Mini book reviews

Hi guys!

You know the drill! Below are some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. As I haven’t reviewed in a while, there are lots of books, so I’ll probably split the reviews across one or two posts. Let me know what you think!

 

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Lies She Told by Cate Holahan – 5*

Lies She Told centres around the life of author Liza Cole, as she attempts to write a novel – which she hopes will be as successful as her previous bestseller – whilst simultaneously dealing with the death of her husband’s business partner, among other personal issues.

This novel follows an extremely interesting structure. The chapters alternate between Liza’s P.O.V in the real world, and the P.O.V of Beth, the main protagonist in Liza’s novel. We are, therefore, following both Liza’s actual story, alongside her fictional story. At first, the similarities between the two are small – a shared feeling or a similar setting for example – but after a while, the similarities become more pronounced, leaving us to answer the question: what is real and what is fiction?

I personally love this structure. As a writer myself, we’re forever told that elements of us, our personalities, feelings and life stories will inevitably bleed into our fiction, so not only does this structure work in terms of building tension and results in an awesome novel, it also subtly explores several interesting elements of writing, which I find very clever and engaging. As well as this, the structure offers us, in essence, two novels to read at once, both of which I found clever and full of suspense. The alternation also serves to increase tension, as you jump from one cliffhanger to the other. I always looked forward to the next chapter in both stories, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

Lies She Told will appeal to anyone looking for a unique and engaging thriller, or anyone searching for a novel that’s a little bit different. Must read!

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All Things New by Lauren Miller – 5*

All Things New follows the story of Jessa, our protagonist, as she attempts to come to terms with the after-effects of a terrifying accident, and the physical and mental scars left behind.

Long story short, I loved this book. It’s so sensitively done, it’s hard not to, and I believe the comparisons with The Fault in Our Stars and All the Bright Places are justified. It tackles several very difficult subjects carefully and beautifully, weaving a sometimes heart-breaking yet hopeful tale that’s part love-story part coming-of-age. I’d recommend this to everyone.

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Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas – 4*

Last Seen Alive follows main protagonist Libby as she swaps her tiny flat in the city for a large, sprawling house by the beach, for what she hopes will be a relaxing get-away. As expected, things don’t go to plan – this is a thriller after all – and the holiday soon turns into a nightmare.

This is a fabulous book, which I very much enjoyed reading. Rarely do I reach the ‘twist’ of a novel without any prior ideas as to what the twist might be, but I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case here, and the twist was shocking yet still managed to maintain believability. Douglas has cleverly managed to allude to it throughout, creating tension and suspense, and laying a solid foundation for the later revelations.

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Then she was Gone by Lisa Jewell – 5*

This book was incredible. Dark, twisty and sometimes horrifying, but incredible. I loved reading it and flew through it in a single day. My heart was thumping in my chest throughout and I’d absolutely recommend it to everyone – the fact that it’s so believable makes it all the more shocking.

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The 100 by Kass Morgan – 3*

This book was OK and kept me interested throughout, but to be honest, I felt like it lacked something. There seemed to be an awful lot of nothingness (no real plot) and ended with a cliffhanger. I enjoyed it as a ‘listening whilst doing other stuff’ audio-book but may have stopped reading if it was a paperback. I probably won’t read the rest but I’m interested to see the TV show. * UPDATE * The TV show is incredible! I think it might even be my favourite programme…!

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The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond- 2* DNF

I’m sure others would enjoy this novel as it offers all the standard things you would expect from a thriller – interesting protagonists, intriguing premise, conflict and unanswered questions. Despite this, this novel wasn’t really my cup of tea, due solely to the fact that I don’t think the intelligent protagonists would have ever opted into the pact in the first place. They seemed to ask almost no questions and didn’t think it was weird at all. I liked the writing and characterisation, but feel I would have had to suspend belief whilst reading to actually enjoy it properly. Thanks anyway to the publisher and author for the ARC!

UPDATE: Apparently this book has sold its movie rights…!

