Saturday, 23 April 2016

Review - Shtum by Jem Lester

I honestly don’t know where to begin with my review of Shtum written by Jem Lester, as this was a book that moved me in a way that no book has for such a long time. It’s a mightily impressive debut that I’ve been meaning to pick up for several weeks having seen so many fabulous reviews by others in the book blogging world. This is definitely one of those books that is going to stay with me and one that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. 

In Shtum we meet the Jewell family with Emma and Ben who are parents to Jonah, a young boy who is high on the autistic spectrum. Struggling to cope with the demands of their life, it’s not long before Emma and Ben go their separate ways with Ben moving out to go and live with his elderly father. Taking Jonah with him, three generations of men come together to live in a small house in North London which isn't always easy. However, in addition to battling single fatherhood Ben also has another fight on his hands and that is with the local authority who is adamant that a local non-residential school is the best place for Jonah to be. Confident in his belief that Jonah will be better off at Highgrove Manor - a residential school that can meet Jonah’s needs but at a cost - can Ben convince the local authority that his way is the best way? 

I have to say that I felt a whole range of different emotions whilst reading this book during which I both laughed and cried. Firstly, I felt Ben’s frustration and anger towards the local authority in the novel who it’s clear were less interested in Jonah’s wellbeing and more concerned about funding, wanting to send him to a school that was quite clearly inappropriate for his requirements. I then felt a great deal of admiration for Ben who had demons of his own but was a brave character and determined to stand up for and do the right thing by his son. I then quickly came to love Ben’s father, Georg, who turned out to be an amazing grandfather and cared for Jonah so very much and I loved the way that as the novel progressed both Ben and Georg managed to iron out their differences and develop a close bond. The fact I felt so many emotions really does go to show how truly powerful and incredible Jem Lester’s writing style is. 

I’m not going to say that this was an easy read because it wasn’t but what this book has done is opened my eyes to autism, a condition which I previously knew very little about. It describes the challenges that parents with autistic children face and the way it completely changes their lives in a way I could never have previously imagined. I feel that the novel has been incredibly well researched in terms of the procedures that take place throughout its pages. At times it feels very real and as a consequence of this I feel that the book paints a very real and honest picture. 

I read this book in practically no time at all, just a few short hours as I was so wrapped up in Ben’s battle and wanted to know what the outcome would be. I think this book is one that is incredibly important for raising awareness to a condition that is not often spoken about in fiction and putting life into perspective, making you appreciate what is truly important in life. Although utterly heart-breaking it was beautiful for the way in which it was written and the way it made me feel. I commend Jem Lester on this masterpiece and look forward to reading more by this author in the future. 

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Review - The Chic Boutique on Baker Street by Rachel Dove

As regular readers of this blog will know I love nothing more than a good psychological thriller and seem to devour them extremely quickly. However, what you may not know is that I also love a feel-good, light-hearted read just as much and, for me, that's exactly what The Chic Boutique on Baker Street by Rachel Dove was. I adored this novel, it was everything I thought it would be and so much more and it's left me feeling very excited to read more by this author in the future. 

In The Chic Boutique on Baker Street we meet Amanda who, after finding her partner cheating on her with his secretary, has left the daily grind of London and her career in the law industry far behind and moved to the beautiful village of Westfield. It is here that she has purchased not just a new home for herself but a shop, an up-cycling boutique called A New Lease of Life. In a place where everyone seems to know everyone else's business it's not long before she becomes good friends with the local ladies and Ben, the gorgeous vet of the village, catches her eye. The question is, will Amanda and Ben ever be more than just friends? 

There wasn't a single thing that I didn't love about this gorgeous novel, which I didn't hesitate to award five stars to. Not long after starting the book, I quickly fell in love with Rachel Dove's delightful writing style which I found flowed beautifully from beginning to end and never lost pace. In fact, so good was it that I have no doubt that I could happily have read the book in one sitting had it not been for the small matter that is real life getting in the way. 

What I also liked about this book was the way the author managed to get me feeling every single emotion possible and the way in which I became so connected with Amanda, feeling her emotions as she experienced what was going on around her. More than that, I completely admired her strength of character as someone who had been through so much but was determined to not let it stop her but instead move on and be successful. Let's just say it definitely left me feeling hopeful!

