#RBRT

‘What’s Left Unsaid’ by @DeborahStone_ #BookReview #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘What’s Left Unsaid’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

unsaid

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

You can tell as soon as you begin reading this book that you’re going to enjoy it. The opening works so well and is a real attention-grabber. And the rest of the novel doesn’t disappoint.
Sasha is a lovely character. As a woman approaching a rather important birthday, I love female characters I can relate to, and I can’t bear it when a woman approaching middle age is portrayed as supremely confident, and with a body that makes men gasp! It isn’t realistic and it’s annoying. Sasha drinks wine and eats whole packets of biscuits when she’s fed up – far more relatable, far more real, without falling into stereotype.
The three points of view here work exceptionally well. There’s no ‘head-hopping’ and the differing viewpoints really work in enabling you to sympathise with characters that you might otherwise absolutely despise – Annie, for example. When we hear about her from Sasha, all our sympathy is with Sasha, but when we learn about Annie’s past, we see why she is like she is, and while we still feel so much for Sasha, we can feel for Annie too.
The author really shows these different characters so well – she has a firm understanding of human nature and relationships. Her characters are real, and fully developed.
And Sasha has a lovely dog too, who is very much a part of the story – always a plus for me!
My only gripe is that there were a few errors in the text – issues with tense and capitalisation, though not enough to spoil things, and I did feel that some of Joe’s story relied a little too heavily on telling. That said, this is a lovely book, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. I’ll definitely look out for more from this author.

4 stars

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‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars

 

‘Brand New Friend’ by @k8vane #rbrt #fridayreads #bookreview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Brand New Friend’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

Amazon.co.uk

Wherever Paolo went, Claire had got there first. The gigs, the parties, the enigmatic artist he was sure he was in love with. He would never have joined the group if it hadn’t been for Claire. And maybe, if he hadn’t, no one would have died.

Journalist Paolo Bennett learns that Mark, an animal rights activist he knew as a student in the 80s, has been exposed as a former undercover cop. A news blog claims Mark was the fabled spy who never went back, who liked his new life better than his own.

Paolo wants the truth. He wants the story. Despite everything, he wants to believe his friend. But Mark isn’t making it easy for him, disappearing just as everyone wants answers.

Was their group linked to a death on campus, one the police were strangely reluctant to investigate? Why is Mark’s police handler lying dead in his garden?

And why does Paolo suspect, even now, that Claire knows more than he does?

Successful journalist Paolo is feeling a little dissatisfied with life. Forced back to the UK from a happy life in Cairo, his wife is distant, his work frustrating. Then Mark, an activist from Paolo’s student past is revealed to be an undercover police officer who had eschewed life in the force to become a real activist. He contacts Paolo, and things get more interesting when a body is found in the community garden where Mark works. The story leads Paolo back to his university days and the reader is taken along with him as the author weaves together past and present.

I was a teenager in the eighties, and a student in the very early nineties and so I absolutely loved the references in this novel to the music I loved and the politics I was interested in – honestly, I could have been one of these intense students, going on anti-vivisection demos and listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, lecturing everyone about the gelatine in their wine gums – yes, that was me. And I can vouch for the authenticity of the writing here – it’s spot on and brings those years to life so well.

So not surprisingly the sections set in the eighties were the highlight for me, but that’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t really good. There’s a very clever and a very pertinent story here, one that encompasses the issues of the past and current political and environmental issues, and that includes fracking, the Arab Spring, and the scandal around the undercover police officers who infiltrated pressure groups.

The mystery around the murder seems secondary to a large extent – to me, this novel felt that it was about its characters, the dynamics between them, their hopes and aspirations, and how those dreams and ambitions were either realised or thwarted. The murder and the mystery surrounding it feel like something to tie these stories together and I do think that if you’re a fan of crime fiction then you might be a little disappointed. But if you like a good story, with well-crafted and intelligent writing, and real authentic characters, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

4 stars

 

 

 

‘Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum’ by Margaret Halliday #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Good Vibrations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

51rb0snhyaL

Amazon.co.uk

Margaret Halliday’s second book, Good Vibrations: a Story of a Single 60s Mum tells the poignant tale of her harrowing and often hilarious experience of unmarried motherhood in pre-Abortion Act Scotland. 17-year-old Margaret’s Glaswegian romance results in unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak but she battles on overcoming all obstacles which will make you laugh, cry and sometimes scream.