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No Filter by Orlagh Collins – 5*

Emerald, our female protagonist is likeable yet somewhat troubled. She’s forever checking her social media accounts and lusting over those sometimes-elusive ‘likes’ ‘hearts’ or ‘shares’. My prior experience of novels that try to emulate the social media age is wholly negative, but this is one of the rare books that actually manages to be ‘social media savvy’ without being boring or try-hard. Both protagonists are well-rounded, and I think Collins has done a fabulous job of writing in two distinct voices (which is hard to do right!).

Overall, I’d describe this novel as a ‘modern-day Romeo and Juliet’, which I understand is a little cliche, but to be honest, that’s exactly how I’d describe this wonderful book. The plot is deep, occasionally heart-wrenching and is populated with well-thought out characters and conflict. Loved it!


Mini book reviews – Heather’s recent reads

I’ve read so many books recently, and instead of doing extensive reviews of all of them, I thought I would write mini reviews instead. There are a few spoilers here and there so be warned!
I would also love to know your feelings on the below books, so leave your opinions in the comments!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlWIP

Enjoyable easy reading with well-developed characters and a subtle storyline (not an awful lot actually happens in it). Bonus points because it’s about twins, but subtracting points for the Simon Snow FanFic which the whole novel is based around. I thought it was boring and hard to take seriously (mainly because of the ridiculous names and because it seemed like a joke version of Harry Potter). I skipped the majority of the FanFic excerpts and think that it was a missed opportunity, as the concept is really interesting and could have made the book ten-times more enjoyable than it was. All in all, I liked it but it was a bit of a non-event. Also, I’ve been put off of reading Carry On as I disliked the FanFic so much, which is a shame as I have already bought it.
6/10

Paper Towns by John Green

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Enjoyed reading it as it was funny (especially the road trip element) and intriguing. Liked the mixture of mystery and high-school drama. Also found the concept of ‘Paper Towns’ really interesting, as I’m really into abandoned places. In parts, I felt like Margot’s character wasn’t as developed as I would have liked as she really seemed to change at the end, but I’m aware that this may have been intentional – the whole point was that Quentin didn’t understand her at all and put her on a pedestal. Liked the ‘adventure mystery’ vibe.
8/10

Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Again, I liked reading this (perhaps a little less than Paper Towns), but the amount of similarities between the two is high. Here is a summary of both of their storylines…

‘Fun loving young girl who no one understands goes missing and their male companions (who just happen to be in love with them) try to figure out what happened’.
Still, cool setting (boarding school) and a range of three-dimensional characters. Also, was a little shocked at the end, definitely didn’t expect it and I’m not sure how I feel about it…
7/10

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Quite different from any of the other books I’ve read (which was refreshing) and although I didn’t really understand why the two main characters were attracted to each other (male character exhibited distaste towards female at first, and I didn’t understand what made him change his mind), I did feel emotionally attached to the two and wanted them to have a happy ending. The ending, although not ‘happy’ did give hope, so that’s better than nothing. All the characters were unique, as well as being very well-developed (I wanted Richie to get his comeuppance at the end), so Rowell clearly did a good job regarding characterisation. More of an emotion-led story than an action led one (and I generally prefer the latter).
7.5/10a

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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Favourite of all the books I’ve read recently. Probably because I love dystopian YA but also because I loved the concept. Don’t get me wrong it’s a bit silly (why a maze? What’s with the random telepathy? The characters experience memory loss so how can they remember the names of things?) but I’m sure (well I hope) the questions that remain unanswered will be answered by the end of the series. Although there were lots of names and characters to remember, this didn’t put me off (it normally does if I can’t follow who is who) and I just loved the setting – I’m a sucker for a unique story world. One major criticism would be that it is cliché in areas (self-sacrificing hero/unnecessary death just for the emotional gut-punch) but all in all I loved it and read it in two sittings. I have also bought the other three and can’t wait to get cracking with those.
9/10
*Update* The rest of the series was dissapointing to be honest.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

