Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Book Review: TIME AND TIME AGAIN by Ben Elton


Time and Time Again



Title:
Time and Time Again
Author: Ben Elton
Publisher: Bantam Press
Read: August 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it? 


My thoughts:


I am very surprised that I hadn’t heard of this book before and stumbled across it almost by accident – because this is such a gem of a story! The blurb reads like a “been there – read that” story of going back in time and changing history – I have read several books with the same premise, some excellent, some very average. And yet Ben Elton manages to inject his own bit of magic to the story, and a very clever twist I did not see coming at all. Let’s just say I will never look at history the same way again!

Hugh “Guts” Stanton, a lonely ex-soldier and survivalist who has lost his whole family in a tragic car accident, is intrigued when he is summoned by an his old history professor, Sally Mc Cluskey, who poses a question to him: “If you could change one piece of history, what would it be?”  Only that this time it is not a rhetorical question, as Hugh is about to be sent on a very special mission – to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which caused the Great War, and thereby ensure a better future for mankind. Despite careful planning however, things go wrong from the very start of the journey. Soon Hugh realises that every one of his actions can have far-reaching effects that may jeopardise his mission and take away his benefit of hindsight – and alter the fate of future generations in ways he had not expected.


I loved this book and could not tear myself away – and every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the story took a completely surprising turn, proving all my predictions wrong. The historical details were fascinating as Hugh travels from pre-war Constantinople to Sarajevo, Vienna and Berlin, trying to blend into a society he only knows from history books. Elton has created characters which are engaging and interesting, from the disillusioned and lonely ex-special forces soldier Hugh to the ruthless Professor McClyuskey, and the vivacious Irish suffragette Bernadette who will influence Hugh’s mission in ways he could not predict. What a great movie this would make! With his premise that history can be totally changed by the smallest action, and the thrilling prospect of whether Hugh’s mission would succeed, Elton challenged my perception of history and reality as a whole in ways I had not expected. Time and Time Again is one of my favourite reads this year. Very highly recommended!


Image result for 5 stars

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Book Review: THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTER by Jonathan Kellerman


The Murderer's Daughter



Title:
The Murderer's Daughter
Author: Jonathan Kellerman
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Read: August 2015
Expected publication: 18 August 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Jonathan Kellerman delivers a riveting standalone thriller featuring the unforgettable Grace Blades. Master psychologist by day, seductive adrenaline junkie by night, Grace has a very dark past—one that’s about to bleed into a terrifying present.


My thoughts:

I have been a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s novels for a long, long time and was very excited to receive a preview copy of his latest book “The Murderer’s Daughter”, introducing an unusual and interesting new protagonist, psychologist Dr Grace Blades.  Grace is a fascinating character – growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive household as a very young child she learns very early to fend for herself, a trait which stands her in good stead when she is taken into foster care after the murder-suicide of her drug addict parents. Moved from foster family to foster family Grace learns to be self-reliant and introverted in order to survive, a skill aided by her brilliant intellect and ability to read people and give them exactly what they want to see.

Fast forward to the adult Grace and she is an accomplished psychologist treating patients with traumatic and violent pasts. With her uncanny ability to read people, she is highly sought after by victims of violent crime, who feel understood by a woman who has been through similar circumstances herself. One day the past catches up with Grace in the form of a new patient who is murdered shortly after seeking her out, and suddenly she finds herself on the run from a ruthless killer who will do everything in his power to silence her. To survive, Grace must once again rely on her intelligence and resourcefulness, and take a journey back into events of her past she would rather forget. 

I loved Kellerman’s new novel and was totally engrossed in it from start to finish. With Grace, he has given us an exciting new protagonist I would like to see a lot more of in future novels. Whilst Grace is not instantly likeable, often coming across as unemotional, manipulative, cold and calculating, she is also extremely clever and resourceful and does not shy away from taking matters into her own hand. Grace is also a fighter for justice, which redeemed her to me instantly and made me fear for her safety. Since the events of her present predicament are integrally linked with Grace’s past, the reader is taken on a journey into the young girl’s traumatic childhood and the events leading to her career as a psychologist. The glimpses into Grace’s childhood were fascinating and gave an insightful understanding of forming her later personality, the long-term effects of a violent and fractured upbringing on later life. Woven into a suspenseful thriller these details made the novel stand out for me, again showing why Kellerman has a firm place on my favourite authors list.


