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BOOK REVIEW – The Vanished Child by M.J. Lee

The Vanished ChildJayne Sinclair is a genealogical investigator. She basically traces lost relatives. However, she herself seems somewhat lost. Her husband has left her, and she’s drifting about feeling quite sorry for herself. She is not the strongest protagonist.

Her latest case is not helping matters much. Her elderly father’s new wife, Vera, reveals that her own mother, on her deathbed, mentioned a son that neither Vera nor her brother had any knowledge of. She’s desperate for Jayne to discover if there really is a long-lost brother out there, despite her existing brother insisting that these were just the ramblings of a dying woman.

The story alternates between present day (well, starting in June 2017) and the 1950’s, with the present day storyline being based wholly around Jayne and her attempts to discover whether this other brother of Vera’s actually existed, and who he might have been. I found the writing repetitive and somewhat clumsy. It seemed to be aimed at a much younger audience.

However the 1950’s storyline was extremely absorbing, although terribly heart-wrenching and at times downright disturbing! The history of the child migrants is not generally a well-known one and Lee has researched this well. The treatment of these children, some who were truly just infants, was utterly deplorable and beggars belief at times! The Church and its role in the entire saga has a lot to answer for, although at the time, those involved honestly believed they were doing what was best.

I didn’t enjoy this book, or the writing, and I’m giving it 3 stars mainly for the subject matter. But one other aspect that I really liked was Jayne’s dad, Robert and his wife Vera: this older couple who had found love at an advanced age and had married and the way that Lee portrayed them and their relationship was absolutely delightful and I loved that!

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BLOG TOUR – WE OWN THE SKY by LUKE ALLNUTT

We Own the SkyI’m so thrilled and honoured to be here on the blog tour for this truly wonderful book! I believe this is going to be one of the bestsellers of the year and is going to be spoken about for a long time to come.

Before the story even begins, it’s prefaced by an introduction from the author explaining that this was meant to be the legacy that he was leaving behind when he was convinced he was not going to win his battle with cancer.

I read this, and immediately sat up and thought what an open and honest declaration Luke Allnutt is making to his readers just as they’re about to delve into his book: “I was at my lowest point. I thought I was going to die. I wanted to leave something behind … I offer you this.” (That’s my basic summary of what I assume he was thinking – I’d probably make a crap psychologist!) Bearing this in mind, I figured he wasn’t going to spare us anything and that what followed was going to be pure, raw emotion. So I leapt on in. I was not wrong! I couldn’t stop reading – and I was on holiday at the time … in London … spending a lot of time on trains. This isn’t a good book to read in public, on a train with a lot of people in close proximity who can hear and see you blubbering!!

Rob, Anna and Jack, their boisterous little boy are a happy family until the day their world is shattered by a devastating illness. Allnutt draws the reader into their pain and heartbreak in such a way that we feel every single bit of their torment. We witness the initial shock that pulls Rob and Anna together, but then almost immediately, due to their differing attitudes and points of reference, they’re ripped apart by how they feel they need to approach Jack’s diagnosis and treatment. Anna’s methodical tendencies have always been the polar opposite to Rob’s more casual approach to life. As the situation worsens, and Anna falls back on the religious, rule-following ways of her upbringing, Rob becomes frustrated at this unexpected reversal into what he sees as habits from her youth, and becomes more willing to seek out whatever means possible that might help his beloved child, no matter the cost or the risk.

What lengths would you go to for your loved ones? Which loved ones … the one who is unwell or your other family members? This will make you ask questions you’ve never thought of before; questions you didn’t ever want to consider … do you have the answers?

This is a very special book for many reasons. It’s told from a dad’s perspective – not something you’ll find often. Although it’s undoubtedly heartbreaking, it is so beautifully, delicately written that it has an almost other-worldy feel to it. The way in which Rob manages to connect with Jack is so utterly breathtaking that it will inspire you long after you’ve finished reading.

This is a big fat, glittery 5- star-read!! It will stay with you for a long, long time … long after you’ve thrown all those soggy tissues away!

PS: I did find myself wondering why the author chose to write about a child becoming ill – every parent’s worst nightmare – when he himself had been through cancer. It weighed on my mind a lot … why would you want to write about a sick child?! But when I thought about it (and again, I’m making my own assumptions here), I felt that maybe if he’d made his protagonist an adult, particularly a man, it might feel more autobiographical, something he was not able to do. While I’m sure he drew on much of what he experienced, I am sure his own journey is just that: his own private journey.

