Monthly Archives: April 2015

BOOK REVIEW – Black Wood by S.J.I. Holliday

Black Wood

This was THE Book Club’s (Facebook) April Book of The Month (BOTM) – a new concept where everyone who wants to, reads a pre-selected book (which members vote on). They then have 4 weeks in which to read the book, and then there is an online discussion together with the author.

This is a dark story with very sinister undertones. Something happened to Claire and Jo in the woods when they were much younger and since then things have never been the same. Claire is paralysed and has no recollection of the events of that day, and Jo is left questioning whether her account of things is really what happened. Regardless of that, she doesn’t like to think about it and has buried the past deep in her psyche. But now someone is stalking people at ‘The Track’ and there’s speculation that whoever attacked the girls all those years ago is inexplicably back to cause more damage.

Divided into sections: ‘The Woods’ and ‘The Boy’, the narrative jumps between the past and the present. I didn’t find this confusing (it seems to be a very common writing method lately), but what was a bit complicated was that new characters and storylines were still being introduced up until nearly halfway through the book, which I found a bit difficult to keep up with. However, despite this, the book is still a gripping read.

The other strange thing is that although I found most of the characters highly unlikeable, I was still absorbed by the story. Nobody seems to like Jo, but they seem bound by a sense of duty to remain friendly with her and to look after her and ensure that she’s OK (which she clearly isn’t). I also wondered why she was in such a quandary as to where she would go when her boyfriend breaks up with her, when it turns out she has her own cottage (albeit, in a remote area) left to her by her grandmother. So she isn’t exactly as out on her ear as is made out. It did take me a while to come to the conclusion that the memories that the cottage conjures for her are difficult for Jo to come to terms with, so eventually I did understand why she avoided the place.

So you might be wondering why I gave the book 4 stars when it seems to be such a hodge-podge of a story! The truth is that despite all its many flaws, it’s an absorbing read. You want to get to the end so that all is revealed and neatly wrapped up, and although the ending isn’t as ‘wow’ as I wanted it to be, it is all eventually disclosed and you do get some sense of closure.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Lie by C.L. Taylor

The Lie

I couldn’t wait to read this book, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I couldn’t put it down, and read it within 48 hours!

Jane Hughes is living what could be referred to as a ‘small’ life in a quiet region of Wales. She loves her job in an animal sanctuary, and is enjoying what could be a potential long-term relationship with the lovely Will. But Jane has a past that she has done everything in her power to hide. Jane isn’t even her real name! Told in both the present tense, and in flashbacks to the horrific events of 5 years ago, we learn Jane’s story.

5 years previously, Emma (now Jane) is a fairly average 20-year-old. She hates her job but she loves her friends: dynamic Daisy, volatile Al, and the quite aggressive Leanne (who she’s actually not overly fond of, but who falls within their circle). The girls have been friends since their university days and form a cohesive group despite (or maybe because of) their individual weaknesses and failings. To help Al get over a particularly upsetting break-up, the girls decide to go to a retreat in Nepal. They anticipate that it will be the holiday of a lifetime – something they envision they can always look back on, reminiscing about the fantastic time they had. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t exactly turn out like that.

When they reach the mountain-top retreat of Ekanta Yatra they meet the charismatic Isaac and his team. They don’t exactly form a cult, more like a hippie commune, but Emma is immediately alerted to the fact that something doesn’t quite feel right. Unfortunately by the time she decides that she needs to do something about it, they are stuck on a Nepalese mountain, in rainy weather that prevents them from leaving.

Taylor cleverly and intricately deals with the age old art of manipulation and mind-games. Who should the girls believe? Who’s telling the truth? What are the inhabitants of Ekanta Yatra hiding? The story twists and turns, as the cracks in their friendship widen. Each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger which only makes the reader determined to keep reading. It also insinuates itself into the reader’s head, leading one to ponder on who you’d want to be stuck in a remote location with; which of your friends would really have your back when push comes to shove? It’s chillingly disturbing.