My only grizzle about this book is the awful title, which did not do it justice. Had it not been written by an author I have previously read and enjoyed, I would never have picked it up. With so many interesting elements to the story, a more tantalising title and cover can surely be found? So do not judge this book by its cover – a highly recommended read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Book Review: BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE by Jane Isaac


Before It's Too Late




Title:
Before It's Too Late
Author: Jane Isaac
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

I concentrated hard, desperately listening for something familiar, the sound of life.
I heard nothing.
Just my own breaths and the wind, whistling through branches above... The thought made me shiver.
I am buried alive.

Following an argument with her British boyfriend, Chinese student Min Li is abducted whilst walking the dark streets of picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon alone.

Trapped in a dark pit, Min is at the mercy of her captor. Detective Inspector Will Jackman is tasked with solving the case and in his search for answers discovers that the truth is buried deeper than he ever expected.

But, as another student vanishes and Min grows ever weaker, time is running out. Can Jackman track down the kidnapper, before it's too late?



My thoughts:


When young Chinese student Min Li goes missing after a row with her boyfriend at the local pub in Stratford upon Avon, Detective Inspector Will Jackman is put in charge of the investigation into her disappearance. She is not the first young woman who has come to grief in the recent past, and Will holds grave fears for her safety. Is it possible that there is a serial killer on the loose in their idyllic town? Will’s investigations lead him into the secretive world of Chinatown, where policemen are not trusted and information is hard to come by. With time running out, Will is desperate for some clues that would help him find Min Li alive and reunite her with her parents in China before it is too late.


Before It’s Too Late is told from the third person perspective of the police investigation run by DI Will Jackman as well as a first person narrative of Min Li herself, as she is being held captive in a dark dungeon and fearing for her life. The glimpses into Chinatown and the cultural differences which hamper the investigation are insightful and interesting and add a whole different aspect to the story. Whilst the ending did not come as a total surprise, it was still a clever twist which made the story stand out from your average police procedural. I really liked the character of DI Jackman and would like to see him back in future novels.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Image result for 3.5 stars out of 5

Book Review: THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell


The House We Grew Up In




Title:
The House We Grew Up In
Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home. 


My thoughts:


Easter Sunday is a very special time for the Bird family. It is the day of Lorelei Bird’s famous Easter egg hunt for her four children Megan, Beth, Rory and Rhys, a time for family and friends to come together and eat lamb roast in Lorelei’s cosy country kitchen, a family tradition that is kept up year after year even when the children are much too old for Easter egg hunts. Bohemian and vivacious, Lorelei draws people to her like moths to a flame, her effervescent nature and love for all things beautiful strangely appealing to everyone who meets her. Only Megan, the oldest of the Bird children, realises very early in life that there is something unhealthy about her mother’s obsession with family traditions, her inability to part with things, her habit of buying “stuff” and filling the house with boxes of things nobody really has any use for. But no one in the family wants to admit that there is anything wrong with Lorelei’s clutter, and her meek and good-natured husband Colin has long since learned to turn a blind eye to keep the peace. Then one Easter, when Megan has just turned twenty years old, tragedy strikes, and the Bird family will never be the same again.

I loved “The House We Grew Up In” and became engrossed in it right from the start, looking forward to every precious moment listening to Karina Fernandez’ wonderful narration of the story. The narrator did an excellent job giving unique voices to each of the characters, each with their own accent, inflection and tone of voice – it brought the story to life for me! The narrative starts with an adult Megan arriving at the family home just before Easter 2011, shortly after her mother’s death, to begin the awful task of clearing out Lorelei’s clutter, which fills the house from top to bottom with barely enough room to get through the front door. Through snapshots of memories of Easters past, the reader gets a sense of the family in happier days, when the children were young and Lorelei’s eccentric nature drew people in from all around them to bask in the warmth of her kitchen. The memories are told through the eyes of each of the children, husband Colin, and family friend Vicky, each looking at Lorelei’s eccentricities and the circumstances which end up tearing the family apart. Lorelei’s own feelings are slowly unveiled through emails to an online friend found on her computer after her death, giving an understanding of the extent of her mental illness.


