Friday, 27 September 2013

Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain

Necessary LiesNecessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful read by one of my very favourite authors, a little different - a less contemporary setting to most of the titles by this author which I've read before. It's a period novel set in the 1960s but not the swinging 60s of my childhood but the bleak and rather grim setting of the rural backwoods of North Carolina of the USA and it focusses on the lives of two young women from very different backgrounds whose lives become irrevocably intertwined.

Young wife Jane has just got married to successful doctor Robert, fresh from the honeymoon she embarks on a new career as a Social worker much to her husbands disapproval, unlike her peers - stay at home wives who function as home makers, obedient and subservient to their husbands.

Thrown into her new role as Social worker she has barely been introduced to the families she will be looking after when her mentor is forced to withdraw her support and abandons Jane days into her new job. One of the families on her caseload is a family working in the tobacco fields and living in poverty. Which is where we meet Ivy - just 15 years old Ivy holds together her small and fractured family of her older sister Mary Ella, called feebleminded by the society which sees fit to classify Welfare recipients, baby William adored by both girls and their aging and infirm grandmother Nonnie.

This family live hand to mouth in a run down tied cottage, little better than a shack on the land of their employer, Tobacco plantation owner Davison Gardiner. They live and work alongside negro families and Jane discovers prejudices and racial divides in her own social hierarchy which are almost as hard to accept as those in the racial divides between poor black and white families.

Jane quickly takes Ivy's small family to heart and vows to care for them as much as she is able, but she soon discovers plans have already been set in motion which cause her to have grave misgivings and as she becomes more deeply involved in Ivy's situation, her position seems set to threaten not only the sisters future but put her own marriage and job at risk.

The story is a superb family drama about people, and secrets, nasty vile, things which lie hidden and terrible, cruel things which really happened to real families, so recently its almost beyond belief.

A terrifically powerful and wonderfully moving story which I loved reading despite the disturbing and distasteful subject matter of the Eugenics project which I had never heard of before reading this book.

Close to the wind - Zana Bell - Choc-lit

Close to the WindClose to the Wind by Zana Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A real swashbuckling romance for true escapists. It has everything a good love story needs - a likeable feisty heroine, a handsome dashing hero full of angst and charm and smouldering good looks, a mystery and rather gripping background story, lots of danger and many subtle innuendoes and snatched chaste kisses.

We first meet Georgiana as she is climbing a tree back to her bedroom after sneaking out of the home of her unloving Aunt - to follow her hobby as a stage actress! and this sets the tone for her adventures throughout the book. Upon discovering her beloved brother may be at deaths door and under threat in New Zealand where he went to take part in the gold rush, she dashes off to save him and escape her life of dull boredom.

To enable her to gain passage on a ship she uses her acting skills to disguise herself as a boy and gets herself taken onboard ship as a cabin boy where surprise surprise the ships captain is - well why don't you have a guess? Do you think he's old and plug ugly with a wooden leg? No he's tall dark and handsome and oh so desirable - ahh the stage is set for love to begin to weave its spell.

A lot of the story is set on board ship and although we do eventually reach New Zealand there isn't really a great deal about it which was a little disappointing, however its a lovely romantic read and as is so ofet the case with the lovely romances at Choc-lit although the storyline could be rather predictable, the super characters and fizzing sense of adventure lift it out of the run of the mill and elevate it from nice to delightful.

Although highly implausible it's told with such aplomb we are swept away by the glamour and excitement and left in no doubt whatsoever that all the unlikely happenings, coincidences and adventures could quite easily have taken place and the whole book feels like a very satisfying warm hug.

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Monday, 16 September 2013

Nearest thing to crazy - Elizabeth Forbes

Nearest Thing to CrazyNearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was delighted to be provided with a review copy of this book by Cutting Edge Press, as I'd already read a couple of very favourable reviews by friends whose tastes are similar to mine and I thought it sounded exciting.

Exciting it certainly is, this is a fast paced psychological thriller set in an idyllic middle England country village where Cass has a cosy home which she enjoys pottering about in, a close knit circle of friends, a loving husband and since their only daughter Laura flew the nest to University has started her own little gardening business. Life couldn't be much better .... but it COULD get a whole lot worse!

