Book review: All the Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester


Title: All the Lovely Pieces

Author: J. M. Winchester

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 6th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“For nine years, Drew Baker has been running from her brutal husband and the dark deeds of the night she left him. Focused on protecting her ten-year-old son, Drew reluctantly settles into a small town, eager to find proof of her husband’s true nature so she can stop looking over her shoulder.
But Drew is also on the run from her own terrible crimes—ones that mean prison and separation from her son should the police catch up to her before her husband does. If only she could remember that night and what really transpired…
Without warning, the unthinkable happens, and Drew is plunged into the most nightmarish situation a woman and mother could imagine. Desperate to save her child, Drew takes matters into her own hands, proving that anyone is capable of darkness, and nowhere is safe for those who fear themselves.

My review:

All the Lovely Pieces follows single mother, Drew Baker, and her son, Michael, as they attempt to run away from their dark and dangerous past involving emotional and physical abuse from Drew’s ex-husband Adam. It becomes clear from very early on that Drew is running away from an accident that had occurred several years ago which still haunts her to this day so she is eager to hide this traumatic experience from her son.

The story line is set out in rotating points of view: Drew’s, Michael’s and Catherine’s, the only character still in Adam’s life at this point, which I found to be particularly powerful especially when trying to understand Adam’s motive from another perspective. Despite my initial concerns, the writing of Michael’s POV felt raw and thought-provoking and the ideal way to bring up a further set of questions about his mother’s decision to flee from the crime scene. I also found Catherine’s perspective to be a fresh and interesting addition to the story line, especially important towards the end when the pace changed. However, I could not warm to Drew and my sense of doubt grew as more events from the day of the accident were revealed. Although unreliable main characters are often emblematic of the genre there were too many lose ends in the chapters written from her POV for me to truly understand her.

Despite a strong start and an interesting set of characters, there was little build up towards a twist or big revelation as usually happens with other books in the genre. In a way I liked how the author decided to lay out all the facts and reach a conclusion based on all the information provided. However, the last few chapters felt a little too rushed and there were parts involving other minor characters and Drew’s new love interest that felt exaggerated and at times too unbelievable. This book has all the right ingredients for a gritty psychological thriller but I believe that some of the scenes and character interactions in the last few chapters could have been rewritten to create a more realistic ending.

All the Lovely Pieces 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 Humans by Matt Haig


Title: The Humans

Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Canongate Books

Publication date: 9th May 2013

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears.
When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog.
Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

My review:

On the surface The Humans appears to be a witty tale of an alien who is sent to Earth to possess the body of serious Professor Andrew Martin in an attempt to prevent one of the biggest mathematical riddles of being revealed and chasing the future forever. However, a deeper look is enough to understand that this book is really about human nature and a reflection of all the small and big things we may not even realise we do that make us special. Here are some examples that portray the beauty of this book:

“I have to admit that humans waste a lot of their time – almost all of it – with hypothetical stuff. I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have been hit by that bus. I could have been born with fewer moles and bigger breasts. I could have spent more of my youth learning foreign languages. They must exercise the conditional tense more than any other known life form.”

“Oh, and let’s not forget the Things They Do to Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semiautobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harboring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.”

“Now, consider this. A human life is on average 80 Earth years or around 30,000 Earth days. Which means they are born, they make some friends, eat a few meals, they get married, or they don’t get married, have a child or two, or not, drink a few thousand glasses of wine, have sexual intercourse a few times, discover a lump somewhere, feel a bit of regret, wonder where all the time went, know they should have done it differently, realise they would have done it the same, and then they die. Into the great black nothing. Out of space. Out of time. The most trivial of trivial zeroes. And that’s it, the full caboodle. All confined to the same mediocre planet.”

The atmosphere and mood changes swiftly as the plot moves from the alien arriving on Earth and trying to understand human nature to slowly getting used to his new family and finally feeling like a human. There are too many funny and special moments to count, from the brave and remarkable scene of the alien saving Gulliver the son and the amusing occasion where he shares peanut butter with Newton the dog. I laughed and nearly cried out in surprise several times while reading this book and enjoyed reflecting on the little quirks that make us human which were so well represented through the eyes of the alien.

