Beneath the Surface by Heidi Perks


I think there’s a danger right now, in the wake of Gone Girl’s popularity, that new thrillers feel like they have to have some gruesome shock factor in order to be thrilling. Beneath the Surface by Heidi Perks proves that what a good thriller really needs is a thought out plot, realistic twists and well written characters. I loved the understated nature of the storyline and the fact that it gave the chance for the characters to shine, whilst also being unexpected and full of plenty of twists.

Abi’s mum has gone missing, taking with her her two year old twins. Fourteen years later Abi writes to her estranged husband about her attempts to come to terms with her loss. Meanwhile, Kathryn is living a small community life with her now sixteen year old daughters and praying that her past doesn’t catch up with her. The plot relies heavily on he idea of family manipulation, reputations that are worth protecting over everything else and the bigger lies that are spawned from little ones. I loved it.

It’s a really good debut, and I especially appreciated it being such a sympathetic portrayal of living with a troubled parent. It’s well plotted, each character has a strong voice and the ending will make you cry, even just a little.

Beneath the Surface is released on March 24th. I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom


One of the things that struck me about Not If I See You First was that, although it is narrated by a girl who lost her sight aged seven, her blindness is by no means her only defining feature. Parker is funny, determined and honest. 

The fact that the book is told entirely through Parker also adds an interesting dimension. We’re limited to what people sound like and act like, but it doesn’t feel like a limitation. In fact I feel like I know these characters slightly better because there is such a focus on their words and actions; how respectful and understanding they are of Parker’s needs and how they speak to one another.

There’s also an underlying story about mental illness and the effect that it can have on the people we love. It’s not explicitly stated, but the insinuation is there; Parker’s parents were mentally ill in some way and she is alone because of it. Within that story is the question of how we deal with grief, whether there is a balance between letting our emotions out and pushing through.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was tragic in parts, funny in others and understated in a way that made it feel very real.

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

I love a good YA dystopian novel. I even quite like a bad one. Cecelia Ahern’s YA debut is an outstanding one. 

I used to buy my mum a Cecelia Ahern book for her birthday every year, just in time for our family holiday (the only time she ever gets to read). Shockingly, I’ve never read any of her books myself until now.

The concept is less extreme than other YA dystopias out there: The Guild and the Whistleblowers hunt down anyone in society who is ‘Flawed’, people who have committed no crimes but have been deemed to have made ethical or moral decisions that are wrong. Found guilty in a non-criminal court they are branded in one of five places and released back into society to live a plainer life with minimal prospects a different rules. International travel is still permitted for the non-Flawed, society is less closed off than in other books I’ve read, but I think it works well. There’s the sinister undertone that other countries may soon adopt the Flawed system and that The Guild is working outside of the control of the government. It feels as though it’s building up to more, so I’m pleased to see that it’s the first in a series!

It was nice to see a diverse range of characters, and the story is within their relationships and changing attitudes to the unfairness in society, rather than gratuitous violence or unplotted action. It’s well written, believable and I’m already looking forward to the sequel!

I received an early copy of Flawed through Netgalley. Flawed is released in April 2016.

Book and a Brew January Box

I got a late night delivery of this month’s Book and a Brew box, which cheered me me right up.

This month’s theme is  Oriental and so the book is a translated novel by a Korean author. One of my re solutions this year is to read books by authors of different backgrounds so I was very excited to open this one!

Fukuoka Prison, 1944. Beyond the prison walls the war rages; inside a man is found brutally murdered.

Yuichi Watanabe, a young guard with a passion for reading, is ordered to investigate. The victim, Sugiyama – also a guard – was feared and despised throughout the prison and inquiries have barely begun when a powerful inmate confesses. But Watanabe is unconvinced; and as he interrogates both the suspect and Yun Dong-ju, a talented Korean poet, he begins to realise that the fearsome guard was not all he appeared to be . . .

As Watanabe unravels Sugiyama’s final months, he begins to discover what is really going on inside this dark and violent institution, which few inmates survive: a man who will stop at nothing to dig his way to freedom; a governor whose greed knows no limits; a little girl whose kite finds her an unlikely friend. And Yun Dong-ju – the poet whose works hold such beauty they can break the hardest of hearts.

I read a blog post as soon as I opened my box written by the author about his inspiration for the book. Yun Dong-ju was a real poet and the concept of writing a fictionalised version of a real person is one I really enjoy.

