Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah #BookReview

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All Beth has to do is drive her son to his Under-14s away match, watch him play, and bring him home.

Just because she knows that her former best friend lives near the football ground, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her. Why would Beth do that, and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora Braid for twelve years.

But she can’t resist. She parks outside Flora’s house and watches from across the road as Flora and her children, Thomas and Emily, step out of the car. Except…

There’s something terribly wrong.

Flora looks the same, only older – just as Beth would have expected. It’s the children that are the problem. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily Braid were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. They are still five and three. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt – Beth hears Flora call them by their names – but they haven’t changed at all.
They are no taller, no older.

Why haven’t they grown?

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What the… what the… what the… hellllll is going on? If I haven’t asked myself this question 30 times or more I haven’t asked it once as I just couldn’t explain how the children didn’t age at all in 12 years. Well I had my ideas right at the start but my train of thought just evaporated and I just let the story take me wherever it was going. Ah, this novel is one big brain twister with thankfully a really great answer waiting for me in the end.

I really liked Beth and her family, especially her daughter Zanah (short for Suzannah). She might still be studying for her GSCE’s, or that’s what she should be doing at least, but I loved her assistence and everyone who reads this book will agree, you’ll probably love to have a daughter like her, she is one incredibly bright girl. It’s maybe a little onorthodox because she’s only 16 years but she’s just a great character who propels the story forward, asking the right questions and keeping the calm in the family and as such she’s the real voice of reason in this novel. I also really loved the fact that Beth nor anyone else doubts what she saw so we don’t get stuck in the paranoia/mad woman routine but we’re quickly running through possible explanations, none of which seem to be the right one though. And yet, there is people!

Beth is like a dog with a bone and I’m so happy she didn’t let off. Even though she gets in contact with Flora and Ben, friends she broke all contact with for some reason 12 years ago, she can feel they are hiding something. There are lies and charades aplenty and well there were so many alarm bells going off I’m surprised the police didn’t knock on my door :-).

I read one novel by this author before and let’s just say that wasn’t a satisfying experience so I didn’t really plan on reading more books in the immediate future but now I’m sooo happy I did. She’s definitely on my radar for the future because I love an ending that you never imagined and is just so brilliant and clever, and much more evil and dark than expected.

I normally read a novel per week and I devoured this one in two days. I’m not even sorry I sacrificied some of my sleep for it, it was just so intriguing and addictive, I had to find out the truth!

I received a free copy of this novel from publisher Hodder & Houghton in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

The Holdout by Graham Moore #BookReview #MeetTheJury #The Holdout

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‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

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I love reading courtroom thrillers so The Holdout piqued my interest right away, and who doesn’t want to cast their vote and see if they were right… I know I do! This isn’t a novel that reports in detail what goes on in the courtroom though, it’s more what is going on outside of court that will keep you awake at night. The Holdout centers on ‘the twelve’ main characters, the jurors who are present every day to hear about The People vs Bobby Nock, a teacher who is thought to be involved in the disappearance of 15-year old Jessica Silver.

It did take me some time to form an opinion about this case that is the start of the novel and which runs as a red thread throughout the story with growing complexity. For a four-week trial and one week of deliberation I did expect to learn more, I felt I missed information and that I didn’t get the full picture, so this got me wary. Was I being pushed to one side? The author sticks to the facts, so it left me with a few unanswered questions about the investigation, testimonies or lack thereof (nobody wants to hear the main suspect?) and also about some expert findings. Couldn’t the possibly contaminated evidence be redone? If they knew it might or might not be contaminated, why would they still present it to the court as their expert findings, why wasn’t it thrown out on that basis? I know, I know, I might be too sceptical and difficult on this part but I just wanted to cast my own vote in all fairness. I’d make such a great (read: pain in the ass) juror :-).

At least I kept with my opinion, which was more than you can say of the jury. It was VERY scary to discover that the jury changed their mind for so many different reasons, invalid reasons lacking a real foundation. It was uncalled for, someone’s life is in the hands of people and they go over it so lightly, I felt horrified and it certainly didn’t make them my favorite people, but were they right or wrong in the end? As for the guilt question, it certainly wasn’t crystal clear, so yes I had serious doubts as well. If he didn’t kill her, then who did? And who killed this jury member 10 years later at their reunion? What was going to come out that was worth killing for?

Now I know I’m not Hercule Poirot but I had an inkling and I was right about a small part of the story regarding what happened to Jessica. Finding out who killed the juror swept me nearly from my feet though. You better sit down when you’re reading this one. I never expected this outcome nor what happened after. I was fascinated to see how it would play out for the killer. I love reading novels that pose moral dilemmas and this one certainly kept me thinking about the choices the jurors made, even when I wasn’t reading.