Margaret’s story makes for a very interesting read and offers a real insight into how things were for young woman in the sixties.
She’s an intelligent girl, with a bright future, but she finds herself pregnant. With a supportive sister, she has somewhere to turn when she has to leave college and give up her dreams of a future in horticulture. But the baby’s father doesn’t want to know, and Margaret still wants the chance of a career, so she decides to give her baby up for adoption.
After the birth however, she has a change of heart, and the remainder of the book charts her struggle to provide for herself and her son, through a series of dodgy housekeeper positions, refuges and housemates.
Margaret’s bravery and determination to fend for herself come through really well and you’re rooting for her even when you’re willing her not to make the wrong decisions. The story really shows how difficult and dangerous it was for a single mother back then.
This has the potential to be such a great book. Margaret has a lovely voice, funny, clever and honest, but there isn’t enough detail here, and the text really needs a bit of reorganisation. There are some fabulous characters that need developing further. With some restructuring this would be so good, a really brave and important book. But it’s a little patchy at the moment. Well worth a read though.

3.5

‘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.

italy

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

‘Castles in the Air’ by Alison Ripley Cubitt @lambertnagle #FridayReads #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Castles in the Air’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

castles

 

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same. 

After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?

Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.

The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past.
But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life?

As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future?

Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams.
We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love.
A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.

Using letters and journal entries, this book traces the life of the author’s mother, Molly, from her childhood in Hong Kong and Malaya, through marriage and motherhood, detailing her career in nursing, living in New Zealand and her struggles in adult life.

I enjoyed the letters – they give an honest and authentic glimpse into Molly’s life and the upheaval she faces in the war years. As the book progresses, the narrative is unflinching. The author hides nothing, and even though Molly has demons to struggle with, and even though these must have affected the author in her childhood and beyond, the love and affection she felt for her children  shines through and brings a real warmth to the book.

I found the historical detail fascinating and thought that Molly was so interesting. She must have been a fascinating lady, with so many experiences to share. That said, there was some repetition, and some details that, while I can see how they would be interest for the family, did become a little monotonous.

The book is well-written, and the author is obviously a competent writer. I found myself wishing that she’d taken the letters and journals and made them into a novel. I feel this would be much more interesting for most readers and there’s an absolute wealth of material here.

An enjoyable read, but something I felt had the potential to be a great deal more.

3.5

‘Keepers’ by @sacha_black #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

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

Keepers

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Saving the world is easy: all Eden has to do is die. 

Seventeen-year-old Eden East’s life is perfect… until her soul is bound to her worst nightmare. Then her parents are brutally murdered, and everyone’s a suspect, including her best friend.

As her world spirals out of control, a charismatic Siren, from a past she can’t remember, returns offering help, hope, and a heap of distractions.

Eden must put aside her grief to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder. In a race against time, can she break the binding to her enemy before he destroys her and her world?

Three lives.
Two murdered parents.
One deadly choice.

This is the first in the Eden East Novels series and the first of the author’s novels. Eden is a Fallon – a royal Keeper whose role it is to ensure Balance in the world of Trutinor. The Keepers have different powers and are either Elementals, Shifters, Sirens or Sorcerers. Eden, an Elemental, is destined to be bound forever to another Fallon – a Shifter for whom she feels no attraction. But it isn’t up to her. Things change when Eden’s parents are murdered, and when Trey, a Siren who was Eden’s close childhood friend, reappears after a long absence, and confuses Eden further. They are forced together as they try to find the killers and avoid a fate that could have far-reaching consequences.

The author builds her world compellingly. There are some really well-crafted scenes here and the dialogue is, on the whole, authentic. Eden is a strong yet sympathetic main character and it’s always great to have strong female leads, whatever the genre. And Eden is also a character that a reader will care about – her strength is balanced well with her vulnerability, which adds depth to the narrative.

The writing is technically sound, and the plot has enough intrigue, mystery and surprises to hold the reader’s attention.

There were a few places where I felt the writing could be tightened a bit, and where the focus was too heavily on Eden’s reactions and feeling. There were also lots of characters that it was sometimes hard to keep track of. I do have a problem with fantasy books in that I always find the characters’ names and the names of imaginary places distracting– but I do appreciate that this goes with the territory. The definitions of the terms and traditions/conventions of Trutinor were also very long.

That said, this is a solid first novel from a debut author, and Eden has great potential for future books in the series.

4 stars

‘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

‘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

‘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