Follow the blog tour until 15 February and see what others have to say about this gem of a book. It’s available for purchase on 8 February.

Blog tour FINALv3

Thank you so much to Tracy Fenton and her fabulous group THE Book Club on Facebook. You created an online space for those who love reading, but you didn’t stop there, you went on and took it about a hundred steps further than that and now readers and authors have the opportunity to interact daily not only online, but also at the various events that group admins and members co-ordinate on a regular basis. This is a community like no other. Your hard word is appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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BOOK REVIEW – The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

*** NEW *** NEW *** NEW ***

From now on, in every book review, I will include the one single idea that stood out the most for me in that book. Every book has one. I’d love it if you shared yours with me from the same book.

The Marriage PactI loved this while I was reading it; couldn’t put it down! But then afterwards, when I gave it some thought (and I suppose that is a plus: that I was still thinking about it for a while afterwards), I started thinking about how much of the story was so highly improbable. Yes, I know it’s fiction, but there does still need to be a certain measure of belief and sustainability to keep a story within the realms of possibility, especially when it’s meant to be happening in the here and now. If this had been set in the near future, I think it would definitely lend more plausibility.

So … the premise is that Jake and Alice are newly-weds. They’re not young or naïve. She is a lawyer, he’s a psychologist. They receive a mysterious wedding gift from one of Alice’s clients – actually he’s a client of the firm that Alice works for; a very prestigious client, and she was instrumental in winning his case. On a whim, she invited him to their wedding and was surprised when he accepted. In hindsight, it’s an invitation she wishes she never extended!

The strange gift turns out to be an offer to join a covert club known as ‘The Pact’. Members of this fellowship are couples who are extremely devout (to the point of fanaticism) about their marriages, and the marriages of all others who are part of this organisation with them. There are rules … oh so many rules! The main ones being that you do not mention The Pact to anyone outside it, and once you’re in, you can never, ever leave! It’s a bit odd that Alice, a lawyer doesn’t seem to grasp the ‘small print’, or even fully read it before agreeing to enter into The Pact.

The amount of time this couple takes of work throughout this book was one of the things that I found myself constantly shaking my head about! There’s a vague reference once or twice to Jake’s colleagues questioning his increasing absence, but other than that, everyone seems pretty accepting of these unaccountable lapses in being present at their places of work.

The concept of this ‘Marriage Pact’ is an interesting one, and I suppose that’s what makes the book highly readable. The execution of the actual idea itself is sometimes a little off kilter though. Clearly the membership is made up of an intricate network of friends in high places, well connected, and well versed in the art of manipulation. Just how are the powers that be so all-knowing and all-seeing?

This book really had me hooked, but my suspension of belief was stretched to its limits so I’m giving it a 3.5. You need to read this one for yourself and decide.

STAND-OUT IDEA: “Answer the phone when your spouse calls. Every time. No exceptions.” While this stood out for me like many other concepts in the book, and the overall notion of the Pact itself, I found myself questioning whether this is actually possible? Jake is a psychologist – surely he can’t answer the phone during a session with a client? Alice is a lawyer – if she’s in court, she wouldn’t be able to answer the phone, would she? Similarly in our everyday lives, while theoretically the idea might be a good one to try and implement wherever feasible, it’s not always going to be achievable. I guess we can try our best though, right?

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25/01/2018 · 09:23

BOOK REVIEW – Mother By S.E. Lynes

MotherChristopher Harris has always been somewhat of a misfit. He’s just never really felt part of anything, especially not his family – and that was even long before his 2 siblings arrived. He just doesn’t know how to ‘be’; doesn’t ever feel comfortable with himself, or with anyone else.  Discovering he’s adopted does go a long way towards explaining his lifelong feeling of not fitting in, and it’s almost as if Christopher’s always known that something like this is what’s prevented him from being part of the life that he finds himself living. He endeavours to set out and find his birth mother, and luckily she’s just as enthusiastic about finding him as he is to find her!

