Book review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances


Book Cover

Title: The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Pan

Publication date: 6th April 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn’t had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura’s life.
Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she’s not all that she seems.
When tragedy strikes, an unforgivable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.”

My review:

I am sure that we have all stumbled upon a book where we are continuously waiting for a big event to happen and when it does, we want to shake the characters in an attempt to wake them up and make them realise the situation they are facing. Without giving too much away, this book was exactly that. A disastrous accident involving the two main characters, Daniel and Cherry, takes places and Daniel’s mother, Laura, quite understandably becomes attached to her son and pushes Cherry after many hard facts about their relationship are slowly revealed. I didn’t feel frustrated by the accident itself but rather with all three characters at their inability to understand the events occurring around them and appreciate the various lies spread and told with no end. My interest peaked straight after the tragedy took place and I was curious to see how each character would evolve but was unfortunately left feeling disappointed at the lack of growth in both character progression and plot.

On a different note, I wanted to express my thoughts on the beginning of the story which I thought was brilliant and very well paced. Here, the author provides just the right amount of detail to encourage us to continue reading without giving away too much of Cherry’s malicious plans for her future with Daniel. It was slow burning but the level of suspense gradually increased to the moment where disaster strikes and did not disappoint up until this point. Although I was not too fond of how the events unfolded after this turning point, the introductory chapters provided a solid background of where each character is emotionally – something which I really enjoyed exploring.

This book would have been excellent if there was a deeper focus on the plot following the accident as well as a stronger and memorable ending. Ultimately, it disappoints with several of the implausible events and lies coupled with the slow building tension after the main twist. I also believe that it could be classified as a family drama rather than a psychological thriller, particularly due to the lack of suspense after the halfway point and the passive ending. I would recommend this book to fans of domestic dramas but not to those looking for a fast-paced and engaging psychological thriller.

Studious Saturday: The Sunshine Blogger Award Part 2

Studious Saturday: The Sunshine Blogger Award book tag

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Hi there and welcome to another Studious Saturday post! This one is another tag as I have been awarded the Sunshine Blogger Award again, this time by the lovely Hannah whose blog you should definitely hop over to! Thanks for the award, Hannah!

What is The Sunshine Blogger Award?

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring. Once nominated, the blogger is required to write a post in which they:

• Thank the blogger who nominated them and link back to their blog.

• Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated them.

• Nominate 11 other blogs and give them 11 new questions to answer.

• Notify your nominees and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post.

studious saturdays

1. Are you a pen and paper fan or do you prefer to type?
A bit of both. I prefer to get my thoughts down on paper first and have several notebooks where I jot down ideas but when it comes to writing posts I prefer to type.

2. Are you an avid traveller or do you prefer to stay near home?
Definitely an avid traveller! My family is dispersed all over the world and I try to visit them as often as I can. When I can I also like to go away on city trips with my boyfriend and my group of friends. I’m a firm believer that life is not meant to be lived in one place and travelling is the best way to explore all the opportunities that life has to offer so I try to follow this principle as much as I can.

3. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a busy day?
Shower and change into something comfortable and then pick up my current book and read until I get tired!

4. What’s your favourite comfort food and why?
Strawberries are my favourite food ever although I wouldn’t call it comfort food because they are healthy. After strawberries I would probably choose nice quality Belgium or Swiss chocolate because the flavour is incredible!

5. What is your favourite genre to read and what would you like to read more of?
My favourite genre to read is mystery/thriller/crime but I am definitely trying to broaden my range out to contemporary fiction, historical fiction and humour/romance. I even tried Science Fiction a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it so I think I’ll continue to swap inbetween genres.

6. If you could spend 24 hours anywhere and with anyone, where and who would it be and why?
I would get my whole family back to my hometown in Bulgaria and spend 24 hours with them. I still see them often but it’s been years since we have all managed to get together in the same place at the same time and it would be a day that I would treasure forever if it ever happens.

7. How do you mark a page in your book? (Bookmark, random paper, folding pages, etc.)
I usually read books on my kindle so the page is automatically saved before I go back to the main screen.