I listened with fascination and a growing sense of horror as tragedy strikes in the Bird household, and the slow but inevitable implosion of a picture-book family in the wake of it. The effects of Lorelie’s mental illness on her children and loved ones was tragic to see, as was the sense of guilt each one of them took on as their due, creating a sense of isolation and leading to their complete estrangement. Told with insight, empathy and a deep sense of understanding of the effects of tragedy, guilt and mental illness on a family, “The House We Grew Up In” is a deeply moving tale of family dynamics, parenthood and redemption. I loved this book and it is one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far – very highly recommended. 

Image result for 4.5 stars out of 5

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Book Review: THE WRONG GIRL by Laura Wilson


The Wrong Girl




Title:
The Wrong Girl
Author: Laura Wilson
Publisher: Hachette Australia Quercus
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):


In 2006, three-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing on a family holiday. Despite massive publicity and a long investigation, no trace of her was ever found.

Seven years later, Molly Jackson, aged ten and recently uprooted to a Norfolk village, finds her great uncle Dan dead in his bed. Molly remembers nothing of her early years, but she's been sure for ages that she is Phoebe. Everything in her life points to it and now, finally, she has proof.

Dan's death brings his hippie sister Janice back to Norfolk where she's re-united with Molly's mother Suze, the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. Janice discovers that a former lover, Joe Vincent, lives nearby. Joe was a rock star who, at the height of his fame, turned his back on public life.

As she is drawn back into the past, Janice begins to wonder if Dan's death and Joe's reputation as a reclusive acid casualty are quite what they appear...

And then Molly disappears.


My thoughts:


When Janice gets the news that her estranged brother Dan has died, she returns to her childhood home to find out that Suzie, the baby girl she was forced to give up for adoption 44 years ago, has made contact with Dan and has been living with him for several months. She also finds out that she is a grandmother to 10-year old Molly, a somewhat reserved and distrustful child, who is convinced that she is Phoebe Piper, a girl the same age who went missing seven years before. Molly is so certain of her secret identity that she keeps a scrapbook of newspaper articles related to Phoebe’s disappearance and longs to be reunited with the Piper family, of whom she claims to have fond early childhood memories. Her theory is partly based on the fact that she looks uncannily like the pictures of what Phoebe would look like today, and that she has always felt that Suzie, the woman who calls herself her mother, has little in common with her. Besides, there are no baby photos of Molly, which surely proves that she must be adopted. A ribbon found in her “Uncle Dan’s” room, which she believes is connected to little Phoebe’s disappearance, makes Molly hide her knowledge from those around her, until she can make plans on how to be reunited with her “true family” again.

Meanwhile, Janice and Suzie struggle to connect after a lifetime apart with untold family secrets and dynamics standing between them. Then one day Molly disappears, a dead man is found in the woods near Dan’s house and Janice starts wondering about the circumstances of Dan’s death. Trying to find Molly, she must face old family skeletons and find out the truth before it is too late.


I loved the premise of The Wrong Girl but initially found it very slow and had difficulty engaging with the main characters, who seemed like a group of oddballs thrown in together without much emotional connection. It wasn’t until 54% into the book that the pace picked up, the different strands all came together to form a web and I was hooked by the storyline. Whilst I am still not sure whether I actually liked any of the characters, the story was intriguing as old family secrets were revealed and the circumstances of Janice’s past unfolded. As for suspense, the book did not really deliver for me, except intrigue about the strange dynamics of dysfunctional families and the effects on a young child (Molly). I felt very moved by the scene involving Phoebe’s mother (no spoilers) and Janice’s efforts to make amends to the child she gave up all those years ago. An interesting read for those seeking something outside your average family drama.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Book Review: IN THE QUIET by Eliza Henry-Jones


In the Quiet




Title:
In the Quiet
Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: July 2015




Synopsis (Goodreads):


A moving, sweet and uplifting novel of love, grief and the heartache of letting go, from a wonderful new Australian author.

