Book review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


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Title: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: RHCP Digital

Publication date: 1st January 2015

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Ed Kennedy is just your less-than-average Joe who is hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. But after he single-handedly manages to catch a bank robber, he receives a playing card in the mail: the Ace of Diamonds. This is the first message. Four more will follow. But before this particular card game can end, Ed will be changed forever . . .”

My review:

Markus Zusak at his best! This book’s concept is hard to explain because it deals with so many beautiful and complex life issues that are difficult to summarise without giving too much away. However, just like other books by this author, it sucks you in from the very first page and it is clear from the ingenious first chapter that it will be another Zusak masterpiece.

What made this book so special for me was the perfect combination of friendship and community that becomes evident as we learn the objective of each message. Although at first each character appears to be plain, Zusak’s emphasis on how “sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference” is the key element that triggers such strong emotions and encourages the reader to sail through this book. The storytelling aspect is brilliant and the writing is truly one of a kind. He easily develops the short staccato sentences to fully strengthen the characterisation and his word choice is extremely careful so that the final result is a polished and beautifully written story.

Lovers of The Book Thief may at first struggle with this book because it has a completely different feel, however I strongly encourage to keep reading as the story develops into a unique and beautiful tale of how the most ordinary people can sometimes do the most extraordinary things.

Book review: And Then You Were Gone by R.J. Jacobs


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Title: And Then You Were Gone

Author: R. J. Jacobs

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Publication date: 12th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“After years of learning how to manage her bipolar disorder, Emily Firestone finally has it under control. Even better, her life is coming together: she’s got a great job, her own place, and a boyfriend, Paolo, who adores her. So when Paolo suggests a weekend sailing trip, Emily agrees—wine, water, and the man she loves? What could be better? But when Emily wakes the morning after they set sail, the boat is still adrift…and Paolo is gone.

A strong swimmer, there’s no way Paolo drowned, but Emily is at a loss for any other explanation. Where else could he have gone? And why? As the hours and days pass by, each moment marking Paolo’s disappearance, Emily’s hard-won stability begins to slip.

But when Emily uncovers evidence suggesting Paolo was murdered, the investigation throws her mania into overdrive, even as she becomes a person of interest in her own personal tragedy. To clear her name, Emily must find the truth—but can she hold onto her own sanity in the process?”

My review:

An unreliable narrator and hazy circumstances surrounding a disappearance seem to be a great recipe for success so I naturally had high hopes for this book. The first few chapters with Emily and Paolo at the cabin felt natural, the writing was concise and the plot promising. I was impressed with the great level of care and attention the writer put into Emily’s bipolar disorder as it is not an easy topic to discuss, yet it was still handled with a lot of sensitivity and thought. I rushed through the first few chapters as I was impatient to understand what had happened to Paolo and if he was still alive.

Unfortunately, the story line and plot were just to weak for me. I quickly started losing interest as more characters were introduced and the attention shifted to Paolo’s co-workers and research the main motive behind his disappearance. It was also around this point where Emily’s character traits started to emerge and I could not connect with her hastiness or impulsiveness to take dangerous measures so she could uncover what she believed to be a conspiracy. I understand that her interpretation of the events of the night Paolo disappeared were distorted due to her mental illness and praise the author on the way this idea was developed but I think this side of the story line could have approached in a different way while still engaging the reader.

The ending where the secrets were revealed was somewhat of an anticlimax because the author gave many hints throughout the book of the suspect so it was not difficult to assume who it was. Despite the strong beginning, this book had too many flaws for me to fully invest my time in reading it in several sittings. Instead I found myself stopping and starting over the course of a few weeks which happens rarely when I read thrillers. I would recommend it only to those looking for a slower paced thriller and would advise not to trust Emily’s reasoning throughout the book.

And Then You Were Gone is out to buy now!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Last Thing She Told Me by Linda Green


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Title: The Last Thing She Told Me

Author: Linda Green

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Quercus 

Publication date: 7th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Even the deepest buried secrets can find their way to the surface… Moments before she dies, Nicola’s grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden. Nicola’s mother claims she was talking nonsense. However, when Nicola’s daughter finds a bone while playing in Betty’s garden, it’s clear that something sinister has taken place. But will unearthing painful family secrets end up tearing Nicola’s family apart?

My review:

I stumbled upon this book on Netgalley and it immediately piqued my interest. After reading other readers’ reviews I was convinced that this would be a brilliant thriller and was excited to start reading it. However, I originally could not connect with any of the characters and was not immediately drawn to the plot either. The pace was slow at first and the interlocking past and present story lines did not seem related. It was Betty’s last words “There are babies at the bottom of the garden” that really motivated me to keep reading.

At around the halfway point into the book the plot started to thicken and new characters were introduced and I found that I suddenly couldn’t stop reading. It is also around this point where we start to understand how the letters and present day story line are linked and the appalling secrets are discovered. The author handles the rainbow of emotions extremely well and provides an excellent insight into each character’s feelings. However, I think that the challenge of addressing these issues over several generations was too demanding even though the impact was much bigger.

Overall, this poignant story was well developed despite the lagging first few chapters. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading a family drama as I don’t agree that this book should be filed under the Thriller category.

The Last Thing She Told Me is out to buy tomorrow!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Invitation to Poetry by Mihai Brinas


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Title: Invitation to Poetry

Author: Mihai Brinas

Genre: Poetry

Publisher: Amazon

Publication date:  January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“A book that reveals fantastic feelings all of us have experienced or are going to experience. An invitation to poetry embracing music, nature and love at the same time….

My review:

I needed to break my cycle of Thrillers and Contemporary Fiction and this collection of poems came at just the right time. A refreshing change from the usual writing found in literature, these short poems were so compelling and provoked such a strange mix of emotions that I found myself stopping after nearly every poem to fully digest what I had read.

