Monday, 26 June 2017

Book Review: DEVASTATION ROAD by Jason Hewitt


Author: Jason Hewitt
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 3 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2



Book Description (Goodreads):

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past and himself.

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany. When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself - how can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

My musings:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a sucker for WWII stories. But as lovers of the genre are aware, these books are a dime a dozen, and finding a true jewel among the bling is a bit like striking gold in the desert. For me, Devastation Road was such a book. It is set in the spring of 1945, when there were around 7 million displaced people roaming around Germany in search of missing loved ones or trying to get back home – or what remained of it. Owen, who has lost the memory of the last four years of his life, joins the crowds of battle-scarred refugees and homeless people making their way across the war-torn country. He vaguely remembers being an RAF pilot, who had been imprisoned in a camp of sorts, but has no idea where he is and how he got here. Somewhere, in the deep dark recesses of his mind, there is the memory of a brother, Max, and that of a girl, but the images are hazy and produce a flood of emotion he cannot analyse. He knows that he has to get to a place called Sagan, but his mind won’t tell him why, or what he is looking for.

Hewitt’s writing is poetic, atmospheric and visual. With his observations through the eyes of a dazed and confused man who has suffered a severe head injury, he manages to catch not only the despair of a whole nation ravaged by war, but also that of its many victims. Through Owen’s unlikely companions, Janek, Irena and Little Man, we hear of the many different facets of suffering, with one underlying theme running through the entire story – the desperate longing to find loved ones, to get home. Or, for those who have lost everything, to escape, to make a new life somewhere else away from all the suffering and pain, and the memories. Amnesia is a tricky plot device that doesn’t always work well, but Hewitt pulls it off textbook-perfectly. I loved the way Owen had to write down snippets of memories on a piece of paper to remember them later, when his bruised brain has lost them again. As Owen’s memory slowly returns, usually triggered by smells, sights and sounds, his past is divulged in small, vivid snapshots which appear quite disembodied at times. It is through these we slowly learn of his fate between 1941 and the present – and there are quite a few surprises in store.

I loved every bit of this emotional rollercoaster ride of a book! Usually, I am not one that cries easily, but there was one point towards the end of the book that had me sobbing out loud with emotion. Such powerful imagery!  What I particularly loved was that there is no judgment, no blame, just the snapshots of people caught up in a terrible era, united by trauma, death and loss, and the powerful will to survive.

“Do you hate the Germans?” It was, perhaps, a foolish question, and for a long time she did not answer. “Some people, they mistook the devil for God,” she said eventually. “In my opinion, it is an easy mistake to make.”
Or:
He saw it all around him. He had walked through the city’s flattened streets, picking his way around the rubble of the train station and gazing around him at the forlorn carcasses of buildings, the endless flurries of dust blowing out and swilling around his feet, and all he could think was: we did this. Max and I. Deliverymen delivering bombs. They couldn’t be held responsible, but he felt responsibility all the same.

Although Hewitt conveys the sense of doom and hopelessness of a time when so many people had lost everything, there is always an underlying thread of hope the reader can hold on to, a small sign of humanity amidst the rubble.

Summary:

Devastation Road is one of the most compelling, visual and thought-provoking books of WWII I have ever read, capturing the immediate aftermath of the war, when around 7 million refugees were roaming a ravaged country in search of loved ones or to find a way home. Insightful, visual and poetic, it is a wonderful exploration of human resilience in the aftermath of the worst possible trauma humankind could endure. I loved every bit about this book, and recommend it highly to all lovers of the genre. 



Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.



Sunday, 25 June 2017

Sunday Confessional: Why my TBR Pile Never Gets Smaller


Hello my name is Heidi and I’m a bookoholic ...


After ruthlessly culling my TBR pile the other day, there are still 356 books remaining on it. A friend once asked me: "But you read all the time! Why does your TBR get bigger rather than smaller?"


I need books for survival:


Apparently you need water, food and oxygen for survival. Hang on a minute! What about books? Has anyone said anything about books?

Big mistake! I should have kept quiet, because now I’ve done it – I woke the demon! The pesky little devil sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear in his evil wheedling voice: “Go on, what’s the harm? Just one more new book. You won’t even notice it on your TBR pile.” After bravely ignoring it for about 5 minutes (ok, ok, maybe it was only about 30 seconds) the doubts started creeping in. 

What if there was a tidal wave, and our part of the world was cut off from any civilisation or – horror – internet? What if there was a war, a famine, an epidemic of flesh eating bacteria that saw us confined to our houses for years on end (even though being a nurse they would probably call me in to work for that). What if the pile of books I managed to stockpile up until now would be it – finite, zappo. No way would my TBR pile last me until the end of my life, no matter how Alpine it looks to me right now. I could imagine happily eating a stockpile of baked beans and spaghetti-oh’s for the rest of my life, if need be, but live off a restricted number of books? Never! Instantly regretting lending my copy of Tana French's The Likeness to an ex-friend, who never returned it, and therefore reduced my meagre fare of books for survival by one more (thus the "ex").

