Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Review | Don't Get Involved by F J Curlew

Published on October 6, 2019

Don't Get Involved is the second book I have read by F J Curlew having enjoyed her last novel, Dan Knew, back in 2017. As much as I liked Dan Knew, Don't Get Involved grabbed my attention more and I found it very difficult to put down, reading it in one sitting. It's a dark and often tense novel, written in a manner that I found very involving with short and snappy sentences charged with detail that drew me right in to the culture of Kyiv.

The narrative is told in alternating seasons, to begin with split between Summer and Winter. In the Winter, we meet the street kids, Dima, Sasha and Alyona, and we meet Leonid, the hitman who is after them. Having found a bag full of cocaine, the street kids don't know what to do with it but when they are discovered and Dima feels the threat of the people looking for them, they head on the run, where life is only going to get even more dangerous for the three of them. In the Summer, we meet Nadia who has arrived in Ukraine for her own secretive reasons and who wants to help, but doesn't know what she is getting herself into. She meets the mysterious Artem, who seems very protective of her straight away and they grow closer. Their story is another fascinating aspect to the novel.

One thing I particularly loved about Don't Get Involved was the way the author described every setting to build up such a vivid picture in my mind so I could picture every moment with ease. The author writes very atmospherically and her depiction of Ukraine came to life on the pages thanks to an illustrative writing style that made the bars, the food, the sights and the pure tension shine through. I found myself so engrossed in not only the stories of the street kids and Nadia, but also the Ukraine setting and the danger lurking within the streets.

This book was very tense! As danger grew close, the book stole my breath at times as I was lured in to a level where I was that engrossed in the book I was forgetting to breathe. I found it very compelling. The lives of Dima, Sasha and Alyona were fascinating, the struggles they were going through but also the choices they had made and just their feelings towards their safety and looking after each other. The love they shared was pure but also dangerous, as trying to protect each other's lives whilst not getting caught was a challenge. The bond between them was interesting and I found that the author developed each of their characters well during the course of the novel. Dima was more of the leader, and I suppose the main character, but it didn't stop me learning about and growing to care for the others.

Nadia's part to the book I really enjoyed. I was eager to learn more about her and the past that had drawn her to Ukraine. I was also very wary of Artem from the beginning and found it compelling seeing their friendship grow. Nadia's part in this book seemed, to begin with, quite contrasting with the street kids and a little bit like it didn't belong, which was at times confusing until the compassion she shows shone through and her role became clear. There was some light to the shade in Don't Get Involved, often through the chapters Nadia was involved in, and though this was at times an incredibly dark novel, it wasn't too grim.

Overall I was hooked on Don't Get Involved. It's the first book I have read in a while after a bad reading slump but it has definitely brought back my interest in reading whilst also setting a high bar for future books.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Review | Home Truths by Susan Lewis

Published by HarperCollins on August 22, 2019

The opening chapter of Home Truths throws the reader right into the deep end knowing that at the end of chapter one everything will have changed in the lives of Angie Watts and her family. This is no slow burner - right away, I was engrossed in the devastating beginning to the novel and the aftermath of a brutal start had me eagerly turning the pages to discover what was to come next. Susan Lewis does not disappoint one bit in her latest novel which tugged at the heartstrings and delivered a current, relevant story - one that had me absorbed all the way through.

Angie and Steve are very much loved up but the stark realities of their life are getting them down and Steve is at the end of his tether when the gang their son Liam is involved in puts their youngest in danger. Determined to have it out with Liam, despite Angie begging him not to, Steve inadvertently puts his own life in danger - and Angie never sees him again.

It's been a while since I cared for a character liked I did for Angie. After the horrific death of her husband, Steve, and the circumstances surrounding his death which have led to the disappearance of her eldest son, Angie's life heads on a downward spiral of grief, debt and the overwhelming desperation of trying to keep her family afloat in such difficult times. Without feeling unrealistic, Angie and her family had absolutely everything thrown at them during the course of this book and it was so thought-provoking, I genuinely thought of nothing but these characters even when I had put the book down.

The beginning of this book is more about Angie's and her daughter Grace's struggles with money than anything else, and whilst this wasn't what I expected given the first chapter, I found it to be very sobering and important to read about. Despite how bad things were getting, Angie really struggled to open up and ask for help but without being preachy, this book helped highlight that sometimes we really do need to share our problems with those around us because though everyone is battling their own demons, some people would do anything to help. Angie shows this herself through her charity work - she's a kind, caring character despite life's hardships and this makes her easy to root her.