The only downfall for me was the ending which felt a little rushed. Although it celebrated human life in its truest form I would have liked to see more on Andrew Martin’s life rather than an overview. Nevertheless, this didn’t devalue the remaining part of the book and I believe was still the best way to end the story line on a positive note. I highly recommend The Humans to everyone as this is not a book that can fit any category but rather one that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, backgrounds and interests.

Midyear reflection on my blogging and reading goals

Studious Saturday

The end of June is fast approaching which means that we are almost halfway into 2019! I can’t believe how quickly time is flying past; it almost feels like I was celebrating the new year yesterday! As I am slowly starting to organise my shelves and planning out some posts for the coming months I thought that this week’s Studious Saturday post would be a perfect way to look back over the past six months and tie in with my reading and blogging goals for 2019.

Read 55 books

My first goal was quite simple – I wanted to slightly increase the amount of books I read from 50 last year to 55 this year. I must say that I am managing to keep to this goal and have read 28 books as of today so I am 1 book ahead in the challenge. I am still adamant to only stick to books I really want to read as the TBR list is piled way up high with a mixture of backlisted books and new releases and I know that there is never enough time to get through the entire list.

Branch out to other genres

Despite my wish to start reading a mixture of other genres I always tend to run back to thrillers or contemporary fiction when I’m wondering what next to read. I have definitely improved since last year and have read some interesting Science Fiction books with reviews soon to come, but I want to make it a habit and not an exception so please leave me your suggestions of books that are not categorised under the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction or Historical Fiction genre!

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Oh, I have definitely discovered it! (If you don’t know what I am referring to you may want to check out my last Studious Saturday post Feria del Libro Madrid ’19 for more details). However, even after buying a book by Julia Navarro that I really want to read I am still putting off reading in Spanish and I am not sure why. This is definitely the goal I am most planning on working on in the upcoming half of 2019.

Schedule my posts in advance

This is the other goal I am hoping to work on. I use a calendar to schedule my posts but writing has been hard recently and I have found myself slowly retreating back to writing and editing posts the day before they are supposed to be published. As summer is now in full swing here in Madrid (it is 41 degrees outside right now), writing posts is the perfect way to spend the hot afternoons after work and I plan to make full use of it.

Design a new look for my blog

One goal is out of the way! I must admit that this is the goal that I was most worried about which is probably why it took me so long to publish my new design. As my one year blogging anniversary approached a few weeks ago I finally decided to publish my new theme and I am much happier with the new look of my blog.

Do you have any goals for 2019 and are you any closer to reaching them as we approach the midpoint of the year?

Feria del Libro Madrid ’19

Studious Saturday

June is the month of longer and warmer days, summer vibes and of course reading! Here in Madrid it is also the month where books are celebrated and promoted during the festival Feria del Libro which spans over two weeks and takes place in Retiro, one of the most relaxing and beautiful parks in Madrid.

Each year the Feria del Libro hosts publishers big and small and invites authors from all over the world for book signings and more. The organisers work to promote reading by holding talks, round tables and readings from journalists, authors and publicists in order to encourage reading as a hobby for the younger generation as well as advertising some of the recent publications of all genres.

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At the end of Retiro park, stands are put up, displayed with books from all genres and beautifully decorated. Each publisher receives their own stand and it is wonderful to see how different the decorations were according to the type of books they publish, be it comics, children’s books or romance. One of the more ornate stands as pictured above had ribbons and cages descending from the ceiling. Others decided for a more contemporary look with books stacked within reach and displayed by popularity.

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The organisers this year did a wonderful job of providing leaflets to everyone with a layout of the festival and list of author visits and signings so that all its attendees could decide which stand they wanted to visit depending on the event or books they are interested in. Despite the ordered system, the amount of people made it impossible at times to get bearings right. We visited on a Saturday afternoon where Camilla Lackberg was holding a meet and greet and book signing so naturally the queue was already very long but even after getting around to the main entrance we found that it was extremely difficult to get close to some of the more popular stands and at times it was impossible to even walk around the crowds.

