Tuesday 25 May 2021

Review | Friends Like These by Sarah Alderson

Published by Mulholland Books on December 13, 2018

I love a thriller set around social media and so when I was looking for my next book to read, Friends Like These by Sarah Alderson really stood out to me. This is one crazily tense story, with a whole rollercoaster of twists throughout. The book did seem a bit confusing to begin with and it took me a little bit of time to get into it but when I did, I was absolutely hooked and flew through the book in less than a day. When I got to the end, the beginning made a lot more sense to me and I realised just how cleverly written the entire novel was.

We’re all guilty of being swept up in social media. When you click on a friend’s page on Facebook and then end up scrolling through photos and comments from people when you have no idea who they are. It’s so easy to fall into that rabbit hole, without really considering the actual person on the other side of the screen. After all, some people just aren’t what they seem online.

For Lizzie, she is definitely guilty of cyber-stalking, especially after a drink or two. One day she swipes right on an all too familiar looking guy on Tinder – the ex-boyfriend of Becca, one of her former colleagues. Lizzie and Becca were no more than work acquaintances. They were polar opposites. But after a shocking accident resulted in Becca leaving the business, Lizzie is intrigued to see just what Becca is up to a few years later. After finally finding her on Facebook, she types out a bitchy message about her to her friend Flora, only she accidentally sends it to Becca instead. And let me tell you, I will definitely be double checking all my messages in future to make sure they are going to the right person!

Friends Like These was so addictive. This was a dark yet often witty read with dislikeable characters who mess with your mind. The actions of these character spiral out of control and the drama had me racing through the book feeling anxious and apprehensive about what was to come yet dying to find out all at the same time.

Both Becca and Lizzie are people that outsiders would judge. Becca would be judged based for her beauty and hated on for her overuse of #blessed hashtags online, showing off about her perfect life. Lizzie would be judged for, in her own eyes, being fat and frumpy. But social media is the place where people share only what they want others to see. This novel draws upon that wonderfully, showing just how somebody can pretend to be whoever they want to be when they’re behind a computer screen. I loved the exploration of both these women. They were truly fascinating characters, manipulative but highly entertaining.

There is definitely no filler in this book. So much is going on and it kept me on my toes throughout. Set at a fast and frenetic pace, Friends Like These was truly intense with exhilarating twists and compelling characters. The story had me gripped, and the clever ending sent a shiver down my spine.

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

Monday 24 May 2021

Review | First Day of My Life by Lisa Williamson

Published by David Fickling Books on January 7, 2021

First Day of My Life by Lisa Williamson has been on my wishlist since the moment I heard about it. I loved the blurb and have enjoyed other books from the same author. I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this book from the author on Twitter and the read was everything I hoped for and more - an endearing, tender tale of friendship and new beginnings.

It’s GCSE results day and the end of a chapter for best friends Frankie and Jojo. They’ve got a results day party on the horizon and bright futures to look forward to. Except Jojo is missing and Frankie is concerned, so concerned that she has to turn to her ex-boyfriend Ram for help. Jojo is not the only one missing. Local to Frankie, the news that a baby has been stolen has everyone worried and only adds to the mystery. Everything about the opening to this book had me hooked and I loved every twist and turn throughout this heartfelt story.

I won’t talk too much about the plot to avoid spoilers, but I do think this is a great book to read for any teenagers, fans of YA or really anybody who enjoys cleverly written, honest fiction. The book is told in four parts and we get to hear from the perspective of Frankie, Jojo and Ram. I enjoyed the insight into all three characters. Each of them had an individual voice and as we get to follow the story with all three of them, this really helped show their development during the course of the book. The characters definitely grew and this made for a great coming of age story.

Lisa Williamson beautifully represented teenage friendship in First Day of My Life, and this was my favourite aspect of the book. Frankie and Jojo are best friends but it doesn’t mean their friendship comes without complications. They are written very realistically and I thought they were a genuine and proper representation of a lot of teenage relationships. They fall out but they also take the time to listen to each other and talk things through. It’s evident how much they care about each other and I felt like the author perfectly navigates their imperfections and encapsulates the heightened emotions of teenagers with great honesty and sensitivity.

This book made me feel so many emotions and I found myself fully invested and genuinely caring for all three of the main characters. Warm and wonderfully written, Lisa Williamson has crafted a thought-provoking story that is so believable it is hard to see the characters as characters and not as friends. First Day of My Life was so compelling. I didn’t want to put it down. The story will stay with me for a long time.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Review | A Song Unsung by Fiona Cane

Published on May 27, 2021

It’s rare for me to be able to start and finish a book over the course of 24 hours but with A Song Unsung I had no other choice. I was so engrossed in Martha’s story and Fiona Cane’s beautifully descriptive, scene-setting writing drew me into life in the 1950s and 1970s, with both parts captivating me and having me eager to discover the secrets that were being kept.