I instantly panicked, fired up my ipad at 2 a.m. and requested 3 more new books from Netgalley, not only because they looked particularly enticing (they did), but if this was IT, I needed a few more companions for the apocalypse. Anxiously watching my (sketchy) internet connection before the end-of-the-world scenario could interrupt the download, I watched in fascination as my Netgalley ratio dropped even further away from my goal. And my TBR pile grew even bigger. And my list of reads for the next month will demand undivided attention to get the reviews out in time. If I don’t eat, and only sleep three hours per night, I might even make it!

And this, folks, is the reason my TBR pile never gets any smaller.


Bookoholism – it’s a real thing.


Is there a cure?


Do you suffer from it?




Friday, 23 June 2017

Book Review: WHEN I WAKE UP by Jessica Jarlvi


Author: Jessica Jarlvi
Publisher:
Aria
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟


Book Description (Goodreads):

When Anna, a much-loved teacher and mother of two, is left savagely beaten and in a coma, a police investigation is launched. News of the attack sends shock waves through her family and their small Swedish community. Anna seems to have had no enemies, so who wanted her dead?

As loved-ones wait anxiously by her bedside, her husband Erik is determined to get to the bottom of the attack, and soon begins uncovering his wife's secret life, and a small town riven with desire, betrayal and jealousy.

As the list of suspects grows longer, it soon becomes clear that only one person can reveal the truth, and she's lying silent in a hospital bed... 

My musings:

Who would assault and almost kill a young mother and popular teacher, so much respected in the community that she has recently won the “teacher of the year” award? According to Anna’s friends and family, she had no enemies, no one who would wish her harm. Fighting for her life in ICU, Anna herself is unable to shed any light on the situation. Anna’s little twin boys are devastated that their mummy is not coming home, and her overwhelmed husband Erik is becoming convinced that the police have hit a dead end investigating the assault.

The more we delve into the storyline, brimming with dysfunctional and sometimes outright obnoxious characters, the more we become aware that not all is as it appears on the surface. Each and every character in this book has a nasty secret or two, and, ultimately, a reason to kill. Jarvli does a good job setting a dark and disturbing scene with an underlying sense of menace throughout, and reveals snippets of each character’s life through alternating POVs.

I love a good Scandinavian thriller and their honest exploration of the darkest corners of the human psyche, and although I did not get the same sense of locale and atmosphere as a lot of others in the genre, Jarlvi is certainly not afraid to shy away from controversial topics in this novel. Unlike many other murder/mysteries, the police investigation features only very peripherally in this book, and the main focus always rests on the various characters involved in Anna’s life, who each could turn out to be her attacker. Perhaps the main “investigator”, if you could call him that, is Anna’s husband Erik, who has a lot of questions regarding his wife’s attack, and starts looking into her personal affairs a bit more closely – and there is nothing better in a mystery than a spouse who discovers that their loved one may have had secrets they know nothing about.

I was not so fond of some of the explicit sexual scenes in the book, but that is just my personal opinion and other people may enjoy the way they spice up the story and add further complications to the already rather complex relationships featured. Since I am not a fan of romance novels, I could easily have done away with quite a lot of the sexual tension, which would have moved the story along a bit better. As it was, the middle of the book dragged a bit for me, only to gain momentum again towards the end, as we begin to narrow down the suspects.   And whilst I did not find the resolution of the mystery totally satisfying (for reasons I will not divulge here), it certainly had a surprise element.


Summary:

When I Wake Up is a well-written mystery from a new voice in Scandinavian crime fiction. Focusing on a young woman’s brutal assault, it explores the relationships surrounding the victim from several POVs and takes the reader on a dark and sinister journey into the deepest, darkest corners of the human psyche. Lovers of Scandinavian noir and domestic noir, who are not put off by some sexual tension and explicit sexual scenes, may find this novel exactly what they have been looking for. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Aria for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.





Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Review: DO NOT BECOME ALARMED by Maile Meloy


Author: Maile Meloy
Publisher:
Penguin Books UK, Viking
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 6 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟


"Do you think worrying helps?" "Yes," she said. "Because the disaster will be the thing you don't expect. So you just have to expect everything."


Book Description (Goodreads):

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship's safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents - now turning on one another and blaming themselves - try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

My musings:

Cruise ship mysteries have become quite popular recently, and after reading a few intriguing stories that were based around the various legal loopholes of crime at sea, my interest was immediately piqued by the premise of Do Not Become Alarmed (although I found the title a bit odd). However, in this novel the cruise becomes a secondary setting, as the disappearance of the children happens on land, during a moment when their mothers’ attentions are focused on other things – one has fallen asleep on the beach, whilst the other is having a sexual encounter in the bushes with their tour guide. Perhaps neither of them can be credited with the mother of the year award for that one!

