Book Review: She’s Not Here by Mandi Lynn.

Book Review: She’s Not Here by Mandi Lynn.
Hello readers! I hope you had a better weekend than mine…at this stage I’m wondering if the common cold can justify a hospital visit, because despite a solid diet of day nurse, Lemsip and self pity, I still feel like I’m dying! Regardless of how rough I feel, I have managed to fight my way through the piles of snotty tissues to mae this week’s blog post, a review of ‘She’s not Here’ by Mandi Lynn. Mandi kindly sent me a copy of her book in exchange for a fair and honest review and as a fellow indie author myself, I am always happy to support authors and publishers! So what’s the book about?
Willow watched her father diminish in front of her as Alzheimer’s pulled him further away each day. When a fire creates the perfect disaster, Willow’s desperation to find a cure to the disease causes her to change Samantha Ellison’s life forever.

Treated as an experiment, Willow injects Samantha with a serum that mimics Alzheimer’s and deteriorates her brain. With Sam’s mental capacity declining at an alarming rate, it won’t be long until people start looking for answers. With Willow’s husband as the doctor, it’s only a matter of time before he uncovers the truth. The only question is whether he discovers Willow’s secrets in time to save the innocent life at stake.

shes not here reviewAs with all books, there are some good points and bad points. First of all, as someone with relatives and friends who have suffered from dementia, I am always happy to see books putting the topic in the public eye. Alzheimers is a horrible disease, which robs people of everything that made them who they were. Mandi has done a good job of describing the nature and the effects of the disease on the individual as well as the devastating effects on the people around the sufferer, those who have to watch their loved ones fade away. The relationship between Willow and her Father is a poignant one and her desperation to keep him tethered to solid ground even as he floats further and further away is an emotional read. Her loss and heartache is well written. It’s a difficult topic to tackle and I think the author deals with it sensitively.
The down side to choosing Alzheimer’s is that it is not necessarily an exciting disease to have at the centre of what is intended to be a thriller. It isn’t some unknown epidemic tearing its way through a city, wiping people out or something which requires a lot of medical action like crash carts and emergency procedures…It is the loss of memories. Whilst that creates a lot of opportunities for emotional scenes and development, it does not provide much ‘action’ so to speak. As a result, the pace of the book does not remain consistent and wanes for large portions. Moments like the fire at Sam’s home and the discovery of what Willow has done are far outweighed by hospital visits and blood tests and so the books storyline can seem stagnated and repetitive.
Another issue I found was the fact that none of the characters were particularly likeable. Sam’s Grandfather spends the whole book throwing a hissy fit, his wife is less than useless and frankly might as well not be there, Avery, Sam’s sister, thinks only of herself and instead of wanting to be there for her sister through her illness, she just gets irritated and upset by the impact the illness has on her.  Even Sam, an innocent victim in the novel, is not developed enough initially for the reader to feel a huge amount of concern or fear at her deteriorating health once Willow injects her with the serum and that leads to the most problematic characters for me: Willow and her husband Randy.  I accept that Willow is desperate.  She is clearly traumatised by the deterioration and eventual loss of her father and terrified of going the same way and I get that Randy loves her deeply, but these people swore oaths to heal and protect people not to destroy their lives.  It didn’t matter about any potential cure or the whole needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, what they did was inexcusable and flies in the face of everything their roles stand for.  I have trouble reconciling that Willow, having suffered so badly because of Alzheimers, would be so willing to inflict that pain on someone else or that two people who dedicated their lives to helping people would so readily throw them under the bus.  When they both receive a justifiably unhappy ending, I felt no sympathy, in fact they deserved far far worse.  I feel it would have been more realistic and far less selfish had Willow been fighting to save her Father from the disease rather than herself.  Maybe then I would have sympathised with her and her empathised with her decisions.
Saying all this, there are moments where the reader can see the true potential of this novel.  The decline of Willow’s mental health is a great thread in this story and I wish the author had drawn on this further.  I would have liked Willow to have really lost it, the true weight of the disgusting act she committed pulling her further and further into madness, (think “The Tell Tale Heart”).   I also love the whole who started the fire story line and again wish this had been explored more, the full effects of guilt and blame covered a little more.  It’s clear that Mandi is a good writer however and there are some beautifully written moments threaded throughout the book.
Overall, this is an original story and a good read exploring moral ambiguity, familial relationships and grief in a new and interesting way.  Worth a read if you fancy something a bit different.  I will award it 3 out of 5 stars.