Enter Ellie, glamorous, bright and sophisticated she swans into town in a sports car and instantly fits in with the local crowd. Of a similar age to Cass, she makes friendly overtures towards everyone, Cass included and during a heart to heart Cass instantly feels Ellie understands her and believes she has found a new friend and confidante, but things rapidly become strained between the 2 women when a series of misunderstandings mean Cass gets her nose pushed out by Ellie and old insecurities begin to surface making her feels she is deliberately being usurped. Things rapidly go downhill for Cass and her life begins to feel as if it's no longer safe, she feels vulnerable and threatened.

Cass is the main narrator but we are also treated at intervals to Ellies very different point of view on events and as both women are persuasive and believable we begin to waver as to which one we believe most - who should we trust? The narrative switches effortlessly between the 2 women and events which begin gradually and insidiously soon become terrifying and terrible.

It really scared me how quickly things can change and how difficult it can be to make people believe you once doubts are in their minds. I was actually quite worried that at times I couldn't see a way out of the increasingly desperate situation.

This is a taut and terrifying page turner of the very highest calibre - which will sit comfortably on a bookshelf containing books like

Into the Darkest Corner
One Step Too Far
and Gone Girl

It's quite hard to credit that this is a debut novel - it's so slick and accomplished it reads as though the author is a well established literary genius.
Read it and enjoy the shivers which run down your spine - but think twice before you tell your best friend about it - you never know WHO you can trust.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow FrostSongs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a couple of days since I finished songs of Willow frost, I needed to sit back and decide how much I liked it and what to say about it as I was hoping (nay Expecting) - to be completely blown away by it, as I was with the authors first book
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
and I WAS captivated by this second novel which kept me turning the pages and wanting to read more about young William, living in an orphanage and seeking truths about how and why his mother left him there 5 years previously. I'd give it 7/10, I enjoyed reading it, would recommend it.

However it wasn't perfect and sometimes the writing style just jarred a little bit with me, Williams voice was unpredictable and although often almost poetic in language and thought sometimes it was inconsistent and rather clumsy, and I feel the authors' previous superb efforts are somewhat to blame for me feeling just a tiny bit let down by this new book. When you set your debut standards that high it's hard to live up to them.

The storyline is utterly charming - a young boy telling his story in his own unique Chinese American voice, his delightful and tragic young blind friend Charlotte, also from the orphanage, heartless Nuns, a deprived childhood, their quest to find the truth ... all make compelling reading.

Then we find his Mother, once plain Liu Song a teenage mother, living in poverty, cruelly betrayed and abused, now living as the enigmatic big screen star Willow Frost and she tells her story which is no less compelling or tragic. But I just couldn't warm to her, I felt she was rather insipid and easily manipulated and I like my heroines feisty and strong. set amidst the very grim setting of the depression, its a bleak and disturbing story and many of the events which occur could only happen within the cross cultural roles of Chinese Americans where traditions of welcoming the ghosts of dead relatives back into the home battle with age old traditions of oppressed females and firm ideas of what is and isn't acceptable behaviour, maybe I had difficulty accepting this culture which felt very alien to me but I struggled with quite a few aspects of daily life in Chinatown.

The ending was good but not sensational. In reading it I gasped aloud a few times but I didn't shed a tear, it moved me but didn't tear me apart. Am I becoming a victim of my own expectations, where I can now seldom truly say I loved a book as I feel obliged to examine my own feelings at the end of every novel and often find them lacking. owever that is what I take on when I agree to read and review a new book as I did with this free advance reading copy from Netgalley. I feel all the more obliged to be honest about any perceived flaws as well as strengths.

This is a must read for any fans of the first book by
Jamie Ford please do read it and draw your own conclusion as I'm sure you were going to do anyway.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Serpentine Affair - Tina Seskis

When I was offered a review copy of this, the second novel by the talented author of One Step Too Far I grasped it with alacrity, after all I adored her debut novel.