The cast of characters that we meet throughout the novel all complement each other beautifully and it's clear that Rachel has really taken the time to get to know and think carefully about each of the individual characters that she introduces us to and as a result of this the readers really get to know them too. I loved the way the village of Westfield was portrayed as a close-knit community, where everyone was like one big happy family, doing whatever they could to help eachother. 

The Chic Boutique on Baker Street is a gorgeous novel about friendship, love, and making the most out of life that really picked me up and left me with a massive smile on my face. I definitely recommend it! 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Review - Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Foxlowe is the debut novel by Eleanor Wasserberg and it was a book that I was so happy to be offered the chance to review by the team over at Lovereading after I completely fell for the book thanks to a brilliant description. The novel itself had quite an unusual premise but this wasn’t a bad thing as it quite literally opened my eyes to a whole new world and also was incredibly thought-provoking. I really appreciate books like this and feel certain that Foxlowe is going to be incredibly successful. 

Narrated by Green, Foxlowe tells the story about a group of people of all ages and genders who come together to form a cult. Discouraged from leaving the grounds of the house in which they all live due to their belief that only bad and evil things await, the children - Green, Toby and Blue - are all quite protective of one another but live very sheltered lives and are not even permitted to go to school. Regardless of their age, all of the inhabitants believe in the power of the Solstice and the sun eliminating everything that is bad. They've lived this way for many years and it certainly, at first, appears that nothing can tear the unit apart until one day people start to leave. What happens when everything and everyone Green knows is taken away from and her and she is forced to leave the place she’s always called home behind and go out to fend for herself in the real world? Can she make it? 

First of all I have to say that the cast of characters that we meet throughout Foxlowe turn this novel into something that is quite special and one that I could quite easily see being turned into a successful film. I particularly warmed to Green, Toby and Blue in this novel and felt sorry for them all as it was quite clear that they had no choice about whether or not they wanted to be there but didn’t have the power to change anything about their living arrangements. Also they were subjected to some truly awful punishments throughout the novel, thanks to Freya who ruled the roost like a complete dictator - I couldn’t honestly understand the way in which Green in particular looked up to and seemed to worship her. 

Eleanor’s writing style was something that I grew to love with every page I turned and I found that it greatly added to the drama and tension that was present throughout the novel. Furthermore I thought that her writing was beautifully descriptive to the point where I could really visualise everything that was being described throughout the novel, which led to me sometimes feeling like I was there with the characters, seeing and experiencing everything that they were. In this respect I never felt like an outsider looking in!

I also couldn’t write this review without mentioning the cover very briefly which uses a limited range of colours but is simply stunning and incredibly effective. It definitely draws the reader in, adds to the element of mystery and certainly made me want to find out as much as I possibly could about Foxlowe. 

Once I was fully immersed in the world of Foxlowe I found that I didn’t ever want to leave it. It’s a book that raises a number of questions and has left me feeling extremely fortunate to have the life I do - where I’ve been free to form my own opinions on things instead of being brainwashed by my parents and where I’ve not been kept a prisoner but have instead been offered the opportunities like others my own age. I’ve never read a book quite like Foxlowe before and, although at times the physical punishments were a bit uncomfortable to read, I know it’s not a book that I will forget in a hurry. I’m really hopeful that we’ll see more written by Eleanor in the future and believe that she’s definitely an author to look out for!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Review - The Good Mother by A L Bird

I am absolutely delighted to have been offered the chance to participate in the blog tour for The Good Mother by A. L. Bird. Having never read anything written by the author before, I approached this book not knowing what to expect in the slightest. In fact, I knew very little except for the fact that it was a psychological thriller with an awesome synopsis that had me completely hooked and left me desperate to get started. 

In The Good Mother we meet Susan who wakes up in a room she doesn’t recognise with absolutely no idea how she has got there. With the door to the room locked and the realisation setting in that she is completely alone in the room except for when her captor comes in with food and drink, her thoughts soon turn towards her daughter - where is she and is she OK? Before too long Susan starts to hear her daughter’s voice in the room next door to her and, knowing this fact leaves her feeling strong and nothing but determined to get them both out of there to freedom. But all is not as it seems, what happens when the truth eventually emerges? Will she believe it? Does she even want to believe it? What will the repurcussions be? 

