BENEATH A BURNING SKY

Beneath A Burning Sky

This was just the perfect book for a cold and wintry Easter holiday! Set in the warmth of Egypt towards the end of the 19th-century, I soon found myself basking in the heat of the rich descriptions of Alexandria of 1891 as the city was brought vividly to life. Quickly I found myself immersed in not only the wonderfully exotic locations, which are lavishly described but I also found myself wrapped up in the lives and drama of the characters.

The first of these is a new arrival to Alexandria. Although born in the city, Olivia left fifteen years earlier following the tragic death of her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who always resented her mother, sought revenge by abandoning her youngest granddaughter in a lonely and uncaring convent school in England, whilst raising Olivia’s sister, Clara herself.

At last the two sisters are reunited in their beloved city; both married to two men linked through their business. Olivia has effectively been coerced into a marriage with Alistair Sheldon, despite her misgivings … fears soon to be proved all too real. Generally disliked by those around him, few would believe the depth of Alistair’s cruel and violent nature. In contrast Clara’s marriage to Jeremy is happier, safer with two young sons, however she is distracted and distraught.

Secrets abound within the idyllic city and within all the relationships and soon Olivia too has to hide her close friendship to a certain Captain Edward Bertram (Teddy) who lodges in their house. The attraction between the two is palpable and intense although Olivia will not allow herself to act on her feelings.

The pivotal moment in the book is the sudden disappearance of Clara. As the book counts up the days thereafter, the intrigue only deepens and embroils everyone – apart from Olivia who desperately wants to find her sister. Ostensibly the novel is told through the third-person point of view, but obliquely from Olivia’s, thereby ensuring the reader feels her pain, confusion, fear. Just as Olivia attempts to unravel the mystery with the investigative help of Teddy, her friends and the police, so the reader seeks comprehension of the myriad of events.

Olivia’s strong spirit and determination grows as the dramatic and heart-wrenching story unfurls with secrets overflowing and for some reason seems to revolve around the ‘accidental’ death of a local mother. Everything seems to be connected but how?

Furthermore, the undercurrent of revolution permeates throughout the book and the historical elements are skilfully interwoven with the fictional.

The final tense chapters are spell-binding and relentless. I highly recommend this superb novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.img_0621

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

Price:        Amazon US  $ 13.99 (paperback) $ 4.05 (Kindle)

                 Amazon UK  £ 7.26 (paperback)  £ 2.99 (Kindle)

DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

Daysofwonder

As a huge fan of Keith Stuart’s debut book ‘A Boy made of Blocks’ I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity by the publisher to read and review a pre-release copy of his latest novel. As always on such occasions when I eagerly look forward to a new publication, I hesitated for a fraction before plunging in to read … I just hoped the book would not disappoint. I need never have feared – it is truly a gem! 

From the first couple of paragraphs into ‘Days of Wonder’ I knew I was in for a treat and settled back to enjoy, savouring the story, becoming engrossed with the characters and their lives. By the end my emotions had been on a rollercoaster ride, ending in tears, at times laughing out loud, all the time moved and touched to the core.

Keith Stuart’s first book was based on his own life experience as a father with an autistic son, ‘Days of Wonder’, his first fiction novel, also centers on the relationship between a father and his child; in this case a 15-year-old daughter, Hannah and her father Tom. Not only is Hannah seeking her natural independence, experiencing first-love, fretting about A-level options, she also has to contend with an uncertain future – and perhaps none at all. Since being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart-condition cardiomyopathy, her whole life has been under its shadow. 

The disease has brought father and daughter wonderfully close together, their bond inseparable since her mother left whilst Hannah was still young. Tom has raised Hannah on his own, with the support of his eclectic theatre group which he manages. The members are close-knit and effectively a second, albeit quirky, surrogate family to Hannah, caring and understanding.

Since the initial diagnosis at the age of five, Tom has sought to bring magic into her life and a professionally produced birthday play at the theatre has been key to this … a tradition Tom is desperate to continue, one that Hannah feels less keen on in the cusp of adulthood… an adulthood that may never exist for her. 