Halloween Book Review: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge.

Halloween Book Review: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge.

Happy almost Halloween guys and ghouls! For this blog post, I am reviewing Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge, a book I had never heard of before until it was suggested for a group read along by my fellow Stranger Dream reps.  The chat is usually filled with discussions of all things creepy and scary as we are all avid horror fans, so naturally when we chose a group read for Halloween, it was going to be a horror book…and this one is genuinely the ultimate Halloween read.  Here is the synopsis:

dark harvest picHalloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol’ Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death.

Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end future in this one-horse town. He’s willing to risk everything, including his life, to be a winner for once. But before the night is over, Pete will look into the saw-toothed face of horror–and discover the terrifying true secret of the October Boy . . .

The book is set in a backwards little hick town in the middle of nowhere, run by a very shady bunch of corrupt and evil adults, where every Halloween they hold their own version of the hunger games.  All the young boys are starved for five days and then let loose on Halloween night with weapons, to hunt down and kill the October Boy, essentially a living pumpkin, as a twisted right of passage.  The only way to escape the town is to kill him and be crowned the victor, or so the boys think.

This is one Hell of a ride…with an incredibly fast pace and constant action, it’s a real page turner.  It’s also not a particularly long read so because I literally couldn’t put it down, I had it read in a day!  Partridge perfect describes action sequences and it means they book plays like a really great horror film inside your head.  On that note, if there happens to be any movie producers or Netflix executives out there reading my tiny blog, then please PLEASE turn this into a movie or show…it would be perfect!  It would be epic!

Despite the book not being long, Partridge manages to create a very real world filled with believable, three dimensional characters.  I can picture that town perfectly, with its dusty back roads and a church at its centre, meaningless building to a town full of people who abandoned God long ago, or perhaps a town which God abandoned.  There is the main character, Pete McCormick, an intelligent boy with a rebellious streak, determined to break free of it and there is the local law man, Ricks, a corrupt, cruel and violent man who rules the town with an iron fist and kills easily and gleefully to maintain the status quo.  Even the October Boy himself is portrayed to perfection, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you so I’ll just say this…sometimes the real horrors aren’t the monsters and ghouls, but human beings.

The entire storyline is incredibly original and it isn’t like anything I’ve ever read before.  Partridge is a truly talented writer creating an immersive and enjoyable experience for the reader from start to finish.  Overall, I cannot recommend it enough and I’m giving it five star!! That’s right- full marks!  Grab a copy now…you won’t regret it.

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day.

Hello readers!  For today’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Party by Elizabeth Day, but before we delve into what I thought, lets start with that all important blurb:

the party reviewMartin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.

But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.

At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.  Would he?

Told from the perspective of Martin and his wife Lucy, this book moves back and forth through time, between Martin’s Police interview regarding some unknown dramatic incident at the party in question, and the past where we see how Martin’s relationships were formed.  It’s a very suspenseful method of writing, and I found myself eager to read the next chapter and the next, to finally discover exactly what happened at the party and what it will mean for the main characters.  This is definitely a slow burner, but I found it worth the wait.

At its core, this book is about relationships and the importance we put on them.  Martin strategically wedges himself into the life of his ‘best friend’ Ben and his elite family, as a means of bettering himself and his life, importance and status by proxy, but more than that, Martin finds himself drawn both sexually and emotionally to Ben as he struggles to accept his own homosexuality.  Then there is the cold and loveless relationship he shares with his Mother, one which profoundly shapes who Martin is and the absent relationship of his deceased father, unknown but always felt.  Lastly, there is the relationship with his wife Lucy.  To call their courtship romantic would be the biggest overstatement of the century, with both characters essentially settling, seemingly content to simply find someone who respects them and who will be there.  Lucy’s chapters are the most insightful of the book, as unlike Martin, she is capable of a huge amount of emotional intelligence and of seeing things from the perspectives of others.  She brings a level of humanity to Martin which is much needed, because to put it frankly, he comes across as a needy personality vacuum without Lucy’s observations.