One piece of writing advice I’ve never forgotten refers to characterisation: “When creating your characters, you need to get to know them so well that you know which brand of toothpaste they use.” Well, obviously I’ve remember little else when it’s come to writing advice, as I haven’t quite managed to write that book yet! But S.E. Lynes took that recommendation and ran with it! I have no doubt that she not only knows what toothpaste Christopher prefers, but also what dental floss he uses, and whether he dreams in black and white or full technicolour! She’s created a character so deep and complex that one cannot help but become fully immersed in his twisted persona, and wow, twisted is certainly what he is! Although at times I really did feel terribly sorry for him, he is so difficult to like and I think that this is what the author’s intention is. He hasn’t been created as a protagonist that one warms to.

Likewise with the parallel character of Ben: arrogant and self-assured – the polar opposite to Christopher. Quite an obnoxious character who’s really unpleasant, but who at the same time you can’t help wanting to know more about because you can’t wait to see where he fits into the picture!

The story is related to us by a mystery narrator. This is so clever, and absolutely crucial to the plot. I couldn’t figure out who it was right up until the reveal!

Threaded through the tense plot is the dark shadow of the ongoing case of The Ripper, and Christopher’s increasing preoccupation with the case. Lynes cleverly intertwines this with her own narrative, which works so well to heighten the feeling of unease throughout the book.

Highly recommended!

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BOOK REVIEW – UNPRESIDENTED by Paige Nick

UnPresidentedHe, he, he … Paige Nick is very, very clever! I would rate this book eleventy one out of ten, if I could!!

Unpresidented is a tongue-in-cheek parody, set in the not too distant future (2020 to be precise) about ex-president Jeremiah unpronounceable-middle-name Muza who finds himself in extremely dire straits. Having been released from prison on medical parole, he’s returned to his homestead only to discover that it’s looking far shabbier than the palatial home he remembered. In fact, it’s in a dismal state of disrepair, with only 2 wives remaining and not much of his former entourage to speak of. But never fear, for Muza is not one to allow reality to interfere with his plans; and he has big, big plans!

Muza doesn’t plan on remaining the ex-president for long … he’s going to become ‘King of the World’ … just you wait and see, and Matthew Stone is going to help him get there. Stone is a journalist … currently in a state of disgrace, who not a single member of the media is willing to touch with a 10-foot-bargepole! So, he and Muza are pretty much in the same boat. He’s been employed to write Muza’s memories … errm, sorry … his memoirs! Trouble is, Muza has a rather tenuous relationship with the truth, and what he wants Stone to write bears very little resemblance to anything that actually occurs in his life, past or current. How on earth is Stone ever going to redeem himself if he can’t even get an honest word out of the man whose memoir he’s meant to be writing?

What ensues is an intricate and convoluted comedy of errors involving Stone, Muza, 2 strong and empowered wives, (both Muza’s), a long-suffering parole officer, a Malawian drug dealer with deep-seated Jewish mom issues, and a sad, skinny dog! And all along, you’ll be wondering … “But what if …?” or “Could it be …?” No! Read the small print on the back cover carefully: “Any similarities to any persons (living or dead) are entirely coincidental. Promise.”

Once you’ve read this book once, you’ll need to go back and read it again. There’s so much ingenious detail and slick innuendo involved that you’ll want to double check that you haven’t missed anything. And the truth is that it’s all so shrewdly put together that in just one reading it’s impossible to have caught it all. So read it again, just to be sure. It’s worth it just to get double the laughs!

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BOOK REVIEW – SPIRE by Fiona Snyckers

SpireImagine being in one of the most remote places on the planet … alone … but inexplicably, not alone, which is somehow worse! That’s what Fiona Snyckers presents us with in SPIRE, set in the South Pole International Research Establishment.

Dr Caroline Burchell has been selected as part of a team to ‘Winter over’ at the base. They’re there for the full season until September, which is when the next planes arrive to relieve them of their duties. She’s brought with her a container of mutated viruses which have been cryogenically frozen. Very soon after her arrival, however, the rest of her team begin to succumb to all manner of illnesses and before too long, Caroline is the only surviving team-member left on the base! How on earth does one survive in such isolated, harsh conditions, especially when you’re suspected of being a mass murderer?

While a devastating Arctic storm pounds at the base, Caroline is determined to survive to prove her innocence, despite the increasingly chilling evidence that someone is trying to thwart her every move. Using every available resource, including an unlikely external ally, and a very unreliable Skype connection, the reader is led breathlessly through this edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing, as you cheer for this inventive heroine.