There really are a couple of brilliant and unexpected twists in this novel and I’m sure you won’t be able to tear yourself from reading once you start. The Holdout certainly makes you think about your own beliefs and values. What would you do in a case like this? I still don’t think I agree with the way Maya handled it, but I’m not the one who has to live with these decisions so I’m cool with it :-). I don’t think I ever want to be on a jury now though, no thank you. I am, however, very thankful I can just read a story like this. I love to read it, I don’t want to live it :-).

I received a free copy of this novel from Orion Publishing. This is still my honest opinion.

Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman #BookReview

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When a man is found on a Norfolk beach, drifting in and out of consciousness, with no identification and unable to speak, interest in him is sparked immediately. From the hospital staff who find themselves inexplicably drawn to him; to international medical experts who are baffled by him; to the nationalpress who call him Mr Nobody; everyone wants answers. Who is this man? And what happened to him?

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess the patient. This is her field of expertise, this is the chance she’s been waiting for and this case could make her name known across the world. But therein lies the danger. Emma left this same small town in Norfolk fourteen years ago and has taken great pains to cover all traces of her past since then.

But now something – or someone – is calling her back. And the more time she spends with her patient, the more alarmed she becomes.

Has she walked into danger?

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review-2

star three and a half

A man with no memory is found on a deserted beach by a dog walker. Is it a state of retrograde amnesia, a fugue, or even worse, could he be faking it? Wanting to avoid a scandal like they had in the past when they came across ‘The Piano Man’ the government brings in Emma, a neuropsychiatrist. In all of the country she’s one with the most expertise in this field.

I found it fascinating to read about the different possibilities and always find the mind to be such curious thing, and I was wondering if it was possible that Mr. Nobody had a hidden agenda. Does he really have no memory? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? His very decisive actions in a moment of crisis in the hospital speak volumes about his past even without an identity, or so it seemed, and what was even more mystifying is that he seemed to recognize Emma. Could he be connected to her past in some way? A past that she hates to think about and even made her contemplate taking the job – a once in a million opportunity – in the first place.  She feels guilty about her past too but about what exactly is information that slowly trickles in over the course of the novel.

Emma is drawn to this mystery man who’s soon dubbed Matthew by hospital staff, but despite the tests she’s running she’s unable to explain how he knows so much about her. The tension mounts when people find out about her and her past – which we’re still much in the dark about at that point – and she doesn’t feel safe anymore. The confusion is all around until the most shocking truth about Matthew finally comes out.

Mr. Nobody was a pacey thriller which kept me firmly in its grip. The suspense was brilliant and I was guessing all the way throughout the book. The ending was definitely twisty but felt a tad over-the-top for me and I was a little disappointed that a character who I found quite clever could turn into someone so stupid. I’m sure most readers won’t have a problem with that twist though and will be delighted with its orginality so don’t let me stop you from finding out for yourself!

One thing is for sure, Mr. Nobody certainly isn’t a nobody. He’s very much somebody and you’ll know it when you read this novel.

I received a free paperback copy of this novel from the publisher Simon and Schuster in exchange for my honest opinion.

Breaking Dad by James Lubbock #BookReview

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Think you’ve got a dysfunctional family?
Meet mine.

For 18 years, my family lived a normal life in a respectable suburb…

Until one day, my dad gave up his successful career, and unexpectedly became Britain’s most wanted crystal meth dealer.

This is our story. At times shocking, often unbelievable, and all 100% true.

amazon uk amazon com

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Well then, this was quite the opposite of a dry and boring account about some drug baron. What a story! And to think it’s all true, you’d really think this could only be fiction at times. The beginning of James’ story alone is enough to hook any reader because his dad AND his mum each drop the big secrets they’ve kept for years on him on page 4 of the book already. They have nothing to do with drugs but as I see it, maybe the drugs were a consequence of this liberation for his father.

James Lubbock and Warren FitzGerald are great writers and I really liked the style the book was written in. James writes honestly and with such great wit about his life and his family. I can hardly believe we must be around the same age and that he had to deal with so much while I was hardly aware of the existence of drugs in a world far away from mine.

He doesn’t paint a picture of his father as a saint, he doesn’t make any excuses for him, and neither does he make him the biggest sinner there is, he’s just his dad who he loves with flaws and all. He shows his father’s ups and further along the line his downs too without flinching. I felt his worries, the care for his father and his reluctant acceptance that he couldn’t do anything more and that it would end badly for his father if he didn’t stop his drug habit and his dealing.