The story is told from the perspective of two characters. In Soho in 1958, we meet Martha, a young woman who has left home with little money to her name. She loves to sing but a career from that is just a fantasy. For now, she’s about trying to make enough money to live on. Until a desperate attempt to earn some good pay leads to a chance encounter with someone who may just be able to make her musical dreams come true.

In Sussex in 1976, we meet Natasha. Fourteen years old, she’s bored and lonely. That is, until one Martha Palmer moves into her neighbourhood and casts her spell on Tasha. Obsessed with her fashion, her beauty and her lifestyle, Natasha becomes addicted to the mystery behind Martha, and so did I. The way Martha’s character is depicted throughout both the fifties and seventies is utterly entrancing.

A Song Unsung felt like an ode to jazz music and the jazz scene is brought to life on the pages of this book. From the clubs and the venues to the anxieties, the publicity and the fame, Fiona Cane paints a vivid picture of life on the road for Martha and her band. I loved the author’s evocative style of writing. It was very atmospheric and the culture and jazz soundtrack bursts to life within the pages of this book. Not limited to the music, Fiona Cane draws the reader in to a hot and sticky coffee shop, to awkward teenage first times and to the suspense built through secrets and lies.

I really enjoyed the exploration of both Martha and Natasha’s characters. Though her upbringing was different to Martha’s, there was a resemblance between young Natasha and young Martha that I found fascinating. Whilst I could sympathise with Martha more, and found it easy to root for her despite her flaws, I struggled more with Natasha’s attitude. Her newfound obsession with Martha led to her showing quite a selfish and at times unkind approach towards her mother. There was a side to Tasha that only came about when she was around Martha – a need she had to impress this mysterious woman, a need for excitement that she could only find out of the confines of her own home. Natasha had an impressionable personality and she developed an intriguing fixation on Martha that I found truly compelling.

I loved the mystery at the heart of this novel. A Song Unsung kept me guessing throughout, intrigued by the secrets and hidden truths and always engaged, eagerly piecing together the parts of Martha’s life and what changed in the twenty-year gap from when we first meet her to when we meet her again. There was a lot I didn’t see coming, and I loved the book all the more for it. I would highly recommend A Song Unsung – a must-read this Summer.

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

Monday 17 May 2021

Review | The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Published by Trapeze on May 27, 2021

The highlight of my reading year is here when Sharon Bolton has a new book published. Back with another chilling psychological thriller, The Pact had me reading into the early hours of the morning, gripped by this enticingly twisted tale of revenge.

It’s the night before A-Level results day and the nerves and tension are high. Meet Felix, Xav, Daniel, Amber, Talitha and Megan. The six of them are best friends, and between them have all the anxieties of any teenager waiting to hear their grades and how they may impact their future. Despite all being gifted, high achievers, with the potential of only bright things ahead, the six of them put all of that at risk with a dare. A dare that they have done before, but this time, a dare that will ensure their lives are never the same again.

In the tragic aftermath of the dare, Megan comes forward and agrees to take the rap for the rest of the group, and herein lies the pact. In exchange for Megan getting sent down, the six friends agree that when she is released, they each owe her one favour of her choosing. Whatever Megan wants in return, she gets. After all, it would be the least she deserves.

It’s a thrilling concept to a book, and when the author is Sharon Bolton, you know that the outcome will be paced to perfection and truly addictive. Hooked from the first chapter, I begrudged any moment I had to put this book down. Every chapter of this book was meaningful and built the suspense beautifully. There was no filler – just pure explosiveness in the form of toxic friendships and the equivalent of a deal with the devil. When Megan returns into the lives of her five old friends, the tension in this book soars, and Amber, Talitha, Xav, Felix and Daniel discover there really is no escaping the past. Their lives will be shattered forever.

The Pact is genuinely stunning. A frankly brilliant tale of consequences, every riveting chapter is laced with danger and had me reading on the edge of my seat. If you’ve ever doubted whether you could trust a friend before then this is not the book to help with your trust issues. For the six rich and entitled characters in this book, true friendship was not a concept they understood. The sinister nature of this book meant that whilst I was fully consumed with the lives of these characters, I did not believe any one of them, and this had me all the more engrossed, excited to discover how this book could end. It did not disappoint.

As if I needed reminding, The Pact shows just why Sharon Bolton is one of the best writers out there. Thrilling from the first page to the last, this book is pure excellence.