Starting the book my one fear was that the disease would dominate the book, that it could become mawkish and moribund. Not at all! The disease is a backdrop to so many stories within the book; the uncertain future of the theatre, how it has saved so many people. It’s about lives, relationships, friendships, love. Of living and dying. I became totally absorbed into not only Tom and Hannah’s lives but that of Ted, Angela, Margaret, Callum, Sally to name a few. Their fears, frustrations, courage and perseverance were uplifting and soulful.  

 Throughout feisty gutsy Hannah is insightful and wise beyond her years, whilst loving and worrying about her father as she desperately seeks to find him a date. Furthermore, she finds and becomes supportive of her first boyfriend; a young man equally crippled with a very different illness.

The book is effectively and skilfully told through the two-viewpoints of Tom and Hannah. With the latter, it is as if overhearing a private conversation, immediate, at times raw, at times swinging perfectly into modern jargon. As with Tom and the other characters, the sense of humour is impeccably narrated, the put-downs perfectly timed. Through Hannah’s words we learn about her best friends, including a very special 81-year-old lady, the dramas of school, relationships.

Tom’s narrative is personal, emotional, realistic … comically sardonic at times, other moments relating such humorous dating escapades I cried with laughter! As a reader, I couldn’t help but warm to him and feel for his predicament- caring and being over-protective and struggling to let go of his daughter. All the time, unaware his daughter is trying hard to protect her father from the future and for the future. His gentle, confessional tones mingled with the comic and drama persona whilst the ghost of his ex-wife lingered in the background, the possibility that they might yet be a family.

For both of them, there will never be a normal life … and as the novel develops they learn to embrace their predicament; their love and bond growing stronger as a result. 

An interesting additional narrative format is the occasional letters in the book … deeply revealing about past events in Hannah’s life and written by her, it is only towards the end the reader becomes aware for whom they were written. This is yet one more poignant and emotional revelation in a novel which has heart-wrenching moments cascading throughout. 

The descriptive detail by the author is superb, he is wonderfully visual in creating settings, presenting plays, and I became engrossed in them all and felt as if I’d been watching a film. 

‘Days of Wonder’ is ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, a powerful, life-affirming and inspirational book. I was hooked from the very beginning and did not want to put it down for any breaks. It’s one of those books that I just had to read one more chapter until I sadly had to say goodbye to my new friends!

 
img_0621
I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Publication Date: 7th June 2018
Price:  Amazon UK:    £ 12. 99 Hardback.      £ 6.99 Kindle    
             Amazon US:  $ 9.82  Kindle
Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

BOOKS & I – A BOOK LOVER’S TAG

last

I got a tickle of excitement at being nominated for the Book Lover’s Tag – after all, as an avid reader and writer, there is nothing quite like a ‘chat’ about books!

Many thanks to Marje at mjmallon.com for tagging me; as well as being a writer who recently launched her debut YA/MG fantasy book ‘The Curse of Time’, Marje is busy on her blog reviewing books and running the writers support group she set up called the Authors/Bloggers Rainbow Support Club.

To the questions:

1.Do you have a specific place for reading?

cosy bed:bookNot at all…if I could only read in one place I’d barely finish a book! A book with breakfast is a treat, reading a chapter whilst at the doctor’s surgery happily passes the time. There is only so much scenery I can gawp at whilst on the train before out pops my kindle and I become engrossed in the novel, often rueing the punctual arrival.

Many know of my fear of flying which has to be faced frequently and I couldn’t cope without a book …several contented minutes will pass when I forget I’m 36,000 feet in the air with just a thin piece of metal and two engines separating me from imminent doom.

Lastly, my absolute favourite time and place to read is at night, snuggled up in bed, book in hand and being transported to other worlds (safely!) before drifting into dreams. Bliss.

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Bronte Parsonage Leather BookmarksIsn’t it odd how childhood habits that we could never imagine breaking become a sweet memory. When young I collected bookmarks from places we visited…a new bookmark would gingerly replace the one tucked in my book, which in turn would be added to the box under my bed. From castles to towns, from writers’ houses to cathedrals; these bookmarks were treasured and some used more than others –  The Bronte Parsonage was a particular favourite.

Meanwhile, I looked at my mother’s torn pieces of newspaper or envelopes peeking out of her books with disdain. How could she? It just didn’t look right? Where were the bookmarks I ‘d bought for her? And now, years later, my books display said paper, my bookmarks have gone awol and ironically her books are full of pretty bookmarks! How times change!