You’ll automatically find yourself looking at which characters you identify with. Some you’ll automatically empathise with, while others you might immediately dislike. You quite desperately feel that you need to ‘take sides’ here, but are never quite sure which is the right one. The book forces you to ask what you’d do in a similar situation. One would like to believe that you can completely trust your friends and vice versa, but hopefully you never find yourself in circumstances like these, because maybe it’s just easier never having to find out!

The day after I finished this book, we were all shocked to hear of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal. I found it coincidental (although many believe that coincidences just don’t happen) that I’d just finished a book based in that very area, and Emma’s feeling of desperation at being isolated on a remote mountain resonated with me even more than it had previously.

This is a highly recommended, gripping read.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

I don’t know how to begin to describe this book that I loved so much, I’d give it 10 stars if I could!! So I’ll just dive in, shall I? I loved, loved, loved this book! Anna McPartlin writes with such warmth, wit and empathy that you feel like you’re being enveloped in the outstretched arms of the Hayes clan.

Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes is dying. In the end-stages of breast cancer, she’s been moved to a hospice to spend her final few days. She is leaving behind her adored daughter, Juliet, devastated parents, Molly and Jack, brother Davey and sister Grace. I know that sounds like wrist-slitting, depressing stuff, but it just so isn’t!

Told through the differing perspectives of Rabbit, Juliet, Molly, Jack, Davey and Grace, and also giving insightful flashbacks from the love of Rabbit’s life, Johnny Faye, this is one of the most hilarious, delightful books I’ve ever read. I know I probably sound deranged! How can a book with such sad theme be even remotely enjoyable? But it is! The humour, the comedy, the absolute absurdity of it in the midst of such impossible sadness is spirited and heartfelt. The sheer Irishness of it all is just so unbelievably wonderful  (which, to a fanatical wannabe Leprechaun like me, makes it even more worthwhile!).

Through a series of flashbacks interspersed throughout the book, we learn about Rabbit’s life and how she has come to have such an incredible support system of extended family and friends who truly become part of the Hayes inner circle. Add to this the different hospice care-givers who drift in and out during Rabbit’s stay and you genuinely believe that there are some lovely people in the world who love and care with their entire being.

I could ramble on for pages about each special, unique character in this book, but I’m not going to. You absolutely have to read it for yourself! It’s funny (actually laugh-out-loud hilarious in parts!), uplifting, inspiring, and yes there is the inevitable sadness, but in the end it is a wholly satisfying story that will leave Rabbit Hayes embedded in your heart for ever more!

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BOOK REVIEW – Forsaken by J.D. Barker

Forsaken

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for my honest review.

I had no idea what type of book this was, so with a very open mind, I plunged in. How thrilled I was at the early mention of Stephen King’s Needful Things! It took me right back to my (much) younger days when I devoured this author’s books, loving the mystery, darkness, and downright horror that was part and parcel of his brilliance! So I settled in for the long haul.

Rachael McAlister wanted to give her husband, author Thad, a very special gift. She was searching for just the right thing that would shift all the obstacles blocking his writer’s imagination. She finds a beautiful leather-bound book at Needful Things, and blithely makes a terrifying trade-off in return for giving the book to her husband.

Alternating between Rachael and Thad’s perspectives, we also follow a book within a book, with chapters from Thad’s book ‘The Rise of the Witch’, based on the Salem Witch Trials. Even some of the names used are names are some of those involved in the trials all those years ago. It weaves in and out of past and present, and the reader is left mystified as to what is real, and what is fantasy?

Thad himself admits that he felt like he was not even writing the book himself: the words simply flowed through him and onto the pages. He feels the strength and control of ‘Her’ and just knows she is closer than she has ever been before to getting what she wants. He has unleashed a demon! But what is she after?

