Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

"When Lucy Sullivan is dragged by her friends to visit a psychic, she thinks it will be a bit of a laugh. She doesn’t believe for one second that the prediction will come true; there’s just no way that she will be married within the year!
In fact Lucy doesn’t even have a boyfriend. 
But then she meets gorgeous but unreliable Gus. And the handsome Chuck. Oh and there’s Daniel, the world's biggest flirt. And even cute Jed, the new guy at work. 
Is it written in the stars? Or will Lucy finally take control of her own destiny and find the perfect man?"

I'll admit that it took me a little bit longer to get into this book than it did with Watermelon but nonetheless, it is still fabulous.  Each of the characters are unique, completed defined and exceptionally well-developed.  

Lucy makes you want to bash her over the head as she keeps going for the wrong man and fails to see what is right in front of her face, and you have to wait right until the very end to breathe a sigh of relief, but the journey to the end is fun.  

Marian's books could never be described as pure chick lit fairytales as they also cover other real issues; in this case depression and alcoholism.  Her books always stand out from the crowd, as they are proper stories.  You don't feel like you are reading a book, instead you feel like you're living it.  This comes from the fact that the books are packed full of detail (but not in a way that you find yourself bored out of your mind) and you don't feel like anything is missing; no stone has been left unturned.  An incredibly special way of writing.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Watermelon by Marian Keyes

"At twenty-nine, fun-loving, good-natured Claire has everything she ever wanted: a husband she adores, a great apartment, a good job. 

Then, on the day she gives birth to her first baby, James visits her in the recovery room to inform her that he's leaving her. Claire is left with a beautiful newborn daughter, a broken heart, and a body that she can hardly bear to look at in the mirror.   So, in the absence of any better offers, Claire decides to go home to her family in Dublin. 

To her gorgeous man-eating sister Helen, her soap-watching mother, her bewildered father. And there, sheltered by the love of an (albeit quirky) family, she gets better. A lot better. In fact, so much better that when James slithers back into her life, he's in for a bit of a surprise."

I am on a mission to re-visit each and every one of Marian Keyes books.  It has been such a long time since I read the early books that whilst I know I love them, I can't remember any specifics about them (other than the fabulous Walsh family, in some of them).  I realised this when I recently read The Mystery of Mercy Close and recognised the Walsh family names but couldn't place what they were like in their own books.

I adored Watermelon.  Claire has the most awful thing happen to her when her husband leaves her on the same day as she gives birth to her baby girl, and she returns to Ireland to her Mammy.  What follows is Claire's grief and utter meltdown and yet, you will find yourself laughing out loud at this book.  It has been a while since I physically laughed out loud at a book, but Marian Keyes manages to produce such wonderful one-liners and she makes it look absolutely effortless.  I am an avid follower of Marian on twitter, and parts of Watermelon are so vividly like Marian; it's like Marian Keyes on a page!

You get a real feel for each of the characters right from the very outset; they are all so well-defined and there is not any question in the reader's mind as to who they are and what they stand for.  I loved the interactions between each of the members of the Walsh family.

Whilst this book is now nearly 20 years old (!!!!), it is still absolutely fabulous and for a debut book, it is exceptionally good.  There isn't a single thing I don't like about it.  It is funny, engaging, romantic with a dollop of justice thrown in.  It is a timeless classic which I could easily read over and over again as there as so many wonderful lines in this book that I'm sure I missed some on my first re-read.  This is high praise indeed as I do not usually read a book twice, ever!!

I cannot wait to re-discover the rest of the Walsh family as I continue on my journey through Marian's books.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Start of #MKMania - Revisiting 'The Fabulous Works of Marian Keyes'

I have always loved Marian Keyes as an author and I am not alone; Marian is the bestselling Irish author of thirteen wonderful novels and her books have been translated into thirty-six different languages.  

It is only recently that I have come to really see the person behind the author.  The age of social media allows a reader to engage with and 'get to know' the person behind their favourite books on an entirely different level.  

What I have come to learnt is that as well as being a bestselling author, Marian Keyes is twitter-obsessed (if an thirty-seconds goes by without a tweet I know that something is wrong or that she has been separated from her phone, like the time she went to see Strictly be filmed and had to surrender her phone to get close to PASHA!), a lover of knobs (yes, knobs but of the furniture kind) and can often be found completing BeachHouse Banjo(TM) projects or obsessing over the latest fad (Pink and Black Magnets (i.e. Magnums)) or the demise of the Pink Snack.