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Interesting concept but the whole novel stressed me out – I wanted to know if there was a happy ending almost after the first two chapters. Like the impatient douche-bag I am, I Googled the ending (so naughty). Funnily enough, I enjoyed the book more after finding out what happened, as I was no longer skipping chapters to figure it out. Good character development but a frustrating concept if you like justice and happy endings. Unique voices from the protagonists (you could really tell the difference between the mother and daughter but sometimes I felt the daughter sounded too grown up for a six-year-old). The blend of real life and the occasional fantastical elements was confusing at times, and I felt there was sometimes too much description, so minus points for that.
7/10

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

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The beautifully designed cover and blurb drew me to this but once I began reading the elaborate detail and description really put me off. Really like the idea behind it but feel it would be stronger if it were less flowery. Didn’t like the mother character as she seemed a little detached, and quite frankly I didn’t like the girl either as she was a bit plain. This isn’t really a fair review though as I didn’t finish the book. I feel like this review isn’t a reflection of the writer’s ability to write, more a reflection of my own personal taste. I might give it another go later…
Based on what I read, 5/10

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

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Started off really enjoying it but the more I thought about the concept behind it the more I thought it was weird. I didn’t really ‘get’ it, but of course, that may just be me being a dumbass. The thought of a silvery wiggly worm as a conscious being was odd and I found it hard to understand because to me, ‘Wanderer’ seemed really human. So I guess it could be argued that the novel is thought-provoking as it brings up themes and questions relating to humanity – What really makes us human? What really is a ‘mind’? How important is a body? being just a few. So I suppose this is good as novels are meant to make you think more in-depth about their themes. Despite my reservations, this novel explores a unique concept and is full of conflict. Bit long for my liking so I didn’t finish it and instead watched the film (awful of me I know, but I felt it would be awesome in visual media).
6.5/10

The Understudy by David Nicholls

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Funny, vibrant, believable and interesting characters who made me laugh. I really wanted the main character to succeed, which is the sign of a well developed and three-dimensional protagonist! Would recommend if you are after a light-hearted read. The protagonists 6-year-old-daughter was hilarious and Nicholls used her to poke fun at the typical London upper-class snob (her love of sushi and her distaste of her Dad’s ‘common’ choice of pizza restaurant), which was amusing.
8/10

Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

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Although I liked this book, I couldn’t get past the obvious flaw in the concept. The main character had a face transplant but was back at school after several months. I thought this was ridiculous to be honest, as something as awful as losing your face would take YEARS to fully recover from. As well as this, I found the main character made stupid decisions (stopping taking her anti-rejection pills as an example) which also bothered me. Aside from this I did actually enjoy reading it and would recommend. I just felt that the novel was a little shallow and focused too much on the physical trauma of losing a face, and less on the emotional trauma. Just my opinion, though.
7/10

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I actually didn’t enjoy this as much as Sharp Objects, so I don’t understand why Gone Girl is more popular/well-known. I found it long and dragged out in places, but Flynn did do a good job of throwing suspicion over the male protagonist. I also did not guess the twist, which was good. Characters were well developed and interesting and tension was high throughout but I disliked the ending because it lacked justice. I found it really frustrating and it made me mad, which is probably good as I did actually care about what happened to the characters and the conclusion of the story.
6.5/10

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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One of my other favourites on this list; kept me guessing and I couldn’t put it down. Kind of guessed the twist towards the end but this didn’t put me off. A twisted and somewhat horrifying concept but also really intriguing. Main character was a little bit cliché (emotionally damaged and personally involved with the events) but this didn’t stop me enjoying it. Would highly recommend unless you are sensitive and dislike reading about crime and violence.
8.5/10

Us by David Nicholls

 

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Not much to say about this other than the fact I enjoyed it. It’s funny, original and made me laugh out loud (which I rarely do when I read books). Highly recommended if you want a unique and heart-warming read.
8/10

