Winter’s Fairytale- Maxine Morrey

It is fair to say that final year of university is taking its toll. It is intense, and I am feeling more stressed than I had ever imagined, so I decided that anything I would be reading for pleasure needed to be lighthearted and cheerful. Given that Christmas is approaching, though it can be hardly tell from the confines of the library, I decided that Winter’s Fairytale could be precisely the type of book I could do with reading!

 

The story might not begin well for Izzy, who has pretty much every bride’s nightmare happen to her, but her luck definitely picks up along the way. Not only does her luck in love change, the story of it happening is filled with heart-warming humour….made even better by the fact that the narrative is set in the run up to Christmas.

I would describe the atmosphere Winter’s Fairytale as cosy. This is only because there is so much of a contrast between what really isn’t cosy- being gilted at the altar, getting stuck outside in the snow, and Izzy’s less than homely flat- and the safe, happy spaces that Izzy actually ends up in: Rob’s apartment, the New Year’s Eve party etc. This cosiness definitely contributes to the festive feel of this narrative!

The characters don’t have an awful lot of depth, but that doesn’t seem to matter in this story. The small amount of background information we do gain about each character isn’t all that relevant when all we want, as a reader, is for Izzy and Rob to just get together. Somehow the Christmas magic seems to more than make up for the (perhaps too) convenient resolution of problems within the narrative.

On the same lines of characters, it struck me that Rob’s family feature so heavily, yet Izzy’s really aren’t mentioned a lot. I suppose this might have been a way of highlighting her need for ‘rescuing’, but it might have been interesting to learn more about them- especially towards the end when things looked like they were working out for Izzy.

I think it’s important to mention that, though the protagonist might not have the best luck, we definitely aren’t made to pity her in a Bridget Jones kind of way. Instead, we get the impression that she is really prepared to look after herself, and that she is prepared to make it on her own if she need to. At the same time, though, we do want nothing more than for her to give up her pride.

Winter’s Fairytale is definitely a girly light-hearted light read, which is by no means a bad thing! I couldn’t wait until my bus journeys, just so that I could become a part of the heartwarming story for a little bit longer. I like that the ending is satisfying, but still leaves a little to the reader’s imagination, as it prevents it from appearing a little too obvious. This is most definitely the perfect book to read on the sofa with a hot chocolate as you begin to wind down for Christmas!

The Good Samaritan- John Marrs

It’s fair to say that this book’s description does not do it justice. I imagined that it would be dark, and with that I imagined tension. However, I hadn’t quite imagined how dark or tense The Good Samaritan would be, and I was pleasantly surprised- if anything can be pleasant about such a dark subject…

For the first few pages it is difficult to imagine the action that might follow later in the plot, and it seems that Laura might actually be a good samaritan. But it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t true, and her worryingly sadistic tendencies become more and more apparent the more you read on. Even when you begin to learn possible explanations for Laura’s difficult-to-understand pleasures, it is hard to feel sorry for her because she is so relentless. It is not just that she doesn’t see what she is doing is wrong, she truly believes it is acceptable and justified. This is frustrating, but it is also great to read a book in which you are supposed to detest the protagonist, and that I did.

When I say that Laura is relentless, I mean it wholeheartedly. Nothing and no one will get in the way of her quest to help, or rather encourage, people to die. I certainly thought that she would meet her maker at numerous points in the narrative, but it seems that when someone has so little to lose, they have no fear. For the entirety of the narrative I was sure I had figured out what was going to happen, reformulating the possibilities and getting it wrong every time. In fact, even at the end of the book, it isn’t entirely certain that she face the consequences of what she has done.

The further I read, the more The Good Samaritan held my attention, as I truly feared what might happen next. It becomes clear that Laura isn’t simply obsessed with the idea of people dying, but of being in control and having the upper hand. It seems that she has no mercy, and is even prepared to utilise her children as a tool to assert her power. This intense desperation still didn’t make me pity her, I just hated her more. The book is filled with injustice, which makes for a frustrating narrative and also pushed me to keep reading out of desperation to see justice served.