3. Do you eat or drink whilst eating?

conservatory breakfastA book with breakfast is not uncommon and at weekends a quick read in the afternoon with a biscuit is a relaxing way to spend half an hour!

4. Music or TV whilst reading.

There is no way I could read whilst the TV is on…the chatter, action would be an instant distraction and it should only be on if watching. Music is another matter and can either be tuned out or a lovely accomplishment to a book.

5. One book at a time or several?

Until recently I read only one book at a time…nowadays though reading has become a luxury and I want to continue to read a lot of books. Whilst having a thriller on the go (which is too exciting for nighttimes), I’ll often be reading another fiction book as well as enjoying a non-fiction book a the same time.

6. Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?

I’ve partially answered this elsewhere but to clarify, whilst home is best, I can become equally hooked on a book whilst out traveling, visiting family and friends etc. In the end, it’s about how riveting, fascinating, thrilling, enjoyable the book is.

7. Read out loud or silently?

Always silently…I only read my own work out loud and this is an excellent way to listen to the cadence of a piece and spot those glaring errors which are easily missed when reading silently.

8. Do you read ahead or skip pages?

flipThe reasons for skipping pages are diametrically opposed…either the story is so exciting, so enticing I can’t wait to read every word and am compelled to rush ahead…or the novel drags and I move forward hoping to become engrossed further along. In the former instance, I mostly manage to rein in my urge to skip ahead, in the latter I hope to find redeeming features quickly.

9. Break the spine or keep it like new.

spineBreaking a spine is like sacrilege to me!! Never never! Having had a few borrowed books returned in this state I’m now cautious to whom I lend books.

10. Do you write in books?

As a rule I never write in fiction books (although I did as a student), however, I will scribble notes in travel, spiritual and other factual books…often underlining or making smaller notations in the margins for later reference.

11. What books are you reading now? 

Two books which I’m currently reading have been recommended by bloggers here on WP.

closeThe first I’ve just started after recently  buying it with birthday money and it is a book I’ve been very keen to read. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’, which is also now a film, tells the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell whose father was killed on 11th September in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Oskar, a boy of many abilities which include  being an inventor, natural historian, detective and percussionist,  sets out to solve the mystery of a key discovered in his father’s closet and the search leads him through the lives of strangers ranging from history to the bombings of Dresden and ultimately a journey to inner peace.

shorebookThe second book I’m reading was written in 1949 by Henry Beston and only completed under duress when his fiancee refused to marry him until he’d finished it. A two week sojourn on the extreme coast of Cape Cod turned into a year as the author became mystified by the mysterious surroundings and ‘The Outermost House’ chronicles his solitary year on a Cape Cod beach and the debut book quickly became recognised as a classic of American nature writing. Its poetic lyrical language enraptures my soul:

‘Autumn ripens faster on the beach than on the marshes and the dunes. Westward and landward there is colour; seaward, bright space and austerity. Lifted to the sky, the dying grasses on the dune tops’ rim tremble and lean seaward in the wind, wraiths of sand course flat along the beach, the hiss of sand mingles its thin stridency with the new thunder of the sea.’

Henry Beston writes of  life as itself a ritual:

‘The ancient value of dignity, beauty and poetry which sustain it are of Nature’s inspiration; they are born of the mystery and beauty of the world.’

groenThe final book I’m reading is for a book review for NetGalley – this is long overdue and I’m thoroughly enjoying ‘The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old’ by Hendrik Groen and this is one for all fans of ‘A Man Called Ove’.

12. What is your childhood favourite book?

Yikes, this and the next question have me scratching my head in total befuddlement – how is it possible to choose from a lifetime of books?! Instead, I headed to one of my bookshelves and selected three books from my childhood that I’ve re-read many times and which have given me years of joy.

‘The Hobbit’ by J R R Tolkien is easily in the top five.

E Nesbit books were a delight, innocent, childish and incredibly likable – and it’s hard to believe they were written over 110 years ago! The Bastable children are so memorable and I empathised with their efforts and failures at being good in ‘The Wouldbegoods’!

