How I Lost You- Jenny Blackhurst

On first appearances, How I Lost You ticked all the right boxes: a gripping thriller with a twist.

For the first few pages, I did feel a little confused. I couldn’t quite comprehend who was narrating, and why there were different names floating about..but now I realise that this might have been intended, reflecting the confusion that Susan feels herself.

This confusion meant I didn’t quite understand whether or not I was supposed to identify with Susan, and I held her at quite a distance for the majority of the narrative. In fact, I felt quite ambivalent towards all of the characters in How I Lost You and I was never sure if all was exactly what it seemed, or if they all had ulterior motives. This is by no means a criticism. It was actually very interesting to be kept on tenterhooks as to who could be trusted and who could not.

I think Blackhurst’s use of the parallel narrative, focusing on certain events in the past, was really useful in adding extra depth to the plot in a much more sophisticated way than characters simply discussing the past. It was also quite satisfying in the way that it acted as a tool with which I could start to decode the book’s present and gauge how to react to and understand certain things that are referred to.

Though the main premise of the narrative is a constant theme, and the driving force behind everything that unfolds in the plot, there are also a number of other key themes, which I suppose reflects the real-life nature of the book. Or, at least as real-life as something like this can be….

My criticism would be that the resolution seems to unfold a little too conveniently, with everyone involved only too ready to help, and those who are guilty too easily let off. Having said this, the narrative does end on a semi-cliffhanger, and does leave a lot to be explained which, I suppose, does leave room for further problems to arrive, even if they aren’t addressed directly.

I certainly would recommend How I Lost You, particularly if you are looking for a book that doesn’t necessarily tell you how to feel from the start, and want to work things out for yourself!

This Modern Love- Will Darbyshire

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, but it somehow always got overtaken on my to-read list.  However, after spotting it on my friend’s bookshelf, I decided to prioritise it.  I had no excuse not to.

I had read about This Modern Love, and was incredibly intrigued by the book’s inspiration: Darbyshire’s unluckiness in love and, when I first began reading, it was great to see that, in spite of his bad experiences, he hadn’t given up on love. Instead, Darbyshire was on a quest to learn all about the beauty of love in the rest of the world.

The introduction and various other explanations throughout the book definitely added to how heartwarming it was. It allowed me to appreciate the book as more than just a collection of different letters, and as a result of someone’s vision and hard work. What’s also great is that Darbyshire uses his online presence to create something as tangible and concrete as this book. Using his online presence and global audience, Darbyshire was able to target, and curate letters, from such a wide spectrum of people, meaning there are a variety of different viewpoints in the book. I thought the question about how technology impacted relationships, for better or for worse was important, given that this book was only possible as a result of these people using technology. The answers to this question were equally interesting, as even those who said it had a positive effect recognised its potentially damaging nature. I suppose I had never considered this before. I mean, I know that our contemporary reliance on technology is not necessarily the best thing for us as humans but, considering that it has facilitated my long-distance relationship for the past five years makes it difficult to say much bad about.

I thought it was interesting that the contents page divides the narrative simply into ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’, framing this as a story in its most simple terms, and recognising that love can have and end, sometimes on good terms and sometimes on not so good terms. Of course, Darbyshire did have control over the ‘narrative’ as he selected which letters were to be included, but he did not edit the ones he chose. I suppose, in this way, This Modern Love reminded me a little of PostSecret, except that most participants chose to disclose their names, which I think added to how heartwarming these stories were as they weren’t ashamed of the intense love they felt.

I found myself smiling constantly as I was reading. Of course, some of the letters were sad, but the majority of them were largely positive. Not only did I feel privileged to be let in on the candid love and happiness of these people, it also gave me hope that there is quite so much love in this world that is so infamously terrible at times.

The inclusion of images, as well as singular words to describe love, that punctuate the collection of letters demonstrate the many ways in which love can be expressed, yet sometimes not articulated.

I would definitely encourage anyone to read This Modern Love. There are few things more endearing than learning about why other people love each other so much, and I know that I will pick the book up again in the future. Perhaps I wouldn’t read it again from start to finish, but I will definitely flick through it when I am in need of something to make me smile.