It is not difficult to see why Marian is so popular.  Her ability to make you laugh out loud by using 140 characters or less is unfaltering.  I very rarely stray from my twitter newsfeed but since discovering Marian on twitter, I direct myself to her page numerous times a day to see what is happening in the world of Marian and Himself.

On Marian's website, there is a section called 'Eleven Things About Marian' and it is here that I learnt how Marian became a bestseller.  I was gobsmacked to discover that Marian never intended to write a novel.  In fact, Marian Keyes has a law degree.  As a lawyer myself, it is hard to imagine that I have inside of me what it takes to be a funny and talented writer in the way that Marian is.  I don't, I know this.  Marian is a very special lady.  Her story goes along the  lines of this: Marian started writing short stories a few months before she gave up the alcohol and after leaving rehab decided to send them off to a publisher.  She says that in a bid to get the publisher to take her seriously, she enclosed a letter saying that she had also written part of a novel.  Of course, she had done no such thing and indeed had no intention of doing so either.  However, the publisher wrote back asking to see the novel.  I am sure at this stage mild panic and hysteria kicked in.  However, she managed to pull herself together pretty quickly as she wrote four chapters of Watermelon, which became Marian's first novel, in a week, yes, you heard me, A WEEK (!!!) and on the strength of that was offered a three-book contract.  It does not surprise me, as every book contract was utterly deserved, but it amazes me and that story alone is testament to what an incredible writer she is.

Having spent so much time in Marian's twitter-company, I realised that it has been so long since I read Marian's early books that I have resolved that this year, I will re-read each of her books in order.  2015 for me is the year of #MKMania (not MK as in Michael Kors, MK as in Marian Keyes!).  I urge you to join me in reminding yourself of the magnificence of 'The Fabulous Works of Marian Keyes'.

So, to start: Watermelon:

"At twenty-nine, fun-loving, good-natured Claire has everything she ever wanted: a husband she adores, a great apartment, a good job. Then, on the day she gives birth to her first baby, James visits her in the recovery room to inform her that he's leaving her. Claire is left with a beautiful newborn daughter, a broken heart, and a body that she can hardly bear to look at in the mirror. So, in the absence of any better offers, Claire decides to go home to her family in Dublin. To her gorgeous man-eating sister Helen, her soap-watching mother, her bewildered father. And there, sheltered by the love of an (albeit quirky) family, she gets better. A lot better. In fact, so much better that when James slithers back into her life, he's in for a bit of a surprise."

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Deja Vu by Susan Giles

"Catherine is celebrating her thirtieth birthday when her life takes a turn for the worse; her rival Anna, a woman with loose morals, triggers a quarrel between Catherine and her partner Alexander. Following the party, Alexander sexually assaults Catherine, propelling her on a journey in search of a new beginning. 

Fleeing to Cornwall, Catherine experiences a rare feeling of déjà vu when she meets a fisherman named Christopher Armstrong. Prompted by this sentiment, she allows a relationship to begin, with the intention of it being platonic. Armstrong, however, has other ideas. As Catherine finds herself more attracted to the Cornish fisherman, she discovers that she still harbours feelings for her first love – a young fisherman called Christopher... Upon discovering that this modern-day Christopher is much less than the gentleman she initially thought he was, Catherine finds herself completely isolated – and in mortal danger... 

A traditional romance novel with a dramatic twist, Déjà Vu addresses the serious issue of rape within a relationship."

I have found it difficult to write this book review, and I think that is because I did not have any particularly overwhelming feelings about this book.  I didn't fall in love with any character and I didn't fall in love with any of the locations either.  However, I didn't hate it either. 

It did not grip me in the way that I had imagined and I found it to be a little meandering without any major impacts from the storyline; I did not encounter any twists or turns that particularly shocked me.  There were no sub-plots to speak of and I think I could count the number of major points in the storyline on one hand.  The main characters were a bit two-dimensional and the sex scenes, whilst 'explicit' were not, in my opinion, particularly shocking.  I have not read 50 Shades of Grey but I cannot imagine it is any 'worse' than that.

That said, the writing was good and I read the entire book but I did not feel emotionally invested.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Tiny Acts of Love by Lucy Lawrie

"Surviving motherhood? It's all about having the right support network. 

