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’.

Le chef d’œuvre inconnu- Honoré Balzac

Whenever I have read Balzac before I have always found it a little bit of a struggle. Now, this is usually because the texts I read are chosen by my university, and I am reading these (very lengthy) novels not just for pleasure, but to obtain specific information that will help me pass an exam or some coursework. When I saw Le chef d’œuvre inconnu  on the bookshelf, I was intrigued at how short (a.k.a accessible) it appeared, and I instantly wanted to read it- giving myself the opportunity to enjoy such a classic French author’s work without slogging through hundreds of pages.

The first thing that struck me, even in the first handful of sentences, was the beauty that is intertwined in the text. Both in the imagery that Balzac creates, and the sheer delicacy of his choice of words and the fluidity of his sentence structure. Also, it is amazing to see how things can change so dramatically in such a short space of pages- and how this change is influenced by something that so many people would never think twice about: art.

It was interesting to see how someone could be so passionate about something that wasn’t simply love with another person and the lengths it could drive them to if it goes wrong. Though, having said that, of course, what would a 19th C narrative be without the influence of a woman’s beauty to shake things up a little?

 

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has struggled to enjoy a Balzac text before, as it works as a type of stepping stone into appreciating his undeniable skill as an author, and has definitely encouraged me to pick up one of his longer works for fun again!

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.

Love For Scale – Michaela Greene

One of the reasons that I chose Love For Scale as my next read was that, not only did it seem like a light-hearted, easy-read, romantic comedy novel, the protagonist seemed to have more of an interesting story than similar books. The more I read of the novel, the more I began to appreciate that it really was the characters that made this book so enjoyable.

I finished this book in just a matter of days, not only because it was an easy and enjoyable read, but because I actually really liked the characters. I thought everyone in the book could pass as ‘realistic’, which is an important element of a book for me.

Rachel and her best friend spend their weekends trying on wedding dresses, in spite of the fact that neither of them have any intention (or rather, hope) of getting married any time soon. This, along with Rachel’s rather overbearing Jewish mother, constantly concerned with feeding Rachel and trying to put her marriage in place, contributes to the general humour of the book.

 

Naturally, the narrative follows Rachel’s journey in love. However, this doesn’t happen without a journey of self discovery and growing confidence, which makes for an endearing read. She finally takes control of one of the things that bothers her the most: her weight. The great thing is that Greene actually shows this in a realistic light- joining a weight loss group doesn’t necessarily make for an easy ride, and she shows this in Rachel’s behaviour- towards other people and towards herself. It is also encouraging to see that, although Rachel wishes to change her weight herself, no other characters have any negative perceptions of her weight, and they even reassure her that, even if she weren’t to change, she would still be perfect as herself. I think this is important in a time where, thanks to the media, people are more conscious than ever of their body shapes and sizes.

In spite of the difficulties she does face, it is great to see how Rachel’s weight loss journey helps her to take control of other parts of her life, such as moving out of her parents’ home. Although the news is broken under far from comical circumstances, the way other characters react to her decision manages to add to the novel’s comedic value.

Whilst even at the end of the novel, it is clear that Rachel is not entirely confident in herself, the transition between her character at the beginning is astounding, and incredibly encouraging.  In my opinion, ending on a point that doesn’t show the completed journey helps to give more dimension to the narrative as the reader gets the impression that the characters’ lives continue beyond the pages of the book.

Even though this may not have been the most complex novel, I definitely think it’s worth a read because it is so easy to establish similarities between your own life and Rachel’s. Whether you are on a similar weight loss mission, or a self discovery journey, or not, I think everyone would be able to compare the novel’s characters to people in their own life- which usually means you become more invested in the novel.

 

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.

Kill Someone – Luke Smitherd

I wanted to read another action-filled book after my previous read, and the book description for Kill Someone seemed like it would do the trick.

My first impression was that it was very easy to read, Smitherd doesn’t use overly complicated vocabulary unnecessarily, which is something I really appreciate. We also get to know the main character very quickly, which makes it easy to become invested and interested in what the narrative may have in store for him.

Though I found the concept of The Man In White a little tongue in cheek and a little odd given that it is so removed from the reality of life, especially in semi-rural England, I was intrigued to see how a character, so obviously exaggerated, could fit into the narrative.  It turns out that having a character so removed from what is real helps to emphasise what is real, and helped to highlight the question of human nature and what we believe to be right and wrong. Chris is faced with a lose-lose situation, but he is forced to make a decision because The Man In White is able to put such an intense pressure on his conscience.

At the beginning, it seemed that the novel would be full of action and tension, wondering whether Chris would manage to achieve the goals he had been set, and what the consequences would be. However, the reality was that it seemed sort of a half-hearted attempt. Yes, there were moments of tension, but nothing that matched up to the promises that the Amazon book description seemed to make. In fact, after the initial uncertainty as to what might happen next, I found the narrative rather predictable: not in the way that I knew exactly what was going to happen and how, but that I could predict a general narrative arc.

I did like that the consequences of Chris’ actions were followed up towards the end of the book because it helped to complete the narrative- it also helped to build empathy for Chris as his personality is put under scrutiny.  But, once again, I didn’t really feel like this was done to its fullest potential- there were still questions left unanswered It was interesting to see quite a serious issue portrayed in a narrative form: how having a dark secret can force an individual to distance themselves from their family and friends. Also, I felt that the book showed that just because a person does bad things, they aren’t necessarily at peace with themselves afterwards. This meant it was a pleasant surprise to see Chris figure his life out and become more settled, in spite of the darkness that does surround him.