Lastly the courage and fortitude of the ‘Children on the Oregon Trail’ inspired me for years in this exciting and tense true-life tale of 13-year-old John Sager left to fend and fight for himself and his five siblings as they continued their trip alone to the west coast in the summer of 1844 following the death of their parents.

img_4170.jpg

13. What is your all-time favourite book?

IMG_4189This is another impossible question but one of many favourites revealed itself as I scanned my bookshelf. My numerous readings of Jack London’s ‘Martin Eden’ never dulled my enthusiasm and adoration of this book with its skillful writing and striking character. I recall my complete awe and overwhelming emotion at the end…now that the book is out on my desk I fear it will not return to its place before I’ve read it again!

With which of these questions can you identify…or not? What are you reading at the moment? Which is your favourite childhood book? As always I can’t wait to read your comments.

I would like to invite all readers who enjoyed this Book Lover’s post to please consider themselves tagged – if you feel like answering these questions and post on your blog do link to mine so I can find them –  I look forward to reading all about your bookish habits!

book bed image

THE MUSEUM OF YOU: A BOOK REVIEW

museum

‘When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story, you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.’

Grief. It’s all pervasive and its repercussions are felt throughout the generations, even to those newly born as tragedy strikes.

This is only too true for Clover, almost twelve, who has lived under the cloud of her mother’s death when she was only six weeks old. A ‘surprise’ to both her parents, her well-meaning father, Darren, has tried to protect his daughter from any further unhappiness.

His reluctance to talk about his wife, Becky, is clear to sharp-minded Clover as she sees her father’s deep sorrow and fear when she raises the topic with him and he replies with the oft repeated sound-bites, sharing only minimal information about her mother.

On the cusp of teenage years, Clover becomes desperate to break through the palpable dark shadow of her life and learn more about her elusive mother. However ‘she has recently become attuned to the way Dad takes the temperature of her mood and attempts to chart it. He’ll stop once she smiles – a small smile isn’t enough, it takes all her teeth to convince, and even then he sometimes inspects her expression like a worried dentist.’ In her attempt to get to know her mother Clover recreates Becky’s life from her belongings, which have long since been stored with other junk in the seldom entered second bedroom.

‘This was her mother’s room. This was her mother’s view. These are her mother’s shoes. She teeters over to the crowded space at the end of the bed, back and forth she treads, back and forth and back and forth as if eventually, she might step into her mother’s life.’

As the poignant and moving story unfolds, the reader gradually learns the reasons for Darren’s reticence and the patchwork of sorrow and guilt permeates the book.

The novel is written through two narrative strands, that of Clover and Darren. Both are in the close third person perspective and the author’s deftness and skill ensure that each voice is distinctive and it is easy to relate to each character. The sense of immediacy is achieved by the use of present tense for current day events which slides into the past tense for the story of Darren and Becky’s earlier life.

Clover’s courage, keen observation and emotional intelligence is strongly portrayed throughout the novel, not only through her relationship with her father but also with her kindly, loud and older neighbour Mrs Mackerel who has often helped care for her. As Clover experiences the first independent summer holiday she is inspired by the school visit to Merseyside Maritime Museum exhibition about the Titanic to create her own museum about her mother, with a special exhibition in the second bedroom entitled ‘Becky Brookfield – The Untold Story’. The descriptions of the various items recovered from the boxes and suitcases in the second bedroom punctuate the two viewpoints of the story, with each exhibit clearly named, logged and its history guessed at (often wrongly).

Darren is a brilliantly crafted character, flawed, slightly rough. He’s an academic at heart whose passionate interest and intent to study geography at university was cut short by his own mother’s illness and death in his teens. As Darren’s father effectively withdrew from life, silence filled the gap of his mother’s former presence. After losing Becky, Darren once again experiences intense grief as he is ‘poleaxed by the old ache of missing her (Becky)’.

The themes of love and relationship between parents and children is explored throughout the book, including that of Becky and her damaged younger brother, Jim, who grew up in a traumatic household. Despite her Uncle Jim’s chaotic life, Clover accepts him with the same unreserved love as her mother had. Meanwhile, further characters become as family and these include Colin, the odd but stalwart friend from school who is a constant presence in Darren’s life. There is also the outsider Dagmar who becomes an unexpected friend to Clover and finally her father’s female friend, Kelly and her two young sons. Ultimately they all become closely linked, caring for each and showing that ordinary people are extraordinary.

