Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book Review: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: 
Little, Brown Book Group UK
Expected Publication:
11 January 2018
Read: October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

"It’s not a question of deserving. I just think a mother has a right to raise her own child."

Book Description (Goodreads):


In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster. 

My musings:

I admit that Little Fires Everywhere wasn’t on my radar at all until I heard so many good things about it from the bookish community that it became a “must-read” for me. I was delighted when I received a copy from Netgalley for review. And as it so often turns out, this little gem of a book easily made it on my favourites list for 2017 – I loved it!

Little Fires Everywhere is a character driven drama set in the ordered suburb of Shaker Heights, where everything is carefully planned and controlled by many rules residents must adhere to. It is obvious from the start that the arrival of a non-conformist person would wreak havoc in the lives of people no longer used to individuality. I had no doubts that artist Mia, with her mysterious past and unconventional lifestyle, would cause some ripples.

Not even a real bed, she thought. Not even a real couch. What kind of grown woman sits on the floor, sleeps on the floor? What kind of life was this?

I also wasn’t surprised that Mia was a magnet to young Lizzie, who didn’t fit into the Shaker Heights world at all, whilst Pearl felt drawn to the Richardson family, whose lives seemed so ordered and predictable compared to her own. Don’t we always long for the very thing we can’t have? Ng’s characterisations are spot-on, and all her characters literally leap off the page because they seem so real! I found her use of names interesting: Mia was always mentioned by her first name, whilst Elena Richardson was always “Mrs Richardson”, which cleverly created a distance between her character and the reader and reflected her somewhat stand-offish nature.

In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng raises several moral and ethical dilemmas which still haunted me long after finishing the book . For example: is motherhood determined by biology, or by the love and security one can give a child? Should motherhood be determined by wealth, and the ability to provide? Won’t that mean that parenthood becomes a luxury of the rich? I felt myself torn with empathy for each and every character, knowing there would be no solution that would ever suit all involved. Most of all though, I loved and felt for Izzy, and my heart broke for her many times over.  I just wanted to hug this child and tell her how great she was!

So whilst Little Fires Everywhere explored several different topics through the eyes of these very different characters, the main theme that stood out for me was motherhood in all its varied forms and guises. Elena Richardson, who is so stunned and confused about her youngest daughter, who just doesn’t fit the mould. Mia, who is much more liberal in her views but has still imposed an exile of sorts on her only child. And Linda McCullough, who wants a baby so badly that she would not hesitate to take it from its own mother.

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind on Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.

Ng’s writing is beautiful, her characters multi-dimensional and realistically drawn. The book drew me into its world like only few novels can, and left a ripple of unease and questions in my mind that cannot be easily answered. One of my most memorable reads of the year, and one I cannot recommend strongly enough!



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

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Book Review: WHITE BODIES by Jane Robins

Title: White Bodies
Author: Jane Robins
Publisher:
Touchstone
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda's unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix's domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix's uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister's arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies--or was he murdered? 

My musings:

When I was offered to read and review a “creepy and addictive” psychological thriller by the publisher, I jumped at the opportunity and I was not disappointed! If I had to describe White Bodies in two words, it would be “disturbing” and “original”. On starting this book, I had no idea where it was headed, except that it could not possibly lead to anything good. There is a constant tension underlying the story that created a sense of dread and foreboding, and yet had me totally hooked, to a point where I sat up way too late into the night reading.

Love or obsession? In a nutshell, White Bodies centres around the sister relationship between twins Callie and Tilda. Tilda has always been the successful, beautiful and self-confident sister, overshadowing the slightly awkward Callie, who desperately tries to be part of her twin’s life at all costs. As the girls grow into women, this dysfunctional dynamic leads to some quite bizarre events!

I admit that in the beginning I found the narrator and main protagonist Callie strange and disturbing, and was worried that this would prevent me from bonding with her and enjoying the story. But my fear was unfounded. Whilst Callie definitely has problems, I warmed to her as the story went along, even though I was questioning how reliable she was as a narrator. Just when I thought I could trust her, she would be off on another tangent that had me questioning everything I had read! In fact, each and every character in this book is flawed, and some are downright unlikeable. I had a few “Ewwwww!” moments of disbelief and surprise, and believe me, I see a lot of weird things in my job as RN in an emergency department, so am not easily shocked. Anyway, I certainly won’t spoil the surprise here, you will have to read it yourself to find out the gory details! This is not a cosy, feel-good twin mystery, but a solid psychological thriller that certainly packs a punch!