I love Susan Lewis's style of writing. She has such a way with words. It didn't matter what she was writing about, I was so wrapped up in every line and couldn't get enough of this book. Despite the dark topics approached in Home Truths, this did not feel like a grim read because the author could lighten things with her descriptions and the emotions she packed into her writing. The pacing of the book was just right for me and allowed myself to be drawn right in. I think a lot of readers may feel the same as there are many themes in this book which are relatable and could strike a chord. Overall I found Home Truths to be totally gripping and utterly compelling.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Review | Bring Me Sunshine by Laura Kemp

Published by Orion on June 27, 2019

Bring Me Sunshine by Laura Kemp is a fresh, funny and uplifting novel - an ideal summer's read to put a big smile on your face. From the first chapter I knew I was going to love this book. It had such a refreshing feel to it with laugh-out-loud humour and characters that were crafted so well that I didn't need any time at all before I cared for their stories.

Charlotte Bold loves plans and structure and routine to her day. She lives for a quiet life. She's comfortable in London with her traffic updates radio job, her friends and her boyfriend and the safe knowledge of what she's having for tea that night. Any upheaval is a no-go. Except, when she is moved on from her job and pushed to apply for a new station, Sunshine FM in Wales, Charlotte's worst nightmare is presented to her. A fresh start means change - and change is scary.

Charlotte is maybe not the character you expect, as she lacks a lot of confidence for someone who works in radio. But I loved this about her as through the book, it's so easy to root for her to grow in confidence and fight through her anxieties. When Charlotte arrives in Wales, the author perfectly depicts the stark contract between there and London through Charlotte's eyes. The steamed up, rainy windows faded and the surprisingly beautiful pier is revealed, and maybe, despite the wet and windy weather, Mumbles doesn't seem so bad after all. Laura Kemp describes the seaside location beautifully and it sounds enticing and picturesque and an ideal setting for a sunshiney read.

There is a lot to like about this book. I really warmed to the characters, not just Charlotte, but the supporting characters too. One character I really liked was Del, who, whilst maybe known for not really being good at anything, was certainly good at stepping in to help make Charlotte feel comfortable in her first day presenting at Sunshine FM. Del contributed to a lot of the laugh-out-loud funny moments in this book for me, but as with all the main characters, there were also parts to his character and story that were thought-provoking and deeper than his on-surface humour appeared.

Whilst Charlotte struggles from the start of her time in Wales, with crippling nerves and fears and zero confidence and her London friends not around to help, working at Sunshine FM shows her that she is not alone. This book delivers new friends and second chances and a truly heartwarming story that kept me engaged throughout. Warm and witty, Bring Me Sunshine was an absolute joy to read.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Review | The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter

Published by HarperCollins on June 13, 2019

I've never read any books by Karin Slaughter before though she was always one of my mum's favourite authors and came highly recommended. I also don't really like to start reading in the middle of a series and The Last Widow is the ninth book in the Will Trent series. However, the blurb for this book sounded so compelling that I simply could not resist. It definitely did not disappoint and now I am eager to get my hands on all the earlier books.

At the beginning of this book we meet Michelle Spivey who is out shopping with her eleven year old daughter. When a van stops beside her daughter, Ashley is aware and runs away from any trouble however it is Michelle they are after and she is abducted, and nobody has a clue who by or where to. She simply vanishes. Honestly, the first chapter alone had me hook, line and sinker and I devoured the first 100-150 pages of this book on a near two hour train journey that flew by as I was so engrossed.

Slaughter's style of writing, her pacing, descriptions and characterisation build up the story brilliantly and had me engrossed as the events were made easy to picture and I was truly gripped. I had a bit of a niggle with a chunk of this book as, as we met different characters, there was a bit of repetition as we see scenes from both sides and therefore things like whole conversations were repeated. This meant, as the chapters alternated between different characters there was a lot of toing and froing back and forth which wasn't particular easy to keep up with although I can't say it stopped me in anyway from being fascinated by the events and eager to discover more. Later in the book I could also see why this had been done and thought that it added to a more-rounded storytelling which probably was vital with such in-depth, highly researched plotting.

A month after the abduction of Spivey, Will Trent and Sara Linton find themselves caught in the middle of it all and this leads to Sara also being abducted and held prisoner and Will heading undercover in the midst of what was a shocking yet scarily believable story that was truly riveting. I enjoyed getting to know Will and Sara as they were new to me and I found them quite fascinating for different reasons. With every chapter of The Last Widow, the tension soared and the short timeframe that the book is set over not only added to the urgency of the events in the book but also the urgency I had as I desperately turned the pages of this heart-pounding, dark political thriller which is one of the most disturbing books I have read in a long time.

The Last Widow is action-packed and pulsating and my perfect introduction to Karin Slaughter as now I want every single one of her other books. This was a truly intense read that never let up. I've never read a 450 page hardback so quickly before but I was so drawn into the story and the characters that I never wanted to stop reading despite some of the heart-stopping truths that were revealed. Now I can see why Karin Slaughter is so highly revered - The Last Widow is mindblowingly good.

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