Book review: Dear Lily by Drew Davies


Title: Dear Lily

Author: Drew Davies

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 17th May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Dear Lily,
It’s me, Joy, your much wiser and (very slightly) older sister. I thought I’d start a new tradition of letter writing – now that we’re long distance.
On the plane over here, I began to cry in seat 21C. I think the magnitude of it finally hit me, after everything that happened…
I haven’t even unpacked yet – the only thing I’ve taken out of my suitcase is Harville, your beloved childhood teddy. Sorry for stealing him, but I need him more than you do. Every time I look at that little brown bear I think about our childhood. Remember that dance we made up to Annie’s ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’? (Remember the broom choreography?)
I’m also sorry for abandoning you – I’ve always been your agony aunt, and a buffer in your infamous shouting matches with Mum. But I had to leave, Lily, I had to.
Anyway, I’m here now. I’m here to start over, and to face up to the past. I want to learn to laugh again, and to find someone to love who will maybe even love me back. You always told me I was just getting by, not actually living, so I’m finally doing it. Wish me luck, little sister.
Love,
Joy x

My review:

Sometimes authors manage to perfectly capture in words and feelings what the average adult goes through and Drew Davies certainly managed to do this with ease in Dear Lily. This book made me laugh, reminisce and wonder and that is exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to read it.

Dear Lily is told through a series of letters and this format cultivated an even stronger connection between Joy and Lily. Each chapter represents a letter that Joy writes to her sister Lily soon after her decision to move to Denmark. Not only were the letters insightful and wonderful but also allowed for discussion of some difficult topics that people usually don’t like to bring up face to face. It is somehow so much easier to do so in writing and this manifested itself as the chapters and letters evolved and the conversations become deeper as it Joy opened up to Lily and shared everything on her mind.

The characters are incredibly witty and genuine. Several times throughout the book I felt like I either was Joy or I could be a very good friend of hers as her struggles of living life in a foreign country started to develop one after another, very similar to my experience living abroad. So many of the cultural differences such as difficulties to make friends and attempts to understand her colleagues at work were sincere and extremely well incorporated. As each new letter was introduced I felt an even stronger connection with Joy and a willingness to keep reading and find out the original reason she decided to write these letters to her sister.

Unfortunately, I had a feeling very early on into the book about what really happened to Lily and I was right. This didn’t interfere with my experience while reading this book however I didn’t feel enlightened once details on Lily were revealed towards the end. If I have to be picky this would be my only concern with this book as all other factors worked wonderfully together to create a truly captivating read. The writing is excellent and the story is heartfelt and beautifully told. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to connect with the narrator and to those readers who thrive on passing through a range of emotions during their reading experience.

Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Scribner

Publication date: 6th May 2014

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

My review:

All the Light We Cannot See follows Marie-Laure as she moves away from Paris with her father at the age of six, and Werner, an orphan who is struggling to find his place in the world as he joins the forces in Nazi Germany. The reader joins these two characters on their incredible journey as they try to survive the war each in their own way. Both characters are well developed and likable enough for the reader to form a true bond and I felt eager to follow their journeys.

Written in short alternating chapters of each character’s POV, the plot feels almost feels too linear and I wondered why the author chose this style several times as I was reading the book. My favourite part was by far the moment when their paths cross as this was the closure I needed from the beginning and I finally understood his decision of writing the book in this style.

As far as storytelling goes, no words can do this book justice and Anthony Doerr deserves all the awards. Only a few other authors come to mind when it comes to telling a heartfelt story from start to finish but none manage to do so with as much ease and finesse. Although the scenery is almost always dreary and somber as the war spreads through France, the feeling of hope is so deep rooted in this book that it makes for a very raw and real reading experience.

My pet peeve in Historical Fiction is short chapters as I feel that there is not enough depth to the narrative and not enough time to truly engage with the scenery and characters. I definitely felt that way as I read this book and I would have preferred longer chapters focusing on each character rather than small snippets into their lives until their reunion. I could have carried on reading past the ending as by that point I was so invested in both characters and would have enjoyed reading whichever way the story developed.