Locations feature heavily in the book, particularly as Darren has never left the area he grew up in. As a bus driver he drives back and forth between Liverpool and Manchester, recalling the street names, homes, allotment, sights and sounds and these quickly become familiar to the reader as the events of his past unravels in a veritable stream of consciousness.

‘The Museum of You’ is written with a unique form of whimsical realism, the grittiness of life interlaced with the magical recreation of Becky’s life in the form a one room museum. In places the novel can seem to be meandering and some might consider the pace too slow. Personally I was captivated by the unfurling of the story, the shifting perspectives, the varying tenses, the excellent dialogue and museum details providing an engrossing, thought-provoking, memorable read. At no stage did the book become mawkish or morbid, rather it’s a seductive tale, tenderly told and overall enchanting with a perfect feel-good factor for the summer holidays!

netgalleyI received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                    Random House UK

Available from          Amazon UK   or   Amazon US

Note:

The next few weeks I’ll be on holiday, relaxing in the wonderfully peaceful retreat in the forest, visiting family, friends, connecting with nature, swimming in the lakes and sea. Oh, not to mention, trying to make a dent in my burgeoning reading list – I’m so behind on reviews and feel mortified! Hopefully there will be lots of new ones for you to read in the Autumn. I’ll be popping in only a little on WP (when the weak signal allows) although my blog will be not dormant.

For the first time since I started blogging, I’m honoured to have written guest posts for two fellow bloggers this summer so I hope to see you there (I’ll be reblogging!). Furthermore, I’ll be posting three picture / inspiring quote posts during the next few weeks. 

I am looking at this photo again and can smell the heather, the rocks and the sea. I am sure I can hear the seagulls too.😊 Beckoning me…so off I go and to do something useful…….whatever that is! Meanwhile, I wish you all a lovely summer, may it be full of laughter, smiles and joy – the sun shining neither too hot or too little! 

20160807_115011

THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

cover2

It’s not often I start a book and have absolutely no idea what it is about. NetGalley emailed me saying I’d been pre-approved for ‘The Food of Love’ and as that morning I’d just finished a rather graphic collection of Stephen King’s short stories I thought this gentle-sounding novel would be my soothing tonic.

‘The Food of Love’ – such a safe, innocuous title I immediately pictured romance centred on a taverna in Greece or a spy/love story set in Spain, the nights hot and with many evening scenes at a half-lit tapas restaurant. 

I could not have been more mistaken, although my theory seemed to hold sway for the very first part of the book which starts with a family on holiday in the warm climes of Florida. Freya Braithwaite and her husband Lockie are walking through Old Naples one evening with their daughters, Charlotte and Lexi. Charlotte is quietly confident albeit cautious and sensible whilst her younger sister is the adventurous one who begs to be allowed to swim in the dark. Even as she is being warned about the dangers, including that of sharks, she refuses to obey and disappears off the sea wall into the blackness below.

This brief flashback sets the picture of a perfect happy harmonious family where love and laughter are the norm in their idyllic lifestyle. Eight years later the book begins properly with the Braithwaite family at home in the UK and quickly I became engrossed in their lives; Freya is a freelance food writer (extremely pertinent to the book), whilst her husband is a freelance photographer. The family are captured with poetic, lyrical ease and in small sketches the author reveals the everyday, the ordinary wonderful life. Of course, as with all good books I was by this stage on tether hooks, just waiting for the turn in the story, waiting for the drama, the chaos.

A phone call from the school provides the catalyst to the ensuing novel where a normal meeting with a teacher unveils the potential problem with one of her daughters. Freya’s gnawing anxiety ahead of the meeting is portrayed with truth and I could easily imagine myself in her position and Freya’s insistent rejection of the teacher’s insinuations is equally believable – there was no way Lexi could have an issue with food! 

From hereon the book becomes a harrowing, even punishing read at times, as Lexi’s anorexia is dramatically discovered and her health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of her starvation are candidly described and the catalogue of Lexi’s increasingly critical health problems are meticulously revealed. Freya’s confusion, desperation and guilt is brilliantly captured whilst Lockie’s down-to-earth, angry reaction causes friction for the first time in their nineteen year marriage. He finds it increasingly impossible to accept what he sees as ‘pandering’ to Lexi as she undergoes various treatments. Furthermore the tension that has existed between the siblings continues to fester, especially since Charlotte finds herself sidelined, the milestones in her own life forgotten, ignored.

