The Island, Victoria Hislop – Book Review

So, I’m a little late posting this one – and given the weather’s turn it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was seeing out the last of the summer in Crete. But, I was, and so this book packed with Cretan history seemed like the perfect pick for my trip. Victoria Hislop’s much-hyped debut, hailed as a ‘beach book with a brain’, offers an insight into some little-known (or at least to me) Greek history. With a historical drama and touching family saga played out against the natural beauty of the island of Crete, it seemed ideal for my recent holiday. But it’s not without it’s flaws.

The Island, Victoria Hislop

I knew little about the island of Spinalonga before this book, but after reading it’s an island I won’t forget in a hurry. This was Greece’s leper colony from the early 1900s through to the 1950s; one of the last European leper colonies in existence. The disease of leprosy was misunderstood, and victims were often feared and demonised. Hislop frames her story around a village family who are inflicted by the disease, and the majority of the tale is set between Spinalonga and Plaka, a small town opposite the the island, during this period. Continue reading

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The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter – Book Review

I received The Good Daughter in exchange for an honest review

Karin Slaughter is an author I’d seen around for a while, but I’d never got around to picking up one of her books until now. I don’t know why it took me so long, because from the first few pages of this book I could tell this was a seasoned, skilled writer; her story jumps off the page and draws you in immediately.

The book opens in 1989, as young sisters Charlotte and Samantha are preparing for dinner. There’s no slow build-up here, we jump straight to action as the family evening is interrupted with a home intrusion which has devastating consequences.

The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter

Fast-forward 28 years later, and the sisters are living separate lives as they’ve moved on from their traumatic childhoods as best they can. They have both forged successful careers as lawyers, but yet more tragic events in their hometown force the two to come back together and confront their past in a dramatic courtroom drama. Continue reading

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My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent – Book Review

I received My Absolute Darling in exchange for an honest review

I’d struggle to recommend this book to a friend, simply due to the fact that it contains some extremely disturbing content, to the point where I almost stopped reading. It almost feels at points like the author is relishing the horror that the protagonist endures. But there’s no doubt that this is one of the most skilled, powerful debut novels I’ve read in a while. And, if you stick with it through the darkness, you will find some hope. Continue reading

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The Swimming Pool, Louise Candlish – Book Review

The Swimming Pool was a good summer read, offering a character-driven psychological drama against the backdrop of an English summer in London. Set over the course of the school summer holidays, it follows teacher Natalie Steele as she discovers the new local swimming pool, forms some sinister friendships and discovers quite a bit about herself.

The Swimming Pool, Louise Candlish

Natalie is somewhat stuck in a rut. She and her fellow teacher husband Ed live by a structure of strict regimes, with a small but dependable group of friends and young, slightly overprotected teenage daughter; they are almost the epitome of sensible. Ed, it seems, is naturally this way, but Nat has intentionally chosen a life of routine due to some murky events in her past which are gradually revealed. In her past, she wasn’t always such an upstanding citizen, and she’s ready to rebel again when she meets her glamorous, alluring neighbour, Lara Channing, at the local swimming pool. Continue reading

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How To Stop Time, Matt Haig – Book Review

This book was a rare find, one that completely sucked me in to the the point where I was slowing down my reading as I didn’t want it to end. It’s definitely responsible for lifting me from a huge reading slump. From a journey through the glitz and glamour of the ages, to a dark sci-fi mystery complete with a secret society and a poignant musing on the meaning of life and love – it’s got it all. It was emotional, engrossing with humorous touches and it’s definitely a strong contender for my book of the year so far.

In a world where everyone wants to live longer, to look younger, Tom Hazard has a rare condition which would cause a scandal if revealed. He’s 439 years old, but looks in his early forties, due to a condition which means he ages at around one fifteenth of a regular human’s pace. But is it a blessing or a curse? Continue reading

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The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, Eve Chase – Book Review

I received The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde in exchange for an honest review

I was sold on this book by the fact that it was a dual timeline mystery described by Lisa Jewell as ‘The most beautiful book you will read this year.’ I have to admit I felt a little let down as I started it; this book has been described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘evocative’ but I found the writing a little too flowery when it wasn’t necessarily needed. It took me a little while to get into the story as I took time to adjust to the tone of voice, but once I did I found a strong plot which took me by surprise.

