books

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

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Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 stars

 

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

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

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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Don’t Trust These People

Don’t Trust Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mad by Chloe Esposito

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

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

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

Who wouldn’t want seven days in the sun?

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

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

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

If she can get away with it.

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

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell 

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

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

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

An entertaining, sometimes shocking, and completely honest autobiography.

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

 

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Amy’s husband Hugh has run away to ‘find himself’. But will he ever come back?‘Myself and Hugh . . . We’re taking a break.’
‘A city-with-fancy-food sort of break?’

If only.

Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her.

He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in South East Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.

Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .

However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge.

For a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? Will Amy be the same woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 out of 5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘Living in Italy: The Real Deal – Hilarious Expat Adventures’ by Stef Smulders @italie_verhalen #tuesdaybookblog #RBRT #bookreview

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Living in Italy: The Real Deal’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Would you dare to follow your dream and move or retire to Italy?

Stef & Nico did, although their dog Sara had her doubts. Now from your comfortable armchair you can share in the hilarious & horrendous adventures they experienced when they moved to Italy to start a bed and breakfast.

For lovers of amusing travelogue memoirs who like a good laugh. And for those interested in practical advice on how to buy a house in Italy there is useful information along the way, pleasantly presented within the short stories.

I have long harboured a dream to move to France, though Brexit may well scupper that. Italy or Portugal are next on the list, even though my own experience of driving in Italy was utterly terrifying (they literally have no rules – at least not any that anyone follows). So I was very interested to read the story of a couple relocating to Italy, especially as they bought a house that needed renovation and which has now been turned into a holiday rental (I am so tempted to book!).

Well, I now know that I will have to buy something that needs no work at all – I know I couldn’t bear the stress and upheaval that Stef and Nico went through. If you thought stories about unscrupulous tradesmen, a lackadaisical attitude to working times and deadlines, and a system where everything is done through a friend of a friend were exaggerated, then you should read this book. Everything you think and fear is true.

Stef and Nico come across as endlessly patient, hugely pragmatic and very nice indeed! The stories included here are so interesting and so funny at times. The portrayals of neighbours and friends, tradesman, agents and architects are delivered with a wry humour and a real eye for the little details that sum someone up in a few words or actions.

The only let down for me was that the translation isn’t great, which sometimes made things a bit hard-going. That isn’t really the fault of the author, but it does mean a lower rating than I would have given otherwise. If you can overlook that, and read it with an open-mind, then you’ll really enjoy it.

Three and a half out of five stars.

3.5

Writing and Editing Tips Revisited: Writing a Blurb #writingtips #wwwblogs

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Almost as feared as the dreaded synopsis, the book blurb has the power to turn wonderful writers to jelly. But the blurb is the hook, along with the cover, to reel those readers in. You need to make sure that you entice your reader, that you intrigue them without giving too much away. Longer than the elevator pitch, but shorter than a synopsis, the book blurb is key to whetting a reader’s appetite.

So how should you approach it? Here are some quick tips on getting that blurb up to scratch.

Keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.

Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.

Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.

Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?

Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King and you’re more likely to annoy them than anything.

Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.

Good luck!

‘Fire Damage’ by Kate Medina #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

To find a killer, she must unlock a child’s terror…

The first in an exciting new crime series featuring psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn – a brilliantly complex character who struggles with a dark past of her own. Perfect for fans of Nicci French and Val McDermid.

A traumatized little boy

Four years old, terrified, disturbed – Sami is a child in need of help. Now it’s up to psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn to find the cause of his suffering and unlock his darkest memories, before it’s too late.

A psychologist with a secret

Meanwhile Jessie is haunted by an awful truth of her own. She works alongside former patient, Captain Ben Callan, to investigate a violent death – but the ghosts of her past refuse to leave her.

A body washed up on the beach

When a burnt corpse is found on the Sussex coast, Jessie begins to uncover a link between her two cases – and a desperate killer will do anything to keep it buried…

Army psychologist Jessie Flynn is asked to treat the traumatised four-year-old son of an army major. His father has been badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Afghanistan and it seems that he is the terrifying ‘shadowman’ at the heart of Sami’s terror. But the situation is far more complex than that, and Jessie’s investigations lead her to make some intriguing discoveries about Nooria, the boy’s mother.

Jessie is also asked to help a former patient, Captain Ben Callan, with his investigation into the apparent murder of a soldier in Afghanistan. And does a body washed up on a Chichester beach have links with either case?

There were some parts of this book that I found really gripping and thoroughly enjoyed. Jessie is an interesting main character and is certainly three-dimensional. Her history has a huge effect on her everyday life and this adds an extra depth to her character, and her relationship with Callan is also well-written. I didn’t guess the twist at the end either. And Sami is a hugely effective character, and very sensitively written

However, the story took a while to get going and I did find myself skipping through some of it. And there were aspects of the writer’s style that I didn’t like. There were quite a few incomplete sentences. Sometimes these worked, adding drama and tension, but quite often they just seemed awkward and unfinished.

And the ending felt very rushed. Everything was tied up very quickly in almost one scene, which was a little disappointing, particularly as things took a while to get going in the beginning.

