Rooms by Lauren Oliver

   
Rooms was the first book I got from A Book and A Brew and I was so excited because it was an author I had loved a few years ago and hadn’t kept up with. I first read the Delirium trilogy while I was at university, and later Before I Fall and Panic sat on a step when I was working a job where I knew no one at lunchtime. 

The thing I love most about Lauren Oliver’s books is that they’re so unique. Whether they’re a twist on dystopia, youth or even death, they have something to say. Rooms is no exception. Narrated by ghosts trapped within the walls of a house that keeps them tied to the world, and focussing on a family returning after the death of it’s last owner, there’s a lot going on. Lauren Oliver makes good use of the unreliable narrator trope, with Alice and Sandra keeping the secrets of their lives and deaths, or perhaps not even remembering, being so ingrained in the building.

It’s a good comment on letting go of the things that hold us down. The living, Trenton, Minna and Caroline, each battle their own problems and demons in the wake of their father and husband’s death. The ghosts, Alice and Sandra, learning to slowly forgive themselves for the mistakes they made.

I’ve never been one for ghost stories, but recently I’ve had my mind changed.


 

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

The Girls and my little sister’s dressing table

I love Lisa Jewell’s books and I’ve already reviewed a couple since starting my blog. Her newest book was no exception and I read it all Christmas Day (pausing only for food and pictionary at the behest of my family).

The Girls is broken into two main parts, the before and after a young girl is found unconscious, half dressed and bleeding in a communal garden. Before, we see the relationships begin to form between children and adults as Clare, Grace and Pip move into the communal gardened block that serves as the kids’ world. After, the suspicions are there and we follow Clare and Adele as they discover how little they knew their daughters.

There are the ‘obvious’ suspects; a paranoid schizophrenic absent father, a special needs brother, a lecherous old man and an overly friendly dad on the scene… Then there are the less obvious ones. And at the risk of sounding spoilery (but not really) I commend Lisa Jewell for treating mental health and disabilities with sensitivity and without lazy shock value. It would have been easy to fall into stereotypes (and dangerous ones at that) but in The Girls these are rich characters, more than just there for the shock of it. 

More than anything, The Girls is about the vulnerable age between childhood and adulthood, about growing up too fast and about the dangers of jealously and alienation left unchecked. 

Christmas book haul!

  
So, it’s Boxing Day and I’m laying on my mum’s rug… Full of food and trying to ignore the footie going on in the background. This Christmas was good for books, mainly because my wish list consists of books and books alone. I ended up with seven of the ones I wanted the most. I have finished one of them already…

The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubbs by David John Griffin who, coincidentally, is from the same county as me. 

Described as a ‘gothic horror’ (my favourite genre at school) this one appealed to me because it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve read in a while. I love a good horror and this one looks like it’s surreal, creepy and full of twisted characters.

Forget Me Not by Luana Lewis

A tragic suicide? Or the perfect murder?

Female written thrillers were like my genre of 2015 and this one, about a mother trying to solve her daughters death, looks like all of my favourites rolled into one.

Second Life by SJ Watson

I absolutely loved Before I Go to Sleep and so I was very excited when my brother got his newest book. I can’t even remember asking for it, my brother clearly just knew.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies by Fredrik Backman

I’ve been looking for this book for ages. No bookshop I’ve been in has had it. I have a massive soft spot for books about old people getting up to mischief written by Swedish authors (it’s a thing, I promise) and I am do excited to read this one!

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

I need to review this one at some point today… Having finished reading it by the time I went to bed on Christmas. Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and this book, about the complicated and slightly toxic relationships between young girls, was no disappointment.

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

I think I originally requested this one on Netgalley, right before it was released. The paperback version is beautiful though and I’m glad to have the physical copy. Kidnap-lit was another big theme of 2015 but Pretty Is, set after the return of two twelve year old girls, looks like an interesting take.

The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern

I always get my mum a Cecelia Ahern book for her birthday and Christmas, ever since she read PS I Love You and we watched the film together. This year I also got one! I’m reading her on my mums recommendation because I’ve never got round to reading them myself!

My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

  
I absolutely loved this book. Set in the early eighties this book revolves around Leon, a nine year old boy with an absent black father and a mentally ill white mother. When he and his baby brother, Jake, are taken into care Jake is adopted because he is white and Leon is left under the care of two older sisters.