As Thad leaves a heavily pregnant Rachael and young daughter Ashley in order to travel to New York and finalise his book (and hopefully a film) deal, they tumble into a nightmare of epic proportions that will spare none of them! The twists and turns are unpredictable; the intrigue is addictive; the horror is all-encompassing! It’s really quite superb!

The fight is on and Rachael must preserve her sanity and the very lives of those she loves. As her home is invaded by insidious minions and she realises that the despicable hag she dreams of is dangerously real, you can literally picture the crescendo that the story reaches, complete with sound and smell; the author has described it all in perfect, minuscule detail. I was dumbfounded at the end – literally left speechless at the ingenuity with which it was delivered!

This book is a must for fans of Stephen King, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz. It’s not for the faint-hearted and once you start make sure you’ve cleared your calendar because you won’t be able to put it down. This is the first in a series. I can’t wait for the next one.

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BOOK REVIEW – Recipes for Melissa by Teresa Driscoll

 Recipes for Melissa

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for the advance copy I received for my honest review.

When Melissa was just 8 years old, her mother Eleanor died of breast cancer. Knowing that she wouldn’t be around to watch her daughter grow up, and to share with her the wisdom that is so often passed down from mothers to daughters, Eleanor decides to leave Melissa a book that she will receive when she is 25, explaining many of the things that she won’t be there to share with her in person. Containing not only recipes and photographs, the book also shares the reasons why Eleanor decided not to tell her only child of her illness and guides Melissa in how to make certain decisions in her own, now adult, life.

Told from the perspectives of Melissa, her father Max, and her late mom Eleanor this is a touching, but not overly emotional story of a devastating illness and the impact it has on both the patient and those left behind. It investigates the advances that have been made in the field of medicine regarding the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and although at times (briefly), it did start to sound like a bit of a science or biology lesson, the message here is clear: everyone has the option to be tested, and to take preventative measures if and where necessary. Early detection is key.

The themes explored here are realistic ones. Max, tentatively wondering if he should take further his attraction to the lovely Anna; Melissa’s fear of marriage to the steadfast Sam and her very understandable reasons for this fear; her uncertainty, at the age of 25, of how to react to receiving such an unexpected gift from her mother, and her exploration into the missing memories of the happy times they’d shared. While she tries to figure out how she feels about all of this, she prefers to keep her mother’s book to herself, not sure of how Sam and Max will react to it when she does share it with them. While I could understand her reluctance to tell her father about it immediately (wondering if he’d feel excluded, and why his late wife hadn’t left something similar for him), I did struggle to understand why she felt she couldn’t tell Sam about it.

It was especially insightful to read Eleanor’s chapters and to follow her journey, her thoughts and fears as she wrote in her book for Melissa. How could one ever know the pain of a mother leaving a legacy for her child, knowing that she will not be there for all those important life-events when a daughter so desperately needs her mother by her side? And how do I even begin to describe that this is heart-wrenching, but subtle at the same time? Driscoll has achieved a marvellous balance in her writing: not over emotive, but still poignant and moving. It is really masterfully authored, especially for a debut novel!

A thoroughly enjoyable book despite the subject matter, and a new author who shows a lot of promise. We’ll undoubtedly be looking forward to her next book.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable

The Faerie Tree

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in return for my honest review.

I was drawn to this book by the promise of something a little bit magical. Both the title and cover hint at this, but somehow the magic doesn’t evolve quite as I’d hoped. The story is one of loss, grief, belief, understanding, promises made and broken, and eventually, hope.

Izzy and Claire are mourning the recent loss of their husband and father Connor, and contemplating their first Christmas without him. A chance encounter with a ‘tramp’ while in town one day reveals that this is Izzy’s lost love Robin, a man who she loved long before Connor, but who, through tragic circumstances disappeared from her life almost as quickly as he appeared in it. Izzy is determined that this isn’t going to be the case this time and makes a concerted effort to track Robin down.