Although told from the third person perspective I identified closely with the characters, especially so with Freya and Lexi. The collapse of all their lives is told in raw albeit loving detail with the absurd amidst the calamity skilfully interwoven. Personally I found the topic uncomfortable, disturbing even and I would not be surprised if this holds true for many potential readers, however I can offer the assurance that it is handled with finesse and control; ultimately it is a book about four people thrown into the unknown and how we function as an individual, as a couple or as a family when faced with adversity, when the unimaginable becomes a reality and to what extent love can be the solution. 

I read the book in two days and found it, to use that well-worn phrase, ‘unputdownable’ and this was partly down to the ‘countdown’  paragraphs at the end of each chapter. Set some time in the future, the clock starts with eight hours left as Freya prepares for the life-changing event, and together with Charlotte, she is desperately trying to compose a letter to Lexi. Events, memories from the past are unveiled as they struggle to compose their missives. The burning question is of course whether Lexi is alive or dead?

‘The Food of Love’ is a compelling, heart-wrenching, even painful book but all the same a heart-warming and rewarding novel which I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in so-called ‘domestic’ dramas. 

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

netgalley

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Lake Union Publishing 

Release Date:              1st December 2016                               

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

LOCAL GIRL MISSING: A BOOK REVIEW

girl

Wow! There are thrillers with twists and then there is Local Girl Missing. A slow burning thriller that builds up to a crescendo of twists!

Twenty years ago 21-year-old Sophie Collier disappeared one night in her small Somerset hometown of Oldcliffe-on-Sea. Her best friend, Frankie (Francesca Howe), is devastated and left the town soon after the tragedy. Now she is back, answering the desperate call by Sophie’s brother Daniel to help him. To help him finally discover what happened to his sister. The impetus to his renewed search for the truth is the discovery by the police of a woman’s foot – that believed to be of his long-lost sister after she vanished, leaving only her trainer on the seaside’s dilapidated pier.

The story is told through the present narrative of Frankie and through Sophie’s old diary entries from 1997, prior to her disappearance. Eerily the two voices weave back and forth, from the past to the present. From past shared loves, to the death of a boyfriend witnessed by the girls as young. To the present and renewed love interest between Daniel and Frankie, to her former boyfriend Leon who was Sophie’s big love the months before her disappearance.

All seems connected and as Frankie arrives the past seems to invade her present existence. Quickly she begins to regret her return as ghosts literally appear to haunt her in the town, around the flat she resides. Letters appear alluding to knowledge of a devastating secret. She hears a baby’s cry every night, yet no family resides in the other apartments. Frankie’s friendly father appears more and more in the past story-line. Why? He ran a hotel in which the girls worked. How far does family come before friends? Who really is the enemy? Can one tell? Frankie’s distress and confusion is palpable but still she remains in the Oldcliffe. Unwilling to leave Daniel. Desperate, it seems, to discover the truth of her best friend’s disappearance.

The novel quickly builds to one where everyone is held under suspicion by Frankie.

I had expected a great novel by Claire Douglas as I’d been hooked by her nail-biting debut of ‘The Sisters’ where nothing was as it seemed. This book only confirms the expertise and adeptness of the author. The writing is taut, tense and gripping. The undercurrent of menace bubbles beneath the surface – a real psychological drama. Intense, shocking and frightening. Absolutely wonderful.

netgalley I received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Rating:                    4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:               Penguin UK

Publication Date: 11th August 2016

Price:                        £ 4.99 Kindle – Amazon UK          

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas-ebook/dp/B01CL290HI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471982528&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing

                                  £ 3.85 Paperback – Amazon UK    

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1471975196&sr=8-1

                                $ 6.03 Paperback – Amazon US      

https://www.amazon.com/Pier-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471975429&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing

A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS: A BOOK REVIEW

cblocks

A Boy Made of Blocks is a debut novel by Keith Stuart and is inspired by his experience with his own autistic son.

In the book, Sam is eight-years-old and only recently diagnosed with autism.  The trauma of bringing him up – described early on as ‘he (Sam) was like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas – small, funny but at the flick of a mental switch, easily capable of extreme and demented violence’ – has reached crises point with his mother, Jody and his father, Alex living apart in a trial separation. 