Cate Carlton has recently died, yet she is able to linger on, watching her three young children and her husband as they come to terms with their life without her on their rural horse property. As the months pass and her children grow, they cope in different ways, drawn closer and pulled apart by their shared loss. And all Cate can do is watch on helplessly, seeing their grief, how much they miss her and how - heartbreakingly - they begin to heal. Gradually unfolding to reveal Cate's life, her marriage, and the unhappy secret she shared with one of her children, In the Quiet is compelling, simple, tender, true - heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure.


My thoughts:


In the Quiet is a touching story told through the eyes of Cate, a young mother and wife killed under tragic circumstances and yet able to remain near her family in a kind of ethereal dreamlike state, watching them from the afterlife  yet unable to make her presence felt. As Cate watches her teenage children’s journey through grief and their coming of age without her, she manages to gradually piece together the circumstances surrounding her own death and reconcile the past.  

I picked up this book both with curiosity and trepidation, having lost my own mother at the same age Jessa is in the book when Cate is killed and therefore expecting it to reawaken a lot of old buried emotions. However, whilst I enjoyed the rural setting and related to aspects of Cate’s family’s journey through the grieving process, I felt it difficult to emotionally engage with the character of Cate herself. Although Cate talks about her pain and frustration about having to watch her family suffer, these emotions somehow did not come through for me and I would have liked to see a bit more passion, anger, pain. Yet Cate seemed a rather passive observer, watching her children and husband from a safe distance.


Whilst not the emotional roller coaster I had expected, In the Quiet was an enjoyable, unusual story about family, death and the afterlife, and I loved the rural Victorian setting.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Book Review: THE WOMAN BEFORE ME by Ruth Dugdall


The Woman Before Me



Title:
The Woman Before Me
Author: Ruth Dugdall
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: July 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):


'They came for me, just like I knew they would. Luke had been dead for just three days.' Rose Wilks life is shattered when her newborn baby Joel is admitted to intensive care. Emma Hatcher has all that Rose lacks. Beauty. A loving husband. A healthy son. Until tragedy strikes and Rose is the only suspect. Now, having spent nearly five years behind bars, Rose is just weeks away from freedom. Her probation officer Cate must decide whether Rose is remorseful for Luke's death, or whether she remains a threat to society. As Cate is drawn in, she begins to doubt her own judgement. Where is the line between love and obsession, can justice be served and, if so... by what means? 


My thoughts:



Cate Austin is a new probation officer at a women's prison, assigned with the case of Rose Wilks, a woman serving a six year sentence for allegedly causing  the death of her friend’s four-months old son in a house fire. After having served four years of her sentence, it is up to Cate to recommend whether she should be eligible for parole. Investigating the background of the events leading up to little Luke’s death, Cate becomes emotionally involved in Rose’s tragic life story.  With an unhappy childhood behind her, Rose’s search for love and acceptance leads her into an equally unhappy relationship with a man who is still pining for his ex-wife – a woman he freely admits he still loves and would leave Rose for in a heartbeat. When Rose falls pregnant she thinks she has finally achieved her dream of having a family and some hold over her partner Jason. But her baby is born prematurely, and later dies. Whilst Emma, Jason’s ex-wife, has just given birth to a healthy baby boy. When the two women’s paths cross, tragedy inevitably follows. But Rose has always denied any involvement in the child’s death – so who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

I admit that it took me some time to get into the story, as I found the topic and the characters equally disturbing. However, Rose’s story quickly drew me in and wouldn’t let me go, even long after I had finished reading the book. As much as I disliked Rose initially, I felt so terribly sad for her – born into a miserable family her life is lonely and sad as she is searching for love and acceptance from those around her. Her relationship with Jason is so dysfunctional that it made me cringe, and when she falls pregnant it is clear that this cannot end well. Told both from Cate’s perspective as well as from Rose’s “Black Book” entries (a type of diary she writes addressed to her partner), the story gradually unfolds to lead up to its tragic finale. The ending came as a shock and surprise, and I had not seen it coming.

