Title: The Sacrifice
Author: Indrajit Garai
Genre: Short Stories/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Indrajit Garai
Publication date: 25th August 2016
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
In this collection, meet:
Guillaume, who gives up everything to protect his child; young Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.
This collection of short stories is an eyeopening and telling experience of human nature where complex topics such as strained relationships, heartache and financial hardships are explored from several points of view. The author narrates each character’s stance with eloquence and the storytelling factor creates an engaging and yet easy to follow plot. As with many short stories, the focus is clearly on the plot rather than character development, however I did not identify this as a shortcoming as each story provided an accurate glimpse into the main characters’ difficulties without weakening their traits.
I found that I could relate to certain characters and events more than others. The first two stories, The Move and The Listener, are a celebration of man’s relationship with nature and the need to preserve and protect our environment. Unfortunately I was not able to relate to Guillaume or Matthew and their demands to keep the farming industry and environmental regimes running and felt that the author could have expanded on both stories and explain their backstories in more detail.
The last story, The Sacrifice, is built up on the troublesome life that François leads and the sacrifices he makes for his grandson in the hope that he can build a bright future for himself when he is older. It was definitely the most emotional and engaging of the three stories and I was quickly turning the pages in an attempt to find out how it would end. The writing here was articulate and effortless, something that I believe was missing at times in its predecessors. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this collection of short stories and thoroughly enjoyed reflecting on the topics discussed.
Many thanks to Estelle for providing an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Title: Mala Vida
Author: Marc Fernandez
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Crime Noir
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication date: 15th January 2019
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
“Present-day Spain, a time of economic crisis and resurgent populist nationalism. The radical right has just won the election after twelve years of Socialist rule. In the midst of this political upheaval, a series of murders is committed, taking place from Madrid to Barcelona to Valencia. The victims include a politician a real-estate lawyer, doctor, a banker, and a nun. There is no obvious connection between them.
As the country prepares for a return to a certain moral order, radio crime reporter Diego Martin is trying to keep his head above water in anticipation of the expected media purge. When he decides to look into the first murder, he doesn’t have the faintest clue that his investigation will lead far beyond his local beat and put his life at risk. For what he uncovers exposes the roots of a national scandal: the theft of babies from the victims of the Franco regime, crimes—never prosecuted—that were orchestrated by now well-connected citizens who will do anything to avoid exposure.”
The premise of this book is unique and promising and it was exciting to discover a new fiction novel where Spanish politics play a big role in the story line. The unmasking of a conspiracy where children during Franco’s time were abducted and given to wealthy families provokes a national crisis that affects many people across the whole of Spain. The novel begins suddenly with an unexpected murder that at first appears to have no motive. It is soon followed by other similar murders across Spain that the authorities discover are all carried out by one of the activists who is heavily involved in the protests. The plot slowly unravels as the main character, Diego Martin, provides the space and publicity for affected families and protestors to voice their opinion on his radio show.
Unfortunately, I was still unable to connect to Diego or the other characters even several chapters into the book. This definitely felt more like a plot-driven political drama rather than a historical crime noir and it was disappointing to see one murder after another with little forethought of the characters’ emotional state. Diego came across as a sincere man willing to do everything in his power to reveal the horrors of the past crimes but almost every chapter written from his perspective felt monotonous and predictable.
Despite my struggle to enjoy this book, I was glad to have discovered one of the conspiracies in Spanish history that to this day remains almost taboo. The execution of the writing and plot as a whole was not as smooth as expected but I commend the author on conveying such a difficult subject matter with sensitivity and thought.
Mala Vida 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.
Title: One Day in December
Author: Josie Silver
Publication date: 23rd August 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
“Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away. Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus. Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?”
This was the perfect heartwarming and cozy read for a cold winter’s night. Both the writing style and plot worked incredibly well to produce a lovely story that manifests the struggles in a relationship from several points of view. I particularly enjoyed the first person laid-back narrative switching between Jack and Laurie’s perspectives as this made both their personalities shine with the distinct tone and voice, often sarcastic and light although there were some sombre parts too. Despite the strong emphasis on the love story, my favourite aspect was by far the friendship between Sarah and Laurie and I think that we all need a friend like Sarah to get us through the rough moments in life.
