Monthly Archives: January 2016

BOOK REVIEW – When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

When She Was BadThank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for my advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

I’ve read most of Tammy Cohen’s previous psychological thrillers and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. She doesn’t write to a formula as some authors do – she manages to surprise her readers every single time. The twists in this are enough to give you whiplash!

The storyline takes place in a London office and alternates between the perspectives of the colleagues working there and the first person narrative of Anne Cater (I smiled at the use of this well-known book blogger’s name), an American child psychologist reminiscing about one of the biggest cases of her career and its horrific background.

Amirah, Sarah, Cleo, Paula, Ewan and Charlie have worked together quite happily (although maybe not so efficiently) for quite some time. When their boss Gill is suddenly and unceremoniously given the sack it leaves everyone feeling quite unsettled, a feeling with grows startlingly worse with the arrival of their new boss, Rachel Masters.

Rachel is smart, gorgeous and takes no nonsense right from Day 1. She makes it very clear that she’s been brought in to shake things up and she intends to do just that. And while she’s doing so, each individual member of this once cohesive team starts to unravel ever so slowly. Their personal secrets that they cling to so tightly begin to become cloyingly all-consuming, threatening to overtake every aspect of their lives until they’re unable to function on any normal level, or interact with each other without becoming suspicious of every exchange.

And as the suspense builds, so too does Ann’s story as we see that the two accounts are so obviously intertwined. But how? You might think you know just where the author is leading you, so you inevitably try to guess how everything and everyone fits together … just keep reading and see how that all works out for you!

This is an intricately, skilfully woven page-turner. I’ve worked in an office environment where my co-workers and I were forced to second-guess ourselves constantly, always watching our backs, constantly wary of who was in or out of favour that week, or even on any particular given day! It’s not a pleasant environment to work in, and you can’t help but carry that relentless feeling of negativity into most other areas of your life. Tammy Cohen depicts all of that so perfectly here, and you’ll feel decidedly uncomfortable as you enter into the lives of these rather ordinary people, trying to hide the fact that they’re all just as dysfunctional as each other. But while we’re navigating the daily labyrinths of ghastly bosses, gossiping colleagues, grouchy partners and grumpy children, and while we try to remind ourselves that we’re all just running to keep up in this human race, we forget that there are very real dangers, often right in front of our eyes.

Do we lack the skills to recognise who the real monsters are?

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BOOK REVIEW – Another Love by Amanda Prowse

Another LoveThank you to Netgalley and the Publishers (Head of Zeus) for the advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Romilly and David meet when they’re at university. She’s a geeky science student who’s passionate about studying bugs (of all things) and he’s a good looking, popular man about campus. Romilly can’t quite believe he’s interested in her, but he is! From the beginning, she’s his ‘Bug Girl’ and what they have is ‘Proper Love’. And right from the start in those heady days of parties and campus digs, they think nothing of a glass of wine or two to go along with the fun.

And then those days are over and they’re grown-ups. Married, successful in their respective careers, settled in their dream house in the suburbs, and with a gorgeous little girl named Celeste. Except that Romilly can’t quite leave those glasses of wine behind her and has progressed from glasses to bottles to get her through the day. She surreptitiously sneaks a glass here and there until she’s completely dependent on them to get her through just about every situation: stress about a visit from her mother-in-law; irritation at a phone conversation with her well-meaning mother; anxiety about David finding out just how worked up she’s getting when she realises how much she’s drinking, but trying to ignore it; upset that she’s shouted at Celeste because she feels guilty at being caught out drinking in the middle of the day; basically just to get her through the day.

Romilly doesn’t only drink wine. There are also bottles of vodka hidden in various spots around the house. She thinks she’s very clever and that she can keep her increasing habit from everyone, and doesn’t realise how noticeable it’s actually becoming – such is the life of an alcoholic, who insists that she’s not an alcoholic. David is naturally concerned at his wife’s erratic behaviour. They’re not students any more. They’re responsible adults, parents who are supposed to be setting an example for their precious child. If he can stop at one glass, then why can’t Romilly? But if he thinks things are difficult now, they’re about to get a whole lot worse as a new neighbour moves into their street and wreaks havoc on their already tenuous existence.

Sara breezes into Romilly’s life and Romilly believes this is the breath of fresh air she’s been waiting for – she has absolutely no inkling that this is the friend your mother warns you to stay away from! Sara is outspoken and funny and she’s also extremely selfish and self-absorbed which all contribute to her being a shockingly negative influence, something that Romilly really doesn’t need.