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We already discovered that we would have to be strategic as there were too many people that afternoon to allow us to visit every stand. After much thought we decided to start with the ones we were most interested in, comprising of adult contemporary fiction, classics and crime and skip the stands specialising in non-fiction and other sub-genres of fiction. Needless to say, these were some of the most popular stands so, after struggling to walk to the front of the stand, we spent a long time browsing books. Although we didn’t talk to any authors or publishers, we could see that they were all very pleased to be at the event and willing to answer questions and speak to people interested in their books. It was also wonderful to see many people buying books for themselves and discussing with their friends and family or even starting to read already on the grass or under the shade.

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By far the most popular stands of all were those specialising in children’s books as here most authors were hosting readings of their recently published books. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many children interested in books and it was also great how encouraging their parents were. Spain is a country where reading is very popular amongst adults but I am happy that it is also becoming a widespread hobby amongst children.

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Our visit came to an end with our final stop at the stand where Julia Navarro was holding her signing. I was so pleased to see so many people interested in her newest book but disappointed that I came unprepared and didn’t bring my book from home for her to sign.

Although the crowds made it difficult for us to enjoy the Feria del Libro fully, we had a great time and discovered some more books that are going to our TBR lists. I have already decided that next year I will plan my visit better by checking when authors are holding signings on the website and going at a quieter time during the week.

Feria del Libro is on until tomorrow 16th June and I highly recommend it to anyone that is in Madrid  this weekend!

Book review: No Way Out by Cara Hunter


Title: No Way Out

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 18th April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

DID YOU SEE ANYTHING ON THE NIGHT THE ESMOND FAMILY WERE MURDERED?
From the author of CLOSE TO HOME and IN THE DARK comes the third pulse-pounding DI Fawley crime thriller.
It’s one of the most disturbing cases DI Fawley has ever worked.
The Christmas holidays, and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their burning home in North Oxford. The toddler is dead, and his brother is soon fighting for his life.
Why were they left in the house alone? Where is their mother, and why is their father not answering his phone?
Then new evidence is discovered, and DI Fawley’s worst nightmare comes true.
Because this fire wasn’t an accident.
It was murder.

My review:

After finishing Close to Home and In the Dark, it quickly became clear that Cara Hunter had become my current favourite Crime author and I couldn’t wait for No Way Out to be published. I had taken a small break from reading before I started this book and looking back, I am glad that I chose this one to get back into reading because I suddenly found myself hurrying through the chapters as I attempted to solve the crime together with the team. Like its predecessors, this book is so gripping and tense that I had to stop myself from devouring it in one sitting. The pace is just right, with not too many facts related to the murder revealed but still enough gradually disclosed to encourage the reader to follow the story until the end in the struggle to catch the murderer.

Unlike the previous two books in the series where the focus was the crime scene and investigation, in No Way Out there is a lot of attention on the main character, DI Fawley, and his team. As he is likeable and mysterious, I enjoyed the details related to his personal life just as much as the murder investigation. Other secondary characters such as DC Gislingham were also developed further in this book and by the end it was easy to make a distinction in their character traits and styles of working, something which I felt was lacking in previous book. The character growth did not weaken the plot or decrease the complexity in the investigation but rather complemented these aspects nicely and created a different kind of atmosphere both on and off the police station which I enjoyed following.

The most compelling elements in Cara Hunter’s writing is the level of detail in the investigation and the twists thrown in as the plot unravels. Rarely are crime books so rich in detail but here the reader is forced to pay attention to the smallest facts in order to fully understand the bigger picture and even then the ending is extremely difficult to guess. The additional pieces such as social media posts and fire report are refreshing and effective in registering human emotion through the public’s views on such a horrid event. Through the use of these writing mechanisms, Cara Hunter has successfully produced a striking third addition to the series that is a must-read for all Crime addicts. I have struggled to find a similar author of this caliber in the genre and I cannot wait for the next book in the series to be published so I can experience the same kind of intensity and desire to solve the crime that I did in No Way Out.