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

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Only read a few chapters of this before I gave up. I may have given up too easily, but there were just other books that I would have preferred to read at the time. So why did I stop reading? To be honest, the narrative put me off a little. It was clinical (which I understand was intentional) and I failed to warm to it. I also found the narrative far too wordy – think The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon. Fine on screen but super long to read. I also found the character of Rosie to be unlikeable. I haven’t read the first book (The Rosie Project) so maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had. This probably isn’t a fair review as I have seen so many positive reviews of this book (one of the reasons I bought it), I just don’t think it is my cup of tea!
Based on what I read 5/10

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Finished reading this recently and thought it was good but didn’t live up to the hype. Super interesting and such a good choice of narrators (there were three, who were all unreliable in their own way). Lots of twists, all of which I didn’t guess (which is good). Characters were quite well-developed but could have had more distinct narrative voices (sometimes I got confused as to who was narrating). I enjoyed the writing style as it was very to the point (I HATE too much description) but sometimes the author would jump between scenes with no warning – for example, Rachael would often jump from being in bed to being on the train with no real transition, which could be a bit jarring at times. Was a bit disappointed but only because it has been mega-hyped up.
8/10

Her: book review

her book review

Her

Harriet Lane
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2015
4.5/5

“Two women; two different worlds.

Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold.
Nina is sophisticated and independent – entirely in control.

When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn’t the first time the women’s paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . .

But what exactly does Nina want from her?

And how far will she go in pursuit of it?”

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Her-Harriet-Lane/dp/0297865056

Although I bought Her at a recent book sale, I first saw it advertised on the tube on my way to work. I was instantly attracted to the intriguing tagline: “You don’t remember her, but she remembers you.”

It is pegged as a thriller – my current favourite genre, so when I saw it at the sale, I picked it up immediately and bought it without even reading the blurb; rebellious, I know!

The positives

The design of the book is awesome, but sadly, the ‘highlighter yellow” doesn’t photograph well. I did my best though…

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The tagline is metallic, hence you can’t see it very well in the photo, but it looks great in real-life. The inside cover is as cool as the outside, with reversed out quotes on the left and the publisher logo printed on the right.

The book is written in stunning first-person present, which results in a fast-paced, immediate and wholly absorbing narrative. Set in modern London, the novel focuses on ‘frenemies’ Nina and Emma, two middle-class women whose lives are soon entwined, no thanks to Nina and her relentless lust for revenge. Lane’s writing evokes perfectly the bourgeois lifestyle, complete with snobbery, and the often-destructive need to keep up appearances.

The novel is narrated by both Nina and Emma, in alternate chapters. Often, Emma will narrate a scene, and immediately after, Nina will narrate the same scene but from her P.O.V. One would be wrong to assume that this re-telling gets repetitive and boring; quite the opposite is true. It is interesting to see the contrast between how the two girls feel toward one another and how they feel about certain events. It also offered a chilling insight into Nina’s mind. By structuring the novel this way, Lane manages to portray Emma’s ignorance toward Nina’s true motives, resulting in steadily rising tension, as she is dragged further and further into Nina’s web of deception.

Although Lane’s style is quite wordy, the words are well chosen, and the description is vivid. She manages to evoke perfectly, not just setting and character, but also the superficial, poisonous society in which the women live. When I first began reading the book, in one of the earlier chapters, Emma lists off lots of (rather fancy sounding) names. At first, this annoyed me – I was never going to be able to remember all of these names, let alone keep up with what was going on in these character’s lives. BUT I soon realised that Lane had cleverly used this to further emphasise Emma’s hectic, and often shallow lifestyle.

Being critical

Lane does an amazing job at creating tension throughout – often, I couldn’t put the book down as I was desperate to find out the awful thing that Emma had done. The one (very tiny) criticism I had when I initially finished the book is that this ‘awful’ thing, the one that had inspired Nina’s eventual retribution, seemed very minor, and not very awful at all. I didn’t understand why Nina hated her so much, and I definitely didn’t think it warranted Nina’s horrific final act of revenge. Despite this, the more I think about it, the more I realise that maybe Nina wasn’t as mentally stable as I first believed. Perhaps Emma’s actions had affected her more than I initially thought. This is the only way I can justify her overreaction to Emma’s wrongdoing. 