All in all, the book kept me captivated till the end, and I found it equally suspenseful and strangely addictive, if disturbing. I can’t say I liked it (both the story and the characters were  too dark and twisted for that), but recommend it as an intriguing, clever, thought provoking read. Dugdall obviously knows the prison system well and perfectly captures its atmosphere as well as its characters. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a suspense story with a different twist and unusual protagonists.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.



Book Review: WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


We Never Asked for Wings




Title:
We Never Asked for Wings
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Read: June 2015
Expected publication: 18 August 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):


From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers comes her much-anticipated new novel about young love, hard choices, and hope against all odds.

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh blends gorgeous prose with compelling themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and the American Dream in a powerful and prescient story about family.


My thoughts:



I loved Diffenbaugh’s novel “The Language of Flowers” and was very excited to receive a preview copy of her new book “We Never Asked for Wings” on Netgalley.

At 16 years of age, Letty Espinosa  had everything going for her – young, pretty and smart with a handsome boyfriend who loved her, only the sky was the limit. Then she fell pregnant, and all her hopes and dreams were suddenly dashed. Now a 33-year old single mother of two working several menial jobs to bring in money for her family, she has been living a somewhat irresponsible  life of a single woman whilst her mother has been raising her two children. When her mother decides to return to Mexico to join her husband in their country of origin, Letty  is suddenly faced with the responsibility of being a mother – a role she realises she knows very little about. The journey is not an easy one, as both Letty and her children struggle to adapt and make ends meet.

With  “We Never Asked for Wings”, Diffenbaugh has again produced a moving story of redemption and reclaiming one’s life in the midst of adversity – in this case Letty is slowly reclaiming her rightful place as her children’s mother, learning the meaning of unconditional love and responsibility and what it means to be a parent. And whilst the journey is not an easy one and Letty makes a lot of mistakes, there is always an undercurrent of hope and good intentions.

Whilst flowers were the purveyors of symbolism and a means of communication in her earlier novel, Diffenbaugh uses birds and their migrational habits as parallels to the struggles her characters endure in her latest novel. Since migrants and their issues feature strongly in the novel, the bird analogy works really well here.


“We Never Asked for Wings” is a heartwarming and moving tale of motherhood, second chances and families – with a coming-of-age story thrown into the mix. I really enjoyed Diffenbaugh’s latest book  and look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Book Review: YOU BELONG TO ME by Samantha Hayes


You Belong To Me



Title:
You Belong to Me
Author: Samantha Hayes
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
Read: May 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):



Isabel left England to escape her past. For the first time in months, she's beginning to feel safe. But then a letter shatters her world once more as she learns of her parents' death in a car crash. Reluctantly she returns home, unable to shake off the feeling she's being watched but determined not to let fear rule her life any more.

DI Lorraine Fisher is in the middle of a big murder case -- a serial killer is preying on young women. And it seems they had all complained of being stalked. She too is convinced she's being watched.

Are both women victims of their own imagination or is someone out there watching and waiting? And will one of them be next?


My thoughts:



Isabel, a young English woman with a traumatic past, is living and working in a small hotel in India to get away from whatever frightened her so much that it made her flee her home country and leave behind her friends and loved ones without even saying good bye. But when she receives word that her parents have been killed in a horrific car crash with her ex-boyfriend as the driver, she feels that she must return home to pay her last respects, despite her fears of the evil which has kept her away all this time.

In the meantime, DI Lorraine Fisher is investigating the suspicious deaths of two young women who had filed complaints of being stalked by an ex-boyfriend shortly before they died. Lorraine is convinced that there is a connection between the two women, even if her boss doesn’t believe her and instead urges her to drop the investigation and take a holiday. Tired, overworked and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Lorraine feels that she must find justice for the victims, and sets out on her own to follow her leads. Soon her paths cross with Isabel, for whom things have started to go horribly wrong. Could there be a connection between her and the two victims?

It is difficult to review this story without giving away a vital bit of information in the puzzle. Hayes has constructed an intricately woven story of mystery and intrigue which twists and turns and traps the reader in unsuspecting corners before revealing that they have gone down a completely wrong track. I was instantly intrigued by Isabel’s plight and got caught up in the story line and the undercurrent of menace which hung over it. However, I admit that the story became a little bit too far fetched for my liking at times, and I worked very hard to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy it for its entertainment value when all my logical senses screamed – not possible! I did enjoy the psychological element of the thriller, where the main character questions her own sanity and makes the reader question whether the unfolding events are in fact true.