Alex has never connected with his son and mostly left Jody to care for Sam whilst using his job as an estate agent as an excuse to avoid the family home.  

The book is told solely through Alex’s first person point of view and I personally felt this is flawed on two levels. Firstly, it restricts the novel to the character of Alex and although we see Sam and Jody through his eyes, I would have enjoyed a direct view of their world through their eyes. As it is Jody becomes rather stereotyped and typecast. 

Furthermore, Alex’s initial self-pitying, self-absorbed litany (admittedly often self-depreciating and funny) does at times become tiring. It is only as the novel develops that he is redeemed and finally becomes a likeable character with whom I felt empathy.

It becomes increasingly obvious that Alex’s relationship with the world is almost as alien as his son’s. Alex’s isolation and loneliness is not as a result of  autism but started the day he saw his older brother killed by a car when they were children leaving school. A day and a death he has never come to terms with and that eventually tore the family apart, driving his sister (Emma) into a life of a globe trotter, never settling down with anyone, anywhere.

The transformation of Alex and Sam’s relationship and of their lives as a whole occurs as the result of Minecraft – an impulse purchase by his wife to help Sam fit in with his peers at school.  Based on the author’s real-life experience with his son and with his own in-depth knowledge of the gaming industry as a writer, it is only with the introduction of Minecraft that the book takes off. (As well as helping provide the title of this book!)

Minecraft acts like an extended metaphor throughout the book – the more Sam interacts with the game, the more he becomes connected to Alex and the world as a whole. The games’s low and high points – its hell, demons, creepers and finally treasure – mirrors their lows and highs in real life. Whilst staying at his best friend’s (Dan) flat, Alex joins Sam in the virtual world of Minecraft and together they start ‘chatting’ for the first time in Sam’s life as they build and build. It is this journey that finally causes Alex to see his son as a real person and not merely as a problem to be handled. ‘I saw Sam as an obstacle, something I’d have to work around. But that was wrong. Sam was the guide. Sam was my guide.’ Finally Alex realises they have more in common than he ever imagined.

The beauty and magic of the world of Minecraft is brilliantly and descriptively explained, weaving its way through the book as it widens the world for Sam.  

The ghost of Alex’s brother refreshingly haunts the pages, recounting  the events of their childhood lives and also providing an amiable side-plot through the possible romance between Dan and Emma. An aunt adored by Sam and to whom he naturally connects.

The tense in the book is unusual as it is present tense throughout and brings a sense of immediacy and involvement with the story.

A Boy Made of Blocks builds to a satisfying exciting conclusion, with me rooting for Sam along with the rest of his family and friends.

Overall, I like this book a lot but curiously enough I don’t love it. It is very well written and constructed. The start lacked the fizz and unputdownable factor of many other books, although it did pick up and I am very glad to have finished it.

Sam is pivotal for the story and the success of the book – at times I felt he was the only one making sense of the confusing mess of this world. He has depth and immediately likeable, personable and always original. Sam shines through for me. The lesson he has learnt is applicable to us all: ‘Life is an adventure, not a walk. That’s why it’s difficult.’

netgalleyI received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Rating:                           3.7 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                      Little Brown Book Goup UK

Publication Date:        1st September  2016                         

Price:          £ 6.99       Kindle       –   Amazon UK          

                     £ 7.99        Paperback – Amazon UK

                    $ 20.41        Hardback –   Amazon US

SING: A BOOK REVIEW

sing

Looking for a great summer read – look no further! Sing is pure escapism! Full of fun, fame, friendships and romance. A perfect getaway from reality.

As famous pop star Lily Ross yet again suffers a failed romance in the full glare of the public limelight she accepts the opportunity to escape the madness of her life. To recover from her heartbreak she decides to  live three months during the summer on a small island in Maine.

The house on the island was recently bought by one of her best friends, Tess who used to visit it as a child along with Lily and their other close friend, Sammy. As Lily’s fame and career took off Tess and Sammy left their own dreams behind to be companions and assistants to Lily. Only now, on the island does Lily’s selfish and self-centred approach to life start to rock the foundations not only of her ability to write songs but threatens her life-long friendships.

However, Lily at first fails to notice her friends discontentment as she struggles to recover from the break-up with equally famous Jed. Crashing, literally, into Noel, a local fisherman on her first day on the island does bring new romance for her as she quickly falls for the down-to-earth islander and soon discovers his deeper side and more complex family and career issues. Equally Tess and Sammy are vividly brought to life and developed throughout the book.