Amanda Prowse has written an absorbing, heart-wrenching, blatantly honest story about alcoholism and the effects it has not only on the alcoholic themselves, but also on their loved ones, work colleagues and enablers. There are detailed, sometimes painful to read, descriptions of rehab centres, triumphant recoveries and inevitable relapses. Told through the eyes of Romilly and her now adult daughter Celeste we are taken on a turbulent, emotional journey that to the average person seems impossible to understand. Surely the choice is obvious: To drink or not to drink? To an alcoholic it is anything but simple, and this book portrays that clearly. Hopefully it will encourage people to talk openly about an illness that is still sadly and hugely misunderstood.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Kristina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review.

I can’t help thinking that this book would make one of those perfect ‘feel-good’ movies, similar to  ‘Steel Magnolias,’ ‘Erin Brokovich’ or ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ (which is referred to numerous times in this book). It’s full of the typical characters and politics who you’d expect to find in any small town.

Sara has travelled from Sweden to meet her pen-pal Amy. To date, Sara’s life has been uneventful and to be honest, pretty boring. She’s one of those non-descript people who seem to fade into the woodwork. Nobody pays much attention to her; not even her family. She lives her life for and through her books. But now that her job at a bookshop has unexpectedly come to an end (with the closure of the bookstore she worked in), Sara doesn’t have much to look forward to, hence her decision to visit Amy in the small-town back-water of Broken Wheel. But when she arrives, it’s to discover that Amy has recently passed away and she’s in time to attend the funeral!

What follows is an endearing, bumbling story of misunderstandings and mix-ups as Sara tries to fit in to what she finds to be a soothing haven in Broken Wheel. The town residents all feel somewhat responsible for her now that Amy is no longer around to take her in, as originally planned, but they’re not quite sure what to make of this foreigner, who is indeed, extremely foreign to them and their way of life. And, as is often the way in small towns (and in stories like this), in finding a way to make their visitor feel comfortable at home, each of them in their own way, also manages to find a way to feel more comfortable with themselves and their place in the world and the way others see them.

This is a book about books, and how the love of books can provide you with the most wonderful means of communication. It’s about a small town and how proud its people are of it – proud enough to stand up for it when it comes to the bullying ways of the (only slightly larger) neighbouring town. Ultimately of course, it’s about people and how they become so set in their ways that they forget to really look at each other and at themselves, and how it sometimes takes a complete stranger to remind them to open their eyes.

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BOOK REVIEW – Shtum by Jem Lester

Shtum

Thanks to Netgalley, THE Book Club (FB) and the publisher for my advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Ben and Emma Jewell have a severely autistic son, Jonah. This is not the autism that is so often dramatised for Hollywood purposes; he is not a savant, he has no exceptional abilities. Jonah cannot speak and at the age of 10 is still incontinent and often violent. It is a wretched, isolated daily reality for his parents who now have to face a municipal tribunal and explain to them why their son should be sent to a costly residential facility where he will thrive, rather than the inadequate daily institution that’s been recommended, which is totally unsuitable for his needs, but rather more suitable for the civic budget.

Emma convinces Ben that their case will hold more weight if they separate, and if he presents himself as a single father caring for his problem child. So he and Jonah move in with Ben’s elderly father Georg, and Emma promptly goes AWOL (I swear, I wanted to strangle the woman!).

Georg and Ben have never had a comfortable relationship. They simply cannot communicate. Ben is desolate without Emma and finds it easier to sink himself into an alcoholic stupor, making him unable to run the family business, and adding to his already rather large mountain of complications that are the current sum-total of his life. And to make things even worse, there’s the ever-present presence of Georg’s annoying friend Maurice. Why is he always around? Can’t he just leave them all alone and stop interfering? It’s really all too much for him to be expected to handle!

But immediately we see that there’s something special and unique about the relationship between Georg and his non-communicative grandson Jonah: it’s absolutely beautiful – they’re able to communicate perfectly! Their connection is one of the most awe-inspiring literary relationships I’ve ever witnessed. And through silently watching their interaction Ben learns so much about his father that he’s never understood.

This book is about so much more than the heart-wrenching struggles of parents desperate to do the best for their beloved and vulnerable children, but who are faced with the challenges of battling a gruelling, bleak system which is unsympathetic to emotions and only understanding of balance sheets.

This is a story of how we need to listen to what’s not being said; how we have to hear what hasn’t been shared; how we must understand without being told. It’s a story, predominantly about men and about how none of these things come easily to them, and how agonising it is for them to go through the process of opening up to each other.

This is a highly recommended must-read, due for release at the beginning of April 2016. Jem Lester has served up a gem!

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