In the vast sea of books that call themselves “psychological thrillers”, this one stood out from the fray with a concept that is as original as it is disturbing, not afraid to tread where others wouldn’t. Yet it always managed to maintain a sense of empathy for the characters, pulling back at the very moment when I felt it may go too far. It is this art of subtlety that created the “psychological” aspect, the thrill, the suspense for me. Robins proves that a creepy thriller doesn’t need blood, guts and gore to shock and confront. In fact, there was none of that, as the story in all its head-shaking horror was purely character driven. I just love it when a book messes with my mind like this!


Summary:

If you are looking for a character driven, disturbing and original psychological thriller that stands out from the rest, this book is perfect for you. Even for those sleuth readers who may have an inkling of the whodunit aspect, the journey to the conclusion is well worth the effort. And I dare anyone who thinks they know how it will all end! White Bodies messed with my mind like few thrillers can, and I fully recommend it to all lovers of the genre. 


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


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Audiobook Review: THE SILENT WIFE by Kerry Fisher

Author: Kerry Fisher
Narrator:
Emma Spurgin-Hussey
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Lara’s life looks perfect on the surface. Gorgeous doting husband Massimo, sweet little son Sandro and the perfect home. Lara knows something about Massimo. Something she can’t tell anyone else or everything Massimo has worked so hard for will be destroyed: his job, their reputation, their son. This secret is keeping Lara a prisoner in her marriage.

Maggie is married to Massimo’s brother Nico and lives with him and her troubled stepdaughter. She knows all of Nico’s darkest secrets – or so she thinks. The one day she discovers a letter in the attic which reveals a shocking secret about Nico’s first wife Caitlin. Will Maggie set the record straight or keep silent to protect those she loves?

For a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price. 

My musings:

I accidentally stumbled across The Silent Wife when browsing Amazon’s monthly deals, and ordered it on Audible for my upcoming holiday. It turned out to be one of those random purchases which worked in my favour, as the story and characters soon drew me in.

This is a slow burning drama, focusing on family and husband-wife relationships, and there were a few intriguing dynamics being explored here. Since I was the same age as Francesca when my mother died and my father married again, I could draw quite a few parallels between our lives, and it was interesting to get a different perspective. Fisher’s writing is lively and evocative, capturing my attention from the very first page. I especially liked Maggie’s tongue-in-cheek voice, which provided a few laugh-out-loud moments, but also some reflection points. Some of her observations about her step-family were hilarious as she doesn’t hold back! Lara, the other narrator, provided a good contrast and it was refreshing to see this character change as the story went along.

There are many different  themes being explored through the eyes of these two very different women: death, remarriage, domestic violence, and cultural differences are just a few issues that drove the storyline. The Farinelli family truly were a force to be reckoned with, and I found myself gnashing my teeth in frustration a few times. The story did flag a little bit for me in the later half and perhaps needed a bit more action or a twist to move it along. Luckily I was listening to that part of the book on a train and found it entertaining enough to provide a narrative to the landscape flashing by. Had I read it in print it may not have been enough to keep me interested right until the end as the resolution was fairly predictable for me. I’m not sure what happened to the promised “twist that will take your breath away” because I thought it all worked out a bit too neatly –something unexpected would have made it more memorable.


Summary:

All in all, The Silent Wife was a light, enjoyable book for me whilst providing some food for thought with the themes it explored – a perfect holiday read. 



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book Review: THE ROMA PLOT by Mario Bolduc

Author: Mario Bolduc
Publisher:
Dundurn
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 21 November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Max O’Brien may be a professional con man, but that doesn’t mean you can’t count on him in a bind. So when he hears that his old friend Kevin Dandurand is a wanted man over a seemingly racially motivated killing spree, he heads to Bucharest to try to make sense of what looks like an impossible situation.

The buried truths he uncovers reach back to the Second World War, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and an entanglement between a Roma man and a German woman whose echoes pursue O’Brien and Dandurand into the present day. But if they can’t escape the long shadows of the past, the two will find their present cut all too short.

My musings:

I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to books about WWII, and was instantly intrigued by the premise of The Roma Plot. I admit I know very little about the fate of the Roma, except that, like other ethnic minorities, they had been ruthlessly persecuted during Hitler’s regimen in the name of clearing the country of everyone but the championed “Aryan” race. Bolduc’s knowledge of the issue is astonishing, and he has obviously done a lot of research into the subject matter, which he clearly feels passionate about. It was interesting to learn more about Roma culture and their ongoing struggles to be accepted as a people, and their fate during WWII – Emil’s life was simply heartbreaking! Needless to say that I found the chapters about Emil and his life the most interesting and captivating, and I admit that the modern day part of the book took a bit of a backward step for me.

