Book review: The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul


Title: The Lost Daughter

Author: Gill Paul

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Review

Publication date: 3rd October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

1918
With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia’s imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.

Fifty-five years later . . .
Val rushes to her father’s side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: ‘I didn’t want to kill her.’ As she unravels the secrets behind her mother’s disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

My review:

When it comes to good quality historical fiction I always look for a bold set of main characters coupled with a powerful and compelling plot. I got this and more in The Lost Daughter and I was hoping that this book would become my favourite historical fiction novel of this year until unfortunately right at the very end due to the abrupt ending.

The storytelling aspect in The Lost Daughter is compelling and intense and takes the reader on a journey from 1918 Russia to 1973 Australia. This book captured my attention right from the beginning as I was transported to the luxurious setting of the Romanov household and was left breezing through the chapters, eager to discover Maria’s fate. Although I didn’t know much about the Romanov family before reading this book, this particular version of the story does not seem too farfetched and I enjoyed seeing another opinion on the possible outcome of the events described in all history books.

Parallel timelines are tricky to develop in historical fiction because quite often the focus ends up being on one of the two timelines which makes for a distorted plot. However, the author handled this effortlessly in this book and I truly felt like equal importance was given to each setting until the end when the two stories merged. I was also interested to see how the characters would meet as I originally could not see much similarity between Maria Romanov’s story and that of Val’s father but it becomes clear at around the halfway point and from then on the story develops into an adventurous and fascinating tale of forgiveness, reminiscence and fate.

Although the writing maintains a steady pace throughout the book, I felt that the ending was a little too rushed and in this case I would have preferred a simple but sealed ending rather than the open ending the author chose. It gives the reader the opportunity to interpret the book in their own way but I did not believe that it suited the prior style of the novel. Despite this small drawback, The Lost Daughter still tells a marvelous story that not only focuses on an important family in history but also takes the reader on an amazing journey around the world with its beautiful writing.

The importance of endings

Studious Saturday

A few months ago I posted my feelings on the influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings and today I wanted to discuss the importance of endings, an aspect which I find can completely change my feelings towards a book, for better or worse.

Unexpected twists

There is something so captivating about stumbling upon a twist that you never saw coming. If executed well it is my favourite writing mechanism in thrillers as it is always surprising and shocking which I feel is the most crucial aspect of mysteries. Many authors choose to throw in twists within the middle of the plot however I always find that some of the best twists are those which the author delivers with precision, ease and skill towards the end of the book.

Bittersweet phase out

Perhaps one of my least favourite types of endings are those in contemporary fiction and romance where the author decides to tie up any lose ends by summarising the events that occurred throughout the book. It is often concluded by the main character sitting in a park/their house/a train station or any other main location, staring off into the distance after they have ended their relationship or someone close to them has died. Although I enjoy delving into the characters’ mind and exploring their emotions, I find these endings repetitive and exaggerated and often feel like the plot slowly drifts away until it reaches the last mediocre sentence. I am often left feeling disappointed with these endings, even though the story line until that point may have been interesting.

Revelations and discoveries

In Historical Fiction which switches from past to present day, authors often try to link the main characters and events but it is only towards the end where their stories merge. It is at this point that the reader understands the significance of their existance as many anecdotes are shared and discoveries made, often through a face-to-face encounter. This type of ending can be very powerful and moving, especially if the main character has been through many obstacles to arrive at this point. It is also very difficult to keep the suspense until the last few chapters and few authors manage to handle this well so I am usually impressed with these kind of endings.

Cliffhangers

To put it simply, cliffhangers as endings can make or break a book. I personally believe that it can be an effective way to encourage the reader to continue reading the next book in the series however I do not understand why many authors decide to end a book cliffhanger style in a standalone book if there is no follow-up. I end up frustrated and upset that I invested so much time in the book and connected with the characters to then read a few closing lines that do not reach any conclusion. However, if there is a sure way to keep the reader interested in a series it is definitely through a cliffhanger and I have read several series where the author uses this mechanism well, for example the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling and the Clifton Chronicles series by Jeffrey Archer, both of which made me rush to buy the following book in the series as soon as I had read the previous one.