It is also a criticism on the class system and of the power and influence that money and titles still hold over society today.  Ben is the epitome of the white, privileged, upper class Eton boys which seem to flood the chambers of Westminster to this day.  He is able to charm and win over anyone, he is liked by all, but at his core he has nothing behind that smile without his family’s wealth to back him up.  The party itself is filled with the typical Notting Hill set of trendy ‘it’ people and influencers, politicians and rich vacuous people whose sense of self entitlement and detachment from the real world is perfectly described by Day throughout- this is satire at its best.  But if you are hoping for a story about those elites getting their come-uppence then I’m afraid you will be reading the wrong book, for the conclusion is clear- money trumps justice every time.

There are a few negatives to this topic and the characters Day has chosen to create.  First of all, none of them are particularly likeable people.  Apart from Lucy (and I found myself irritated with her at points, particularly when she seems to simply shrug and settle in life), every other character is a total tool (I want to use stronger language to be honest).  Martin, the main protagonist, is the worst.  He is so utterly pathetic at points, so desperate to be loved, so desperate to be important and in with the ‘it’ crowd.  He puts so much importance on wealth and status, even buying ridiculously overpriced trainers simply because Ben bought a pair too.  His priorities are completely shot and it results in a character that I felt nothing but dislike and very occasional pity for.

Another issue I had was with the constant negativity of the book.  Martin in particular spends the entire book criticising and hating on other people, particularly at the party itself where there is no end of examples of loathsome people to bitch about.  It can at times make you as a reader feel cynicism taking over, but perhaps that was the point.  This negativity however is interpreted with some fantastic moments of action and these are the moments where Day utterly shines.  There is the event in Ben and Martin’s childhood where Martin took the fall for a fatal car accident, thus solidifying his place in Ben’s life, there is the ‘blow job’ scene at the party where for a moment Martin’s veil shifts and you see the real him and then there is the climax at the party which results in Martin’s interview at the Police station.  Day excels at these moments of action and it is then you see just how talented a writer she really is.

Overall, I found this book an interesting and suspenseful read and I would recommend it to anyone who fancies something thought provoking and writing with a sharp edge…think the Talented Mr Ripley or a modern Great Gatsby.  I would give it four stars out of five and definitely plan on reading more of Day’s work in the future.

Book Review: The Watch House by Bernie McGill.

Book Review: The Watch House by Bernie McGill.

Happy Sunday fellow bookworms.  For this week’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Watch House by Bernie McGill, a fellow Northern Irish writer.  So before we get started on what I thought, let’s find out what the book is about:

watch house review pic‘There are messages in the air, a closeness like the kind that comes before a storm, a listening, a holding of breath.’ It is summer, 1898, on the small Irish island of Rathlin and the place is alive with gossip. A pair of strangers has arrived from the mainland, laden with mysterious radio equipment, and the islanders are full of dread. For native Nuala Byrne, abandoned by her family for the New World and trapped by a prudent marriage to the island’s ageing tailor, the prospects for adventure are bleak. But when she is sent to cook for Marconi’s men and is enlisted, by the Italian engineer Gabriel, as an apprentice operator, she becomes enthralled by the world of knowledge that he brings from beyond her own narrow horizons. As Nuala’s friendship with Gabriel deepens, she realises that her deal with the tailor was a bargain she should never have struck.

The Watch House is a gripping story about the power of words to connect us, and the power of suspicion to drive us apart.

Set on the small and isolated Island of Rathlin, not too far from where I type, the story centres around the  real life use of the Island by the Italian inventor Marconi and his new wireless morse code technology.  The main character, Nuala Byrne, is our guide for the island along with its suspicious and superstitious residents, who finds herself falling for the Italian engineer Gabriel, sent to set the equipment up on the Island.

This wouldn’t normally be the type of book I would pick up…I’m not a huge historical fiction fan, nor am I big into romance, but I’m very glad I did.  Bernie is an incredible writer.  She is a word smith, a poet who has such an artful way with language, giving every sentence an almost lyrical quality.  There wasn’t a chapter without some beautiful or profound quote you would happily have embroidered on a pillow.  She is the type of writer which makes me very jealous due to her uncanny ability with the written word.

The book is incredibly well researched, with every historical detail accurately depicted and every square inch of the island and its caves brought to life.   I found myself genuinely interested in the Italian inventor Marconi and his Morse code technology to the point that I lost an hour googling him online.  It even made me want to visit Rathin island, somewhere which despite its closeness, I have never had reason to visit.  It is obvious to the reader, the time and effort Bernie put into writing this book and it is very much appreciated.