In The Roma Plot, Bolduc delivers a multi-layered, very intricate plot with a true historical background and some famous historical characters interspersed with fictional ones. I must admit that whilst I found the history fascinating, the book was at times a bit too political for me, and I found it difficult to keep track of the multiple characters who come and go between the chapters. Some characters even changed their names and identities throughout the story, which presented an even tougher challenge. This was not a book you could easily put down and pick up again. I often found myself flicking back and forth in confusion: “And who is this again?”

The story plays our over several different time frames, with one thread set during WWII and the other starting in the present time. But as Max is reminiscing about the origins of his friendship with Kevin, his story also contains elements from the past few years, skipping back and forth over events that have brought him to his current predicament. Whilst Emil’s chapters are clearly labelled as being in the past, I found myself struggling a few times to work out the timings in the “present”.

I found Max to be an intriguing and interesting character, who makes for a refreshingly different protagonist. Being a con-man he certainly stands out from your average detective, and got himself into some unusual situations. I initially found it a bit hard to get into his head, which may have something to do with the book being the second in a series. Since Emil makes his first appearance here, I had no trouble identifying with his character and feeling his pain as his life unfolded in a series of tragedies and struggles.


Summary:

In summary, The Roma Plot was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand I loved the historical content and appreciated the rich background information the author provided. On the other hand I felt that I may not be the right audience for this book, as I found it a bit too political and involved at times. I am sure it will appeal to readers who love spy fiction and books set against the backdrop of political events, and who can fully appreciate the intricate, multi-layered plot.


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


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Audiobook Review: FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall

Author: Laura Marshall
Narrator:
Elaine Claxton
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren't. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria's sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she'd severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there's more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what's known to Maria--or whoever's pretending to be her--is known to all.

My musings:

With social media playing such a big part in our lives these days, I was intrigued to read a book that had its plot based on the hidden dangers of airing our lives on the web for everyone to see – and there were times when I felt like deleting my facebook account and going undercover! Luckily I have no big dark secrets like Louise (or even if I did I wouldn’t tell – lol), so being stalked by some long dead friend from high school should hopefully not be a problem. Or maybe there is a reason I moved to the other side of the world? Without giving too much away, the story revolves around our main protagonist Louise, who receives a facebook request from an old friend from high school, who she believes to have died as a result of events involving Louise and her friends. Quite terrifying, really. But instead of tightening her privacy settings and running for the hills, she accepts the request, and even plans to go to an upcoming school reunion. Things quickly go south from here, and soon Louise is convinced that she is in danger.

I loved how Marshall incorporates details from our everyday lives into her story that could potentially have devastating effects. I have seen plenty of people air all their dirty laundry on facebook and give away details that could make them prey to some twisted mind. Even though Louise at times struck me as a bit naive and not overly proactive in trying to protect herself, I guess that this would reflect a good percentage of the population – as opposed to those who shy away from social media all together, believing that big brother is watching them ....

Reading Friend Request was like a ticket on the nostalgia train straight back to my high school days, which made me shudder. I was never one of the cool crowd, only surviving with all my limbs intact by letting the worst bullies copy my maths homework on a regular basis (if you’re a nerd, you have to make it work for you). Everyone has a Sophie Hannigan and her crowd in their class at one time or another, and I had vivid flashbacks to our own group of cool girls, who regularly made other kids’ lives pure hell. And to make matters worse, as a mother I had to witness both of my children experience similar bullying. So whilst this made me resent Louise for playing her part in tormenting other girls, I could also see her as a victim of circumstance, which was a balance well played by the author.

For me, the book started out really strong and had me totally captivated. My only letdown was the end. I know that endings work for some readers and not for others and there is never a solution that will please everyone, but I thought that with all the unlimited possibilities to create an ending to really stand out from the fray, the resolution to the mystery was a bit of a cop-out for me. After all that building tension and nail-biting suspense, I felt slightly cheated – I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but some of the threads did not come together for me and some of the motives seemed a bit far fetched. Which was a real shame, as I had imagined the ending to be some wild and wonderful conspiracy theory that would take my breath away.

Anyway, enough said. Overall, this was a contemporary mystery with many interesting premises that kept me interested until the very end, and I recommend it to anyone who has a facebook, twitter, instagram or other social media account. I bet you will look at your privacy settings a bit more closely after reading this!