I liked that Marrs made the dual narratives intertwine as it helped to highlight the differences in how a sane person interprets the situation, and how Laura understands what is happening. However, it did this in a clever way that didn’t always simply tell two identical scenes from different perspectives, but rather added reflections and comments into each narrative to acknowledge the event.

The Good Samaritan made me question how genuine everyone working at helplines, such as the fictional End of the Line might be. Though you’d like to think that someone as dangerous as Laura would not slip through the net, it definitely made me consider that people might not work for such charities for the right reason: something I had never thought about before.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that enjoys drama and tension. While there aren’t any mysteries to be discovered, I became so invested in the need for justice that I could barely put the book down. The Good Samaritan is one of the best books I have read in a while, and I will be sure to check out some of Marrs other works!

The Text- Claire Douglas

It’s been a while. I think it’s fair to say that I had underestimated the intensity of final year, only made worse by the fact that I had a year abroad, which entailed very little studying. I got a bit swept up, and was not prioritising reading for pleasure. Now that I have had reading week, and a chance to catch up with myself a little, I am determined for this to change.  Let’s see…

I downloaded The Text from the Kindle store a while ago, thinking I could fit in time to read a 40 page short story. Apparently not. However, I am glad that last night I finally forced myself to. Don’t get me wrong, I love my degree, but there’s only so much french feminist writing, or medieval french romances that I can bring myself to read.

The first page was gripping, which is pretty vital for a short story and, though the plot wasn’t the most complex or the most convincing, it did keep my attention. I like how the narrative begins in media res– Douglas wastes no time in introducing her characters, allowing her readers to get to know them as the story progresses. I could identify with Emily straight away: desperate to vent to a friend, too involved with what I want to say to check what I’m actually saying….The Text really does show you that a typo can be fatal, and proof reading (even a text) can save lives…

(Half) Joking aside, Douglas does touch on some serious issues considering the mere 40 pages that the narrative is spread across, including abusive relationships and affairs, and how these can impact those involved and others around them. It was also impressive that the author managed to squeeze a plot twist into the story in such a short space, and I didn’t even see it coming.

Though Emily does resolve some of the problems in her life by the end, the narrative does still leave a lot to be desired. I would say the short story feels more like a chapter from a book (albeit a busy one), and there would definitely be room for a sequel. The cliffhanger isn’t the worst thing in the world, though the conclusion does feel like it creates a double meaning for the book’s title.

I would say that The Text is worth a read, if not for the fact that I don’t tend to read many short stories, and it is interesting to see how narrative technique and character building varies to that in a novel. It is evident that Douglas is an incredibly competent author, and I would definitely read one of her novels to see how she writing style changes. Perhaps not the most breathtaking book I have ever read, it certainly did not feel like a waste of time.

 

The Casual Vacancy- J.K. Rowling

I remember there being a lot of hype about The Casual Vacancy when it was first published. Personally, I couldn’t believe how an author that had spent so much of her time creating such a detailed fantasy world could ever come out of that, and authentically write about something different. I made this judgement without even having read the blurb of this new venture, and I had no idea what the book was about. However, after having recently rejoined my local library and finding it on the ‘suggested reads’ shelf, I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.

The first thing I have to say is wow. Why  did I not read this book sooner? My judgements about J.K. Rowling couldn’t have been more wrong, and I severely underestimated her. I have never read a fictional novel, set in a fictional place, that is so representative of the ‘real’ world and the people that live within it.

Even once I had began reading, I had no idea what the title actually referred to, and I am truly amazed by Rowling’s ability to display how, what is effectively a mundane event, can have such a huge impact on the lives of so many people. She also captured human nature wonderfully, and the fact that, in such a small geographic space, people can have such different attitudes. The narrative follows a series of different people, who are all affected in a different way by this ‘casual vacancy’. I must admit that some of the characters are more memorable than others, and some are definitely more likeable, but as I was reading I could envisage exactly what each looked like, without any real time being spent on their physical description.

My favourite aspect by far was that of the Weedon family. It wasn’t so much that they were likeable, but rather that, as a reader, I had an intense desperation for their situation to better. For them to somehow surmount their unfortunate situation, and prove other characters wrong.