 

Love & Gelato- Jenna Evans Welch

I chose Love & Gelato without even reading the description. The title was enough for me : summery and playful. I presumed this book would simply be about falling in love in Italy, without much else to the narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised. You needn’t be put off by what some might describe a ‘sickly sweet’ title (pardon the pun, given the gelato reference), as it’s not all about romantic love, there’s something a little deeper in there, too.

I like Lina, the main character, because she doesn’t fall into any stereotypical categories of teenage girl. Rather than being delighted to spend her summer in Tuscany, dreaming of catching a killer tan and finding herself a gorgeous Italian husband, Lina couldn’t be less fussed. It’s very clear that she’s only there because it was her late mother’s dying wish, but she’d really rather be at home.  During the narrative, she’s wary about everything that comes her way,  rather than jumping at the chance to go to the parties she is invited to, she considers her option. This whole attitude is quite refreshing and it makes her character seem more realistic, as she doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter category.

In fact, the author seems to have a gift for creating characters, as each with a major role in the narrative really did feel real and relatable, and I had no problems with creating mental images of them, or their voices. Her trick seemed to be not overloading, as each character serves a real purpose, and each get their own ‘screen time’, so to speak, However, I do feel that I would like to learn more about them, and spend more time with each character, so I definitely would be interested in a sequel.

Soon after arriving, a couple of things happen that, though she might not realise at the time, change her entire opinion on staying in Italy. The most important of which is her mother’s journal, which helps her on the quest to find her father- a journey which is not quite as smooth or romantic as one might hope or imagine. The journal is a great narrative technique that allows us to learn about Lina’s mother and hear her voice, without her having a real presence in the narrative. This makes it easier for the reader to make judgements later on in the book, where her honesty is questioned.

Though Lina’s such a likeable character, and I really did want the best for her for the entirety of the book, the ‘bumps in the road’ did make for a better read. I was unsure of how the story would resolve itself, and was pleased to see it perhaps wasn’t what I might have imagined from the beginning.

Love & Gelato kept me interested from start to finish. Perhaps not because it was the most complicated story, but instead because the characters all seemed so genuine, and I cared about what was in store for them. The great thing about this book is that it explores love on multiple levels, and ends with an important lesson about what love can mean (on more than a romantic level). I don’t have any criticisms of Love & Gelato, it was just the sort of heartwarming book I love.

The Husband’s Secret- Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret  was recommended to me by a friend, and she told me I wouldn’t want to put it down. I couldn’t wait to read it, as I was in need of a real page-turner. I have to say, my friend wasn’t wrong. I loved this book, and my only regret is that I couldn’t read it sooner because life got in the way!

One of the things I liked about the book, oddly, was that it was set in Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with this as the main setting, and it was enjoyable to read something a little different. For the most part, of course, I wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t set in the UK or America, but somehow knowing made the world of difference. I also liked the multi-narrative aspect of the book, as it meant I could appreciate the narrative from different points of view. Though I must admit, I probably would have liked for there to have been some parts from the men’s points of view, as it was very much a female oriented narrative.

The book’s title makes it obvious that there is a bombshell to be announced at some point, though it is not clear until further into the narrative who it is that has this secret. I thought the way Moriarty broke it to the reader was very smooth, and potentially realistic, likewise was his wife’s reaction ( I don’t want to mention names, because it really does give everything away!). Until the very end of the narrative, it is unclear as to how the couple are going to recover from the discovery, and it certainly didn’t end the way I imagined it would.

My favourite part of the entire book, however, was actually the epilogue. This surprised me as I’m not usually a big fan of these; I usually find epilogues a bit of a pointless addition. However, because the actual narrative ended in media res , the epilogue was a great way of tying the whole story together and its characters together- it’s not completely clear how all of them are connected until the epilogue. It certainly added more depth to the characters, and intensified the sense of tragedy surrounding events in the narrative.