This is an engaging novel, marketed as YA / Teen book, but as always I disagree with this genre labelling and felt it was a delightful entertaining read as an adult. The plot moves quickly along, the characters which I feared would become caricatures are fully developed and it was particularly satisfying to see the shallow Lily rediscover her caring more thoughtful side as memories and new experiences sweep over her.

As always with such books it is very much of will she / won’t she scenario. Will she get back with Jed? Will she finish her album? Will she follow her heart’s desire? Will she abandon her fans and career? Will she finally see her friends as such instead of as paid assistants? 

This book not only made me want to stand up, cheer and dance, but by the end I was ready to join Lily and Sing!

netgalleyI received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Rating:                           4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                      HarperCollins UK

Publication Date:        2nd  June  2016

Price:                              £ 3.85     (Paperback – Amazon)  

                                         £ 3.99      (Kindle – Amazon) 

Link to Amazon.com 

 

SOPHIE’S THROUGHWAY: A BOOK REVIEW

book

Not the most likely topic for a fiction novel but Jules Smith has pulled off a feat with this book – a tender, raw, no holes barred story of a mother struggling to hold onto her family and sanity amidst the chaotic world of her teenage son diagnosed with Aspergers and PDA.

Written in the first person, from Sophie’s (the mother) viewpoint, this only heightens the immediacy of the narration and the reader is brought smack into the middle of the family’s lives.  From the first sentence I was hooked, pulled into Sophie’s hectic, confusing world with demands from all sides shaking her (and the reader) to the core.

Brendon, her seventeen-year-old son, diagnosed with Aspergers and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is at the heart of the story. His verbal and frank comments cause understandable ruptures at school and home. Whilst his father flees from what he sees as his son’s intransigent behaviour, Sophie remains her son’s stalwart parent, friend and supporter. Not only does she fight for him at every possible moment, she relentlessly tries to ensure her younger daughter, Bryony, receives the attention she so desperately needs as well as retaining her work as an writer for an interiors magazine. 

Sophie’s lifeline is her work, which she loves and her colleagues provide  her with normality in her Aspergers centred world. However, as her son’s situation deteriorates even this rock is threatened. 

This book could easily have become didactic and prescriptive about Aspergers however the author has successfully sidestepped this trap. Quickly I warmed and cared for Sophie, Brendon and Bryony. Whilst so much  of his behaviour is appalling, like Sophie I could understand more of the illness and recognise the validity of some of Brendon’s keenly observed remarks and  outbursts. 

‘He had a point. I found the way he thought refreshing and challenging.’

The dichotomy within Brendon – almost a Jekyll and Hyde personality –  is a struggle for Sophie, as at one moment he is a kind considerate son, the next he pushes her to the end of her tether. 

‘Brendon had a keen sense of right and wrong which was amazing since he couldn’t apply it to himself.’

Can the diversion of an online scrabble game  provide Sophie with the love and support she desperately needs as she messages ‘The Voice’ in California? Her fantasy is just beginning to get carried away…or does romance lie much closer to home in the form of her understanding boss, Colin…

Unexpectedly this book was an instant hit with me, the writing flows with ease and sparkles with warmth and humour interspersed with fast-paced dialogue. The characters are wonderfully sketched and Sophie’s heart-felt and honest narration allows us to view not only her life but that of her son’s and daughter’s as well as that of their friends and teachers.

Personally I have two minor reservations about the book. Firstly, the title. I just don’t think it works – but don’t let this stop you reading it! 

Secondly for me the book finished abruptly. There was no ‘signposting’ of the end and I kept pressing my ‘next page’ button on my kindle in frustration wanting to read on…maybe this just show how much I had become caught up in the story…but I did want more of a resolution, conclusion. However, I would in no way let this detract from what is overall a highly rewarding and uplifting read. 

Released only two weeks ago this is a book I can highly recommend. 

Rating:                 4 out of 5 stars.

Price:                    £ 2.99  Kindle 

                               £ 9.99  paperback (amazon)  

Book Release:  3rd April 2016

Publisher:        Troubador Publishing

 

netgalleyI reviewed this book on behalf of NetGalley.