It is no wonder that All the Lights We Cannot See is the Goodread’s Historical Fiction win of 2014. This book is moving, exciting and incredible. If you decide to read any Historical Fiction book, even if it is not your choice of genre, I am sure that you will not be disappointed if you make it this one.

Most remarkable character driven books

Studious Saturday

Happy Saturday! This week I have been reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I am completely in awe of the main character. It has made me recall some of the most memorable and wonderful character driven books that I have read so I decided to share my choices with you in this week’s Studious Saturday post.

Room – Emma Donoghue

Almost unbelievable yet so beautifully told, Room by Emma Donoghue explores the life of 5 year old Jack, held captive and unable to escape, though he is too young to realise it. Children are often written in an unrealistic way leading to many eye rolling moments but Jack’s story line developed in such an unexpected way that it made his character even more interesting and the book so much more fascinating.

The Legacy of Lucy Harte – Emma Heatherington

It’s amazing how a character with no voice or present participation can make such an impact. Lucy Harte saved Maggie O’Hara’s life by donating her heart yet it almost feels like Lucy is alive and living through Maggie which makes for a poignant yet beautiful read.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

No words to describe just how good the characters are in this book – read it and you will not be disappointed!

A River in Darkness – Masaji Ishikawa

This memoir is unique and so raw with emotion that it is hard not to connect with the main character. The fact that it is an autobiography makes it even more fascinating and is a perfect example of where only one main character is needed to truly impress.

The Man I think I Know – Mike Gayle

Friendship is so hard to develop in writing yet Mike Gayle does this effortlessly in The Man I Think I Know. Danny and James, old rivals from a prestigious boarding school, meet again years later in strange circumstances and enter each other’s lives leading to some truly magnificent moments that show the difficulties in friendship and the beauty of having someone to rely on.

Question time

Are there any books that focus primarily on characters that you have enjoyed and can recommend?

 

Summer Sweatalong Book Tag

Studious Saturday

This week’s Studious Saturday post is a tag which has been really fun to complete. Thank you, Lori, for tagging me! If you don’t follow Lori yet you should definitely take a look at her blog!

The Rules

  1. Link back to the original creator of the book tag (thebookwormdreamer).
  2. Start off with telling us your favourite season and why it is/isn’t summer!
  3. Tag five friends to take part.
  4. Enjoy!

My favourite season: Winter

I definitely do not enjoy the stifling summer heat here in Madrid. If I have to pick a favourite season it would most likely be winter because I always associate it with Christmas and New Year’s celebration which I love because I spend them surrounded by family. I also like being wrapped up and watching the snow fall from indoors (although we don’t get much of it around here).

Don’t Stop! A book you couldn’t stop reading:



Circe was just too good to stop reading and I had to force myself to leave it several times in order to not miss my stop and arrive to work on time!

You’re a cheetah – A book you read in just one day:



I remember starting this book during a flight and trying to rush and finish it but failing to do so. I then proceeded to finish it as soon as I arrived home.

Couldn’t let go – A book you reread straight away:

None! I don’t reread books.

Calm it down! A book that got your heart racing:



Twisted sure did get my heart racing on several occasions and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Second best – A sequel you read faster than the first:



I am a huge fan of Cara Hunter’s writing and read the third book in the DI Adam Fawley series right after it was published!

Books on fire! A series you read straight through:

It only took me around one week to read Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series and I still remember the excitement of finishing one book and starting the next. This series is by far one of my favourites.

Midnight Madness! A book that kept you up late:



I stayed up very late several nights in a row trying to finish The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It was tough because there are so many little details that end up being key to the story line so I was skipping pages and turning back to check facts the entire time.

 

I won’t tag anyone this time but I really encourage everyone to do this tag. It is so great to look back on books that we hurried through because they were so brilliantly written!