I was a little disappointed by the ending, as I felt that I had a lot of unanswered questions that I couldn’t begin to answer for myself. For some people, this would be a positive thing as it allows the reader to use their own imagination, but I like to be given concrete evidence (or at least a hint) of the future of the narrative after the end of the book.

Overall, I wouldn’t discourage people from reading this book- I was always interested in the narrative and never got bored of reading it. However, I would just warn that it is not as dramatic or impressive as I was expecting.

Doll House – John Hunt

After the slightly more relaxed, romantic novels that I have been reading recently, I decided that it was time to give something a little more meaty a read. The description on the Kindle Store is very minimal, so I didn’t have much of an idea what I was getting into, other than that it was a part of the crime genre.

From the very beginning, I was invested in the story, mainly because I was interested in the relationship with Olivia, the protagonist, and her father. They seemed like best friends and, as I have a very close relationship with my own dad, it made me smile to see them get on so well. When I first started reading Doll House I only had fifteen minutes to spare, and left myself on a small cliffhanger, aware that drama was going to unfold very soon, but I never anticipated what exactly was to come. I am cautious of talking too much about the plot because I really don’t want to give anything away.

Hunt does a perfect job at making the reader detest (hate isn’t a strong enough word in this case) the men that take Olivia through the incredibly detailed descriptions of what happens to her when she is under their control. I was horrified at the situation Olivia found herself in and that, even at less than halfway through, so much action could take place. I found myself actually cringing with disgust at certain points, but I still couldn’t read the page fast enough out of anticipation to find out what was going to happen next- reading from 40% to 70% on my Kindle in one go. At no point did I ever think I knew how the story was going to unfold, and when everything finally unraveled (it doesn’t happen until the very end, so you’ll have to bare with- though you won’t mind!) it certainly came as a surprise. The build up to this revelation is incredibly tense, and I genuinely couldn’t stop reading- even though I was due back in work. However, I must say that in spite of the huge amount of tension that leads up to the big revelation, the outcome was actually quite disappointing and I feel that perhaps it could have been developed a little further.

Just because I found the ending a little disappointing, the rest of the drama and tension and intensity in the narrative more than makes Doll House one of the best books I have read in a long time. It made me feel sad, it made me laugh and it made me smile- and I think when a book as dark as this can do all of these things, that shows the true talent of the author- especially considering this is his debut novel.

Olivia was the perfect main character; the type of young woman that I think most girls wish they could be- though I’m not sure I could be as strong as her given her circumstances.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who likes suspense and anticipation in a novel, but I should warn you that some scenes really are only for the strong-stomached. Also, don’t expect this to be a leisurely read- you’ll be hooked and finish it in a matter of days!

 

 

 

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!

Saving Saffron Sweeting- Pauline Wiles

I bought Saving Saffron Sweeting without really knowing a lot about it. I hadn’t even read the blurb, but was intrigued by the title: was Saffron Sweeting a person, or a place?

I was struck by the friendliness in the narrator’s tone. Grace Palmer , the main character, is automatically incredibly open and sharing with the reader, which meant I could instantly start to feel empathy for her, when in the very first sentence of the novel she reveals that her husband has cheated on her. Though sometimes over-used in fiction, there’s no doubting that an unfaithful husband is a great way to get female readers involved with and engage with the story: it is something we are all fiercely protective over one another about.  Whilst the story could have easily turned into a mystery as Grace tried to discover her husband’s new lover, as she became sneaky and paranoid, it didn’t. I liked that it was solved quickly and that Grace decided to act strong and independently, starting a new life for herself.

The thing that I liked most about this new life that she was trying to create, was that it took place in the area that I grew up in. As soon as I read the word ‘Norfolk’, my interest in the story increased dramatically. Even though I’m not homesick, the fact that I’m away from home this academic year means that any mention of a town close by brings a warming feeling of comfort and nostalgia.

Something about the fact that Grace – a genuinely lovely person, who always seems to do the right thing- was living a lone in a cottage in the countryside reminded me of Cameron Diaz in The Holiday . As one of my favourite films, this gave me just another reason to like Saving Saffron Sweeting even more. Though, I must say Grace’s new life is a lot more realistic than Amanda’s in the film, as she actually has to use her existing skills to make a living. She isn’t lucky enough to meet Jude Law to sweep her off her feet. Having said that, Grace’s potential new love interest does hold some promise, and the start of their affair is somewhat exciting, but even this reveals yet another thing about Grace’s genuine character.

Though I don’t usually like it when British authors use American settings or vice versa (I find that a lot of the time they don’t know enough for it to feel natural), Wiles kept the relationship between the two very comfortable and fluid. This could be because, having moved to California herself, she was perhaps more aware of the differences, so could write about them more naturally. However, it could also be that very little of the novel actually takes place in America, and rather features a few American characters: giving a hint of the culture. It’s great to see how Grace helps bridge the gap between the two throughout the novel as she helps to make Saffron Sweeting thrive once again.

I must say that I found Grace’s friends in the book a little irritating at points. I’m not exactly sure why, but I feel that perhaps that didn’t quite appreciate her enough (can you tell I really, really liked her?).  However, this would really be one of the only criticisms I had of the novel.

I appreciated Wiles’ attention to detail, as the circularity of the novel is revealed towards the very end- remember where Grace is stood when she finds out James has cheated! I would probably have liked to have seen more of a development in Grace’s character, rather than the actual ending of the novel, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t heartwarming, and it didn’t feel rushed or out of place.

I would definitely recommend Saving Saffron Sweeting!