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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.

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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 – The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The couple next doorI loved this fast-paced, breathtaking psychological thriller! This is one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, and before you know it, it’s 2:00 am!
Marco and Anne are invited to their neighbours for dinner. Sounds non-threatening enough doesn’t it? But Anne’s not too sure. Manipulative Cynthia has made it quite clear that the baby isn’t welcome at her husband Graham’s birthday dinner.
Anne’s been struggling with post-natal depression. Baby Cora is just 6 months old. Marco desperately wants a grown-up evening out. And so, a babysitter is arranged and it’s decided that they’ll go.
But the babysitter cancels at the last minute and although Anne’s quite happy to stay at home and let Marco go to dinner without her. He insists that they stick to their arrangements. After all, they’re only going next door. They can take a baby monitor with them, and pop home every half-hour to check on her. By 1 in the morning, Anne’s had quite enough. They’ve all had far too much to drink, and nobody else seems to worried about the fact that Cynthia is shoving her cleavage in Marco’s face!
When they eventually arrive home, their worst nightmare becomes reality when they discover Cora is not sleeping soundly in her cot … or anywhere else. She’s gone! And Anne realises that she was quite right to think she was a bad mother to leave her baby at home unattended.
A roller-coaster ride ensues in which the reader gets whiplash with all the twists and turns, all the allegiances and alliances, deciding who would have, could have taken baby Cora!
Very cleverly written with deep, dark pasts, secrets and causes for motives being revealed and no stones left unturned. Shari Lapena doesn’t disappoint as she drags us along to a gasping finish!

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BOOK REVIEW – Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

Did You See MelodySo disappointing! The plot sounded so promising, but ended up being boring and dragged out with characters who were so unlikeable I hardly cared what happened to them by the time I skimmed my way to the end. To use a phrase coined by someone I once knew: “one, two, skip a few …”
So … Cara Burrows has fled from her family in England due to their unsatisfactory response to her unexpected third pregnancy. Strangely, I could relate to her reaction. She told her husband and two teenage kids that number three was on the way, and asked how they felt about that and they were extremely unhappy. But nobody bothered to ask her how she felt about it, hence her anger and flight instinct!
She flies across the world and books herself into a 5-star resort for some time to self reflect. Arriving on her first night, exhausted and still emotionally fraught, she’s given the wrong door key and enters a room that’s occupied by a man and a teenage girl. The error is hastily rectified by the over-obliging, apologetic receptionist, but Cara is left jittery by the encounter.
The following morning she overhears an elderly guest telling a staff member that she’s convinced she’d seen ‘Melody’. And any normal person would just ignore such a comment but not our Cara, who feels the need the throw herself, all Nancy Drew-like, into an – until then non-existent – mystery! You’d think she has enough of her own issues to try and sort out, which is why she’s there in the first place, but no, she decides to throw herself full-tilt into chasing a shadow who up until then she’d never even heard of! But of course … wouldn’t you?
And from hereon in we’re confronted with an entourage of loathsomely tedious individuals: Tarin and Zel Fry – an obnoxious mom and daughter duo; opinionated talk-show host, Bonnie Juno; insipid cop Orwin Priddey; and the illusive figures of Riyonna Briggs, Annette and Naldo Chapa, Kristie and Jeff Reville.
There are many long (oh, so long) transcripts of Juno’s so-called interviews from her talk show 7 years previously, when Melody disappeared, that I just couldn’t bring myself to read. These are inserted at regular intervals as Cara attempts to pursue the truth and discover if the girl she saw on her first night at the resort was indeed Melody Chapa, who is in fact supposed to be dead!
And then, as if the long-winded interviews weren’t enough, there are also diary excerpts from someone who talks about being looked after by people who she refers to as the ‘Kind Smiles’ (a name which for some reason irritated the living daylights out of me).
Basically it was just endless, the twists turning out to be rambling meanders rather than the sharp, edgy turns you want from a thriller.
It’s so rare that I give a book such a negative review. I can’t even say that I really stuck to it until the end because I didn’t. The A-ha moment never arrived, even though I did page (swipe) on through to see how the whole thing panned out, but it just didn’t work for me.
This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and although I know she’s hugely popular, obviously her writing style isn’t one that I enjoy so I’ll know in the future to leave it to her many fans.

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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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DELILAH NOW TRENDING – BOOK REVIEW AND INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, PAMELA POWER

Delilah Now Trending 2School is a scary place! The hierarchies, the who’s who, the procedures, the uniformity, the enduring methodology of it all! And I’m not sure if it’s worse among the parents, the teachers or the actual children themselves! Single mom Delilah’s about to find out that it can be a very tough place indeed. Her lovely 12-year-old daughter Daisy is about to be named head girl of Hill House prep school, but then … she isn’t.

Delilah is perplexed to say the least. Daisy is popular, bright, and pretty much an all-round achiever academically, culturally and on the sports field – not to mention the fact that she has a wonderful mom who overcame all odds to get to where she is today. Why on earth would they pick Rosie to be head girl when her mom (Buffalo) Beth is a complete nightmare? And then, as if things weren’t awful enough, Rosie meets with a bit of an accident. Who’s responsible and will it be possible for Delilah and Daisy to emerge from the trenches of institutional warfare unscathed?