The book is interesting because it deals with a lot of very serious subjects but because everything is filtered through Leon’s perspective we get a strange slant on them. In the background are the Brixton riots (I assume. Juding by the events mentioned, Raiders of the Lost Ark in cinemas and A Royal wedding, the book is set in 1981), racial tensions and the Black Power movement. We see conflict between an old Irish man and a younger black man, both of whom befriend Leon and struggle to form a connection with one another.

But, at the forefront of the story for Leon is his quest to get his mother and brother back. Leon’s life is listening behind close doors to foster parents and social services and trying to piece together what is in store for him. He can’t trust, can’t feel at home and can’t accept the fact that someone else is looking after his brother.

Leon’s relationship with the adults around him is touching, even if he doesn’t realise it. People are drawn to him and his time in the allotments is my favourite part of the book. I’d thoroughly recommend it for its comments on family, class differences, racism and childhood.

My Name is Leon is published on 2nd June 2016. I received an early copy through Netgalley.

Book and a Brew December Box

bookbrewdec

There was a mini bonus treat in this month’s Book and a Brew box! A mini box of delicious smelling Christmas tea! Inspired by mulled wine, it’s an automatic win for me!

As for the usual box contents… I’m still totally in love with this subscription. Teapigs have converted even this staunch PG Tips lover and I’m amazed at the range of teabags they have. December is my third month of Book and a Brew and every box I’ve received has been completely different and equally delicious.

Of course this applies to the books too. Each month has been perfectly selected and this one is no exception. Part of me was expecting the obvious; a sugar-sweet Christmas story. I’m so glad I was wrong. Zodiac Station, a thriller set in the Arctic Circle, sounds likes the perfect winter book; dark, cold and suspenseful. From Tom Harper’s website:

Deep inside the Arctic circle, the US Coast Guard icebreaker Terra Nova batters its way through the frozen sea. One day, a gaunt figure, half-dead, skis out of the fog from across the pack ice. The crew bring him aboard and give him medical treatment for prolonged exposure, malnutrition – and a gunshot wound.

The man says his name is Thomas Anderson. He says he’s come from the research station on the ice-bound island of Utgard, two hundred kilometres south. And the tale he tells is the most extraordinary story the crew of the Terra Nova have ever heard.

I’m reminded of the Charlie Brooker series Black Mirror (which, incidentally, had one of the greatest, creepiest Christmas episodes which is probably why I’m drawing comparisons) I’m looking forward to curling up with it in the dark evenings!

I think my favourite thing about Book and a Brew is the commitment to hardbacks. I very rarely buy a hardback for myself, predominantly for cost reasons, and it’s bee nice to see my pile of hardbacks growing recently. I’m aiming to get a small display bookcase for my hallway in the new year to display them because there’s something wonderful about having a neat line of hardback books out for everyone to see!

tumblr_nznr78gvv81v1hvnqo1_1280

 

When He Fell by Kate Hewitt

  
Yesterday was the end of term for me and as it happens I have just finished reading this book set in a Manhattan private school. The story revolves around two mothers and their respective sons, single Maddie and her boisterous son Ben and married Joanna and her quiet son Josh, and the way their lives change when Josh pushes Ben at school.

From the outset the story is heartbreaking. We see Maddie trying to cope with Ben’s induced coma, through to his painful rehab, whist also trying to piece together what happened on the playground. Simultaneously Jo battles with her fears over Maddie’s relationship with her husband and just houw culpable her son really is.

Although the story is intrinsically linked to Josh’s actions that day, as it progresses it becomes obvious that the more important issue is how the actions of adults, however small, affect their children. There is a very real tragedy in it, and the ending is upsetting, but also uplifting in a strange way.

Kate Hewitt’s writing is strong and I liked that she wasn’t lazy or predictable with her plotting. I wouldn’t have guessed how the story was going to go, particularly towards the end, and it had me gripped.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

  
It’s been a week since I last updated! I’ve had four books on the go after getting slightly over zealous about my Netgalley approvals and then got sick at the weekend which meant I was in no mode to do anything other than sleep the days away.

But in any case, speaking of sick, I finished Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider this evening and loved it even thigh it made me sad. The story revolves around a fictional boarding house for teenagers that have contracted a drug resistant strain of tuberculosis, with the insinuation that the disease has now made a devastating reprisal in the US.

I think any YA novel about sick teens is going to draw automatic comparisons with John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars but I think in this case that’s not a fair comparison. To me it felt a lot more like an American high school take on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (the film version of which I incidentally watched today). Robyn Schneider even cites Hailsham as inspiration in her notes.