Another interesting feature of this book is the timeline that the story follows; all parts are broken up into years and this makes for a rollercoaster of a ride as we follow Laurie through the hardship of accepting her best friend’s relationship with Jack. The New Year’s resolutions were an appealing characteristic of each section of the book although I often felt that there were too many breaks between the chapters, particularly towards the end where several months were omitted.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book as both the characters and plot were engaging and motivating enough to encourage me to read it in only a few sittings. I found the premise of the unrequited love story too predictable at times but was pleasantly surprised to discover that their relationship progressed from friendship to something more without unnecessarily hurting the bond that the girls had developed, as is present in many other romance novels. I can already imagine this book turning into a blockbuster movie that many would love but even without the cinematic element, it is still a beautiful story of a couple who struggle through difficult times before finally finding their way back to each other.
Title: From the Shadows
Author: Neil White
Publication date: 9th March 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
“He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .”
After having stumbled upon many reviews praising Neil White’s work, I decided to start with the first book in the Dan Grant series on a rainy day when I was looking to get lost into a complex court drama. I must admit that this book had me hooked right from the beginning; the third person point of view of the stalker was striking and mysterious and the murder revealed in the first few chapters showed a lot of promise. Similarly, the introduction of Dan Grant as an up-and-coming criminal defense lawyer keen to support his client and simultaneously win his case was a bold start to what appeared to be an intriguing murder mystery.
It was from this point when I found myself struggling to stay interested in the rest of the story. The writing felt disjointed and strained as the plot jumped from the past to the present and suddenly left behind the mysterious third person narrative of the stalker, something which really attracted me in the beginning. I was also not keen on the intent to establish a love interest for Dan as I felt that his character was bright enough without this added element and the sudden attraction to Jayne with barely any foreshadowing. Most of all, the pace during the middle of the plot was too slow without many developments on the murder case. It often felt like Dan and Jayne were following the same leads with no success which eventually became frustrating.
Unlike the middle of the story line, the ending was completely sudden and significantly more fast-paced as Dan and Jayne worked together on the final lead to solve the mystery and defend the client in court as best as they could. I was especially disappointed to find out who the stalker is because this character felt redundant to the story line from the start. Nevertheless, the strong ending had a huge impact on the plot and storytelling and I have to praise the author on these final tense chapters. From the Shadows may not have been the fast-paced and thrilling read I was seeking but I think that others who are looking for a character-driven court drama may find much to love here.
Title: A Spark of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 30th October 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.
I recently attended one of the events during Jodi Picoult’s book tour where she spoke about this book with a lot of passion and I understandingly rushed home and immediately started reading my signed copy. It has taken me a significantly long time since finishing A Spark of Light to put my thoughts together. As with any other Picoult book, the undoubtedly controversial topic and multifaceted characters provoke a mixture of emotions which are often hard-hitting and too complex to put into words. This is by far my favourite aspect of her writing and this novel definitely did not disappoint in this regard. I was especially impressed with her ability to explore abortion through the eyes of several characters who each have completely different views. The great detail in her research shines on every page as small but very significant facts on abortion and the opportunity to seek reproductive care are revealed. Some of the statistics are astounding and really help to understand each character’s position on this complicated topic.
On a more negative note, I have to express my disapproval of the structure which I don’t think benefited the plot or character development. A Spark of Light is written in reverse chronological order to explain how and why everyone arrives at the clinic on the day of the hostage. During her book tour, Jodi disclosed that she had been waiting for the right book to come along so she could use this writing method. Thinking back to all her previous works, I agree with her choice to write this book from all others in reverse order as all the events occur on the same day, however the execution felt weak to me at times because there were simply too many characters involved. I found it more difficult than usual to connect to each character because each chapter jumps from one character to another so we only see snippets of their thoughts. In spite of this, they all had a place and were important to the story line and I wouldn’t be able to discard any of them.
Perhaps I have been too critical of this book; when I read the blurb it immediately jumped up to the top of my TBR list and as soon as I heard Jodi discuss how she wrote it I dropped everything so I could read it. I already knew that it would be extremely difficult to surpass Small Great Things, which still remains my favourite book of hers, however I was still hoping to be completely absorbed by the story. Unfortunately I found myself stopping and re-starting again several times and it took me an unusually long time to finish. Nevertheless, the subject matter is intense and the writing still brilliant, just not as slick as her usual. I would highly recommend A Spark of Light to any fans of Jodi Picoult and anyone hoping to read a thought-provoking book. I would also love to hear your thoughts on it and I am especially looking for recommendations of similar style books/authors so please let me know if you can think of any.