Ice Cube - Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole
Ice Cube – Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole

The topic of the Arctic is intriguing to many; the isolation, the temperatures, the climate, are all things that are possible topics of interest. I have to admit, I’ve never given the subject much thought, but after reading SPIRE, my curiosity was piqued. What fascinated me the most, however, was the exceptional research that the author has done in the creation of this novel. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it because it’s truly remarkable!

5 big glittery stars for SPIRE and an extra one (just because I can!) for the extraordinary amount of research that impressed me so much!!

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BOOK REVIEW – Tiger in a Cage by Allie Cresswell

tiger-in-a-cageThis is a dense, involved and intricate exploration into the lives of the ‘Combe Close Set’ as seen from the perspective of Molly, who so desperately wants to surround herself with comfortable camaraderie and friendship. Alas, this is difficult to do when you yourself are not a comfortable or socially aware individual.

Molly is, in fact, rather naïve, and as we delve into this deeply descriptive novel, told alternately between past and present, we see that she is often very much on the periphery of this group that she works so hard at forging cohesive bonds with. She’s socially inept and given to misunderstanding most of the undercurrents that occur within their little group. She misses many obvious social cues. She realises too late that a lot of what she classifies as ‘unacceptable’ behaviour is going on right under her nose.

I alternated between feeling quite sorry for the hapless Molly and wanting to shake the stupidity out of her! My pity came from her truly dismal background, which was due to no fault of her own. Escaping at the first opportunity she got, she married the awful Stan and much of the time actually fears him and his unfounded responses to the fairly reasonable behaviour of their neighbours . A stronger woman would most certainly have left him. Once again, she fails to understand the basis of much of his interaction with the people who they live among, and it often falls to them to protect her as best they can from many of his irrational outbursts.

Cresswell  fleshes out her characters so well, although it did take me a while to figure out who was who. I absolutely loved the in-depth descriptions of all the convoluted relationships that unfold. One feels quite voyeuristic reading of all the intricacies and complications that predictably result from living in such close proximity to one another.

With time, it’s inevitable that these connections break down; the bonds loosen and aren’t able to remain as strong as Molly wants them to be, no matter how hard she tries. And when it’s revealed to her that in actual fact maybe her friends aren’t quite who she thought they were in the first place, she’s not sure she wants to maintain the strong ties she’s worked so hard to maintain.

This is a profound and thought-provoking look into the complexities of human relationships; the faults and failings we possess;  what we’re willing to overlook and what we’re willing to accept, whether it’s for the sake of love, to keep the peace, or due to sheer indifference.

Be willing to commit time to this book. It’s engrossing and all-encompassing and well worth the read.

Many thanks to THE Book Club Reviewers Request Group and Allie Cresswell for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Damselfly by S.J.I. Holliday

the-damselflyThis is the third of Holliday’s ‘Banktoun’ trilogy, this works well as a standalone too. I’ve only read the first book – Blackwood – and missed the second – Willow Walk.

Katie is a bright teenager who, despite her challenging background, is planning her future in London. Together with her boyfriend Neil, and her teachers she has the support she needs to leave the small town of Banktoun, and her unhappy family life behind her.

But then Katie is discovered dead in her bed and foul play is suspected. Who could have murdered her? It’s up to Detective Davie Gray and his partner Louise Jennings to discover that. Gray is a Banktoun native and knows the lay of the land.

New school counsellor Polly McAllister is realising that although she’s recently returned to Banktoun to make peace with her past demons, new ones seem to be surfacing at a rapid rate! As she tries to handle the fallout of this tragedy that’s occurred on her first day on the job, she’s also trying to deal with the detritus of her own personal life.

As the reader is swept along by all the twists in this well constructed psychological thriller, we also get a shocking look at the mob mentality that’s so easily fuelled by the negative use of social media. Even those who mean well can’t help but be overwhelmed by that crowd influence. In fact, the use of social media and its damning effects are demonstrated throughout the book. Chapters are interspersed with blog posts from The ThreeWiseMonkeys Blog (subtitled ‘Telling it Like it is’), and Facebook posts from a page set up purely to incite – we see the escalating anger as the number of posts increases, and how the voices of reason (very much in the minority) are completely ignored, no matter how hard they attempt to calm the waters.

Susi Holliday has once again created a cast of characters, some of whom are likeable, some not so much. All of them though, are visibly just trying to do their best to make it through each day with the cards they’ve been dealt. Some decisions they make may not be the best ones, and we are clearly shown the consequences of these.  We also get an understanding of the pain that’s so often caused by making snap judgements about people without really knowing them.