Delilah Now Trending 3Thankfully they don’t have to battle on alone. They have loyal troops in their corner. There’s Henry, Delilah’s fabulously flamboyant business partner – I dare you to not fall instantly in love with him! Every single one of us deserves a Henry in our lives! Cass is Lilah’s straight-talking, rather scary lawyer. Fantastic if she’s fighting for your team, but beware if you’re anywhere near the opposition … you will not win! There’s also the delightful Portia, who … ummm … well … she doesn’t do much, at least not much of the stuff she’s supposed to do, but she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that Delilah and Daisy are safe and secure.  The delectable Sam adds some roguish spice into the mix too, ensuring that all is not just gloom and doom for our Lilah.

Power is wickedly witty and there are many (oh, so many!) laugh-out-loud moments in this rather dark, but completely on-point, story about the psyche of mob mentality and how social media feeds it. WhatsApp groups run amok; Instagram feeds increase by the minute and Facebook groups attract all manner of unknown individuals. Who knows who’s out there and who’s going to start the next rumour? Who do you trust when you’re caught in the eye of the storm?

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Pamela in conversation with Amy Heydenrych at Love Books, Melville during the launch of Delilah Now Trending

Delilah Now Trending is fast-paced. Chapters are interspersed with anonymous diary entries, adding to the building intrigue, and you get that tight, knot-in-your-stomach feeling as you start to wonder if Daisy is quite as innocent as you were originally led to believe. I loved it, and it gets 5 fat, glittery stars from me!

Before Pamela’s book launch, I had the chance to sit and chat with her about some of the themes in Delilah Now Trending, and how she felt while writing the book:

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JBB: You mentioned that Delilah Now Trending is about finding your voice. Do you think that schools manage bullying issues adequately today, what with social media being such a major part of this? Were you ever bullied? Do you think all pre-teens should have cell-phones?

PP: It’s the way of the world today. I was extremely bullied as a child, but strangely didn’t even think of that while I was writing the book! I don’t think it’s completely the school’s responsibility to manage the bullying issue. It’s ultimately up to parents to equip their kids with the tools to manage these situations.

JBB: Would you agree that no matter how old we are, no matter how successful in our careers, we never leave the playground? We always have to deal with authority figures who make us feel inferior, whether intentionally or not, in situations of confrontation over our kids, with other parents, and over differing parenting styles and opinions.

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PP: Absolutely! When your kids go to school, so do you! You can’t maintain distance when your kids are going through a hard time and you have to equip your children with life skills from an early age.

JBB: Do people, especially women, ever truly not care what others think of them? Lilah has fingers pointed at her for her drinking, her relationship with her black, gay business partner, the way she allows Portia to behave, the way she treats her ex-husband (despite the atrocious way he’s behaved) … the list seems endless!

PP:  Unfortunately the truth is that a successful woman can never win. That feeling that you don’t care may lessen, but it never goes away. There’s always going to be judgement, and to some degree or other you’re always going to care, depending on who’s doing the judging. Some opinions will matter, while most actually don’t!

JBB: What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book?

PP: It actually flowed easily! I wrote it at the same time as I was writing Things Unseen (Pamela’s previous book. Very brilliant! If you haven’t read it, then you really must!), so this one clicked easily. The topics that required the most research were those about disciplinary hearings and more medical aspects. I had a lot of assistance from ISASA (Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa) and from the ex-head of The Ridge School. I wanted this to have a domestic feel to it so that readers could easily relate to it and my 13-year-old daughter Ruby helped with the beta reading. I did have to give her a rather sanitised version though!

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Pamela with her gorgeous kids: beta-reading daughter Ruby, and son Liam

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BOOK REVIEW – The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley

the-opticians-wifeThis one grabbed me even before the first page! When I saw the words ‘Inspired by true events’ I was already hooked.

We meet Deborah in mid-April 1983. She’s 17, unattractive, overweight, unhappy, and practically friendless … until for some reason, the dashing Larry Miller takes an unfathomable interest in her. After that, her life is never the same. Before she knows it, he’s decided that they’re getting married, and that’s fine with her. Larry takes full control of her life, makes all the decisions and Dee (because that’s what he calls her) feels safe and protected, which is actually quite relevant at the time as there seems to be a serial killer doing the rounds in their hometown of Cambridge.

The chapters are fairly short, making the story edgy and fast-paced. The characters are all pretty dysfunctional, and there’s something not quite right about most of them, which only makes you read that little bit faster so that you find out what it is!

And then from about halfway in, we jump ahead about 10 years and Dee is sitting in an interrogation room! Why? What’s happened? The second half of the book then goes backwards and forwards, twisting and turning, leading readers on a disturbing, yet intriguing dance as we try to race to the harrowing conclusion as quickly as we can!

It’s psychological thriller writing at its best, and if you’re a fan of this genre then don’t bypass this one!

 

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