In conclusion

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Her. I loved Lane’s writing style, the book was fast-paced, absorbing and un-put-down-able. I would very much recommend this novel and look forward to reading more of Harriet Lane’s work!

Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you think!


Book review: Day Four by Sarah Lotz

Day Four
Sarah Lotz
Hodder & Stoughton 2015
3.5/5

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Four-Sarah-Lotz/dp/1444775367

“Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait. That is, until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There’s a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer… and maybe something worse.

When I stumbled across this novel at a book sale recently, the overall design of the book (my copy has fancy purple-edged paper, an attractive design, and a matte finish cover), along with a quick read of the blurb convinced me to add Day Four to my (already heaving) shopping bag. Although the above synopsis suggests that it is a murder mystery novel, one would be wrong to classify it as such – the murder mentioned is only one small element of this paranormal thriller.

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Second image sourced from http://carabas.co.uk/tag/monthly-book-recommends/

Only after I bought the novel, did I realise that it was the sequel to Lotz’s previous book, The Three. Although it is marketed as a ‘stand alone’ story, (reviews suggest that the links between the two are loose), I debated long and hard as to whether or not I should buy and read the latter first. The decision to dive straight into Day Four was made mainly because the blurb intrigued me so, but also because I wanted to figure out whether or not it was worth spending more money on an author that I had no previous experience of reading.

The book is mainly written in third-person, which happens to be my least favourite tense. Despite this, Lotz’s writing style is enjoyable – she writes simply, and her use of description is vivid yet sparing, with no unnecessary words or extended descriptions. Lotz sets the scene well and I found it easy to imagine the cheap and cheerful Beautiful Dreamer. Unlike a lot of novels, the pacing was perfect – the sense of despair aboard the ship increases gradually as life on-board begins to get more and more unbearable.

Although I enjoyed the overall narrative of Day Four, Lotz’s use of characters disappointed me somewhat. Instead of having one or two main characters, the novel had several, all of which took it in turns in being the view-point character. Each protagonist had several chapters dedicated to them throughout the novel, which made it hard to follow what was going on. Just as soon as you got into one character’s storyline, the chapter ended and another began, along with either a new character storyline or a continuation of one which had happened several chapters back. Thankfully, each character has a nickname which appears at the beginning of the chapter (‘the Devils Handmaiden’ for example) which helped in navigating the chapters, and also added another level of characterisation.

Because of the extensive character-hopping, I found it hard to become attached – I didn’t find myself ‘rooting’ for anyone in particular. Although each of the characters seemed ‘fleshed out’, their development and backgrounds appeared to offer no real depth to the plot. I believe the novel would have been equally as entertaining, if not more so, if it had focused on only one main character.

Day Four is my first experience of reading a supernatural thriller so I was excited to see how Lotz would interweave supernatural into the novel. Overall I was a little disappointed – although the sporadic paranormal events were creepy there was very little build up to them. I had read some reviews where reviewers had described the book as ‘terrifying’ so was really expecting to be scared out of my wits! This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book as a whole though.

The twist and the ending had promise but were not as chilling as they could have been. I was left feeling a little confused as to what had actually happened. This could well have been intentional – the ending is perhaps meant to be ambiguous and echoes the confusion aboard the boat. 

Although some of the elements of the novel were a little disappointing, I really enjoyed reading Day Four, so for that reason alone, I would recommend it. I looked forward to reading it, and it had me hooked right up until the end. I also enjoyed Lots’z overall style, and have read some rave reviews about her other book The Three, so will be purchasing and reading that in the near future!

Has anyone else read this book? Do you agree or disagree with my comments? Comment below!