I would definitely recommend The Husband’s Secret to anyone looking for a new page turner! It would make the perfect holiday book, as you just want to keep on reading. I think the book perfectly portrayed how the desire to keep up appearances can affect an individual and their family life. A great read!

Flash- Tim Tigner

From the very first page of Flash  I was hooked. The situation the Troy and Emmy, the main characters, are in is just so unlike anything I have read before. They wake up in an abandoned car covered in blood next to a dead policeman, with no idea as to why. The mystery and bizarreness (is that even a word?!) had me wanting to read more. I wanted to find out why they had no idea who they why and why they were in that care.

However, this wasn’t the only type of discovery in the novel. Yes, Troy and Emmy were on a quest to discover who they were and what had happened to them, at the same time that the police were trying to discover who they were as their unfortunate situation frames them as criminals, and forces them to continue committing crimes in order to try to learn the truth about their memory loss. This idea that anything or anyone could be discovered at any moment meant that tension was high as the novel’s pace did not slow down.

What I liked about the characters is that they weren’t immediately superheroes, ready to accept their fate. Like ‘realistic’ people, they took time to adjust to their new lives, and to their relationship with one another. They don’t immediately get on- understandably given the circumstances in which they meet one another- but it is  this that adds to the suspense of the story: how will and why should their attitudes change?

Flash is very much a ‘just a few more pages’ type of book, which meant that I devoured it in a matter of hours, and I’m glad I had the ability to do so, as I would have otherwise feared that the narrative would have carried on without me and left me behind. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in search of suspense and mystery without clichés

Diving In- Gretchen Galway

I’m currently away in Germany, and the weather has been amazing, so I have been spending most of my days laying in the park sunbathing. This warm, summery weather has meant that I’ve wanted to keep my reading light and easy to dip in and out of (no pun intended regarding the title of the book). To me this means a book that is based on a love story, with uncomplicated humour and easy-to-relate to characters.

 

This made Diving In  the perfect choice. Set in Hawaii, the location reflects my current summery mindset (though a little more tropical than eastern Germany, I have to admit) and revolving mostly (but not entirely) around accidentally falling in love, this light-hearted novel was exactly what I wanted in a book. However, the narrative isn’t quite as one-dimensional as this makes it sound, as the two main characters both have deeper reasons for being where they are other than chance or coincidence. Nicki, a school teacher with very little happening in her life, finds herself in Hawaii trying to make her life more exciting and trying to overcome some of her paralysing life-long fears. Ansel, a very lucky (yet incredibly generous), is there trying to make something of his life,  too, after threats from his father that he will be cut off from the family wealth out of fears that his easy life has made him complacent.

Both characters are 30, and have worries that they won’t actually amount to anything. But they also share something else, though Ansel doesn’t realise it quite as soon as Nicki, who hasn’t every been very lucky in love.

Not only is  Diving In great for learning how the Nicki and Ansel fall in love- after multiple bumps in the road and attempts at self-control; it is also a story of self discovery. Perhaps not drastic, ground-breaking self-discovery, but simply a matter of overcoming fears and breaking misconceptions the characters had about themselves. This means that when the narrative dénouement is reached, they are both in a good and settled place for the future of the novel to be possible.

Even though the narrative isn’t the most complex, Diving In  is different to a lot of other romance novels in the way that the aim of the narrative is more than just watching the characters change as they evolve into a couple. This narrative is about the characters evolving as their own people in order that they are able to become a couple.

My only criticism would of this book might be that some points of the narrative seemed to last longer than they needed to- so perhaps it could have been a little shorter- though I never really got bored.  However, this minor criticism would not stop me from recommending Diving In to anyone who wanted what I did before I read it: a feel-good summery read.

The Big Little Wedding In Carlton Square- Lilly Bartlett

I loved this book from the very start, there are no two ways about it. It may not have been the most complex or twist-filled novel that I have ever read, it was light and heartwarming. This was exactly what I needed on a five hour coach journey, where anything too serious would have been impossible to focus on. I also managed to read The Big Little Wedding In Carlton Square from start to finish in said coach journey- not because I was desperate to find out what happened next (that much was almost obvious), but because I genuinely cared about the characters and reading about them made my heart warm.