Lawyer and new mum Cassie has a husband who converses mainly through jokes, a best friend on the other side of the world, and a taskforce of Babycraft mothers who make her feel she has about as much maternal aptitude as a jellyfish. Husband Jonathan dismisses Cassie's maternal anxieties, but is he really paying attention to his struggling wife? He's started sleep talking and it seems there's more on his mind than he's letting on. 

Then sexy, swaggering ex-boyfriend Malkie saunters into Cassie's life again. Unlike Jonathan, he 'gets' her. He'd like to get her into bed again too... And on top of all her emotional turmoil, she also finds herself advising a funeral director on ghost protocol and becomes involved in an act of hotel spa fraud, never mind hiding cans of wasp spray all over the house to deal with the stalker who seems to be lurking everywhere she looks. 

Marriage and motherhood isn't the fairytale Cassie thought it would be. Will her strange new world fall apart around her or will tiny acts of love be enough to get her through? 

Funny, perceptive and real, Tiny Acts of Love portrays the rawness of motherhood, the flipside of love and the powerful lure of paths not taken."

I thought that Tiny Acts of Love sent a really powerful message but in a gentle and subtle way.  The post-natal depression element of the storyline could easily have overwhelmed and taken over but it does not overpower in the slightest.  In fact, the descriptions and ultimate message, which does not show itself truly until the very end of the book, could apply to anybody and the way that they feel about life in general; it is certainly not limited to post-natal depression.  You definitely do not need to be a mother to read and enjoy this book.

There were lots of different threads and sub-plots to this book, which meandered alongside the main storyline and I enjoyed every single one of them.  Elements of the story may come across as slightly far-fetched but it is a fun book and the characters draw you in so you do not necessarily realise you are reading about the craziness that you are.  Each of those sub-plots are dealt with in a perfect manner and are each ultimately tied up for the reader.

A great read, there were good twists along the way and an entirely satisfying ending that contained a very powerful message which I think will resonate with a lot of people, parents or not.  There are paragraphs in the final epilogue of the book that made something click inside my head and they will stay with me for a long time.  An exceptionally well-crafted debut novel from Lucy Lawrie.

And once you've read Tiny Acts of Love, you can head over to Lucy's website where Lucy has turned parts of the story around and written them from another characters point of view, which I really love as you get to see the flip side to the story which is not always as you, the reader, conjure up in your mind.

Thank you to Black and White Publishing for the copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Heavenly Lilies by Alison Leonard

"How far can we trust anyone? Even someone we’ve fallen in love with? Even… ourselves? 

Heavenly Lilies is set in 1996, soon after the horrors of the Fred and Rose West case. Sheila is on the jury of a case that’s eerily similar. As they retire to consider their verdict, Sheila knows that because of her own sexual history, she can’t make that judgement. She walks out, and flees as far away as she can: to an island off the west coast of Ireland. 

As she settles into this remote and beautiful place, she encounters Colin, who’s on the run from his own demons. They make love, and Sheila discovers another self, called Shelia. 

But suspicion is everywhere. Guilt, too: how could she abandon those tortured children? And questions. The local priest is full of worldly wisdom, but how has he acquired it? Can Sheila trust his judgement about Colin? Will the police drag her back to the horror of the trial? 

Then her son Jack arrives, an attractive 20-year-old. Guilelessly he makes play for Nuala, the damaged local girl who Sheila sees as a mermaid. But this is dangerous ground. Nuala’s mother and grandmother are competing for possession of her, and the island’s ancient politics threaten any outsider who disturbs it. 

Jack and Nuala disappear, and the search for them forces out some truth about Sheila’s quest, Nuala’s story, and Colin’s reasons for coming to the island. When the police arrive, they don’t need to arrest Sheila: she’s ready to return. But can she still love Colin? If the answer is yes, can their love survive?"

This book was not at all what I thought it was going to be from reading the back of the book, which gives a lot less away than the above description which is taken from the publisher's website.  I thought it was going to be more focused on being a jury member in a high profile case, but in reality that only features at the very beginning and is the catalyst for the remainder of the book.