At no point did I feel I knew where the novel was heading, but this made it such a pleasure to read. Though Rowling’s narrative destination wasn’t clear, the message she was trying to convey was, and it really made me reflect upon how I view other people without really knowing or understanding their situations.

The book was deeply upsetting at times, but I could not read it fast enough. Desperate to see how the narrative was going to unfold, and who was going to be proven wrong and right. It was written so beautiful, and it was clear how much thought and consideration had been put into every word chosen, and the structure of every sentence to achieve this magnificent end result. As I was reading, I couldn’t stop telling everyone I spoke to about how amazing it was, insisting they must read it.

The narrative resolution is abrupt and shocking, but I believe that, once again, this is simply a reflection of the path that life can take, and this was just another technique Rowling used to made The Casual Vacancy such a fantastic reflection of this.

Parole de femme- Annie Leclerc

I have always been interested in feminist literature, and feminism as a theory in general. My favourite type of feminist literature is that from the personal point of view, but I don’t appreciate when authors become too righteous as, in my opinion, it detracts from the issue in hand  – I really enjoyed Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoire d’une jeune fille rangée, for example- the perfect balance of a serious, important message mixed into personal life, with just the right balance of confidence.

I thought Leclerc’s Parole de femme was just as good, if not better than Beauvoir’s Mémoire, strangely because it wasn’t mostly based on in-depth information about her personal life. What I liked most was that I could tell her beliefs come from a deeply personal place, based on important experiences that she had had- and to which she alluded- but she didn’t make the argument entirely about her. Instead, it was about femme as a whole.

Studying French, I am also deeply interested in language and its connotations, and I find myself analysing author’s word choices almost subconsciously and as a matter of habit. But what I loved about this book is that it consciously brought the issue of language to the forefront…I suppose this is hardly surprising given the title…parole. But I loved how Leclerc tore into the meaning of certain words, and how this differed for men and women, but also for different types of women. She repeats this words both explicitly and implicitly- as if she is trying to rid them of meaning- proving that language isn’t really gendered, it is we who make them so.

I genuinely enjoyed the entirety of Parole de femme, and found it one of the most interesting non-fictions I have read, and I really couldn’t get enough of it. I was stuck in the dilemma of wanting to read faster in order to learn more and more, because I have never agreed with any text more, and not wanting to read too quickly so that it didn’t finish too soon.

One of my favourite arguments within the work ( it is not merely a book, its messages and arguments are too important), is that in order for women to be liberated, they must become liberators. I wholeheartedly agree. And not even necessarily just in terms of gender. I feel that, too often, people hold onto the things that hold them back, almost as if they thrive on this inability (as odd as it may sound). It is only when we work to free ourselves and believe ourselves free of limitations that we are able to succeed.

 

I would thoroughly recommend Parole de femme to everyone. Just because it is a feminist work, it hold important messages for men, too (yes- I know men can be feminists). Even though I would have considered myself a feminist before I started reading, it definitely opened my eyes even more, and changed my thinking even more….read it!

One Perfect Summer- Paige Toon

Paige Toon is a name I’ve heard about lots, and I knew that people tended to enjoy her work, but I’d never got round to reading anything of her’s myself. I chose My Perfect Summer in the same pattern that I usually choose my reads: a heavy, gritty thriller of some sort, followed by an easier-to-read ‘girlier’ book.

If one thing is certain it’s that One Perfect Summer is girly. It follows Alice’s life as she loves and loses- and loves again. I thought Toon captured the concept of a teenage, first-love, holiday romance perfectly, as a slightly over-the-top and tongue in cheek experience as Alice and Joe experience these feelings for the first time. At times this was a little irritating, but the promise that a twist was coming kept me reading.

Though I did know a twist was coming, I wasn’t actually expecting the severity of what was to come- and I certainly didn’t expect the narrative to extend as far into the future as it did. This longer time-frame meant that the emotions that originally seemed over-the-top could actually be played out, and the impact that Alice’s summer romance at 18 years old had on the rest of her life. In fact, this almost made me feel bad for initially writing off her feelings as exaggerated and  juvenile.