8. Who is your favourite Disney sidekick and why?
Simba from The Lion King! Although I guess not really a sidekick?

9. What is your favourite recipe to make on a cold day?
Chicken soup! I make chicken soup when I’m cold, ill, upset, hungry… you name it! There was a period during last winter when I was constantly making chicken soup and did not regret it.

10. What movie could you watch over and over again?
I could definitely watch The Parent Trap several times without getting tired of it. I loved this movie when I was younger and I still watch it every now and again.

11. Who was your first celebrity crush?
I thought long and hard about this question but I don’t remember?! I have been in awe of Roger Federer for years but I wouldn’t call him my first celebrity crush but rather someone I really admire. I honestly don’t know!

I nominate:

Inge

Stephen

Jennifer

Ellie

Jasmine

Kaleena

Mandy

Noriko

Amanda

Marta

Dora

My questions

1. How and when did you get into blogging?

2. Are there any films that you thought were better than the book?

3. Paperbacks, hardbacks or ebooks?

4. Do you exchange books with family and/or friends?

5. Which setting of a book was so vivid that you still recall today?

6. Which character can you imagine becoming your best friend if they were real?

7. Do you prefer standalone books or those with sequels?

8. Is there a time of year or certain periods when you read more?

9. Share one of your favourite quotes of the book you are currently reading or have just finished reading.

10. Do you ever skip to the last chapter to find out what happens?

11. What is your favourite thing about the book blogging community?

Thanks once again to Hannah for the award! For those of you tagged please don’t feel obliged to answer my questions but if you decide to post, please tag me in it so I can read your answers! Have a great weekend!

Book review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


Book Cover

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 15th March 2012

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.”

My review:

Oh, what a treat this book was! I had come across many positive reviews before starting it but I didn’t realise what an adventure I was in for and could not have imagined how much I would enjoy the journey. It is one of those books to be read slowly, each moment treasured and savoured with the need to stop and reflect on the story unfolding before us after finishing each chapter. Filled with both lighthearted and heavier elements, it is a true reflection of one’s journey from a quiet and simple life to the contrasting sudden need to embark on an adventure, although somewhat accidental, and let fate decide how each moment unfolds.

My favourite aspect was by far the varied and conflicting characters that Harold stumbles upon during his pilgrimage. From dogs to strangers hoping to use his newfound fame for success, the story really explored every possible character you can imagine meeting during such an endeavour. The circumstances Harold finds himself in are equally diverse and it was a joy following his pilgrimage across the country. Perhaps the most poignant feature is that with each blister and drawback, he never once gave up and continued the journey believing that he could still save his friend.

This book is a great example to others showing how the enthusiasm and willingness to change life’s course can truly make a difference to both ourselves and our surroundings. Despite the uneventful life that Harold led, a sudden change of heart was enough to push him into an exciting and adventurous journey inspired by his desire to help a friend in need. I would truly recommend this book to anyone wishing to read a captivating book with a dash of joy, friendship and dedication.

 

Studious Saturday: Why we should read books in a different genre

studious saturdays

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  – Dr. Seuss

Welcome to another Studious Saturday post! This one is based on genres and why I think it’s a good idea to for us bookworms to step out of our comfort zone and try a book in a different genre. If you read my previous post, Three Bookish Things Book Tag, you may remember that this was one of my goals for this year and I can safely say that I have achieved it by recently finishing one of my Science Fiction choices, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading something completely different to what I usually choose and wanted to share my views on why I think you should do the same.

• Understand your preferences better

Even if we leave the new book half-way through or decide it is not for us, it would still work in our favour because we would now have a much better understanding of our likes and dislikes and the types of books we have no interest in reading. The perfect example is Classics – many of us were forced to read at least one Classic at school and we may have decided that we have no interest in this genre based on the book we read years ago. However, we may be surprised upon reading a different Classic at a later age that we appreciate the characters and plot much more. Alternatively, we may choose a Classic or any other book in a genre we are not used to and soon leave it. It might not mean that we should completely discard this genre based on just one book but at least we would be in a better position to analyse what didn’t work and why we may or may not return to this genre at a later stage.

