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.

 

 

Love Muffin and Chai Latte- Anya Wylde

This book was classified a romantic comedy, which meant it automatically ticked a box for books I usually like to read. In fact, I didn’t even bother reading the description before I downloaded it from the Kindle store, so the story was going to be a complete surprise.

I must admit, the very first sentence of the book (“It all began on a dreary June day.”) did not fill me with much hope. It reminded me of stories I would write myself when I was younger and had just learned about the impact weather could have on a narrative. But, not one to give up on a book (especially after just one sentence!), I carried on. Soon the focus moved from the weather conditions onto the relationship Tabby and Chris, and this is where it did actually pick up!

In the mean time, it has to be said, that Wylde managed to paint a very vivid picture of the main character, Tabby. She was instantly likeable, probably due to the fact that her air of uselessness meant I felt sorry for her- but definitely in a good way! In fact, even in what was supposed to be a romantic occasion, Tabby manages to add her own special touch.

What I liked about Love Muffin and Chai Latte was that it was completely different to any type of romantic comedy I had read before. It wasn’t the cliché fairytale with the happy ending, but neither was there a tragic, heartbreaking twist. Instead, it is filled with comedy and humour as a very down to earth girl discovers the culture of her upper-middle class fiancé, making plenty of embarrassing mistakes along the way. Yes, some of the humour is a little tongue in cheek…but I would say only as much as some humour of Bridget Jones is. I suppose it would be possible to compare Tabby to the character of Bridget Jones, just with less pressure from her parents.

I found Tabby’s friend, whom she calls to retell the events of her life (of which there are many!), a really useful narrative technique. She helped add another dimension to the narrative, allowing the reader to hear the events from Tabby’s point of view, as well as that of the narrator.

The ending wasn’t predictable from the beginning, which was good as it kept me wanting to read. That, along with the fact that I genuinely cared about Tabby, and wished well for her, meant that I was able to finish the book in just a few days.

With all considered, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy, yet amusing read. The narrative may not be the most complex, and the humour perhaps not the most intelligent, but this did not take away from how much I enjoyed it. I would definitely be interested in reading other books by the author!

The Souvenir: A Secret Baby Romance- Emma Nichols

I genuinely did not know what to expect when I began reading this book. I had downloaded multiple titles from the kindle store, and couldn’t remember which blurb corresponded to which book when it came to reading them.

After a few pages, I expected it to be another of the many (slightly disappointing) samey romances that are to be found everywhere on the Kindle store, especially on the ‘free’ book list. The narrative seemed a very clichéd, typical not-quite-love story…but I persevered. And I am actually read glad that I did! I imagined the whole story to follow the bickering of Wren and Brady post breakup, and that Brad would continue promising to change with very little proof of doing so. What actually happened was that, the further I read, the more I actually wanted to read, as I realised that it wasn’t what I had first imagined. I think Nichols’ very colloquial, friendly writing style helped with this, and meant that reading, in spite of my initial lack of interest, wasn’t a chore.

I have to admit that, at the start, I didn’t really like either of the characters. Obviously, I disapproved of Brady for cheating on the woman he claimed to love, but for some reason, I found Wren’s response annoying, meaning I didn’t actually feel any sympathy for her. However, after a few chapters, I found myself empathising with Brady, and actually wanted Wren to forgive him. I think the dual narration helped with this, as it allowed for me to understand both sides of the story, meaning I could appreciate why both characters reacted in certain ways- for example when Wren saw Brady with Paige again, and why Brady believed that Trey and Wren were now together. The dual narrative also meant that both characters had fully-developed voices, as they didn’t have anyone else speaking for them, which I think was important in this book.

It got to the point that, I wasn’t just interested in the story, I actually started to care what was going to happen next to the characters, and found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. Although, having said this, once the book did have my full attention, it was incredibly easy to see where the narrative was going- which meant that the ending was of no surprise. But, I do want to reiterate that this didn’t stop me from wanting to find out how it got to the point that I knew it would eventually reach.

The book was short, which was definitely a positive here. Any longer, and the narrative would have become dragged out, possibly making it more clichéd, and less enjoyable. Also, as I always say, the short chapters were also appreciated, as it allowed for ‘easy access’ to the story (i.e. just five minutes of reading here and there).  However, in this case, the short chapters also meant that I didn’t get lost in the dual narrative, because I was always reminded from whose point of view I was reading.

Overall, I would definitely recommend  The Souvenir: A Secret Baby Romance to anyone who is looking for a good, light-hearted and easy read. In spite of its simplicity, it left me feeling satisfied- which is an important trait in a book, if you ask me!