I really liked the character of DI Fisher and was pleased to hear that there are previous books featuring her as investigator – I will make sure to look those up. All in all, You Belong to Me was an enjoyable read which I finished quite quickly. Whilst some details still bug me (no I will not spoil anything here) the overall feeling was one of enjoyment and I give credit to the author for coming up with a very unique and imaginative plot and an ending you won’t see coming. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Book Review: INSIDE THE O'BRIENS by Lisa Genova


Inside the O'Briens



Title: Inside the O'Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery Books
Read: May 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):




From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a powerful new novel that does for Huntington’s Disease what her debut Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.


My thoughts:



Wow – what an emotional rollercoaster ride!

The O’Briens are a happy and close-knit Irish-American family of six all living under one roof of an old triple-decker at the “Bottom of the Hill”  in Charlestown. At 44, Joe O’Brien, patriarch and head of the family next to his devout Catholic wife Rosie, is enjoying the fruits of his labours after spending 25 years  as a cop on the Boston Police Force and raising four healthy children into adulthood. He is thinking that after another ten years of working the job he loves he may be able to retire with a good pension and spend his autumn years watching his grandchildren grow up and having some quality time with his wife and family uninterrupted by the constant demands of his job. His plans are cruelly interrupted though when he starts developing some strange neurological symptoms – muscular twitches and temper outbursts he cannot control and can no longer ignore.

After Rosie forces him to seek medical help and have some tests done, the doctor delivers devastating news: Joe has Huntington’s Disease, an neurodegenerative disease passed down from his mother who died when Joe was only a child. There is no cure, only temporary control of symptoms, and sufferers face a cruel fate as they progressively lose all muscle coordination. Instead of retirement, Joe may be facing a cruel death in ten years’ time after having lost total control over all his bodily functions. But worst of all: there is a 50% chance for each of Joe’s children to have inherited the disease. A simple blood test is all that is required to show whether Katie, Meghan, Patrick or JJ also carry the gene mutation causing Huntington’s. But is it better to know and be prepared or live life in the moment not knowing what cruel fate awaits?

I have read all of Lisa Genova’s novels, but Inside the O’Briens was definitely the one that touched me most – once I started reading I couldn’t stop! Genova’s neuroscientist background is obvious from the in-depth knowledge of the disease and its effect not only on sufferers but also on their immediate family, friends and neighbours. The reader watches in horror as the tight-knit O’Brien family slowly implodes and everyone faces their worst demons – their own mortality and that of the people closest to them. As Joe struggles to come to term with his own mortality and guilt about potentially having passed on a cruel deadly illness to his children, his wife Rosie is struggling with her faith, which in the past has given her strength and hope. Each of their children also face a horrible choice – would they prefer to know their fate or live life not knowing? There is anger, guilt, fear and despair, and each member of the O’Brien family deals with it in a different way.

Inside the O’Briens is written from the perspectives of Joe and his 21-year old daughter Katie, which gave a wonderful insight into family dynamics whilst not overdoing the psychological aspect of the story (as may have happened had Genova given each family member a voice). I really felt for Katie as she is struggling to make decisions regarding her future. How will not knowing if she is a carrier affect her? Will she be paranoid that each trip, each stumble or slip is a sign of Huntington’s? But would going through genetic testing be any better? Would knowing she had the disease stop her from having a relationship, planning a family, embarking on a career? As a yoga teacher Katie tries very hard to live in the moment and look after her health. But she knows that if she is gene-positive for Huntington’s, there is nothing she can do to make any difference – her fate is in her genes, it would just be a matter of time for the symptoms to manifest themselves.