• Getting out of a reading slump

We all know the dreaded feeling of being unmotivated to start a new book or carry on reading the book we recently started. In these tricky situations I would advise to try a new genre. Changing to something fresh and distinct is always advised in many other circumstances in life so why can we not apply it to reading? In fact, I believe that experimenting with a completely unexpected reading choice is a healthy way to restart our motivation and put us on the right path back to our bookcase/library/book shop. Personally, I was feeling frustrated with some of the Thrillers that I had read before I decided to embark on the new adventure of Science Fiction but shortly after finishing it I realised that I was ready to return to my favourite genre and attack it with a newfound enthusiasm that I was lacking before.

• Different genre, different perspective

For me, the main advantage of switching genres is the fresh perspective we would encounter, a concept that I realise is difficult to grasp if we are used to always reading the same kind of books. New characters, a change in pace and a completely different setting are just some of the aspects we may face and of course there could be many more depending on the degree of the change in genre. In my case, jumping from my usual choice of Thrillers and Crime to Science Fiction felt like a huge step because the setting is  completely contrasting to that of the usual Thriller. However, I would not be surprised to see less disparity between Thrillers and Horror or Romance and Young Fiction, for example.

Question

Is switching to a new genre something that you may consider or do you prefer to stick to genres you know you enjoy?

That’s all for this week! I will spend the weekend looking through my feed and reading all your blog posts as I was not able to follow your posts as usual because of a very hectic and busy week. Have a relaxing weekend and happy reading!

 

Book review: In Her Shadow by Mark Edwards


Book Cover

Title: In Her Shadow

Author: Mark Edwards

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 4th October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isabel’s life seemed perfect. Successful business, beautiful house, adoring husband. And then she was dead.
For four years Jessica has never doubted that her sister Isabel’s death was an accident. But when Jessica’s young daughter seems to know long-forgotten details about her aunt’s past, Jessica can’t shake the feeling that there’s a more sinister truth behind the tragedy.
As Jessica unearths disturbing revelations about her sister, and about the people she loved and trusted most, it becomes clear Isabel’s life was less than perfect and that Jessica’s might also be at risk.
Did someone murder Isabel? Are they now after Jessica and her family? The key seems to lie in the hands of a child. Can Isabel reveal the truth from beyond the grave, or is the answer closer to home?”

My review:

I decided to request an advance reader’s copy of this book after finishing The Retreat by Mark Edwards which I found exciting and wanted to analyse his writing in greater depth. He has the ability to combine intense and dramatic moments with hints of paranormal activity in a unique and gripping way and I admire his bravery to incorporate this method in his books as a way of peaking the reader’s interest. Unfortunately, I felt that the plot lost focus for me due to the emphasis on the supernatural elements which I think were too excessive here, especially when Jessica’s daughter, Olivia, claimed to know the details surrounding Isabel’s death without ever having met her. I was impressed with the way Jessica was portrayed as a multilayered character with secrets and regrets but simultaneously I would have liked to explore the other minor characters such as Darpak further.

The other drawback from my perspective was the intense change in pace halfway through the book. It starts off at a relatively slow pace and quickly picks up after one of the many secrets is revealed. I realise that this was perhaps done intentionally to draw the reader’s attention back to the main suspects while discarding several others but I also felt that it disrupted the natural flow. Further on this note, I found the ending exhilarating and was kept on the edge of my seat until the last few chapters which I believe was partly due to the fast pace and plot twists disclosed at the very end. Exposing the murderer was a complete surprise and I appreciated the flashbacks leading up to this point to reveal Isabel’s killer as a different and fresh writing technique.

Overall, I found this book more difficult to follow and dig into in comparison with The Retreat but liked the fast-paced unexpected ending. If there had been a deeper focus on the characters and less of an emphasis on the paranormal elements from Olivia’s perspective I would probably have enjoyed this book more.

In Her Shadow is available to all this Thursday 4th October!