The whole time I was reading The Big Little Wedding In Carlton SquareI couldn’t help but think a lot about Me Before You – though the couple definitely don’t meet in the same way, their family backgrounds are more or less the same: a working class girl whose family are incredibly important to her, and a privileged man whose always hand things handed to him on a plate. I mean, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, but  Emma Liddell’s character – in her mannerisms and speech and values, very much reminds me of Jo Jo Moyes’ Lou Clark – which I liked!

I like how the author portrayed the two different families, without overdoing it in terms of stereotypes. I suppose that Daniel’s family are slightly over exaggerated, but not to the point that it’s embarrassing to read- but just perhaps how it may feel for a working class family to suddenly be around incredibly wealthy people. Perhaps if the narrative was told from Daniel’s point of view, we would see a similar sort of representation of the Liddells.

At the best of times, weddings are a source of dispute, let alone when the bride and groom come from completely different worlds. However, what I like is that Emma always manages to stay true to her roots, and doesn’t let the temptation of an extravagant wedding paid for by her in-laws override her loyalty to her family.

Ok, so the characters didn’t necessarily have the most complex stories behind them, but for a book like this it didn’t really matter. I would say that  the most important part of the characters in The Big Little Wedding In Carlton Square is seeing who they become after their experiences in the novel, rather than how their past experiences affect the narrative itself.

At times, there are worries that the wedding is going to be a disaster, as white lies are told and false promises are made between the two families. But its great to see the community spirit on Emma’s side (important to me, as I come from a close family with a wide network of friends who always want to help out) help to pull off a beautiful wedding that even impressive some of Chelsea’s most wealthy people, without them even realising.

If you are looking for a complex and shocking novel, then perhaps this isn’t the read for you. But if you simply want to read a book that makes you smile and feel good about people, then I definitely recommend The Big Little Wedding In Carlton Square

Perfect Remains- Helen Fields

When I first began reading Perfect Remains, I wasn’t fully convinced that it was going to reach my standards of a crime thriller. Yes, it was set in the UK; and yes, it featured a weird individual who manages to fool the police (at least for a while). But something just didn’t feel right.

I think I hadn’t full registered the novelty of what it was that this novel’s killer was doing differently to criminals in other books I had read: he wasn’t actually killing. Or rather, he wasn’t actually killing who everyone thought he was. The clever thing about King is just that: his crime is so intelligent; he pre-plans every piece of minutiae that the police may be interested in when exploring the disappearance, and murders, of people. This meant that there was always tension when the police believed they had discovered something about their criminal, but the reader already knows better.

I liked that Detective Inspector Callanch’s character has depth: his story is about more than what we read in Perfect Remains, and it’s great that Fields lets this seep into the narrative, as it gives an explanation to his reasons for making certain choices- whether he is aware of this or not. I must admit, however, the focus on his ability to speak french does seem a little forced at times. Obviously it is another level of his personality, but it did seem that the author allowed this to take up more of the narrative than really necessary.

I didn’t necessarily develop empathy for any character in particular, but I did come to feel very strongly about King by the end of the narrative. It was frustrating that someone who appeared so ordinary and harmless to the outside world could be so twisted behind closed doors. This meant that the anticipation of his capture was constant throughout the novel- he couldn’t have been discovered fast enough. Though, I must admit, his name did rather appear out of nowhere: apart from the initial false suspect, the police didn’t need to waste their time with anything else- I wonder how close to reality this is.

What I liked most about Perfect Remains was that the reader always knows everything. It creates a sense of power over the narrative, and means you can almost feel like you’re outsmarting the police (even though, in reality, you are simply being handed the information). In spite of its minor flaws (namely the heavy focus on Callanch’s bilingualism and the fact that the discovery of King as a suspect happened very conveniently), I would definitely recommend this book. It has the perfect amount of suspense, with the right balance of realism and gore. Have a read!