Quite bizarrely, Izzy almost immediately brings Robin to live with her and her teenage daughter! And it is through shared reminiscences that they discover that their memories of their past, their brief relationship and their separation, are completely different. They backtrack, and with the help of Stephen (Robin’s benefactor Jennifer’s son) and his psychotherapist partner Gareth, they attempt to get to the bottom of what really happened.

The steadfast fixture in both their minds and indeed in Robin’s life since his original departure, is the Faerie tree of the title. A magical place where both children and adults come to give offerings and their most heartfelt wishes to the faeries in the hope that they will be granted. In his absence, Robin lived with mother-figure Jennifer, who saw herself as something of a ‘keeper of the tree’. She taught Robin everything she knew about nature, respect for the earth and all that it provides. It’s referred to as Paganism, but it’s never explained fully in the book.

Although this was a pleasant, easy read, I found that it lacked depth. I wanted more magic, and to know more about Paganism and what it truly means to those who practise it. It’s mentioned far too briefly when it should be a central element of the story. I wanted to gain more insight into Izzy and whether she was truly racked with grief or whether she did actually suffer from some sort of mental illness. For that fact, I felt the same about Robin. As lovely as he is now, why did he just leave and never return, never even contacting a soul from his past life, even though he landed up living quite close by. There just wasn’t enough clarity on anything to make this the fully-rounded, satisfying read that I wanted it to be.

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BOOK REVIEW – My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger Year 1

What started out as quite an enjoyable memoir, deteriorated into a rather self-indulgent meander of self-discovery, with the help of the works of J.D. Salinger.

Rakoff writes of her year working for her ‘Boss’ at ‘The Agency’, but more about that later. She’s 23 and has drifted slightly from her planned life-path and having returned from a desperately lonely sojourn studying in England. She’s dropped out of graduate school, secretly discarded her college boyfriend (heaven forbid her parents find out!), and is at a bit of a loose end.

She meets Don – and moves in with him. In a nutshell, he’s a bully – arrogant, self-absorbed and selfish. I have no idea why Joanna stayed with him for so long! But he is the cornerstone upon which her New York life, at that stage, revolved, especially after her parents inform her that she is now responsible for her outstanding student loans, making her financial situation rather tenuous. I think they placed far too much faith in Joanna’s ability to behave like an adult – she seems incredibly naïve and vulnerable for someone of her age in the mid-nineties.

Joanna lands what she feels is her dream job at ‘The Agency’(if you Google it, apparently it’s easy enough to discover the actual name of said Agency), as assistant to her ‘Boss’ (again, easily identifiable through Google). The Agency is a little cultural island all of its own, being one of the last remaining vestiges of the ‘old’ way in which business was conducted in the literary world: no computers; letters typed on electric typewriters, the use of Dictaphones,  an intricate system of little cards to keep all submissions in order. And it would seem that The Agency exists in a bygone era purely because its best known client – Salinger – abhors anything remotely related to the literary world’s shift into more up-to-date methods. It’s all quite ridiculous!

Rakoff’s job includes dealing with the copious amounts of Salinger fan mail that arrive on a regular basis. She’s given a form letter to type in return to these, explaining Salinger’s obsessive need for privacy and his explicit request that no mail be forwarded to him. Is this supposed to add to his sense of mystery, or is it purely rude and arrogant on the Agency’s part? We’re left to our own devices on this one. Yes, I believe Salinger was quite a stickler for maintaining his privacy, but it’s possible he might have been not wholly averse to seeing a few of the letters sent to him. Despite strict instructions to stick to the form letter, Rakoff cannot help but personalise some of the responses, not always to the satisfaction of the recipients.

Eventually, some months after starting at the Agency, having never read a Salinger book, but now feeling that he’s part of the fabric of her very existence, Rakoff devours all of his works within one weekend and suddenly feels she has a clearer understanding of ‘life, the universe, and everything’, which she feels she needs to enlighten us all with. By this point, the book becomes tedious, and I just wanted to get to the end, which seemed to be quite an abrupt attempt to tie everything together. I’m not sure it does that satisfactorily.