Her writing has a very unique style - she is the Doyenne of creating assumptions then throwing them back in your face, very cleverly. This book is centred around a picnic in Hyde Park by a disparate group of 40 something women who have known each other since college days. They don't seem to have a great deal in common and friendships between several of them are very strained and the cracks begin to surface during the picnic as alcohol flows.

I must confess I found getting into the book pretty difficult as there are so many characters I got totally confused .... and after a couple of false starts and glowing recommendations from friends to persevere I stuck with it. I admit I remained a bit muddled all the way through finding this a very complex multi layered story which jumps back and forth in time and several different mini stories within the main theme, things keep being revealed from the past which impact on the present and future and as the layers get peeled away we are treated to new insights which change our perceptions. None of the characters are very likeable and I think this lack of empathy with any of them possibly marred my enjoyment a touch.

I'm glad I stuck with what is a very accomplished book and one I enjoyed reading, yet I'm left with a slightly foggy feeling at the end, like I need to go back and check a few things that weren't what I thought they were and one or two questions left lingering where I'm not even sure whether the clues were there or not, one of the disadvantages of reading an e-book it's so much harder to flick back through the pages and re-check. For this reason I didn't love it as much as her first book - however I will be keen to see what she comes up with next.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a challenging read, lots of characters, loads going on and has a good level of concentration.

My thanks to for providing me with this ebook.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Broke - Mandasue Heller

BrokeBroke by Mandasue Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I won a free copy of this from Goodreads first reads I was pleased as it was an introduction to an author I've never even heard of never mind read. However when I received it and read on the cover the line "If you like Martina Cole you'll love MandaSue Heller and I thought "Oooer" because I HAVE tried Martina Cole and absolutely loathed her writing!

Anyway we were setting off for a weekend away and I grabbed this book to take with me as it happened to be lying on the coffee table, and on the way there as I sat in the passenger seat, I got it out and began reading - just to see what it was about ... and I finished it in less than 24 hours, which is quite unusual for me as I'm quite a slow reader. Safe to say then that its a very easy read - but also that its a real page turner as I didn't get sidetracked or distracted and it kept me wanting to know what was going on.

It was very different from most of the books I read - the characters in it inhabit a world I'm not really that familiar with (thank goodness) and I must say right from the start that I absolutely detested nearly all the characters, in fact most of them I held in the greatest contempt - but thats no bad thing - they must have been realistic to engender such strong feelings.

It's basically the story of Amy and begins on her wedding day to the revolting and despicable Mark, who starts married life having a knee trembler up against a wall with a ginger slapper called Jenny whilst the hapless Amy goes into labour - during the reception! Sounds a bit like a sit com but life for this couple and their friends is far from humour filled. Married life with a new baby for this barely old enough to be called adults couple presents difficulties galore and even as a few years pass Mark doesn't mature much, he is an idle so and so, more interested in going to the pub with his mates than giving the kids a goodnight hug and more addicted to a trip to the bookies than to turning up for work. Pity he's not a bit more like his mate Steve who is the only character in the book I had some time for.

Amy's life revolves around her kids, stuck at home all day with 2 toddlers it has to but she's no yummy mummy - sinking into boredom and letting the housework slip. But when Mark loses all his wages at the bookies and gets sacked into the bargain the cracks in this pairs marriage really split asunder.

Turning to dodgy money lender Lenny Yates seems to him to be the only answer but when he ends up on the wrong side of him he scarpers and leaves Amy to face the music and this is where Amy's real nightmare begins.

OMG most of these characters really are low lives and I never realised I was such a snob until I began to cringe every time one of them spoke. I didn't manage to dredge up a great deal of sympathy for Amy even though what she ends up going through is truly horrible, she is just a rather pathetic character. Rape, drugs, prostitution, gun crime, homelessness are all every day words in the world of Lenny Yates and she gets forced into this world.

I'm not really sure what the appeal of this kind of book is, maybe it's seeing how the other half lives and appreciating your own situation more as a result, but it did make compelling reading, lots going on and well constructed. I'll certainly keep an eye open for more books by this author, which is after all what the first reads programme is all about, so thankyou Goodreads for my free copy.

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Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour

Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour Hello blog readers and book lovers. Today I am joining in t...