This book reminded me of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan, which was long listed for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian First Book Award, but was a book that I simply could not get on with.  Yes, you can tell from this blog that I do like "chick-lit" but, being a lawyer, I am perfectly capable of enjoying "intellectual reads".  However, I found it hard to read Heavenly Lilies, and not only because of the subject matter.  It is definitely not a book you should try and read whilst you are tired.  It requires your full concentration, and despite the fact I did not love it, it deserves your full attention too because it is exceptionally well crafted.  

The constant switching of perspectives is disconcerting and I sometimes found it difficult to work out whose perspective I was reading about.  However, Alison Leonard has done a truly amazing job of weaving together all the threads to create a story that does work exceptionally well.  It certainly is not a quick read and it requires your full patience and attention.  From the other reviews on Amazon, it is clear that for people who do enjoy this type of book, this will be up there with the best.

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Thirteen Weddings by Paige Toon

"Sometimes you have to step out of the light to see clearly again…

Bronte never expected to see Alex again after their one night together, but she never stopped thinking of him. So when she arrives at work one day to find that Alex is a new colleague, she’s secretly thrilled. The only problem is that Alex is now engaged to the girl he was on a break from the night they met.

Determined to move on, Bronte becomes a part-time wedding photographer, alongside her day job. Surrounded by loving couples, tearful bridesmaids, mischievous pageboys and interfering mothers-in-law, she struggles through wedding after wedding whilst her heart is slowly torn apart.

As Alex’s own wedding day draws ever nearer, their chemistry becomes harder to ignore. Bronte must decide whether to fight for the man she loves, or to let him go forever."

I sit here having just read this book in one sitting of around five solid hours and wonder what I can say about this book that fans of Paige Toon will not already know.  It has been a while since I have picked up a Paige Toon book, but I have missed her writing and have been looking forward to this book reaching the top of my TBR pile.  Her books are divine, and always have been.  After just a few pages of Thirteen Weddings, I remember why she is one of the best chick lit authors ever.  

Thirteen Weddings starts with a first chapter which draws you in and leaves you wishing you could meet a man like Alex in an eighties club whilst on a hen do you don't really want to be at.  You are immediately left on a bit of a cliff hanger as the book then jumps a year and a half forward (and part of me longs for it to have continued without a break).  What follows is a complicated web which soon becomes a love triangle when Bronte meets Lachie at a wedding.  The relationships and interactions contained in this book are likely to leave you as confused as Bronte.  

I loved the wedding photography aspect.  The descriptions of various weddings were captivating and this was a career I had not read about before.  It was interesting to read (never boring or repetitive) and I liked the variety of characters that it brought to the page.

I also loved getting to re-visit Lily and Ben from Pictures of Lily, a book which I adored and still have fond memories of (I cannot believe it has been three and a half years since I read it and you can read my review here).  I think there are other 'friends from the past' contained within (but I must own up and say I have not read every Paige Toon book going - something which I must rectify this year!)

I have to be honest and say that I do not know how I feel about the ending.  I felt more love for one of the guys in this book than the other, and I kind of wish things had turned out differently, but I can entirely see why things turned out how they did.  Girls - are you on Team Alex or Team Lachie?

Disclaimer by Renée Knight

"When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in
bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret. 

A secret she thought no one else knew…"

Disclaimer is crafted in such a way that it forces your mind to race ahead with the logical part panting behind it, desperately trying to catch up. A sentence later and you're taken back to square one once more. 

The narration of the chapters alternates and the varying perspectives allow you to get inside the head of the very different characters, which I think means the reader can get more out of the book.

The first part of the book is a desperate page turner although that dampens, but only very very slightly, as you get further into the story. If I had to fault it, it would be down to a lack of reaction from Catherine towards her husband at one of the pinnacle points of the book.  It is impossible to say much about the storyline without giving too many spoilers away, as it is such a fabulously crafted rollercoaster.

A phycological thriller about revenge and deadly assumptions. A very clever premise using the works of fiction in this way ("any resemblence to persons living or dead is purely coincidental...") and not something which I had come across before. Disclaimer would definitely fall into the new genre of books, created by the fabulous @MarianKeyes, #GripLit.

Disclaimer will be published on 9 April 2015....I recommend that you keep your eye out for it!  There is said to be significant film interest and I can easily see this becoming a bestselling blockbuster.