As a non-American, forgive me for saying it’s all very ‘American’! I’ve never read Salinger, so even though I don’t understand the significance his work holds in American literary history, I do know that he holds a lofty position there. I respect that, I really do! But I do think that if everyone who has ever felt the keen influence of a Salinger book, no matter how peripherally, feels the need to share that with the rest of us, the literary world might be in a bit of trouble!

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BOOK REVIEW – Broken by Roni Askey-Doran

Broken

I received a copy of this book in return for my honest review.

It’s Emily’s birthday, and she has decided,  that it’s also the day she’s going to end her life!

She’s taken one knock too many, from what she remembers as a dysfunctional upbringing, to her disastrous, abusive marriage, the loss of her baby, and her uninspiring job, she just can’t take anymore and is of the opinion that nobody will miss her, so there’s really no point in carrying on.

As we accompany Emily on her last day in existence, we meet the various people who contribute to the unusual life she leads.

Each chapter constitutes an hour in Emily’s day, and it is this clever format that contributes to the reader not being able to put this book down! You just can’t wait to see what happens next as the day progresses. And even though we are following Emily through her day on an hourly basis, the author has also managed to ingeniously weave flashbacks and memories into the time frame, so that we’re able to get an in-depth look into what has led Emily to this day. We gain much insight into what makes her tick, and why she is the way she is.

This book incorporates important lessons: that first impressions don’t necessarily count; that many things are not as they first appear to be; that most people go through some sort of trauma at some point in their lives; that everyone reacts differently to the obstacles placed in their paths; that there might actually be some people out there who are genuinely nice people!

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BOOK REVIEW – Don’t Turn Around by Caroline Mitchell

Don't Turn Around

Thank you to Netgalley and Bookouture for the ARC I received in return for my honest review.

As a teenager (many, many, many years ago!), I loved anything to do with the paranormal – movies, books … anything. As an adult I seem to have drifted away from this genre, but I am so pleased that I didn’t avoid this book as it reminded me how much I enjoy the unknown and mysterious aspects of life!

DC Jennifer Knight works in the police department of the quiet, uneventful town of Haven. Much to her disappointment, she finds she’s often relegated to menial cases and overlooked when more serious incidents occur, although they don’t happen often. So Jennifer tries to find solace in her humdrum existence – her constant OCD house-cleaning, her pride in her smart wardrobe, complete with killer heels, her prickly relationship with her sister Amy, and the quality time she gets to spend with her beloved nephew Josh. Her complicated childhood is alluded to, together with her memories of a mother whose shoes she’s trying to fill by following her footsteps into police work.

Haven’s quiet complacency is shattered, however, by a series of deaths. Most have seemingly simple explanations, but something about them makes DC Knight uneasy. There are hints that all is not what it seems, and not quite as easily explained away as her partner Will, and superior DI Allison would like her to believe. Strange incidents begin to dog Jennifer’s day-to-day routine, and she has no choice but to investigate further, and to dig deeper into her very soul than she ever imagined she would need to.

Through clever construction, alternating between present day and the seventies, we’re skilfully and steadily allowed entry into the ‘otherworld’ of a complex serial killer who has overcome all odds over many years, and who refuses to die. With inventive flair, the author weaves hints and allusions into her storyline, ideas that we know are there, but just beyond our realm of comprehension, until the final crescendo is reached ; one which we could never have imagined! It’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those not willing to open their minds to the possibilities of what’s ‘out there’. But it is most definitely for those who believe that there are forces that exist beyond our sight and understanding.

This is the first in what promises to be an imaginative and original series in which DC Knight, together her trusted partner Will and the charismatic Ethan, uses her psychic abilities (supressed since childhood) to solve crimes involving ‘preternatural events’; crimes that are disturbingly on the increase.

I can’t wait to read more from Caroline Mitchell and DC Knight!

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