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

 

Studious Saturday: The impact of books in a series

studious saturdays

 

Happy Saturday! I have stumbled upon several reviews in the Book Blogging community this week on Lethal White, the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith. They made consider the impact of books in a series and the key techniques used by authors to create a well perceived series. I have decided to explore these thoughts on this week’s Studious Saturday post and analyse these methods in further detail…

• Continuity in the story line

Something we all look for, perhaps even subconsciously, upon starting the next book in a series is the continuity in the story line. Many authors decide to disregard this aspect, especially those in a detective series where the crime scene changes each time. Nevertheless, continuity is a key technique used to remind the reader how the last book ended and flow into the story line of the new book. If a series doesn’t have any degree of continuity the plot may seem uneven and rushed.

• Character development

Most series include the same characters with perhaps a few new characters introduced in each new book. If there is no character development the plot appears stagnant and the reader may lose interest. However, that is not to say that characters must always be likable; in fact the most disliked characters are often unpopular because of the events leading up to a plot twist or milestone which indicates character progression. As characters grow and their traits are gradually revealed, the story line also matures and progresses to create a rich and engaging plot and advance the story line to the next book.

• Changes in pace

Pace has a crucial impact on how readers perceive a book and if they decide to read the complete series. In particular, pacing is often difficult to master depending on the genre. Adventure or fantasy series such as The Hunger Games usually have significant changes in the pacing throughout each book to encourage an element of surprise. In contract, the pace in a mystery or crime series often doesn’t change much until the very end where a plot twist is revealed to evoke tension and suspense. It is also important that the pace doesn’t change drastically between each book in a series to ensure that it doesn’t break up the continuity, although this arguably also depends on genre and I realise may affect certain genres more than others.

• Ending

Also linked to continuity, I believe that the ending of each book should reflect the writing and story line so far. It may not be justified to end a book in a series on a cliff hanger if there have been few hints of plot twists or surprises. On the other hand, an expected or neutral ending may not be as memorable and the reader may not be as willing to continue the series. However, depending on expectations, genre and other factors, a certain kind of ending may create a greater impact and interest the reader more.

• Does it measure up to the previous book in the series?

I think this is perhaps the most important point and something we all reflect on. Very often the first book in a series is considered the “best” for a variety of reasons. We may decide to skip the next books because they don’t measure up to the first one or even the previous one. This point consists of all the previous ones – continuity, pace and character development. If one aspect falters it could have a huge influence on our perception and therefore may not be as willing to set time apart to read the whole series.

Question

What traits do you think contribute to a successful series? Do you compare books in a series to each other and does this have an impact on the series as a whole?

If you have read this far then thank you for taking the time to consider this week’s reflections. I realise that this discussion post is more subjective and is not as balanced as it may be but I decided to post it anyway and open up this discussion to the community.

Book review: An American Family by Jackson Baer


Book Cover

Title: An American Family

Author: Jackson Baer

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Evolved Publishing

Publication date: 1st October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes.
Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past.
After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?”

My review:

This book offers something to every reader. It is an excellent choice for those who appreciate flawed characters and perfect for anyone interested in an engrossing mystery. It becomes apparent as the story line progresses that the characters are vital to moving the plot along and simultaneously, as the plot develops, we discover secrets and imperfections of each character that transpire into an appealing and exciting story. I really admired the powerful use of both these writing techniques and I feel the author accomplished this exceptionally well.

Although all characters were multilayered and engaging, I could not find myself interested enough to follow their conversations. Perhaps it is based on my personal preference on dialogue, but their discussions felt strained and very matter-of-fact which attributed to several forced interactions. Nevertheless, the descriptions in between and after the direct speech were eloquent and concise. I would have preferred a more prominent emphasis on this as the period between Ramie vanishing and Isaac meeting Julia felt somewhat rushed. However, I also realise that this was intended to describe their accidental meeting and therefore the focus soon shifted to their life afterwards.

Few thrillers manage to incorporate emotion and grief in the story line and those that do often fall short of inducing empathy in the reader. In contrast, An American Family shines in this field and from the first page we are introduced to a mix of emotions from despair to heartbreak. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, although it seemed somewhat implausible, and can safely say that this book left me with a sense of relief which was comforting after the rollercoaster of a ride we travelled on.

An American Family is out next Monday 1st October!

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