Le Diable Au Corps- Raymond Radiguet

I received this book as a Christmas present from my boyfriend. A brave move on his behalf, if you ask me as choosing a book for someone is never easy, especially when you’re branching into literature of a language that you don’t speak. However, he did pretty well, considering the book fits three categories of things I like: romance, war and french.  I had never heard of this book before, nor had I heard the author mentioned, so I was intrigued to get stuck in.

 

I have to admit I was a little confused when I first began reading. For some reason, I had expected the narrator to be Marthe, who is mentioned in the blurb, and out of a lack of concentration, it had taken me a few pages to realise that it was actually Francois.  However, once I had actually realised who it was narrating the events, I could start to form opinions on the characters.

I actually found Francois, the narrator a little irritating, which is, in some ways, a credit to Radiguet. He did truly appear like a lovesick teenage boy, whose youth was made clear through his neediness and naivety. I suppose that, given the circumstances of his love affair, one could hardly blame him for seeming emotional and needy- but that didn’t make it any less annoying, especially for the first part of the narrative.  Having said this, Marthe was hardly a likeable character. She appeared to have no sort of conscience, and her selfishness was far too much to be able to overlook or excuse for any reason.

It was strange to read a book and not identify, or take a liking to, either character. I would say that that as the narrative progressed, I did become more tolerant of Francois, but perhaps more out of dislike for Marthe other than anything else. Even though the main turning point of the narrative, Marthe’s discovery that she is pregnant, is a necessary step in order to show each character’s ability to develop, it was a bit of a cliché problem in an illegitimate love affair. Keeping the novel’s age in mind, however, I suppose that it would have been less of a cliché, and more of a scandal.

Something I did like about the book was that it was very easy to read. As I have mentioned before, I appreciate a book with short chapters as it means I can dip in and out of the book, reading it when I have a spare five minutes, meaning I can finish it sooner than if I had to dedicate a large chunk of time each time I want to read! Also, in spite of the fact that I didn’t necessarily like the narrator, I did find Radiguet’s writing style very clear, which mean that I didn’t have to struggle with unravelling too much french syntax, which can often be a problem.

Even though I didn’t like either of the main characters, I would actually recommend Le Diable Au Corps for that very reason. It was the first time I have read a novel and this been the case, and it was actually quite refreshing. I also think that the novel would also be a good starting point for someone who wants to read more french literature, as the straightforward narrative and the author’s clear writing style, as well as the short chapters, means that it is not a challenging read.

After You- Jojo Moyes

Even though I hadn’t read the prequel to After You, I had thoroughly enjoyed it in its film version, which meant that when my mum offered this book to me when she had finished, I snapped it up. And as I had expected, the book kept me interested the entire way through.

I think it did help that, having seen the prequel on screen, I already had a good idea of the how Louisa Clark (the main character) and her family worked as characters, and the dynamic between them. This means that I didn’t have to spend any time getting to know the characters or their situations, allowing me to just ‘get on’ with enjoying the narrative.

I liked how Moyes continued straight onto the narrative of this separate story, spending very little time referencing back to what happened in the characters’ pasts. Admittedly, this would make it difficult for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the prequel to fully understand, but I do think that most people reading this would choose to do so because of the prequel.

Louisa Clark is the perfect protagonist: the girl who wants to move on, and is trying, but is evidently terrified. Hopeless at most things, yet confident in who she is as a person, and her intelligence shines through in her wit and humour. It was also great to see how she had developed as a person from when Will was alive, and how Lily’s character meant that, in a strange and complicated way, she got to continue her relationship with Will, to the point that they had not able to reach before his death. She, in a way, got to become the mother of his child- and it was interesting to see how she reacted to such situation.

In fact, it seemed that, instead of Lily acting as a painful reminder of Will that dragged Louisa back to the state of intense grieving just after his death, she actually helped her to move on from him. All the time that I could see Louisa changing and transforming, I felt almost proud of her- as if I knew her.

I think the fact that no one, unless those heartbreakingly unlucky enough to have experienced it, can begin to imagine how it must feel to lose the person you love through their own doing, means that readers sympathise even more with Louisa as a character. This was certainly the case for me. I don’t even want to imagine the reality of such a terrible situation, meaning I wanted, more than anything, for her to come out of it a stronger person- her full personality still intact.

The great thing about After You is that it’s just the right cocktail of sadness, hope and humour that makes you want to read it more. I was always ready to turn the next page, and move onto the next chapter- disappointed when I didn’t have enough time to do so. As if 400 pages of the narrative weren’t enough, I found myself wishing the story continued- not because I didn’t feel it had reached a good enough conclusion, but because I didn’t want to leave Louisa Clark as a character.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone- whether you have read the prequel, or just seen the film. Familiarise yourself with the prequel and get stuck in. It is truly worth it.