One of my favourite things about the book is the fact that the two points of view (Lane and Sadie) turn a lot of YA tropes on their heads. They view each other as cute and almost too cool for them… Yet they view themselves as awkward and uncool. I liked seeing both sides and not being left with the two dimensional pixie girl/boy love interest trap that I think some YA stories fall in to.

I really enjoyed it. It was sad in a way that YA fiction can be; showing young loss and hope and love and tragedy. Lane and Sadie’s stories are sweetly ordinary until we’re reminded that they’re dying and even they don’t know how much time they have left.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

  
In my humble opinion, Gillian Flynn is an absolute master of her craft. Gone Girl was the best thriller I read in 2014 and I was very excited to read her other novels (and short story). I started with Dark Places, a book about a woman trying to find out if her brother really did massacre the rest of her family 24 years before.

While Dark Places didn’t have the almighty twist of Gone Girl it still had me gripped. It wasn’t a redemption story, or a revenge story. It was a story if finding peace in a situation that wouldn’t allow it. None of the characters pretend to be likeable, the setting is grim (although my only other experience of Kansas is watching Jericho on Netflix so I may be getting a biased view) and Gillian Flynn’s description of both shows that she doesn’t want to pander to us. She has a story to tell, and her talent lies in being able to craft that story brilliantly without needing to sugarcoat it to make it palatable. You learn to love them, that love isn’t forced on you. One if the things I loved about Gone Girl too was the fact that the characters were deeply flawed, because people are.   

I think one of the characteristics of Gillian Flynn’s novels is that every moment is calculated. There’s no detail that is superfluous to the story. No loose thread that’s left hanging. Even to the point where things I had barely registered at the beginning become vitally important later on. It’s incredibly clever, but also dark and dramatic and somehow hopeful. If I gave stars it’d get the maximum possible.

Blog Tour: Hark by Justin Bog

  
A beautifully written collection of short stories from critically acclaimed Pacific Northwest writer Justin Bog, Hark explores the range of emotions surrounding the holidays. From melancholy to madness, loss and despair to hope and forgiveness, these six tales shimmer with feelings, some we’d rather stuff away, that Christmas can evoke.

Set in colorful locations around the United States, from Anacortes, Washington, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Sun Valley, Idaho, each tale focuses on people who struggle to make good choices, learn lessons, and maybe even find peace during the holiday season.

There was something quite lovely about reading a collection of Christmas stories wholly unique to Christmas stories; they weren’t sickly sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the romantic, Scrooge redeeming, Wonderful Life, toy making stories that are so common this time of year. But that’s not all that Christmas is about and I think these stories keep in mind the vast number of people for whom Christmas is a complicated time.

There is a warmth in Justin Bog’s writing but, to me, it doesn’t come from a light, humourous tale but more from a desire to portray complicated relationships and feelings that are important to so many people at Christmas time. Each story is different, unique. Some are humourous, some are darker. All of them are a very lovely addition to my Christmas reading.

Blog tour: The New Mrs D by Heather Hill

  
Four days into their honeymoon in Greece, Bernice and David Dando have yet to consummate their marriage and after having accepted his almost non-existent desire for sex throughout the relationship, Bernice finally discovers the reason; he is addicted to porn. Learning that the love of her life chooses the cheap thrill of fantasy over her is devastating but then, ‘every man does it; it’s just looking, right?’ If she leaves the relationship because of virtual adultery, will she be labelled as pathological, overreacting, or even worse, frigid?

When funny, feisty, forty-something Bernice plans the adventure trip of a lifetime, she doesn’t expect to be spending it alone. But as it turns out, unintentionally contributing to a Greek fish explosion, nude karaoke and hilarious misadventures with volcanoes are exactly what she needs to stop fretting about errant husbands and really start living. But when Mr D tries to win her back, Bernice has a decision to make: is this a holiday from her humdrum life, or the start of a whole new adventure?

This was without a doubt one of the funniest books I have read all year. Which I should have known it would be. A quick glance at Heather Hill’s twitter bio tells you she’s naturally hilarious and her writing is further example of this. She has a way of adding little extra bits of information that turn a bad situation into a funny anecdote.

I fell in love with Mrs D on the very first page, and more and more throughout the book. She’s witty, a bit cynical but very quick and I thought she was absolutely brilliant. She’s one of my favourite types of characters: people getting up to mischief at a time when society tells them they should be behaving.

I really did love this book from start to finish and I can’t wait to read more of Heather’s work in future!

Be sure to check out the rest of Heather’s blog tour on Chick Lit Plus!