Book review: Devotion by Madeline Stevens


Title: Devotion

Author: Madeline Stevens

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Publication date: 15th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Ella Crawford is 26, lonely, and so broke that she seduces strange men when she suspects they’ll buy her dinner. Her fate changes the day she begins nannying for a rich and beautiful Upper East Side mother. Both women are just 26 – but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, artistic talent, and old family money. Ella is mesmerised by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage, but resentment grows too, alongside this dizzying attraction.
Crackling with sensuality and heart-quickening suspense, Madeline Stevens’ searing debut novel explores themes of class, aspiration, female friendship, sexuality, and obsession.

My review:

Despite a strong start, the story line in Devotion lacked focus and the characters failed to impress as they engaged in several events that were purposeless and not really explained. I expected Devotion to explore a wide range of topics related to class, opportunity and friendship, which it did to an extent, but was ultimately left questioning the plot and each character’s intentions.

As soon as Elle starts her new job as nanny to Lonnie and James’ son, it becomes clear that her world is about to change drastically. It is not long until she realises that they lead a lifestyle she can only hope to mirror some day and this concept, together with Lonnie’s mysterious and bold nature, is enough to drive Elle to obsession. For me this aspect felt somewhat sluggish as most of the first half of the book was spent analysing Elle’s thoughts and reactions with little background to her previous life. Introducing Lonnie’s thoughts through her diary entries was a successful way of delving into her world of secrets and regrets and I was hoping to experience the same through her manuscript but unfortunately it felt too detached and irrelevant to the main story line.

There was little direction and focus on the plot which ultimately led to further indifference and disregard for the characters. I spent the first half of the book trying to understand the path the author wanted to take with these characters and setting and the second half of the book puzzled at the turn of events during the scheduled holiday. I struggled to understand the final few chapters which felt disjointed from the story line and also a little sudden and rushed.

This book raised some key issues related to friendship and the difference in class and lifestyle but fell short of my expectations. I would have preferred a deeper focus on the plot and an insight to Elle’s past as a way to connect with the main characters and understand their purpose.

Devotion 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: 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 Great Alone by Kristin Hannah


Title: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication date: 8th February 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen year old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women.

About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah’s ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

My review:

A poignant story of survival, Kristin Hannah weaves a tale of a world so different to ours without losing authenticity. Just like in The Nightingale, this book comprises of a series of beautifully developed characters and a setting so well illustrated that it’s easy to get lost in the story and read the book in one sitting.

My personal favourite element of The Great Alone was the perseverance that was injected into each character. Conditions in Alaska are rarely suitable for normal life and everyone has to get accustomed to the harsh temperatures and predators around yet endurance played a big part in this book which created a genuine and profound atmosphere. The storytelling from Leni’s life prior to Alaska through to her struggles with her father and desire to escape is brilliant and the sentences flow freely, painting a picture that the reader can easily imagine. The moments of despair and fear, although difficult to read through at times, were part of what made the survival aspect so realistic and played a huge role in the character growth.

Another key factor that I believe led to the widespread success of this book is the setting. It becomes clear right as the Allbrights drive towards their new home that the author has done a lot of research into life in Alaska. The characters and setting complement each other extremely well and it is easy to see how the Allbrights are both in awe of the Alaskan wilderness and also somewhat frightened by its magnitude. It was especially interesting to follow the family through the years and support Leni through her struggles (and there were many of all sorts but I don’t want to give too much away!).

For me, the storyline went downhill at around the 80% mark. Suddenly it felt as if the author was in a rush to end Leni’s story even though prior to this point each moment was beautifully detailed and savoured. So many events occur towards the end that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which parts irked me but as I finished the last few pages I was left with a feeling of disappointment despite the bittersweet ending.

Kristin Hannah is an incredibly talented writer and it truly shows in The Great Alone. I hope that all readers who decide to pick up this book are just as satisfied with this book as I was and are able to find closure in the ending.