His father is certainly not the stereotype you might have in mind for a drug kingpin. He used to be an Earl Grey, opera loving father who didn’t smoke or drink and thought drugs were evil. He liked making deals and he was a good businessman though, so in hindsight it’s not even that big of a surprise that he saw an opportunity and tried to make money from it. He started small of course, but I guess he was quite good at doing business. I had to stop myself already halfway through this novel from googling and seeing the man in a picture for myself. But then I would also learn how it would end – although I had a fairly good idea about that already – and I wanted to see for myself how it would go.

There were 35 short and sweet chapters, most of them headed with a mono-syllabic chapter title that begged me for context and made me me want to dive right in and find out how they fit into the story. Even though Breaking Dad is a story of addiction and the becoming of a drug lord, you will never have read about a drug lord like this. It’s not like in the movies people, this is how it really is. Real people, real emotions, bad decisions… you’ll look at the headlines differently from now on, and with much more understanding for the person behind the headline and his family.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Mirror Books, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Silent Winter by Maggie James #BookReview

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On an icy November night, Drew Blackmore is beaten unconscious, then abducted. He awakes to find himself in total darkness, naked and chained to the floor. Fed just enough to keep him alive, Drew is unable to identify his captor, or the reason for his incarceration. As reality fades, hallucinations take over. Can Drew escape his prison before madness claims him?

On an icy November night, Drew Blackmore is beaten unconscious, then abducted. He awakes to find himself in total darkness, naked and chained to the floor. Fed just enough to keep him alive, Drew is unable to identify his captor, or the reason for his incarceration. As reality fades, hallucinations take over. Can Drew escape his prison before madness claims him?

Meanwhile Drew’s wife, Holly, despairing of ever seeing him again, turns to his brother for comfort. As the worst winter in decades sweeps the UK, she learns of Drew’s tragic past. Could his disappearance be connected with that of a prostitute years before?

A story of how the mind responds to solitary confinement, ‘Silent Winter’ examines one man’s desperate attempt to survive the unthinkable.

amazon uk amazon com

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This was so good! As a thriller addict this is not my first read with a captivity plot but Silent Winter is pretty different from the rest of ’em. This is an author you need to add to your list! The first part of the story is dominated by Drew’s captivity and survival, his total isolation and the consequences on his mind and body kept me on tenterhooks. Would he be found in time or not? I read about his wife Holly’s distress following his absence and there were events involving Holly and his brother Todd that made me suspicious and alert, but Drew was always in the back of my mind. Sensatory deprivation is total torture and reading about his detoriating state, which was getting worse by the minute, was described in perfect detail and pretty hard hitting. I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next but my eyes were glued to the pages just the same. Drew’s life was on the line here and even as a reader I didn’t have more answers than he had and I was in the dark as much as he was about who took him and why. 

The chapters were divided between Drew, Holly and then there were snippets of someone called The Watchman, without any doubt the bad guy in the story and I assumed his abducter. The Watchman’s identity stays very well hidden througout the story as well as his motive. There are also references to the past, when a little 7-year old boy living in dire circumstances at home was one night left behind at home all alone. This definitely scarred him for life but how is this tied to Drew? I felt it niggling in the back of my head and sensed the direction to look for answers but I still couldn’t figure it all out. It was delightful to finally see all the puzzle pieces fall into place and having that aha-moment. Very twisted and unexpected indeed.

Overall, a great read, very gripping and it left me reeling several times. Recommended!

I received a free ecopy from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

We Should All Be Mirandas by Chelsea Fairless and Lauren Garroni #BookReview @HMHbooks

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We Should All Be Mirandas is a celebration of a certain redheaded lawyer and the legions of fans who relate to her pragmatic, no-bullshit approach to work, love, and sex. Written by two self-proclaimed Mirandas, this humorous manifesto distils Ms. Hobbes’ core principles into a strategic guide for navigating life’s inevitable ups and downs. In it, you’ll learn to:

Overcome your internalised Mirandaphobia
Cope with humiliating sexual encounters
Make Google Docs your bitch
Dump that Skipper that you’ve been dating
Embrace your bad hair days
…and so much more!

With sharp, sardonic humor and nods to the series’ most iconic moments, We Should All Be Mirandas is the perfect gift for fashionistas, pop culture mavens, and every woman who has dared to eat cake out of the garbage.

amazon uk amazon com

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star three and a half

I normally don’t read this type of non-fiction but I watched all the episodes of Sex and The City on tv many years ago and felt nostalgic. Didn’t we all secretly envy Carrie? Well did you ever stop to think that maybe you’re actually a Miranda and that being a Miranda is just as cool if not better than being a Carrie? Me neither but this little book made me change my mind radically.

The novel makes you appreciate the Miranda in you, hell it makes you love yourself a little more for whoever you are, and don’t we all need to be told once in a while that we’re amazing just the way we are (yep I do, that’s why I love Bruno Mars so much)? If you want to feel better about yourself, gloss up on that self-esteem a little bit, then this is just the medicine you need.

