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.

Review copy provided by the author - this was my honest review.

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 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.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review.

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.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review.

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.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review.

Friday 14 June 2019

Review | Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis

Published by Trapeze on June 13, 2019

Somewhere Close to Happy gave me all the emotions! I'd heard great things about Lia Louis's debut novel and it did not disappoint. This book made me laugh and cry, cheer and despair and root for Lizzie and Roman all the way.

When we meet Lizzie, she is sad and confused. She has just received a letter dated December 4, 2005, from Roman, her old best friend, written twelve years ago on the day he disappeared from her life with no explanation. Straight away I was intrigued by the story of Lizzie and Roman and couldn't wait to discover more.

Lia Louis structures this novel beautifully, with chapters dated from 2005 to present day, and old messages between Lizzie and Roman in between chapters to really show their friendship and help the reader understand why this letter from Roman becomes so important to Lizzie. The way the author feeds us the backstory of Lizzie and Roman made it easy to see how they had made an impression on each other's lives and therefore made it easy to care for their characters and follow their story with ease, with a sense of hope for a happy ending for the two of them.

This is a truly tender book that has all the makings of heart-warming women's fiction but also draws upon feelings of grief, of pure, raw emotion and of mental health and anxiety, something which I wholeheartedly believe should be written about more in fiction. The author writes honestly and sensitively about mental health and this was, in a way, heartening to see as mental health issues affect so many men and women yet there can still be a stigma about it and talking about it. In Somewhere Close to Happy, as the chapters move back and forth between teenage Lizzie and adult Lizzie, she is open and honest about her struggles and about Roman's struggles and their friendship is moving and empowering.

Although Somewhere Close to Happy is a book about Lizzie and Roman and their compelling story, my favourite character in this book was probably Lizzie's best friend, Priscilla. Though she had her own troubles, she was such a joyous character and a great friend - loyal, kind, caring and supportive. She made me laugh throughout and I loved her friendship with Lizzie. All the characters in this book were interesting and memorable and because of this, whilst the author does justice to the story of Lizzie and Roman, she has also ensured that they aren't the only characters I'm thinking of now the book is sadly finished.

I could truly rave about Somewhere Close to Happy all day. It's such a thought-provoking, brilliant debut novel. I seriously cannot wait to read more from Lia Louis.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Review | Sleep by C.L. Taylor

Published by Avon on April 4, 2019

C.L. Taylor never fails to deliver excellent thrillers with twists and turns that get under your skin. I know the moment I pick up one of her books that it's going to steal the rest of my day and that is perfectly fine when the book is as good as this one is.  Sleep is the best book I've read in ages.

When we meet Anna she has been involved in a car accident in which Anna was the only one to walk away, for the most part, psychically unscathed. Mentally, however, she is racked with guilt and struggling to sleep and constantly feels like someone is out to get her. The grief she feels has never made her feel so alone, and so, in a bid to escape from a world that now holds such bad memories for her, she moves to a remote Scottish island to work at the Bay View Hotel.

I loved the setting to this book. From the moment Anna sees the job advertisement to work in a secluded Scottish hotel, my eyes lit up at the thought of what this could mean for the book and it did not disappoint. The tense atmosphere and the isolation of staying somewhere stormy, with torrential rain, limited signal and wi-fi, a cut off from the rest of the world - this all made for a chilling and spine-tingling read that had me absolutely hooked. The way the author writes this setting is eerily good and the book was so readable for me because I had such a vivid picture and feel for the location and the claustrophobia within.

Another thing I loved about this book was the characters, especially the people staying at the hotel. Everybody has their secrets and honestly I trusted absolutely no-one, which made the mystery within this book even more gripping. Whether you guess the culprit rightly or wrongly, I found it difficult to read this book without changing my mind after every few chapters. I loved getting to know all the characters in this book and discovering the secrets they were trying so hard to keep.

Every book C.L. Taylor writes has a different feel about it to the last one and what I like is that, although I never know what is to come next, one thing that always remains is just how damn compelling every book is. Honestly from the second I picked this book up I wanted nothing more than to be left alone to devour it. Like Anna, sleep was not an option. I loved every single twist and turn in this thriller and the author once again doesn't let us down with another riveting, twisted novel.

Sleep is a book you're going to need to cancel all plans for. It is exceptionally gripping. I found it impossible to put down.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review.

Friday 24 May 2019

Review | My Mother's Daughter by Ann O'Loughlin

Published by Orion on May 16, 2019

I've been a big fan of Ann O'Loughlin ever since I read her debut novel The Ballroom Cafe back in 2015. Ann's books are emotional, moving and truly compelling and it is safe to say that her latest book, My Mother's Daughter, is no different.

At the beginning of the book, we meet two women who are going through some very tough times. In Ireland, we meet Margo. She is grieving after the death of her husband, Conor, and is crippled by loneliness. The one shining light in her life is her daughter, Elsa, but then a letter arrives and Margo is terrified that the contents may tear apart the lives of both her and Elsa.

In the USA, we meet Cassie. Cassie has just split up from Charles, her husband, who is refusing to pay for child support and is demanding a paternity test, leaving their daughter Tilly unhappily caught in the middle. For Cassie, the answer is obvious. She knows they were in love young and that Charles is 100% the father, so they get a paternity test done to prove this, except this one test sends Cassie and Tilly's lives into disarray.

Ann O'Loughlin never fails to produce thoroughly thought-provoking fiction and always creates realistic and authentic characters and from the moment I'd read the first couple of chapters and been introduced to Margo and Cassie, I knew that this was the case in My Mother's Daughter. Their stories are captivating and I absolutely loved reading how they intertwined. This story really brings home the love between a mother and her daughter and the unbreakable bonds between them and I really felt the warmth in the relationships between Margo and Elsa and Cassie and Tilly, despite the struggles life was throwing at them.

One thing I particularly loved about this book were the many themes delved into. Ann O'Loughlin is such an honest writer and her storytelling is so easy to become emotionally invested in. Ann's portrayal of grief, of mothers-and-daughters, of friendship and relationships, of all of these things is so genuine and encapsulating. In particular, for me, Margo's grief in this book is so believeable and I really felt for her because you can see how much losing her husband has affected her life. Living in the home she and Conor had loved so much, but living in it now without him, this has such an impact on Margo and how everything has changed yet around her it is exactly the same.

I had the odd little niggle with aspects to this book at times, such as the dialogue which I found sometimes didn't give justice to the scene. It's hard to explain without spoilers, but for me on occasions there were moments and scenes that were shocking or quite emotional but the dialogue didn't fully represent that. However, this is just a minor issue with a book that for the most part was wonderfully compelling and for me the best kind of books are the ones that make you think and My Mother's Daughter fit the bill quite beautifully.

Poignant and touching, the chapters vanished so quickly as I was reading My Mother's Daughter as I always wanted to know more and never could find the right time to put the book down. I read this in one afternoon as the writing flowed so effortlessly and the twists interweaved within the plot grabbed a hold of me until I simply had no other choice but to read to the end to see how things would turn out for Cassie and Margo and all the supporting characters who made this book so fascinating. They are not characters who are forgotten instantly when the last page is drawn - these characters and this story will stay with me for a long time.

Review copy provided by the publisher - this was my honest review,

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