The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, Eve Chase

At the centre of the story is Applecote Manor, a grand manor in the Cotswolds. In its time it was a pristine picture of elegance, but in present day it’s crumbling and dilapidated. The story follows two timelines and shows what one house can mean to two different people. In present day, Jessie sees the mansion as a fresh start; a chance to escape the bustling city life of London and build a life with her new family. In the summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters also escape the city for a summer in the countryside, when they are sent by their mother to live with their aunt and uncle. Continue reading

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One Of Us Is Lying, Katherine McManus – Book Review

I received One Of Us Is Lying in exchange for an honest review

One Of Us Is Lying was an entertaining, quick read which perfectly captures the murky world of High School – a great guilty pleasure read with a little more depth. Five students enter detention. Only four leave alive.

One Of Us Is Lying, Katherine McManus

All the stereotypical High School characters are here – the successful jock, the prom queen, the brain and the rebel. The only character who is a slight enigma, an outsider, is Simon, a character who dies within the first chapter. But why did he die? Who is a culprit and who is a victim? Using Simon’s death as a catalyst, the author casts a tale of High School secrets and lies. Continue reading

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A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara – Book Review

I feel like A Little Life is difficult to review, because I’ve been so entirely immersed in these characters’ lives for so long, so entwined in the secrets, trauma, fear and hope of their stories, that I can’t look at this book objectively. It punches you in the gut with raw emotion and pain; with beautiful, elegant prose which never feels out of place despite its length, and with a touching tale of love, and a friendship which developed into more.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

This book came highly recommended, to the point where I was bought it for Christmas 2016 after having it profusely recommending to me for a year. I’m glad it came with that personal recommendation though because without that I may have been hesitant about embarking on this epic tome. Continue reading

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The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness – Book Review

Patrick Ness is an author who has been on my TBR list for years. I’ve heard so many great things about him, so I treated myself to a break from the Netgalley books to pick up one of my own – The Rest Of Us Just Live Here. But, in the end it left me with some mixed feelings.

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness

The premise is an original and intriguing one – the idea of taking your typical YA fantasy and turning it on its head; instead of following the character at the heart of the action, this story instead focuses on the outsiders. But, what I quickly realised, is this essentially makes the story just a standard YA contemporary tale instead. While there’s plenty of action going on with vampires, ‘the Immortals’ and a precious amulet, this activity is sidelined to small snippets which appear at the beginning of each chapter, while the main focus is on Mikey and his group of friends who are living their own lives, watching the aftermath of the ‘indie kids’ encountering ‘the immortals’ from a distance.

This clever concept ironically pokes fun at stereotypical YA novels, whilst being one itself. But once I settled into the unsettling way this novel does things, I found it excelled at both. The background action is fun, there’s echoes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a general sense of nostalgia for this genre. But the strongest thing that really carries this novel is the characters Ness has created in Mike, his sister and their friends Henna and Jared. These characters have all the typical teenage problems and then some, but they’re relatable and entertaining and the strength of their relationships is touching. I finished this book a few weeks ago and the characters still feel as strong as real people.

This wasn’t exactly the epic tale I was perhaps anticipating from such an established author, but it is well-written, quiet novel about friendships, relationships and growing up, set against an original backdrop. Ness is clearly a talented author, and I’m excited to go back and read some of his other novels.

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill – Book Review

I received The Lonely Hearts Hotel in exchange for an honest review

Heather O’Neill’s new Baileys award nominated novel completely blew my socks off. Between the blurb’s comparisons to The Night Circus and the Goodreads reviews slamming it for its controversial topics and crude nature, I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I started the novel, it’s all there. Yes, it’s controversial, it opens with an incestuous scene and goes on to introduce orphans who are abused, punished and raped, and yet from the beginning there was something decadent, evocative and magical about this novel.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill

Set in Montreal during the Depression era, O’Neill sets the perfect scene for her bleak, brutal tale of two troubled orphans, isolated on a small island where the austere winters are palpable. The author explores the seedy underbelly of both Montreal and New York, and the glitz and glamour of the 1920s entertainment industry, making for something that’s both dark and escapist but, overall, incredibly atmospheric.

Despite the harsh themes and grim setting, the characters are the true light of this novel. I often talk about character development, but the author really has nailed it here – in Rose and Pierrot, she’s created not one but two incredibly unique, whimsical characters who are loveable, authentic and sympathetic. We follow the pair  from their formative years in an orphanage through to adulthood and beyond. Throughout, many forces seem to be working to keep these star-crossed lovers apart.

It took me a while to get through this one, but that was solely because I wanted to savour it. Books like this don’t come along often. It’s unusual and controversial – there’s orphans, abuse, heroin, clowns, prostitutes and lots of sex. But if you can get past the initial shock at the frank manner in which many degrading events are portrayed, you may just find that this book is just as full of positive themes – there’s freedom, feminism, love and much more all wrapped up in beautifully poetic prose and a magical story.

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