From this moment on, most of the story is being told from the eyes of the children, and I quite enjoyed their individual POVs as their lives are being turned upside down. Their innocent observations and analysis of the situation was a like a breath of fresh air compared to that of the adults, who all seem rather stereotypical, somewhat wooden portrayals of your average middle-class privileged American married couple, although there are some moments were Meloy offers an insight into their psyche that makes them more likeable:

People regressed, around their families, to the age at which they had been angriest. With her mother, Liv was always fifteen.

But in the aftermath of their children’s’ disappearance, I didn’t get much sense of emotional turmoil in the parents’ actions and behaviour, which let the story down for me. As a mother, I was terrified to imagine the gut-wrenching terror these people would / should be feeling as they encounter one dead end after another in locating their offspring, in a foreign country with an unfamiliar police system. Some peripheral characters, which had initially intrigued me, ended up adding very little to the storyline, which felt like a lost opportunity.

Whilst the story kept me turning the pages (in part because I was intrigued by the unfamiliar armchair travel setting, and still held some hope for the general premise to come into its own), I felt like I was missing the point somehow.  Although the author had laid some solid groundwork with the lead-up, I got the impression the story got a bit lost with too many different threads diluting the tension. Personally, I would have liked some more mystery and suspense to really make the most of the promising premise the author had alluded to.


Summary:

All in all, Do Not Become Alarmed was a quick and easy read with an intriguing premise, which included some interesting armchair travel to Latin America. Whilst for me it did not quite live up to its potential, and did not contain enough mystery or suspense to make it memorable, the themes of child abduction and a cruise gone terribly wrong may appeal to readers who enjoy a slow-burning family drama for an undemanding and  pleasant holiday read. 



Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Book Review: THE GOOD WIDOW by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke


Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Publisher:
Lake Union Publishing
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

The book starts with two police officers knocking on Jacks’ Morales door – and honestly, what is more chilling than the thought that her world as she knows it is about to end! Her husband James, who she thought was on a business trip in Kansas, has been killed in a car accident. Except that the accident didn’t happen in Kansas, but in Maui, and there was a second casualty – Dylan, a pretty young blonde woman who had been James’ companion on the trip. As Jacks is trying to wrap her head around the fact that she is now a widow, she must also come to terms with the unpleasant truth that her husband lied to her, and cheated on her. Grieving and feeling betrayed, she is at her most vulnerable when another unexpected visitor arrives: enter Nick, the equally baffled and grief-stricken fiancΓ© of the woman James had been having an affair with. Somewhat against her better judgment, Jacks agrees to Nick’s plan to travel to Maui, to the scene of the accident, to get closure.

My musings:

I love domestic noir novels, and am always intrigued by writing duos – how do they do it? Who gets to write what? Anyway, spotting The Good Widow on Goodreads and seeing that it contains both, I just had to read it! Blame my trigger finger on Netgalley (again).

Personally, the book was a bit of a slow burn for me and I was struggling at times to understand the characters’ motivation for their (often questionable) decisions. I fully get the need to find closure, but still found parts of Jacks’ decision to travel to Maui with her husband’s lover’s jilted fiancΓ© a bit baffling. But then again – people do strange things, especially when they are grieving. That aside, it was about at that point in the story that I felt I needed a bit more motivation to keep me interested. James, the cheating spouse, sounded like a bit of an arse all around, and to be honest I did not care much about why he had died. Move on Jacks, sounds like you’ll be better off without him. 

I’m still waiting for the card that says, I’m sorry your husband careened off a cliff with his mistress in a Jeep he couldn’t be bothered to rent for you. I know, because he’s dead, that it’s bad form to write this, but fuck him!

Having arrived at that part of the story, I was wishing for bit more mystery and suspense, a sense of danger, a sinister undertone or some unexpected action to move the story along. That said, the book kept me interested enough to keep reading and see if my suspicions and predication were correct (Miss Marple investigates) – and they were. 

Summary:

In summary, The Good Widow is a slow-burning mystery following a young widow’s journey in coming to terms with her husband’s death and betrayal. Even though it contained few surprises for me, it was an easy read and kept me turning the pages to see whether my theories were right. The book may appeal to lovers of domestic noir who enjoy an emotional exploration of marriage, betrayal and grief – but readers who prefer lots of suspense may find it lacking.

Quotes:


Because I’ve figured out a funny little secret about life: Even if you stay on the sidewalks and pay your bills on time and use hand sanitizer, bad things still happen. Yes, maybe you can cut your odds by playing it safe. By attempting to predict each and every possible pitfall. But your fate will still find you, no matter how much you hide from it.



Thank you to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.