magnificent, wine-soaked meals at every turn and immersion in the sensory splendor and la dolce vita of Il Bel Paese.

At the end of the novel, on the morning of Jacoby’s dreaded return to America, a chance of remaining in Italy arrives in stunning news from abroad. But is it too late?

I’ve only visited Italy once, a few days in Rome followed by a week by the sea down the coast from Naples. It was a fabulous holiday – it isn’t clichéd to say the people are incredibly friendly, the weather is fabulous, the scenery stunning and as for the food, it’s wonderful. So this book, although set in a different part of Italy, had a lot that appealed and that was enjoyable.#

I love my food, and some of the descriptions of the meals were wonderful. And the descriptions of the countryside and the people really made you feel as though you were there. The author can certainly write, and write well, and this would be a lovely book to take on holiday.

That said, the descriptions did begin to wear a little thin after a while and, to be honest, the book could be a great deal shorter. I didn’t feel that invested in the characters, and there were a couple that I didn’t like at all. I do think the book would be improved with less detail about the food and more depth to the characters.

That said, it’s an enjoyable read.

‘The Frank Business’ by Olivia Glazebrook #BookReview

After Frank drops down dead in Heathrow Arrivals on Christmas Eve, his estranged daughter Jem is called in to identify the body. When Jem travels back to Frank’s house in France – a house she hasn’t been in since she was a child – she realises that Frank had a son too.

Frank has died of a congenital heart defect, a defect he may have passed on to his daughter – or on to his son. Jem must warn her brother, but in finding herself a family she risks ripping another apart. 

Shrewd, witty and poignant, The Frank Business is a vivid tale of love and other battlefields.

This is a very well-written book, with a compelling idea at its heart.

When Frank drops dead at the airport, on his arrival from his home in France on Christmas Eve, his estranged daughter Jem is called upon to identify his body. She then makes the impulsive decision to travel to France, to the childhood home she hasn’t visited in years.

What she discovers leads her to contact her brother, a brother she didn’t know existed, and this contact will have huge repercussions, for everyone.

Jem is lovely, strong-minded, independent, but with a past that won’t leave her alone. Her brother, Sonny, on the other hand, is spoilt and selfish, as is his mother, Kathleen. Their interactions are sometimes very funny, but sometimes painful to read, as is their treatment of poor Lauren, Sonny’s older sister.

And therein lies an issue for me. Jem is really the only character I liked – unless you count Mike the dog, which of course you should. It was difficult then, to really care about what happened to Sonny and Kathleen or to want a happy outcome for them. I didn’t really understand why Kathleen’s husband, Walter, put up with either of them.

I’m also a bit bored by the amount of books that are middle-class London-centric at the moment.

So I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. There’s a lot to recommend and it’s definitely worth a read. 

‘The Stray Cats of Homs’ by Eva Nour #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

The story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation.

‘A cat has seven souls in Arabic. In English cats have nine lives. You probably have both nine lives and seven souls, because otherwise I don’t know how you’ve made it this far.’

Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof). 

But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker. 

Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare… 

It’s really not easy to write a review that does this book justice. It’s so beautifully written, that at times it is a joy to read, but the subject matter is so utterly heart-breaking that it feels strange to say so.

Sami grows up during the civil war in Syria. He has hopes and dreams for his future, as we all do, but fate and circumstance mean he lives in a place and in a time when he has few choices to make. He is conscripted into the Syrian army just as the rebellion against the regime begins and is forced to comply with orders that sicken him. 

Returning to Homs, he chooses to stay after his family leaves, and the account here of the horrors he experiences makes for grim reading. But he shows a resilience and a courage that is humbling to read.

Sami is real – this book is based on his experiences. If you’ve ever questioned the motives of those who put themselves in danger to escape places like Syria, or, from the security of your warm house, with food in your fridge, and your children safely at school, demanded to know why the young men don’t stay and fight, then I respectfully suggest that you read this book. In fact, it’s a book that everyone should read.

‘Long Bright River’ by Liz Moore #BookReview

Once inseparable, sisters Mickey and Kacey are on different paths, but they walk the same streets. Mickey on her police beat and Kacey in the shadows of the city’s darkest corners where the drug addicts and sex workers preside. When a string of murders coincides with Kacey’s disappearance, Mickey is terrified her sister could be next. 

But in a community where death and murder is rife, will Mickey be able to save her sister before it’s too late? 

This is very much more than a police procedural – it’s full of complex, authentic characters, and at the heart there’s a story about family, loss, poverty and hardship.

Mickey is a well-drawn and likeable main character and this is very much her story. Her love and concern for her sister feels authentic and you really want to keep reading, to find out what has happened to her and for both to have a happy ever after, however far-fetched that might feel against the back drop of drug-riddled, crime-ridden, inner city Philadelphia.

I was concerned that there might be judgement here, but drug issues and addiction are treated compassionately and realistically, with sympathy for those caught up in a system that puts the most vulnerable in society at risk.

Heartfelt and well-written, a recommended read.

‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

This is such an accomplished novel. It’s so atmospheric and creepy, immersing the reader in a disturbing, dark world, exploring isolation, loneliness and grief in a place where the folklore and myths of the past threaten the present. 

The writing is wonderful – this is a slow moving novel but it keeps you gripped throughout, slowly and surely unveiling the darkness that lies beneath a very real tragedy. You can feel Richard and Juliette’s devastation at their loss, their confusion about what happened to their boy, and at what is happening now.

