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.

Fear No Evil by Debbie Johnson


The dead don't like to be ignored…

Jayne McCartney, Liverpool's only female private eye, is soon to get a crash course in this and other ghost-related facts.

Until now she’s kept her snooping firmly to the dodgy, sometimes dangerous – but definitely human – Liverpool underworld. But that all changes when an elderly couple approach her with a terrifying story…

Their daughter, a 19-year-old student, died falling from her halls’ window. But she didn't jump, they insist – she was pushed. By a ghost.

Who or what is walking the halls of Hart House? And will this case end up haunting Jayne forever…?"

The beginning of this book got my hooked instantly.  Fear No Evil is totally and utterly different to the latest book of Johnson's that I had read, Cold Feet at Christmas.  The only similarities are the delicious men and the excellent writing.

For fans of the supernatural thriller, this will be the ideal book but it is unique in that it is also laced with humour and oozes sexual tension throughout (although Jayne's lusting after every man in sight can get a bit tiring).  In all honesty, there were times when I found Jayne to be irritating but I could deal with that as part of the overall picture.  

I found the storyline to be unique and I had no idea which direction it was going to go in.  Johnson keeps you on your toes right up until the very end.  I personally would have liked to have seen a bit more of Jayne and the hunky ex-priest, and a little bit more of a conclusion in that department, but the reader has been given enough to use their imagination...

There were a couple of typos buried within and one inconsistency where a BMW was then referred to as an Audi and then back to a BMW which left me a little confused.  However, Debbie Johnson is a very talented author who can turn out the best chick lit as well as an enjoyable page-turner.

Thank you to the author, Debbie Johnson, and her publisher for the free copy in exchange for my honest review.