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

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Review | The Verdict by Olivia Isaac-Henry

Published by One More Chapter on August 12, 2019

After one read of the blurb for this book, I was already sold, and Olivia Isaac-Henry’s second novel did not disappoint. The Verdict had such a great premise, and it delivered a compelling story with plenty of twists and turns. I was hooked straight away with a killer prologue that was short, snappy and had me dying to get to the truth. Immediately I was intrigued by the events in this book and my need to know what had happened never let up all the way through.

The Verdict centres around Julia Winter, who is not having a good time of things after her son caught her cheating on her husband with his rugby coach. Things go from bad to worse for Julia pretty quickly, as she soon receives word that a body has been found buried opposite the house she used to live in. Whilst hearing this is somewhat of a shock for Julia, the fact that there was a body to be discovered there is clearly not news to her, so already this raised my suspicions and had me struggling to trust any of the characters.

The book is set over a few different timelines, from 1994 to 2019. In 1994, we are in Guildford, where Julia moves into a house share with some incredibly strange dynamics between all the residents and the landlady. In 2017, we are in London where the past is catching up with Julia, leading to her arrest and the ensuing court case which begins the following year. Each location and date is well noted at the beginning of each chapter but still it wasn’t the easiest book to follow as it went back and forth a lot. However, this was redeemed because every chapter offered something fascinating and something that made me eager to carry on reading and discover the truth.

There was a lot to like about The Verdict, from the slow-building suspense to the dysfunctional set of characters. Because nobody appeared particularly likeable or trustworthy, I spent my entire read trying to piece everything together and work out who was responsible for the murder and whether there was more to the case than anybody was letting on. This book kept me guessing throughout and whilst not fast-paced, instead the story is built with a true sense of unease and a lingering animosity.

My favourite part of this book was definitely the court case which I thought was incredibly well written, taut with tension and thrilling twists throughout. I could not get enough of the courtroom drama and as much as I wanted to know the truth, I also did not want this part to end! There was plenty to unfold during the course of this court case and despite all my suspicions, just when I thought I knew everything that was going to happen, the author surprised me with a clever twist that made me stop and have to reread just to get my head around it.

The Verdict really was an incredibly gripping book and I couldn’t get enough of it. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

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

Saturday 1 May 2021

Review | A Year of Chasing Love by Rosie Chambers

Published by HQ Digital on January 6, 2020

I couldn’t resist buying a copy of A Year of Chasing Love, Rosie Chambers’ debut novel. With the summery cover and the enticing blurb, this book looked like it would provide a perfect bit of escapism at a time when travelling outside the UK is not possible. As the author whisks us away to Malta and Hawaii, amongst other destinations, this story definitely did not disappoint. Fresh and feel-good, I did not want to put this book down.

Olivia Hamilton’s life comes crashing down when she receives her divorce papers. Aware that things had not been great between her and Nathan, but evidently not fully aware of just how distant they had become, Olivia is in shock and at a loss. Not only is her relationship over but now she can’t even keep herself busy with her career as a top divorce lawyer, as she is forced to take a long sabbatical from work too. At a loss of what to do with herself, Olivia reluctantly agrees to her best friend’s request for help – Olivia is to travel to a series of destinations across the world to find out what makes a relationship work – to discover the ultimate guide to love.

I was invested in Olivia’s story right from the start of this book and found myself rooting for her all the way through. Even though at times she could be a bit down on herself, to be honest it was refreshing to have a protagonist who could acknowledge her own flaws instead of being completely na├»ve to her own mistakes. Throughout her trips, Olivia can’t help but think about her own love life and the reasons why her marriage to Nathan didn’t work out and she has a whole world of self-discovery to come. I loved going on this journey with Olivia, even if I did want to shake her a bit…

My favourite part of the book was all the travel trips Olivia went on. Each destination offered something different, both to Olivia and to the reader. I loved how well researched each place came across from the food to the culture and the traditions in each. Even though each trip was fairly short, the author’s writing was atmospheric and evocative enough to bring each destination to life. Each country Olivia visited had their own statistics on love, marriage and divorce, and each destination brought Olivia closer to understanding just what makes a marriage work and where things had gone wrong for her and Nathan.

Nathan was the enigma in this book for me. I was eager to see if things could be worked out between him and Olivia, despite not really knowing anything about him apart from the memories Olivia shares. Strangely I was rooting for their happy ending even though we never really heard much from him, and had this book been longer, I would have liked to have seen more of Nathan so we could truly see what all the fuss was about!

At a time when holidaying abroad isn’t an option, A Year of Chasing Love takes you on a mini tour of some tempting destinations. Rosie Chambers brings the sunshine, delivering a heartfelt and romantic read that left me with a smile on my face come the end.

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