Fascinating, disturbing, weirdly beautiful, this is the first novel I’ve read by Andrew Michael Hurley, and I’m very much looking forward to reading his other novels.

‘The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis #BookReview

Yorkshire, 1845, and dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates that Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home – but nobody can find her body.

As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued. Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .

Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë were intelligent, passionate, imaginative, talented, ahead of their time, and authors of so many important and brilliant novels. Bringing that intellect to the solving of a fictional mystery, that seems to involve a murder, is an intriguing idea. 

This was always going to be a divisive novel – it’s actually quite brave to try and portray such well-loved authors in a fictional tale. I adore the Brontës and so really, really wanted to adore this novel, because the author obviously loves them too. But, unfortunately, it fell short for me.

There’s a very thoughtful and poignant beginning. I have visited Haworth, the Brontë’s home, and the author has the details and the atmosphere absolutely spot on. And, although of course no one can be entirely sure, the way the sisters behaved, at least at first, felt ‘real’. 

But unfortunately, as the story continued, I felt less and less involved and convinced. There were so many opportunities here to explore the barriers the sisters faced, but they became lost in melodrama with outcomes that didn’t feel authentic. 

Lots and lots of potential here, that, for me, didn’t feel fully realised.

‘The Guilty Party’ by Mel McGrath #FridayReads #BookReview

Hive

On a night out, four friends witness a stranger in trouble. They decide to do nothing to help.

Later, a body washes up on the banks of the Thames – and the group realises that ignoring the woman has left blood on their hands.

But why did each of them refuse to step in? Why did none of them want to be noticed that night? Who is really responsible?

And is it possible that the victim was not really a stranger at all?

Cassie, Anna, Dex and Bo have been friends for years, and despite two of them being in long term relationships with partners outside ‘The Group’, they are closer to each other than to anyone else.

But they’re getting older, in their thirties, and the cracks in ‘The Group’ are beginning to show – at least for Cassie, who seems to have always been just a bit on the outside.

It’s Cassie’s 32nd birthday that brings everything to a head. The four friends witness something horrible – and their reactions, both as individuals and as ‘The Group’ begin an unravelling in the friendship that will lead Cassie on the path of some really sinister discoveries.

It’s not easy to write characters that readers will despise while still making sure they are engaged and invested in the story. The author manages do that here. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, but I did care about what they witnessed and what was going to happen about that. 

I wasn’t sure about the whole ‘fossil’ theme, and I did wonder at Cassie’s very quick friendships with Julie and Will but this is a very clever and complex novel, and definitely worth a read.

‘Lock Every Door’ by Riley Sager #FridayReads #BookReview

You’ve been offered a luxury apartment, rent free. The catch: you may not live long enough to enjoy it…

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents. 
These are the only rules for Jules Larson’s new job as apartment sitter for an elusive resident of the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile private buildings and home to the super rich and famous.

Recently heartbroken and practically homeless, Jules accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

Out of place among the extremely wealthy, Jules finds herself pulled toward other apartment sitter Ingrid. But Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her. Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story – but the next day, her new friend has vanished.

And then Jules discovers that Ingrid is not the first temporary resident to go missing…

Welcome to the Bartholomew…You may never leave.

I loved ‘Final Girls’, and ‘Lock Every Door’ is every bit as good. 

Jules is offered an opportunity that few of us would turn down, but this novel proves that old adage that if something looks too good to be true it probably is. And the real cost of staying at the Bartholomew is one that is far too high.

Creepy, sinister, possibly verging more on horror rather than thriller, this was an absolute page-turner. The build-up keeps you guessing, tension growing, and little clues left here and there, but I could not have guessed the at all what was really going on, or who was behind it.

Jules has a lot more depth that protagonists in horror/thrillers usually do, and her back story added an extra dimension to the novel. 

I love a good, scary book and this was so well-written, and lots of fun (if you like classic horror films like I do). A great read. 

‘Then She Vanishes’ by Claire Douglas #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Jess and Heather were once best friends – until the night Heather’s sister Flora vanished. The night that lies tore their friendship apart. 

But years later, when a brutal double murder shakes their childhood town, Jess returns home. 

Because the suspect is Heather. 

What happened to the girl you used to know? 

Jess is a reporter on a local paper who has moved from London to Bristol following her involvement in a scandal at the paper where she worked. Her new job isn’t far from her old home town, and when her childhood best friend, Heather, is accused of a double murder, her connection with the family gives her a chance to redeem herself and her career.

The murders seem random; why would Heather, a loving mother, kill two strangers and then attempt to take her own life?

But contact with the family that Jess once adored brings up all sorts of uncomfortable memories, especially around the disappearance of Heather’s sister, Flora. And Jess is torn between loyalty to her friend and her need for an exclusive for her editor.

A fascinating premise, and a well-told and compelling story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Jess is so likeable and warm, and feels very authentic as a character.

The past and present are blended effortlessly, and I really identified with Flora and her love for ‘All About Eve’ and those long, tasselled skirts! These little details make the characters and settings so real.

There are plenty of twists and turns and plenty of drama and excitement to keep you turning the page. 

I wasn’t entirely convinced by a couple of the plot points, but the book is such a gripping read that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Recommended and I’ll definitely read more by this author.