The characters themselves are incredibly real and believable.  From the curious, adventure seeking Nuala to her vile, spinster sister in law Ginny, I found myself genuinely engrossed in their lives and individual stories.  I enjoyed the switching of perspectives between these narrators, to see the world through their eyes and from their own perspectives- it really helps the reader connect with Nuala and to root for her happiness, no matter how futile our hopes for a happy ending appear.

The central themes of this book are well explored and carry as much importance and relevance now as they did a century ago.  The theme of communication is explored deeply in the book and is just as relevant today in our world of ever evolving communication technology.  The clash between the old and the new, the struggles of some to come to terms with sudden modernity is something else which we still see today, as many struggle to keep up with this constant evolution.  Indeed, even the idea of the corruption and interception of communication is explored, with devastating consequences for the lead character.  Whilst this book involves wireless morse code rather than the super computer I call my smart phone, the implications of messages being intercepted and corrupted, the power of communication and the benefits it can bring, reaches across time and raises the same questions and issues now as it did then.

Whilst I had some issues with the ending and the decisions made by certain characters, albeit with the best of intentions, I recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.  I would give it four stars out of five!

 

 

 

Wildest Dreams Book subscription box: Unboxing & Review.

Wildest Dreams Book subscription box: Unboxing & Review.

I received some wonderful book mail this weekend…this month’s Wildest Dreams book subscription box, the theme of which is ‘Survival September.’  This box is inspired by those nail biting Young adult stories of survival and the characters fighting their way through them.  In this post, I will show you what the box contains and review each item. Let me know your favourite stories of survival in the comments and remember, if you like the box as much as me, you can use my discount code MARIE15 for 15 %.

First up, this month’s Young Adult book is That’s not what happened by Kody Keplinger.  So what’s it about?

It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story–that she died proclaiming her faith.   But it’s not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did–and didn’t–happen that day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . 

wildbox2I haven’t read anything by this author yet, but I am familiar with her work having watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the big screen adaptation of her debut novel The Duff. It’s the perfect choice for this month’s box and sits perfectly within its theme.  The story sounds interesting and a little edgier that her other work and I am genuinely excited to read it.  Keep an eye out on my blog for a review once I’ve sank my teeth into it.

Now for the bookish items within the box.  Along with the novel, there is a ‘Caravel’ inspired whipped cream wash by Shimmer and Luxe.  It is called ‘Exquisite nightmares and stolen dreams’ and smells like sugared almonds.  I have to say, this genuinely looks and smells good enough to eat and having tested a little bit on my hands, I am super excited to lather up when I’m next in the bath…it left my hand feeling super soft and smelling like candy!  Also, that colour is just divine, rightwildbox3

Next, there is Hunger games inspired tea by Rosie Lea Tea, which is rhubarb flavoured Japanese green tea.  I am a huge Green tea drinker, and I just love rhubarb so I am particularly excited to sample this.  I had the pleasure of tasting Rosie Lea tea from last month’s box and I can say their teas are just delicious!  There are even some tea bags in case you prefer that method over a tea strainer, which is a detail I really appreciate.
Processed with VSCO with m5 presetLastly, there is the cutest book mark featuring the most awesome Sarah J.Maas quote ever from Throne of Glass: “I can survive well enough on my own- if given the proper reading material.”  Never a Truer word spoken.

The Wildest dreams boxes never let me down and as always, I am excited to read the book and I love the goodies inside!  Now, for a relaxing bubble bath with my whipped body wash…

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

Happy Sunday fellow book worms…for this post I will be reviewing Into the Water, the eagerly anticipated second novel by bestseller Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train.  Before we delve into my thoughts on the book, let’s take a look at that trusty blurb to find out what it’s about:

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowning in secrecy . . .

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

This book centres around a small English town called Beckford, through which there runs a river, affectionately known as ‘The Drowning Pool,’ where “troublesome women” are drowned.  Many women seem to have lost their lives to its waters.  There were young women accused of being witches drowned there, women who committed suicide there and, as the blurb suggests, women who were murdered there.  The drowning which is at the heart of the book is that of Nel Abbott, a local woman who happened to be writing a book about the drowning pool and the many women who met their end there, much to the chagrin of the local residents who would prefer to leave the past in the past.  Nel’s teenage daughter Lena believes her mother committed suicide, but her estranged sister Jules is convinced it was murder, but which one is correct?

