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!

Mad Love- Nick Spalding

Having thoroughly Nick Spalding’s Bricking It during the summer, I didn’t hesitate to pick this up when I saw it on the shelf. I had admired Spalding’s use of comedy before, and Mad Love certainly didn’t disappoint.

The friendliness of Adam, one of the main characters, was the first thing that struck me. It felt as if I were perhaps reading the diary of an old friend. Having sad that, I didn’t love the initial presentation of the ‘bachelor pad’, but can appreciate its purpose as a contrast to the life he is soon to lead.

I found the concept of the story very interesting: if modern dating apps are as good as they claim to be at matchmaking, why shouldn’t people marry before they’ve got to know each other? Even though I didn’t know what criteria had been used to match the couple at first, I liked that Spalding had shown responses to specific questions as headings to each titles: it showed the gap between how people like to think of themselves, and how their actions actually reflect their inner personalities. I also liked the fact that Spalding had chosen characters with different backgrounds- it was obvious that an unlikely couple would be matched, but the cultural differences between Adam and Jessica added further to the book’s comedy- my favourite part is when Jessica struggles to pronounce one of the Brits’ favourite insults in an argument, completely weakening her position.  I also noticed that the author made a reference to the comedic event later on in the narrative- a subtle, but clever move.

As always, I liked the fact that the story was told by multiple narrators, including others besides Adam and Jessica themselves. Not only did this reflect the inner-thoughts that a newly married couple would have about one another that they would never dare to say aloud, it added more depth to the narrative and reflected the reality that outsiders would have their own opinions on another couple’s marriage. I didn’t particularly like the tone of the journalist during his narration, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book as a whole.

 

Whilst I thought that the majority of the narrative was well-developed and allowed for each character to become three-dimensional and ‘real’, I couldn’t help feeling that the ending was a little rushed. I had no unanswered questions, but it did feel undeveloped and overly reliant on the irony and comedy in the outcome of the situation. This was a shame, as I had genuinely thought very highly of  it up until that final chapter

In spite of the slightly disappointing ending, I would definitely recommend Mad Love to anyone, as I don’t think it really appealed to either gender more than the other. I actually laughed out loud to myself at points, and that doesn’t happen often with books. A genuinely funny story, looking at marriage from a fresh, new perspective that reflects the way that so many people do meet nowadays.

Who’s That Girl? – Mhairi McFarlane

When browsing Amazon, it was impossible to ignore the reviews for Who’s That Girl? as critic after critic praised its comedy and wit, with some comparing it to One Day which, as I have mentioned before, I loved. Never the girl to turn down a ‘laugh-out-loud’ rom-com, I decided that this had to be my next book of choice. I was intrigued to get reading, seeing as the front cover mentions “She kissed the groom. She’s not the bride,”, and I couldn’t wait to see how this would unfold.

 

I loved that the book started in media res, rather than being introduced to the main character, Edie, the reader gradually gets to know her over the course of the first few chapters. McFarlane’s chatty and friendly style of writing was immediately obvious, which meant  that, even from the very beginning, I didn’t want to stop reading. The tone was very light-hearted, which made for very easy reading. On top of this, Edie made for a great protagonist, she was unfortunate to the point that it was funny and I could feel empathise with her, but McFarlane didn’t overdo it for the sympathy vote. The author manages to portray the dynamic of the relationship with her family, and others around her perfectly, with aspects that I think everyone can identify with, so that Edie feels like a real-life, multi-dimensional character with real-life relationships.

The main event of the novel comes about fairly early on, which is good as it allows for the rest of the story to unfold after it. I would say that the few chapters after this main event were my favourite- I was stuck in the dilemma of feeling very sorry for Edie, yet laughing at the reactions of others about what happened. I found the character of Lucie particularly humorous. Not because she was witty or intelligent, but because she was very much the stereotypical and clichéd mean girl- always going too far.

I appreciated the array of different male characters  in the narrative, as it allowed for a varied representation of the different men in any woman’s life and how, sometimes, they can create as much drama as other girls!

The narrative wasn’t such that I didn’t know what was going to happen next, it was more a matter of when, and that is another thing that kept me reading- although there were some surprises along the ay, which revealed deeper insights to certain characters’ personalities. I wanted to know when Jack was going to get his comeuppance, when Edie would stand up for herself, and when the proclamation of love would come out.  However, while for the majority of the progression of the narrative was fairly predictable,  the ending didn’t quite happen as I had imagined. This wasn’t necessarily a negative thing, as it did reach a compromised happy conclusion, but I couldn’t help feel a little disappointed that it wasn’t the ‘fairy tale’ it was looking to be.

 

With all considered, I would definitely recommend Who’s That Girl? to anyone looking for a humours and and heart-warming story, especially if the clichéd fairytale endings have gotten old for you now. Though I perhaps didn’t laugh-out-loud,  and I couldn’t have really compared it to One Day, the novel was definitely filled with humour and the author’s talent for writing was obvious for the entirety. Something I would say is that McFarlane’s passion and dedication to this book seemed to shine through, and I think that is what made it so enjoyable.

 

 

 

The Toy Breaker- Roy Chester

After recently watching (by watching, I mean devouring in a couple of days) Broadchurch and absolutely loving it (late to the bandwagon, I know), I’ve been desperately searching for books and other television shows that follow the same sort of theme that would satisfy by need of a gripping drama until the next series is released. At a first glance, Roy Chester’s The Toy Breaker  would seem to do the trick. On the Kindle Store, the title was followed with “A gripping crime thriller with a stunning ending”, so I couldn’t wait to get reading.

The start was promising, and so was the idea of the narrative: a serial killer has a specific type of victim and has a signature calling card to mark that it was them. I also thought that the idea that the police following the investigation called in the help of a psychologist, as it would  help to add another level to the discovery of the killer, rather than simple black and white evidence. I also liked the fact that the narrative was set in England, I find that it makes dramas and thrillers (whether that be on TV or in books) more haunting, because it’s closer to home.

The further I read, the more I wanted to read. I became genuinely interested in who it was that might be committing the crimes, and enjoyed watching the investigation of the case progress, as the police managed to deduct what type of person it might be, to who it couldn’t be, to who it was. In fact, for the majority of the novel, I would say that I was hooked, and would agree with the description that the novel as “gripping”.

However, it is the end of the description that I struggle to agree with. As the plot unraveled, I was intrigued as to why there was still evidence counting against the guilty suspect. However, I can’t say I was entirely convinced by the final explanation for this counter-evidence, and found the end of the novel a bit odd, if I’m honest. Of course, anyone wanting to kidnap children is hardly mentally stable, but I didn’t expect this specific issues to come about, and neither did I believe it did the rest of the story, which was actually very good, justice.

Having said this, I wouldn’t discourage people from reading The Toy Breaker, but I would advise you to take the description with a pinch of salt. Yes, it was “gripping”, but I felt let down by the “stunning ending” that was promised.