Title: List of 13
Author: E.A. Comiskey
Publisher: Nuff Said Publishing
Publication date: 16th December 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
If Jim C. Hines wrote about Gilmore Girls taking a journey through the underworld, it might be a little something like A LIST OF 13.
Death sucks, but there’s good beer in Purgatory.
Alice and her adult daughter, Claire, created a “bucket list” of thirteen experiences they would seek out before Alice died from cancer. They never expected to die in a plane crash attempting to cross off number three. Now, mother and daughter are stuck in the underworld, unable to move on to their ultimate destiny until they finish the list, but finding an Irish Pub near the Fields of Asphodel, or swimming naked in the ocean while being pursued by bloodthirsty Aztecs and a smitten Egyptian god is as hard as it sounds. When everything they ever thought they knew is challenged, will faith be enough to carry them through?
A LIST OF 13 moves between the time after Alice’s death and the time before, allowing the reader to explore the way her relationships evolve and intertwine throughout her life and beyond.
This was a light and fun book which I read in only a few sittings. I enjoyed following Claire and Alice on their adventures in the Underworld as they completed their list of 13 experiences they would like to pursue. Both characters were likable and unique despite their differences. Their relationship, although often strained, really developed in marvellous ways and I was happy to see that they managed to put aside their differences and past mistakes in order to focus and conquer the challenges they faced in the Underworld. Rory’s involvement was also gratifying, especially during the difficult stages in the Underworld where he supported his wife and daughter from afar.
The small details linked to each part of the Underworld made for a very vivid and striking setting. The mythological elements of the book were well integrated into the story line and the plot developed with a steady pace and without too much focus on the mythology but rather a greater emphasis on Claire and Alice’s journey. However, the story jumped a lot between the past and present and it was sometimes difficult to follow the time jumps and points of view. Despite this small shortcoming, the execution of the writing and character development was still excellent.
Overall, this book offers something for everyone, whether you love the thrill of an adventure, prefer to delve into the challenges of a mother-daughter relationship or even enjoy a mix of fantasy and mythology.
List of 13 is soon to be published on 16th December!
Many thanks to the author, E.A. Comiskey, for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.
Title: Then She Was Gone
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Cornerstone Digital
Publication date: 27th July 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.
Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty – and meeting her completely takes Laurel’s breath away.
Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.
What happened to Ellie? Where did she go?
Who still has secrets to hide?
To give you an idea of just how gripping this book was, I read it in 2 sittings – the first on a flight and the second as soon as I arrived home. I was already aware of the hype surrounding Lisa Jewell and her books and felt compelled to read it after it was recommended to me by Stephen (many thanks for the recommendation!). As soon as I started it I felt compelled to find out what happened to Ellie and who was responsible for her disappearance. Storytelling is Lisa Jewell’s main strength and I was impressed with the varying changes of scene and narrators, especially as this also presented the perfect opportunity for the reader to understand each character’s motive and involvement in Ellie’s disappearance.
Original and captivating from the very beginning, this book is very different to most recent thrillers because there are many hints of the kidnapper from the start and it becomes more apparent as the events unfold that our suspicions were right. Nevertheless, the author used this technique to her advantage and created a unique story, both character and plot driven, which ultimately delivers in nearly all respects. There was never a chapter where the character’s emotions were not fully analysed and despite identifying the culprit from early on, I felt compelled to carry on reading until the end.
My only complaint about this book, and also the reason to downgrade to a 4-star rating, revolves around the slightly far-fetched events involving Ellie’s disappearance. (I don’t want to give too much away here but if you have read the book you would probably know which part I am referring to.) Despite this shortcoming, I was still able to warm to the characters and appreciate the plot, thick with suspense as Laurel’s story line developed in ways I didn’t anticipate. The epilogue was bittersweet and perhaps the most near-perfect scenario in such delicate and somber circumstances. I greatly enjoyed this mystery and have already made plans to read some of Lisa Jewell’s other books.