The second part of the narrative is set in Cambridge, where Alice attends university. As I was reading I matched settings to places I had visited in the city, which really helped to bring the book and its characters to life. Again, as the characters became more tangible, I was able to empathise with and believe their emotions.

Something I found a little strange, however, is the stark contrast between Alice at the beginning of the novel, and the Alice at the end. Of course, years have passed, and she would have inevitably grown up, but she also seems to have changed significantly- almost to the point that she’s a different character. I understand that the trauma and heartbreak she would have felt would impact her personality, but not in the way it seems in the novel.

 

I found One Perfect Summer a pleasant read, though I wouldn’t offer a more exciting adjective than that. There was nothing to particularly dislike about the novel, but there was nothing that impressive, either. It would be perfect for someone looking for a book that doesn’t require too much concentration and isn’t looking for a fast pace. Having said that, I would be interested in reading the e-book sequel One Perfect Christmas to see how the cliff-hanger ending plays out.

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!

The Apple Orchard – Veronica Henry

This book’s description deemed it “A heart-warming short story to curl up with” and it really was just that. Admittedly, it didn’t take me long to read at all (hence the shortness of this review). Even in the very few pages the narrative takes place over, it really holds some heart-warming messages.

The reader is instantly welcomed by the friendly voice of Joe, which immediately made me want to read on to see how his story unravels. The fact  that the narrative starts with his voice  allows the reader to identify with him and build a sense of empathy, meaning that you care even more for him when things start to go wrong.

As someone from a small rural village, it was lovely to sample a piece of fiction that mirrored the same kind of close-knit community feeling that I have experienced as I was growing up. I especially loved that the main relationship between Joe and Emilia shows that a difference in age doesn’t affect the strength of a friendship.

It takes much less than a day to read, but I would recommend The Apple Orchard  to anyone in need of something to lift their mood. It most definitely fits the cliché ‘short but sweet’.

All That Remains – Hannah Holborn

Having read a handful of romantic novels recently, I was craving something a little more ‘meaty’ and intense. The first few words of the book description was enough to draw me in “Meet detective Harvey Sam” as, like I’ve mentioned before, I am obsessed with the ITV series Broadchurch, and it has seriously whetted my appetite for detective drama- in television or book form.

Firstly, I think it is important to say that I read All That Remains from start to finish in a matter of hours- once I got into the narrative, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down!

From the very first page I could tell that the book was going to be a little on the darker side, mainly because of the confusing, messed-up nature of the criminal. In fact, Willard is so odd that it did take me a little while to properly understand what was going on- especially as Holborn doesn’t make it as clear as possible- which is definitely a good thing as it adds to the feeling of suspense. As the narrative unfolds, the reader begins to learn Willard’s reasoning behind his crime, which does evoke some sympathy- though not enough to condone what it is he has done and continues to do.

In fact, I find it interesting that the entire book forces the reader to ‘feel’ about different characters. For the most part, it is empathy and sympathy that the reader feels towards a handful of characters that wish, ultimately to do well, but past life experiences and circumstances perhaps prevent them from doing to their best potential (for example, Detective Harvey Sam’s family situation influencing his attitude towards his job, and Chase’s ability to do the right thing, out of fear that she will trip herself up and get herself in trouble. However, ultimately, the most sympathy the reader feels is for Gabriel Wheeler, whose mother is so infuriatingly uninterested, who can never see the bad in people, because he has grown up thinking that this ‘bad’ is actually normal.

Holborn is great at creating characters that really make the reader feel, and this is an important factor of any book for me. The narrative wasn’t necessarily the most surprising I have ever read, but there certainly were points that could have let it go either way- and it is these points that kept me turning the pages. I also liked that the narrative resolution wasn’t clichéd- it wasn’t convenient and easy, as often happens with mystery novels, and up to the very end it was unclear how the book was going to end.

I would definitely recommend All That Remains  to anyone with an interest in drama, mystery and suspense. It’s got the suspense without the gore or violence that can often come with these types of novels, which means that it is perfect for those newer to the genre. Also, whilst the base of the narrative is fairly common (a missing child) the other issues in the book, as well as the way the narrative pans out is much deeper and more interesting. A satisfying read for anyone.