Book review: A Face in the Crowd by Kerry Wilkinson


Title: A Face in the Crowd

Author: Kerry Wilkinson

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 6th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Lucy gets the same bus every day. This Friday, her journey home will change her life.
She can barely afford her bus ride, tries to avoid eye contact, and, if she’s really lucky, she gets a seat and reads a chapter of her book.
But it’s a Friday – and the bus is always crammed at the end of the week. Personal space doesn’t exist. She keeps her elbows close and clings to a pole at every juddering stop.
When she gets off, something feels different.
An envelope stuffed with thousands of pounds is in her bag.
Is it the answer to her prayers, or the beginning of a nightmare?

My review:

A Face in the Crowd follows Lucy, an ordinary character struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to pay off debts that her dead ex-boyfriend imposed on her by taking out loans under her name. The first person narrative contributes to an engaging story line and a sympathy for Lucy and her simple life. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I couldn’t grow to like her because her character was missing the courage and ambition that a main character involved in such a situation is expected to show. After constant complaints and little desire to improve her living situation, there was little else left to her personality. The other minor characters are unnecessary as they weave in and out of the main story line.

In terms of plot, there was much left to be desired as soon as the main reasons for her financial circumstances were revealed. It would be as simple as checking her bank statements each month to avoid getting stuck in her situation but it seemed that she hadn’t learnt this lesson as she continued to make similar mistakes after she found the large sum of money in her purse. Attempts to look for the responsible person in odd ways such as bribing the security man weakened the plot and created a sense of surrealism difficult to relate to, as is the case in almost all psychological thrillers. The sudden change of events, although supported by a strong and unexpected plot twist, did not add up to the previous facts already revealed and instead of answering the main question of who left the money and why, raised more questions that were not addressed in the ending.

Although the plot and characters were missing depth for me, the steady pace and suspense kept me interested. Lucy may not be the most exciting character nor does the original idea behind the plot seem unique but the plot twists were well delivered and mostly unexpected. An unusual choice for the Mystery/Thriller genre, A Face in the Crowd was not what I expected but a good reminder to beware of the people closest to us as they are usually the ones hiding the deepest secrets that could hurt us.

A Face in the Crowd will be out to buy on 6th June!

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

One year of blogging: thoughts, goals and reflections

Studious Saturday

I almost can’t believe that I am writing this post! This time last year I decided to finally start my own blog after years of hesitation. My first post was incredibly difficult to write and I spent hours rewriting and editing it before posting. Ever since then, this journey has developed in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined and looking back, I am so glad that I continued and didn’t give it up.

When I think back to my reading choices before I started this blog, I almost can’t believe  that I restricted myself to only one or two genres. My Goodreads account consisted of a rotation of thrillers, contemporary fiction and a few classics thrown in but I never allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone and try a book originally published in a different language or a historical fiction novel set in a time or setting unfamiliar to me. Engaging with other bloggers, authors and publishers inspired me to branch out to so many books that I was initially unsure about but ended up loving.

Not only did my reading choices change, but my writing also gradually improved to the point where I now feel comfortable publishing book review posts without having to rewrite the majority of the content. I am still a long way away from producing the kind of content that I aspire to create but I recognise that it takes both time and effort and so I have found myself gradually becoming more eager to work on my writing.

Creating my own brand and sticking with a schedule have been my main struggles with blogging and a huge part of my goals for this year. Today, I am pleased to disclose my new theme as well as a much more appealing logo and banner. Organising my schedule is my next priority and something I hope to overcome in the next few months; I recognise that my ideas for Studious Saturday discussion posts have been limited lately and want to completely focus on these posts rather than book reviews which now come much more easily to me.

Finally, the most pleasantly surprising element of blogging has been the huge support from other fellow bloggers and the interest from publishers and authors. I have read some truly excellent ARCs and connected with so many wonderful members of the book blogging community. As of today I have nearly 300 followers which is so many more than I ever expected and the amount of positive comments and support on my posts is so uplifting and encouraging. The community is full of many lovely people and I am pleased to have found the select few who have become friends and excited to find many more in the years to come. Thank you to all who have supported me during this past year and I cannot wait for the new challenges and ideas to come for Facing the Story!