This is a fast-paced read … one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books! I highly recommend it.

Thanks so much to Helen Boyce and the TBC Review Group and Susi Holliday for sending me an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – Things Unseen by Pamela Power

things-unseenEmma and Rick seem like a typical upper middle-class Joburg couple, until the night that they’re attending a social event and Emma tries unsuccessfully to contact her mother. Feeling unsettled, she begs Rick to take her home and discovers that her mom’s been brutally murdered. Sadly, it’s a common event in crime-stricken Johannesburg and police see it as an open and shut case, blaming the immigrant gardener, Surprise (that’s his name). But Emma is adamant that it couldn’t have been him, and so we enter into her world … a world that looked like it was pretty ok on the outside before tragedy struck, but actually wasn’t that great to start with. This was just the trigger she needed to motivate her into action.

Supported by her best friend Gay, who is in fact, not straight (I love Pamela Power’s quirky sense of humour) Emma tries to manoeuvre her way through the minefield that is her current life: the reappearance of her past love, Craig; the volatile behaviour of her arrogant, controlling husband, Rick; the juvenile and irresponsible antics of her brother, Ross who’s returned from Australia, supposedly because of the family situation and the ongoing police investigation.

Power has created an extremely clever and tight storyline that never wavers, keeping you guessing all the time, while you alternate between hastily turning pages, and biting your nails! Adding to the ever-increasing excitement is the fact that chapters are interspersed with flashbacks that tell of past child abuse, but who is the child? It could be any one of our characters, and the suspense builds, keeping you guessing all the way.

Each personality is well rounded, and comprehensively portrayed.  The references to well-known Johannesburg landmarks added to my enjoyment of the book (as this is my hometown). This will undoubtedly strike a nostalgic chord with any ex-pat reader, and the writer’s familiarity with her environment only enhances the depth and atmosphere of her storyline, but this will be appreciated by any reader, regardless of their having no prior knowledge of the area.

And that storyline, while being a tense ‘whodunnit’, manages to deftly deal with numerous uncomfortable social issues that weigh greatly on the shoulders of the South African middle-classes on a daily basis: the ever-lingering shadow of racism , class disparity and gender discrimination, just to name a few! Power seamlessly weaves these all into her narrative while managing to maintain a punchy pace, a feat that not many authors can achieve.

My only complaint? I raced through this so quickly! It’s one of those books that’s easily read in just one or two sittings, and then you’re disappointed it’s over so quickly! It’s an excellent 5-star read!

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BOOK REVIEW – Duplicity by Sibel Hodge

duplicityOh my very goodness!!! I don’t remember the last time I flew through a book like this! This one ticks all the boxes for a psychological thriller that you just can’t put down. Fast-paced, tons of ‘OMG’ moments, and with enough twists and turns to ensure you’ll need a good physiotherapist to see you right when you’re done!

Max and Alissa Burbeck are the perfect couple: wealthy and gorgeous, they’re the newly-weds who have the world at their feet … until one night an intruder murders Max, inexplicably leaving Alissa to escape unscathed. Who would have wanted him dead? And why didn’t they kill her too?

These are questions that are left for DS Warren Carter (although I must say it took a few chapters for his first name to be mentioned and I wasn’t sure if he was male or female!) to find answers to. Carter has his own demons to deal with – he’s still trying to overcome the loss of his wife to cancer roughly a year ago, and he’s bitter about being passed over for promotion due to a previous case where palms were greased, stopping the true criminals from being brought to book.

And along the way he needs to deal with a preening superior, an obsessive ex-boyfriend (not his own, Alissa’s!), a depressed colleague, and a distraught widow and a band of friends determined to protect her. Throw in an ecological cover-up, hidden jealousy and a mysterious childhood of horrific abuse, which could only lead to the victim becoming a sociopath of epic proportions … but who could it be?

Hodge keeps the action going at a cracking pace. You might have to suspend belief a teensy bit, but hey, it’s fiction, so just go with it! She doesn’t leave anything to chance, and ties it all up very neatly with no loose ends at all. Her characters are well-rounded and she cleverly shows you exactly what she wants you to see of each of their personalities – you’ll only catch on to that afterwards though!

If you’re looking for something that you just can’t put down, then this one’s for you! 5 big shiny stars from me!

Many thanks to THE Book Club (reviewers group) and the author for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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