This novel is told from the perspective of several different characters - mainly Susan’s but also that of her daughter’s friend and their captor’s - with incredible success. This way of telling what was quite frankly an incredible and astounding novel, with a storyline that was quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before, left me feeling a range of different emotions. I felt sorry for Susan and desperate for her to be successful and make her great escape and nothing but hatred for her captor. That was of course until the twist came and I came to understand the reasons for the captor doing what he was doing although I do think there was a better way of handling the whole situation. 

The Good Mother was an immensely clever novel which was told from an author who is clearly very accomplished and knows how to write a gripping psychological thriller to leave readers jumping to conclusions and constantly on their toes. The tension was expertly built up throughout this novel from beginning to end. This is something that I thought the short sentences greatly added to - they built up a sense of panic that kept me frantically turning the pages and flying through it. When the twist eventually came and I found out the truth of exactly what was going on - I was shocked as it was not something that I expected and certainly not something that I could ever have predicted. 

There were a few occasions whilst reading this novel that I felt myself wincing at what was going on and feeling uncomfortable but overall I felt that it was an extremely strong and powerful novel. A number of themes were drawn into this book that left me asking many questions and really got me thinking about what I would do and how I would react to the situations the characters found themselves in. It was a really great introduction to the author’s writing and I have absolutely no doubt that I will be back to read more written by her in the future. 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Review - The Way We Were by Sinead Moriarty

There’s something about Sinead Moriarty’s books that I just absolutely love - her writing is consistently first-class and the stories she produces are always brimming with emotion and full of drama from beginning to end. The Way We Were, Sinead’s latest novel, was absolutely no exception and I have to say it was sensational. It completely blew me away and was everything I thought it would be and more. 

In this novel we meet Alice and Ben who live with their two daughters, Jools and Holly, in London. With Alice working as a GP in her own practice and Ben working as a surgeon, they juggle a busy work schedule with looking after their two children which isn’t always easy. However, Ben’s mind is firmly elsewhere and he is so desperate for some adventure that when an opportunity comes up for him to go on a humanitarian trip to Eritrea he jumps at the chance, ignoring Alice’s desperate protests. Having lost her parents in a car crash she is fearful of losing Ben and having her family torn apart and her fears become a reality when, one day, she receives a call from the foreign office informing her that her precious husband is believed to have been killed by a landmine. Although not known to the foregin office or Alice, Ben has been kidnapped so what happens when he eventually manages to return to her two years later? Can they pick up where they left off? 

This novel is told from the perspective of different characters, namely Holly, Alice and Ben, and this absolutely worked in this book’s favour although I would have liked to have seen some written from Jools’ perspective. Nevertheless, thanks to the story being presented in this way, I was able to form a very clear picture of what was going on and got a really good insight into what the characters were feeling and exactly what they were all going through. It made me feel like I was a real part of the family and I felt that I was able to connect with them and what they were all experiencing. I have to say that I was particularly struck by Holly’s chapters who, despite being the youngest member of the family, was wise beyond her years and cared so much for those around her.

The Way We Were features a number of different themes that come together to create a story that is guaranteed to pull on any reader’s heartstrings. At the centre of it all is the theme of grief where we see the characters deal with it in a different way but who all end up feeling guilty and blaming themselves for what happened. Then there was the theme of family and friendship shining through with everyone coming together and supporting eachother to get through what was an extremely difficult time for all. We also saw the theme of self-harm come into this novel which added a whole new dimension to this book and raised a number of questions of its own. 

After finishing The Way We Were, one thing that’s certain is that Sinead remains firmly on my list of favourite authors and I will never hesitate to pick up a book that is written by her. All in all it was a truly magnificent novel that despite it’s relatively sombre theme also contained some more humerous moments meaning that whilst reading this book I felt every single possible emotion. It was one of those books that was so beautifully written that I never wanted it to end and certainly never wanted to put it down. 

I would like to end this review by saying a massive thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy of this book. It was a privilege to receive and read such an incredible novel!