We Should All Be Mirandas was a fun novel and very easy to read, I made a zillion notes while reading this that I can’t possibly all share with you so you’ll have to read the novel yourself but I know you’ll be wondering ‘what is A Miranda’ exactly, and if you are one and if I am one) yourself ? Well in order to know if you are there’s a very easy to follow flow chart in the book that will give you an answer immediately. I did find out that I certainly do have some of Miranda traits (with a bit of a Charlotte rising) and I certainly know quite a few women who I recognise as a Miranda. I wonder how they’ll react when I tell them?

This cute little book takes the reader through every possible aspect you can think of, clothing advice, dating advice (types of men that can be a trap), career advice, travel, sex… well you name it and it’s covered. I found that the first part of the novel gave me a very good idea of a Miranda. These type of women are minimalists and go for natural make-up, they are blunt and sarcastic and have a mild distrust of the world, and Mirandas always wear clothes they feel comfortable in, no matter the look. In the section of types of sneakers a Miranda wears it is also clear that she wears them not as a fashion statement, but for comfort (unlike Carries). I can sooo find myself in that! Also, this one made me laugh out loud:

Mirandas have a tendency to accrue a freakish number of canvas totebags because totes have two qualities that Mirandas value very much: practicality and affordability. They’re cheap and can hold many things. Getting rid of them if they’re soiled and misshapen doesn’t happen though, one totebag is designated and all the old ones are stored inside. That’s just the Miranda way.

I also loved Mirandas take on How To Succeed in Bussiness. I’ll try to memorise the following words:

Those who put in the long, hard hours will gain a savviness that cannot be acquired by those who fake it till they make it.

I found the first part of the book to be really focused on being a Miranda, the second part was more common sense and some good advice for everyone who reads it. It’s composed of lots of How To’s and at the end of each section there are even great little recaps titled ‘What You Should Have Learned from This Chapter’. I really liked the tone of the novel and its non-judgemental way like whether you want kids or don’t want kids, each side gets support in its own self-depricating way. So what if there’s more risk of dying alone and being eaten by my own cat, as they say in the book, that’s a small price to pay for a life lived on my own terms :-).

I had a good few chuckles whilst reading this and it’s a great book to gift to a dear friend or to yourself. We Should All Be Mirandas is a novel for all women, certainly not only for Sex and The City fans!

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton #BookReview #BWR

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WHEN ESTHER THOREL, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

INSIDE THE THORELS’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

IT IS SILK that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.

THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.

amazon uk amazon com

review-2

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Two women, Sara and Esther, are the narrators in Blackberry and Wild Rose, a historical novel situated in the year 1768. This shared responsibility for telling the story in alternating chapters is exactly what makes it such a fascinating novel.

While they are both subservient women, they hold very different positions in life. Sara becomes a servant in the Thorel household and Esther Thorel is the wife – literally ‘only’ the wife – to a very prominent silk weaver. The women are tied with their hands and feet to their social roles and I followed them while trying to fulfill their hopes and dreams. Sadly, there’s hardly a connection between them despite their similarities, it does not spark any sympathy for the other woman and if anything, they stand firm and tall in their own corner. Is their anything that can ever bring them closer together?

Even though Sara is obviously the underdog and is to be pitied, I sympathised significantly more with Esther and never really warmed to Sara throughout the story. It’s difficult to understand why she wasn’t grateful (any job would seem better to me than working in a brothel and Esther did save her from a lifelong debt) and I can’t attribute a lot of positive traits to her character. My heart did go out to her a few times towards the end though when I finally saw the deep feelings she was in fact able to develop for someone even though it might hurt her in the end.

But overall I found more enjoyment reading about Esther’s encounters with Bisby Lambert, a journeyman silk weaver who is allowed to use the spare loom in the Thorel attic to weave his own masterpiece. I hardly knew anything about silk weaving so a whole new world opened up to me and it was fascinating and educational to read about the looms and the process of weaving silks. There was also a beautiful chemistry between them that rejoiced me enormously.

Jealousy, secrecy, desires, and then… oh lord, a betrayal so deep you might not recover. It all leads the story towards that one point where they’ll have to make a certain choice, one ultimate moment of deciding whether to give support to the other woman or turn their back in the other one’s hour of need and even worse, be the one responsible for casualties. I was very dubious they would make the correct moral decision. The situation took a turn for the worse and I crossed all my fingers this would have a happy ending. In a way it did but also it very much didn’t, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Blackberry and Wild Rose was brilliantly atmospheric and a thoroughly enjoyable debut. She’s going to make me a true historical novel buff if she keeps this up, you’ll see.

I received a free paperback copy of the novel from the publisher, Quercus Books. This is my honest opinion.