There are so many impossible and heart-breaking choices in this book that it was difficult to fully comprehend the depths of despair a sufferer must face. And yet Genova manages to explore the topic with the family’s sense of hope, humour and love and support for each other. All the characters feel real and genuine, and it is impossible not to feel for them. Genova offers explanations of different aspects of the disease, reflecting the way in which Joe and his family find out the details themselves – the preview copy contained some textbook-type explanations (which may or may not be in the final edition of the book) which provided some background information on this cruel disease. Despite the serious topic, the overall feeling after reading it was positive, engendering a deep and instant gratitude for the health we take for granted. As a mother, I did not even want to imagine some of the horrible choices and devastating emotions experienced by the parents and would-be parents in this novel.

Inside the O’Briens is a complex and layered story of the emotional effects  of a cruel genetic disease on a family, which cannot be done justice in a review, so I will leave it at that. I think that Genova has done an outstanding job exploring this topic. Very highly recommended. Definitely a novel to go on my favourites list and one whose ethical dilemmas will stay on my mind for some time to come.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Book Review: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware


In a Dark, Dark Wood






Title:
In a Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware
Publisher: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Read: May 2015
Expected publication: July 30, 2015



Synopsis (Goodreads):


In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room....

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.


My thoughts:


26-year old Leonora Shaw, a published crime writer living a quiet life in London, is surprised and a little bit anxious when an email arrives in her inbox inviting her to the hen do of an old friend whom she hasn’t seen for 10 years. Reluctantly, she agrees to go, partly out of a strange sense of guilt about having lost touch with her former best friend from school and partly because Nina, another old friend she still sees occasionally, has also been invited. In the end, only six people arrive for the weekend, set in a lonely holiday house in the woods in Northumberland. It soon becomes obvious that nobody except the weekend’s organiser, Clare’s devoted and somewhat volatile friend Flo, really wants to be there. Relationships are strained, tempers short, and the weekend’s “fun activities” never quite seem to cut through the tension. In the isolated setting cut off from all phone and internet contact it doesn’t take long for people to feel cut off and trapped and for conflict to brew. Nora can’t wait to leave  – but before she can make her getaway, things start to go very very wrong .....

Despite the theme of hen dos and 20-something year old women’s peer group issues, which didn’t sound like my thing, In a Dark, Dark Wood grabbed me very quickly, drew me into the storyline and kept me interested until the final reveal. With its claustrophobic setting and atmospheric writing skilfully capturing the isolated forest setting, it made the perfect winter read curled up in front of the fire and feeling shivers down my spine as friendships become strained and events slowly but irrevocably spiral out of control. The author did an excellent job in building up tension: from the very first meeting of the disparate group of old friends and strangers whose only common denominator is Clare it is clear that there will be trouble. Then all phone contact is lost. Night falls, darkness closes in, tension rises. One of the friends makes a reference to the old Agatha Christie classic “Ten Little Indians”, and the comparison fits – a group of people each harbouring their own secrets and agendas trapped in an isolated house with things spiralling out of control. So who will die? And who will have done it? You will need to read it to find out.

Whilst the themes presented in the novel are not unusual and follow quite traditional guidelines of friendships gone wrong, In a Dark, Dark Wood is well executed and manages to build tension through a clever dual-timeline setting, switching from Nora’s present predicament of waking in a hospital room guarded by police to her memories of the events of that fatal weekend away. Despite the somewhat stereotypical theme of a key character suffering amnesia, which can be very convenient for the author enabling them to reveal events at a pace that suits the story but annoying for the reader, I felt that here it was not overdone and served to add to the tension and the final reveal. I also loved the author’s insights into toxic friendships and the dynamics of women’s peer groups carried over from childhood into adulthood, with all the little jealousies and ways to hurt each other. The setting itself, a modern house built of glass and steel set in a somewhat dark and menacing forest setting, added to the atmosphere and I felt that the author could have used this even more to add an extra “creepiness factor”.


Whilst I had a strong suspicion as to the identity of the killer quite early on, Ware added enough twists and turns to add extra layers of suspense that kept me interested. I was a bit disappointed in one really stupid decision Nora makes towards the end, which I felt was out of character for her, but which is a spoiler I do not want to give away here. However, despite this small niggle I really enjoyed Ware’s debut novel and think she is definitely a new voice to watch in the genre of psychological suspense – I hope there will be many more novels to come.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.