As usual the tea is matched perfectly. I enjoyed my first cup during my bath today and it was delicious and soothed my aching throat!

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris

I started reading this book last night, convinced I would get through a couple of chapters, and finished well before bedtime. Twitter is chatting about it as we speak using the hashtag #StaySingle and it’s definitely fitting!

It wasn’t quite the story I was expecting and was fairly refreshing to read a story about domestic abuse that doesn’t use rape as a cheap thrill tactic. It’s all psychological, which is I think something that doesn’t get written about enough and writing forgets that abuse doesn’t have to be physical violence.

The story alternates between the present, beginning at a dinner party, and the past, when Grace meets Jack. I preferred the present day story as I found the beginnings of their relationship creepily lovey dovey considering the uneasy way the present is written and the knowledge things aren’t going to go right. 

The best part, for me, was the ending. I won’t give it away but I loved the character of Esther and the ending was very cleverly written.

Overall I thought it was a really creepy thriller. I had to turn all I my lights on and have a look around the flat before bedtime and I am definitely expecting some disturbing dreams at some point this week!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon


Update: a lot of my friends, and many people I don’t know, have been hurt by this book’s shock twist and I know agree that this book is ableist. I’m finding review to link to that will be able to explain this better than I could but I’m sorry that I didn’t pick up on how distressing this book would be to read as a disabled person.

 I feel fairly privileged to have read two wonderful debut novels in as many days. Yesterday I finished The Versions of Us and on a whim picked up Everything, Everything after a post by a Facebook friend reminded me I owned it. I managed to get six hours of sleep and a whole days work in and still finished it fairly early this evening. I loved it.

Maddy has an extreme case of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency and hadn’t left her home in seventeen years. Her mother, a doctor, has done everything to protect her including turning their home into an airtight filtered clean room. Soon after her eighteenth birthday Maddie watches as a new family moves in next door and it’s not long until she ‘meets’ Olly from afar. I really liked the way their romance developed, turns out I’m pretty sympathetic to the idea of falling in love via messages with someone you can’t touch, and the ways they lean on one another are interesting. Maddy is very naive, Olly has a troubled home life… But they fit well and I had no trouble believing in them.

I also loved the way the book was set out. Maddy’s thoughts take up the bulk but emails, IMs, illustrations (drawn by the author’s husband), one line book reviews and Maddy’s own definitions of words give a much wider picture of the story Nicola Yoon is telling. There’s just enough clues to tell you the real story, if you look hard enough, and Nicola Yoon is really clever with her details. Her writing is superb as well.

This insole of those hooks where I feel like I need to have a lie down after finishing it until the world makes sense again. It was wonderful.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

I am in love with this book. From the moment I started to the very end it was wonderful. The whole time I was reading I listened to the complete discography of The Who which became somewhat of an official soundtrack to me (in hindsight I should have made a spotify playlist based on the author’s own suggestions in the back of my copy) so I feel thoroughly immersed in the last sixty years. 

The Versions of Us is probably one of the most incredible debut novels I’ve ever read, partly because it’s so beautifully written, but also because of what an ambitious story it is. It is, essentially, three timelines in one, with some interwoven characters and others completely distinct between versions. The main bulk of the story takes place over various points from 1958 to 2012, making it a complete story of one couple, Eva and Jim, from the moment they meet until the end.

I was expecting to have a favourite ‘version’, one which stood out as the life I wanted for these characters. In the end I didn’t because none of them were perfect. They were all in parts realistic, tragic and uplifting and came together to show how our lives can be affected by the smallest events and how fate can have a hand too. I liked it more this way. In each version Jim and Eva’s lives are what they make if them, individually and as a couple, and I think that made it a far more powerful storyline than if one version has been noticeably more perfect than the others.

I agree with the quote on the front. The Versions of Us manages to be One Day meets Sliding Doors, whilst also being unlike anything I have ever read before.

A Study in Scarlett by Arthur Conan Doyle

One of my New Years reading resolutions was to read more ‘classics’ this year. My vague aim for this year is to review one a month, and I guess the first Monday of the month is as good a time as any!

Back when I was at university one of my major modules was Victorian Literature and it was one of the few that managed to get through the fog that was my mental health back then and encourage me to pick up the books I was supposed to be reading. I hadn’t picked one up since I graduated. 