Question time

Which type of ending do you enjoy and think is most effective?

Book review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Publication date: 13th June 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My review:

I must start by saying that I have never read a book like this before and I don’t think that any other similar books exist. It is hard to categorise as there are so many different aspects that merge together to make this book the masterpiece it is. Although it is not quite an autobiography as it involves fictional characters, the narrative stuns with detail and creates the same feeling of proximity as that of an autobiography. Throughout the entire time I felt like I was right next to Monique as she was taking notes of Evelyn’s life and this notion created a very atmospheric feeling which is hard to come by and even more difficult to explain.

Evelyn Hugo has experienced many difficulties and hardships in life and her relationship are the focus of this book. Although “Husbands” is included in the title and the book is separated in sections relating to each of her husbands, I was actually more interested in her relationship with Celia. I really appreciated the divisions but even more so the way in which all the characters were interlinked and continued to reappear in future chapters as it added continuity. Each relationship had its downfalls leading to the continuous row of husbands and ultimately it was the complexity of each relationship which added depth and intensity.

Unfortunately as much as I tried I could not warm to Monique and felt that the chapters focused on her were too plain compared to Evelyn’s. I understand that it was her job to note down Evelyn’s life but I think that Monique’s character could have been developed in other ways to make her bolder and more charismatic. In contrast, Evelyn is perceived as a mesmering, mysterious and exquisite actress with many secrets which are about to be revealed. Characters are often portrayed as either good or bad but Evelyn could not be more of an inbetween character with many wonderful qualities but also a range of immoral and unjust actions and decisions she has taken in her past. Her character is without a doubt the main reason this book seems so different and special and, even though she made many mistakes in the past, the intricacy in her character traits made her a very memorable character and an iconic part of this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an extraordinary book with a great deal of aspects to love, from its multilayered main character to its narrative. A huge part of what makes this book so powerful is the discussion of sensitive topics such as sexuality and violence with a lot of thought and inclusion. This book is certainly original and unlike any other book in the market. For this reason alone I can highly recommend any reader interested in trying out something different to choose this book because I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Book review: The Passengers by John Marrs


Title: The Passengers

Author: John Marrs

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Publisher: Ebury

Publication date: 1st April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

The new gripping page-turning thriller from the bestselling author of THE ONE – soon to be a major Netflix series.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

My review:

In an alternate universe driverless cars have become a popular form of travel. Technology and expertise have created what appears to be a safer and more efficient way of getting to places and it is thought that fewer accidents happen as a result. However, their safety is put to the test when a hacker decides to test the power of the authorities when he warns the public that eight cars have been reprogrammed to crash into each other in several hours time. What follows is an intense and remarkable story line which follows all eight passengers as they are informed of their fate in the most twisted circumstances.

The concept behind The Passengers seem simple at first yet it is cleverly plotted and developed which ultimately results in a gripping and evolving story line that is difficult to break from until the very end. The narrative is engrossing and fast-paced and the plot moves from one twist to another with ease. At no point did I feel bored or detached from the story line, in fact I found myself rushing through each chapter keen to discover the passengers’ fate. The pace felt ideal, with just enough room for character growth but also fast enough to make the reader feel like they are speeding down the motorway in one of the cars.

The focus jumps from one character to another as we are introduced to the events leading up to the crash. Each passenger has a unique background and, although it was easier to relate to some more than others, the variety of controversies that the author brings up, from infidelity to death, felt both daring and exciting. Being able to relate to each character on a deeper level created a very realistic reading experience and I had to reassure myself several times that I was not trapped in one of the self-drive cars with a passenger. Although the concept may seem engaging, it is ultimately the characters which made this book truly special for me.

John Marrs doesn’t disappoint with his latest release, in fact this is easily one of the best thrillers that I have read this year. The mixture of a thickened plot, diverse characters and an exciting setting created a masterpiece which will linger in my mind for a long time.

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.