Beyond Repair- Susie Tate

I chose this book as I choose most of my reads: on the Amazon Kindle Bestsellers list. The book description sounded like the perfect light, comedic read after the more serious narratives I’ve been reading lately, so I was looking forward to getting started.

My first impressions matched my expectations, I liked that it started in the middle of a familial situation, helping to establish a clear picture of who some of the characters are- in terms of their personalities and their relationships with one another. It was instantly apparent that Katie, the main character, was likeable and made me want to continue reading as I cared about what happened to her.

This lasted for a few chapters, until I began to lose interest in the narrative. I’m not sure whether it was that perhaps I hadn’t been concentrating enough, or whether it was simply that the narrative had slowed down. I found myself needing to re-read multiple pages to check that I hadn’t missed anything important to understand the current situation, and most of the time I hadn’t. This inability to remain interested in the narrative continued until around five chapters before the end of the book, where the action seemed to pick up again. Once again I was interested in the relationship between Katie and Sam, and I think it was at this point that the rest of the narrative (where I had lost interest and investment) started to make more sense.

I must say, however, that the end of the narrative was rather cliché, and whilst this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, I think I was hoping for a little more substance, given the deeper issues in the rest of the book.

I think Beyond Repair does show Tate’s ability to build three dimensional characters in a way that the reader is able to empathise and identify with them. However, I do think that sometimes the detailed description within the book, though useful and effective at points, can distract from the actual action in the narrative- and this is perhaps why I found it difficult to stay focused on what was happening. I did appreciate the short chapter lengths because, as I’ve mentioned before, I read whenever I get the chance (even if it’s just five minutes), which means that I can easily dip in and out of the book, without losing myself midway through a chapter.

This hasn’t been my favourite book by any means, but that is not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it. I think I would just advise potential readers to stay as focused as possible when reading to avoid losing track of what is happening.

Just the Two of Us- Georgie Capron

As I choose many of my books, I found this on the Kindle Free Bestsellers list. I have found so many great reads on this list, so would definitely recommend checking it out before paying for a book!

One of the main things I noticed about Just the Two of Us was how possible it actually was in the real world: the idea that among a group of girlfriends, there is that one that can’t help feeling as if time is running out and that she is in danger of being left on the shelf for too long. I think this is something that everyone can relate to- even if you aren’t worried about your love life in comparison to your friends’, you may be worried that your career isn’t progressing in the same way.

I also felt that the main character Lucy was so friendly and open that it felt as if I was just accompanying a friend on a journey through life. However, I do think that this would have worked even better if the narrative was told from her perspective so that we could really get to know her and her inner-feelings, as I always find there’s something a little bit superficial about a separate, omniscient narrator explaining the characters’ inner thoughts.

The other characters in the narrative all seemed very ‘normal’, too. None of them seemed to be clichéd or over-exaggerated, which is definitely a positive. It made the book very easy to read, as there was no one that grated on me throughout.

Having said that it did seem feasible in real life, perhaps the choice Lucy makes regarding her ability to become a mother isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence- I certainly don’t know anyone that has ever done it! However, it was interesting to see how something that she had wanted so much could alter in some ways (and remain in others) as other aspects of her life begin to change. I think it goes to show that you have to be completely certain about making big life decisions before you go ahead with them, as you never know what (or who!) is just around the corner.

This book was certainly filled with humour, making me smile to myself at certain points. But it also had its fair share of sorrow, which I liked too. I always enjoy a book that makes you feel different things, it shows the author knows what they’re doing! Lucy’s discovery in Alex’s golf bag early on in the narrative made me smile, and reminded me very much of a scene with the character Liv in Bride Wars – though it would be fair to say that their futures take completely different turns.

In spite of the book being typical of the romantic comedy genre, it did keep me on my toes. There were twists and turns that I didn’t expect, and even when I thought that I knew how the book would end, it took a different turn. In fact, in the penultimate chapter I was sure something completely out of the blue was going to happen, but the author brought it back around to surprise me.

I would definitely recommend Just the Two of UsIt’s a girly book without a doubt, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing- especially when it’s as well-written and as well-thought-out as this!