So, I was excited to read this classic, especially after watching the most recent episode of BBC’s Sherlock. I downloaded the complete Sherlock Holmes Canon onto my new kindle but wanted to start with A Study in Scarlet as it introduced the major characters, before I move onto the mammoth task of reading all four novels and fifty six short stories.

The first thing that struck me was just how funny I found it. Perhaps because I’m so used to reading bleak Victorian novels like Wuthering Heights, the farcical nature of John Watson following Sherlock Holmes around in awe as he uses ridiculously slight clues to solve mysteries seems a lot more obvious. It reminded me more of a PG Wodehouse novel taking itself seriously more so than the Bronte Sisters or Dickens. 

That’s not to say that it was all a romp around London with two new friends and an inept police force. I also really enjoyed the interlude in America, after we find out whodunnit and need to know why they dunnit. Despite the unexpected murderous Mormons.

I’m looking forward to reading more. I think the short stories are next for me but A Study in Scarlet was a good introduction back into the world of classics for me.

Reading resolutions

One of my major goals for 2015 was to read 52 books, one a week, and to read more women than men. I wrote a little bit about what female authors mean to be at the beginning of Read Women December, and even without that month I smashed my target. I ended up with about  about 75% of the books I read being by women. 

What I failed to take into account, though, is that while I can aim to read more female authors there was still a lack of diversity in the books I read. Taking into account the books I’m currently reading only two of the fifty eight books I read this year have been written by POC. Only a handful had characters that weren’t straight. Which makes my attempts to change my reading habits far less intersectional.

So, my goal for 2016 is to make a conscious effort to change that. I’ve read more this year than any before and I do put that down to being more conscientious with my reading choices and I hold my hands up that I wasn’t conscientious enough. My aim for 2016 is to read at least 60 books (I’m hoping to read a lot more, my reading efforts weren’t great during the first half of the year and I read twice as much from July-December than in the first half. In fact my Goodreads challenge is set to 80 to be optimistic). But, more specifically, I want to make sure I’m challenging myself with what I read. Or, at least, challenging myself to make better choices with what I read.

I want, again, to read more women. I also want to read more women (and men) who don’t come from the same background as me. I have a bunch of books by WOC thanks to one of my university modules (Ethnic American Literature- we were supposed to read a breadth of authors from every ethnic background in America but I was not mentally in the best state back then and read the bare minimum). 

I’d also like, although I realise that this could fly in the face of my first aim, to read more ‘classics’ this year. I’m thinking of doing a bi-weekly review of various classics over the course of the year, particularly ones that I haven’t considered reading before. Most of the ones I currently own are by white authors, so if anyone has any recommendations of classics written by POC please do send them my way! (I’m also doing my own research but I’m always open to recommendations!) I’m defining classics loosely now… I should probably say ‘vintage’… Basically anything written before I was born!

It’s not a perfect target, I know, but I would like to try. If anyone has any recommendations please send them my way!

Ebooks and Kindles

So, I got myself a kindle! I’ve been thinking about it for a while now after realising how many hours I spend staring at my iPad every day reading ebooks. I had a kindle many, many years ago (one of the first ones with a keyboard and 3G). I eventually wore it out (I think by using it as a portable internet device too often) and it have up the ghost. Since then I’ve been reluctant to shell out again and used the free iPad kindle app instead.

At Christmas, however, I happened to look up prices thanks to my brother’s suggestion and found a bunch of them refurbished by sellers on ebay for surprisingly low prices. The one I chose is a 4th gen, bog standard, non touch screen model which is perfect for the basic usage I have in mind. It arrived today, having apparently been shipped super quick!

It’s amazingly small and light and already I’m enjoying the feel of it in my hand vs my iPad (mini). All of my amazon purchases, and my netgalley downloads, are there already thanks to the clever syncing and so I’m good to go!

I didn’t realise that this model still had the experimental features,which meant that I was able to use a web browser and download the Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection I had been reading this morning. Seeing as I was reading it for an hour this afternoon and am still only 1% through it kind of shows why buying an ereader that is better for my eyes than an iPad screen was a necessity!

I have around 120 ebooks in my cloud as we speak, including several from netgalley (and a good portion of them I’ve already read). I’ll be taking it to work so I can read more on the go!