My first and biggest problem with this book is the sheer amount of narrators.  There are ELEVEN narrators (yes you read that right) all of which give their own perspectives and theories on Nel’s death as well as the various other secrets which come to light throughout the book- It is beyond confusing.  Each one throws out their own reliable accounts and red herrings into the mix and worse still, none of these narrators have different enough voices to truly set them apart from one another, and after a while, they all blend into one another.  At points, I found myself flicking back to previous chapters to clarify who was who and who did or said what.  As a result, storylines are rushed and characters left undeveloped and any suspense or mystery is lost.  Whilst I admire Hawkins’ ambition, sadly the whole thing fails to come together and makes for one confusing read.

My second problem is with the characters themselves and the fact that they are all wholly unpleasant.  I did not empathise or connect with any of them and as a result, when they revealed some tragic or traumatic incident from their past, I read it the way I would read their lunch order- with complete disinterest and detachment.  There are also parts of the book which feel clumsy, with important plot points and pieces of evidence sandwiched into chapters which might as well have read, “remember this, this is important to Nel’s murder.” Then there is the killer, whose identity is blatantly obvious from the second you are introduced, despite the dozens of red herrings presented by all of our unreliable narrators.  I have never read an author go to such pains to point out what a “good guy” someone was before.  There might as well have been a neon sign above their head reading “Killer here.”

But there are positives to this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpts from Nel Abbott’s own book and the glimpses into the witch trials, peppered with hints at the paranormal, I just wish this had been explored more.  There are also a number of interesting subjects touched upon within the book: the unreliability of our own memories, familial relationships, feminism and patriarchy, but because there are so many things going on, so many secrets revealed and narrator’s stories to follow, none of these topics are fully developed or explored.  It is also obvious from reading this book that Paula Hawkins is a good writer, with some beautiful imagery and descriptions which set scenes beautifully and left clear images in your mind.  Whilst I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I have bought The Girl on the Train, so she has obviously left an impression.

Overall, it’s not a bad book, it’s just not a great book either.  I admire the author’s ambition, but think the whole thing falls rather flat and makes for a confusing and forgettable read.  I have no doubt however, given the huge success of Paula Hawkins and her debut novel The Girl on the Train, that this book will sell millions of copies, and it will find many fans.  I would give it 3 stars out of 5.

Have you read this book?  What did you think?  Leave me a comment and let me know.  Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date on all my latest posts.

Fox & Wit Book Box: Unboxing and Review.

Fox & Wit Book Box: Unboxing and Review.

Hello readers!  I hope you have had an awesome weekend.  Mine has involved a lot of playing around with my daughter during the day and negotiations with her regarding sleep and the necessity of it in the evenings.  I am tired and a little frazzled, but I simply had to shake it off and post the amazing book mail I received yesterday morning…this month’s Fox and Wit book box.  I am always excited to get book mail of any kind, but after last month’s fabulous box, I was particularly looking forward to receiving this one and I was not disappointed.  So let’s take a look at what is inside shall we?

fox wit 3a

First of all, can we take a moment to just take this all in?  Every item is just so amazing!  First of all, we have this badass travel cup and wooden bookmark both featuring this adorable Lord of The Rings illustration.  Featuring Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins alongside a quotation from The Hobbit, “The World is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.”  The fact that this features on a travel mug is too perfect, right?  I am 100% taking some hot tea on my next adventure and I love wooden book marks, so both of these items make me very happy.

fox wit 2aNext up, we have this gorgeous notebook.  The illustration features maps from our favourite fictional lands, like Neverland and Middle Earth.  I love the colours, don’t you?  Mary, the person behind Fox and Wit is a very talented artist and I just love her work.  There is also this adorable Hobbiton luggage tag which was immediately placed on my suitcase for future use.  I love it when Bookish merchandise is both beautiful and practical.

There is also the most beautiful smelling incense, which came with this adorable Peter fox wit 1APan illustrated packaging.  During my last unboxing I mentioned how perfect these labels are for bookmarks and in fact after burning the incense from my previous box, I began using the labels for just that.  I have received the second in my collectable cards, an addition to the box I really enjoy and last but not least there is this gorgeous enamel pin badge reading, “The Mountains Call Me.”  I love enamel pins and have an ever growing collection, of which this will become a new and wonderful edition!

Don’t forget, if you love the bix as much as me and fancy grabbing one if yoyr own, you can use my rep code MARIE10 for 10% off!!