The words were carefully chosen and each poem was beautifully constructed. I often find poetry difficult to follow, especially when poets decide to use an unusual choice of words or sentence structures, but I was pleased to find that these poems were simple yet effective in meaning. Themes varied from love to friendship but there was one that I found to be particularly special, mostly because of my love of reading:

“i like 

to enter sometimes

the town library

and read one book or another

i leave taking with me

the sadness of so many books left unread”

Impressive and thought-provoking, this collection of short poems is a celebration of the little things in life and provides the perfect opportunity to step back and reflect on many of the wonders of our universe.

Many thanks to the author for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Lido by Libby Page


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Title: The Lido

Author: Libby Page

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 19th April 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George. Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She’s on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist, and is determined to make something of it. So when the lido is threatened with closure, Kate knows this story could be her chance to shine. But for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything. Together they are determined to make a stand, and to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim – it is the heart of the community. The Lido is an uplifting novel about the importance of friendship, the value of community, and how ordinary people can protect the things they love.

My review:

Sometimes we all need a lighthearted and feelgood read and this book came to me at the perfect time. The Lido explores identity, community and friendship through the lives of the two main characters, Rosemary and Kate, who meet in unusual circumstances at a vital time when they are struggling and can learn a lot from each other. Both are dealing with loneliness and nostalgia and their daily morning swims at the lido are just what they need to combat these feelings. However, their interactions away from the pool were even more meaningful as they discuss their past, difficulties they are currently facing and what the Lido means to them.

Minor characters are often overlooked in many recently published books in the Contemporary Fiction genre so I feel that I must applaud the author on the wonderful bonds she created between Rosemary, Kate and the other protesters hoping to keep the lido open. We understand what the lido means to the community and why it is so important to them. I was interested in almost every minor character and believe that each backstory added value to the protest and was essential to the story line.

The style of writing was very simple and matter-of-fact and the pace was slow at times; both these shortcomings were particular prominent towards the end where the author attempts to find a somewhat sudden and unrealistic solution to keeping the lido open. Despite these shortcomings I still believe that it is the small pleasures that are central to the story and I found myself smiling after almost every chapter, something that doesn’t often happen with similar books of the genre.

 

Book review: Circe by Madeline Miller


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Title: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 19th April 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Breathing life into the ancient world, Madeline Miller weaves an intoxicating tale of gods and heroes, magic and monsters, survival and transformation. “

My review:

There are no words to truly describe just how wonderful this book is but I will try to pull my thoughts together and explain why this book is so special to me.

Putting aside the Greek mythology aspect, this story is an accurate reflection of the struggles that many of us face even today in the 21st century. I was pleasantly surprised that the author decided to focus on Circe’s attitude towards her family which runs parallel to the disputes with family members we face in our every day life and the need to often justify our actions or even break free from the negative surroundings, just like Circe is forced to do when she is exiled to a deserted island. Right from the first chapter I began to connect with Circe and supported her in her attempt to escape from the abuse she was subject to at home. Despite the battles she faces and the struggles to live in isolation, her desire to strive for the best for her son’s future with few complaints does not go unnoticed and is a reflection and celebration of many independent women’s lives today.

I must admit that I was not too keen on the fantasy or mythology element before I started the book but the storytelling factor is so effortless that it plays little significance to the greatness of this story. If Greek mythology is not your preferred choice of reading, don’t be discouraged after reading the blurb because the author does a brilliant job of introducing all the main characters and linking them to each other so the story is easy to follow without any necessary background knowledge. In fact, I firmly believe that the storytelling is the main reason for the success of this book; the language, eloquent sentences and retelling of all the adventures from Circe’s point of view are the key elements of the magical universe that the author has created, one which I almost didn’t want to leave after finishing the book.

Perhaps my review doesn’t do this book justice and you aren’t yet convinced on Circe. However, I want to assure those of you who have heard about this book and decided to pass on it, whether it’s due to the mythology or the genre, that we can all find an important message linked to our daily lives if we search hard enough. Although the initial story is a retelling of a Greek mythology, the deep-rooted prejudices and thoughts are what make this story so special and simply for this reason, I believe that Circe should be high up on everyone’s list of books to be read.

Book review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain


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Title: Dirty Little Secrets

Author: Jo Spain

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 7th February 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Death stalked the Vale.
In every corner, every whisper.
They just didn’t know it yet.
Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

My review:

It had been a while since I had last read a dark and gripping psychological thriller before I stumbled upon this book on Netgalley. The synopsis had me intrigued and I was hooked right from the first chapter. The characters were delightfully complex yet the plot seemed so simple that I was expecting the typical psychological thriller with drastic and somewhat far-fetched revelations of the characters’ lives. I was pleasantly surprised that the plot developed in unexpected ways, luring us to believe that Olive had nothing to hide yet swiftly transforming into a much more complicated story.

Completely unaware of each other’s struggles, the neighbours at Withered Vale are shocked to find out about Olive’s death but do not appear too troubled when the police focus their search for the perpetrator inside the community. Each chapter focuses on the owners of each house and Olive’s attitude towards them. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth game of figuring out if Olive was within reason to dislike her neighbours based on certain attributes they presented, or if they really did have a solid argument to keep away from her while she was alive. It was captivating and I was constantly wanting to learn more about the background of all the characters, desperate to find out who killed Olive.

The final few chapters were especially interesting as more hints were revealed that seriously made me doubt their intentions towards Olive. Unfortunately the final chapter where we understand what happened to Olive hours before her death was slightly disappointing and I felt that after so much speculation the reveal would be more explosive. Nevertheless, it did not distract from the brilliant story line and the intricate puzzle that the author created. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of dark psychological thrillers.

Dirty Little Secrets is out to buy tomorrow!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.