3-stars-out-of-5

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.

‘The Former Chief Executive’ by Kate Vane #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview @k8vane

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Former Chief Executive’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Without your past, who are you?
Deborah was a respected hospital manager until a tragedy destroyed her reputation. She has lost her career, her husband and even her name.
Luca wants to stay in the moment. For the first time in his life he has hope and a home. But a fresh start is hard on a zero-hours contract, harder if old voices fill your mind.
When a garden share scheme brings them together, Deborah is beguiled by Luca’s youth and grace. He makes her husband’s garden live again. He helps her when she’s at her lowest. But can she trust him? And when the time comes to confront her past, can she find the strength?
This sharply drawn short novel explores the distance between the generations – between health and wealth, owners and workers, guilt and blame.

Deborah’s vision of her retirement – to spend her days finally relaxing with her husband Peter after a long career – has had to be reimagined. Peter has died, and she is alone, struggling to know what to do with her time and how to live without him, and without the career that defined her.

Luca is also struggling – struggling with life after prison, a new job, a pregnant girlfriend. He finds solace in working on Deborah’s garden and the two develop a friendship.

But the arrival of Deborah’s daughter complicates things as their problematic relationship is put under new pressure. And Deborah also has to contend with her past, and the fear that it will come back to ruin the present.

This is a thoughtful book, measured and considered. The pace is rather slow, but it works with writing that is skilful and assured. The characters are incredibly well-drawn and have so many layers – they have a real depth, and, while not all are exactly likeable, their stories are compelling, and you really care about what happens to them.

My only issue is that I feel this could have been longer. I wanted to know more about Deborah’s past, about what happened at the hospital. And I wanted more about her relationship with Eleanor. Luca is so interesting too, and I felt that there were things in his past that could be explored more thoroughly. The writing is so well-crafted, so good, that it seemed a shame that that wasn’t more of it!

This is a well-crafted and enjoyable read. The restrained tone is deceiving – there is a great deal going on here, a lot of it seething away under the surface. The author shows a great amount of skill in resisting the temptation to let everything bubble over.

An excellent novella.

4.5 out of 5

‘Fever Dream’ by Samanta Schweblin #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.

One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange and deeply unsettling psychological menace in this cautionary tale of maternal love, broken souls and the power and desperation of family.

This is a very unusual novella, structured as questions and answers between a dying woman, Amanda, and a child, David, who is not hers. Amanda has been on holiday with her daughter, Nina, and has befriended Carla, David’s mother. Carla is frightened of David, calls him a monster, and tells Amanda that her son has been ‘transmigrated’ into another body after being poisoned.

This ‘new’ David is certainly strange, but is Carla telling the truth? Is she deluded? How has Amanda ended up dying in a hospital bed? And where is Nina?

The writing here (translated by Megan McDowell) is just excellent. There is a sense of foreboding, of menace, a real strangeness to the tale that is executed beautifully. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but I found it completely absorbing. In an age of disappointing, box-ticking, formulaic books, it was a genuine pleasure to read. There are no answers here, no satisfying resolution. It’s creepy, uncanny and weird, really, if I’m honest. But it’s brilliant.

5 stars

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

 

 

‘FARMAGEDDON – THE TRUE COST OF CHEAP MEAT’ BY PHILIP LYMBERY #FRIDAYREADS #BOOKREVIEW #NATIONALVEGETARIANWEEK

It’s National vegetarian Week this week in the UK. I’ve shared this review several times – but it’s such an excellent, thought-provoking read that it definitely warrants sharing again.

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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

 

‘He Said/She Said’ by Erin Kelly #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, she also knows that you can never see the whole picture: something is always hidden… something she never could have guessed.

Kit is an eclipse chaser, something he’s been doing since he was a child. In 1999, he attends a festival in Cornwall with new girlfriend Laura to see an eclipse, which they watch together. Returning to the campsite, they see what Laura assumes is a rape. This incident impacts the rest of their lives together, and they become embroiled in a situation where no one really knows who’s telling the truth. And Beth, the alleged victim, won’t leave them alone.

The story flips between what happens at the festival and its aftermath and the present day – 2015. Laura and Kit are living under assumed names, terrified of their past catching up with them. Laura is pregnant with twins and Kit is about to set off to the Faroe Islands to see a last eclipse before fatherhood. We hear the story from both Laura and Kit, which works really well to set up the tension and to create an atmosphere where the reader doesn’t really know what, or who, to believe.

I did really enjoy reading this book. It’s a clever plot with a twist that is genuinely surprising. The characters are well-drawn and, unlike some other reviewers, I did warm to them, particularly Laura, and could definitely understand her motivations. It was a real page-turner.

However, there were a couple of things that didn’t really work for me. Laura and Kit keep referring to an incident in Zambia, after the alleged assault. It is hinted that something major happened. When this was revealed it was a real let down. And they also refer to a video online that is terribly upsetting for Laura. Again, it isn’t, and this is another let down. If things are built up like this, then the reader deserves something worthy of all that tension.

That said, this is a really good read. The author understands how to build tension and how to keep a reader engaged. I’d definitely recommend it.

4 stars

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