Underclass 7 by T K Williams-Nelson

"Foss, a twenty six year old gym owner, runs into financial difficulty alongside six of his closest friends.  Seemingly at the right time, Deano who is considered the criminal of the group gets a tip off about an abandoned house from a mysterious woman outside his home.  Tired of the deprivation they have endured in different ways from a young age, the seven men pull together an plan to burgle the abandoned house previously owned by a retired entrepreneur.  With high hopes of finding valuables of worth to ease their burdens, Foss and the others view the robbery as a minor step towards an easier lifestyle if they found anything of significance.  When the time came for the robbery to commence Foss and the group are stunned when they discover money and drugs in the old and rusted building.  Filled with annoyance that he may have bit off more than he could chew Foss lets paranoia consume him before being able to relax and enjoy having money to spend.  Little did he know that their sinful actions would trigger a sinister chain of events that, beyond their control, would change their lives forever.

Based on the 7 Deadly Sins, Underclass 7 is a mystery-thriller that explores the concept that ones most indulged sin can lead to an eventful downfall."

I really liked the concept of this book; it had the potential to be totally absorbing and utterly gripping but I feel like it needed just a little bit more fine tuning.  For me, I was constantly aware that I was reading a book and I did not get totally lost within the story in the way that I thought I would.  I think that came from a combination of things.  I found that some things did not quite add up, for example, Foss sharing a bottle of rosé wine on an evening in with his girl did not fit in with his image at all.  In addition, I understand that the author was trying to set the scene and the background to the characters, but I found their constant over-drinking (and, in particular, them then getting behind the wheel of a car) somewhat draining.  

I would have liked a little more suspense throughout the entirety of the book.  I did not find there was any drawn out areas where the reader is drip fed clues to build the suspense and make the reader draw wild conclusions.  Instead, there is a reference throughout to the stones that Foss takes from the house and it is fairly obvious from the beginning that they have something to do with the downfall of the characters and I found it frustrating that they were brought to our attention so often but that Foss simply disregarded them each time.  

I loved the link to the 7 deadly sins and thought the outcome of their predicament was a fabulous revelation which I had not seen coming at all and I just wish that, somehow, more could have been made of it.  The last chapter, which jumps forward 18 months, is fabulous.  It lulls you into a false sense of security and then bang, it leaves you on a cliffhanger that will leave you willing the sequel to arrive (and I understand from the author that there will be a sequel in time).

It sounds, from this review, as though I did not enjoy Underclass 7 and that is far from the truth.  This honest review highlights areas which, as a reviewer, jumped off the page to me, but I would not hesitate to read the sequel (I am dying to know what happens!) and I think this author has real potential.  You can read some more about Tannika here.  I see that Tannika (alongside being an author) is a student - currently studying Criminal Justice at university.  Her biography says she hopes to write a crime trilogy in the future and think that has the potential to be up there with the best.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

"A striking literary debut of love and mortality perfect for fans of quirky, heart-wrenching fiction like Nathan Filer, David Nicholls and Rachel Joyce.

Ivo fell for her.

He fell for a girl he can’t get back.

Now he’s hoping for something.

While he waits he plays a game: 

He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away.

He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.

But he doesn't have long.

And he still has one thing left to do..."

This is an impressive debut from James Hannah, who has an incredible way of bringing Ivo's final weeks to the page.  The story is told, essentially through memories as well as the present day after Ivo's nurse suggests he play the A to Z game, where you think of a body part beginning with each letter of the alphabet and tell yourself a story associated with that body part.  This game is exactly how we learn all about Ivo's past and how he has ended up where he is and the person he is today.  

Despite the disjointed nature of this way of imparting the story, it works very effectively.  The stories that come out of each body part are not directly linked and they do jump around but somehow as a reader you manage to latch on to the strong thread which links everything and ultimately all the other side threads become one and everything becomes clear.

You might not agree with the main characters life choices, but the story is very moving and is likely to bring back memories for many people who have sat by the bedside of a loved one in their last few weeks.  I loved Sheila and her manner.  Ultimately, it is heartbreaking and it does make you realise how short life is and how you really do need to enjoy every breath, every step, every ray of sunlight...

I liked the sentimental aspect which came from the blanket which Ivo has with him, and on that note, watch out for something special from the publishers around the date of publication on 12 March 2015.

The A to Z of Me and You certainly does have echoes of a Rachel Joyce book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and also Rowan Coleman (The Memory Book).

Thank you to the publishers, Doubleday, for the advanced copy of The A to Z of Me and You in exchange for my honest review.