Holiday Reads – Corfu 2017

At the start of June I headed off for a week’s break in Corfu – as usual, I had visions of grandeur, thinking I’d read a book a day, if not more! Alas, I only read three books during the whole week! After all, it was because I was having too much fun playing card games, completing arrow words puzzles (hello guilty pleasure!) and drinking gin fizzes in the sun.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I frequently get sent books for review, however I decided that my holiday reading would be ones that I had picked out myself and had a thirst to read – I made sure they all had no review, timeline or expectation attached. It was oddly refreshing! Given the location we were in, I probably should’ve packed The Durrells of Corfu as one of my books. I’ll be doing mini reviews of these three books in my monthly wrap up at the beginning of July, so without further a do…on holiday I read…

Miss you by Kate Eberlen (Pan MacMillan) – 4/5

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A Richard and Judy Book Club pick, a Radio 2 Book Club Choice – and the most unconventional love story you’ll read this year Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will …Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence – and, for one day, the paths of these two eighteen-year-olds will criss-cross before they each return to England. Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and chance, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly …or is there?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Penguin Books) – 5/5

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Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all …or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control. From the author of Truly Madly Guilty and The Husband’s Secret comes a novel about the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. Jane hasn’t lived anywhere for longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic coastal town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane feels as if she finally belongs. She finds friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste, two women with seemingly perfect lives – and their own secrets. But at the start of a new term, an incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground, causing a rift between them and other parents. Minor at first but escalating fast, until the whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful, and the truths blur into lies. It was always going to end in tears, but no one thought it would end in murder …

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) – 4/5

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The addictive new psychological thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train, the runaway Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and global phenomenon. In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, satisfying read that hinges on the stories we tell about our pasts and their power to destroy the lives we live now.

As a bonus for reading this far, here are some photos of our break away…

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What books will you be reading this Summer?

Blog Tour: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

#TitanBooks #BookReview #BlogTour @TitanBooks

Hello and happy publishing day to If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. Welcome to my stop on the blog tour – once again, a big thank you to Philippa at Titan Books for organizing, and including me, on this tour.

About the book: 

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.

As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life.

When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

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Paperback: 400 pages
Published by: Titan Books, 13th June 2017

My thoughts…

The characters’ love of theatre is at the heart of this novel, with obsession, passion, tragedy, love, and betrayal also peppered throughout the story. Rio packs drama in to every crevice of every page and she does a great job of making it unfold hastily before our eyes.

Rio clearly knows her stuff when it comes to Shakespeare (sadly some of which was perhaps lost on me…) and the novel is so rich in detail. It is absolutely jam-packed with Shakespearian quotations, but don’t let that put you off if you’re not an English-literature lover! For me, it flowed effortlessly in to the rest of the narrative and added another dimension to it; the period dialogue added drama and intrigue.

I was hooked on If We Were Villains from the first few chapters and then utterly engrossed until the final page. I definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for a solid literary thriller, which will leave you thinking about it for a long time after.

You can see the other posts from the blog tour here:

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I received an advanced copy of If We Were Villains from the lovely Philippa at Titan Books for an honest and unbiased review – thank you, 

And the winner is…

The 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been awarded to The Power by British author Naomi Alderman. Although I was hoping for a different outcome I am still thrilled with this being crowned as the winner. The Power is a subversive, feminist novel that makes you think about our current society and what affect power can have.

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Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”

You can read what I thought of The Power here and an extract of it over on the Baileys Prize website.

Wish I was there: What not to miss at Hay Festival

 

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Hay Festival kicks off today and runs from 25th May – 4th June 2017. Sadly, I can’t make it but I thought I’d put together a list of the events I think you should check out / ones I wish I was attending!

At the time of posting all of the below events still had tickets for sale.

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Simon Murray and Friends: The National Trust manual of housekeeping – show and tell
5.30pm, 26th May 2017

What is this for? And how do I clean it? The National Trust’s Director of Curatorship and his team of expert conservator colleagues display and demonstrate some of the most wonderful and eccentric household items from their collections. They’ll offer advice on anything you’d like to bring along.

Rose Tremain talks to Peter Florence
5.30pm, 31st May 2017

The novelist revisits her 2008 masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize and selected as one of the Festival’s 30 Essential Reads of the past 30 years. ‘Lev is on his way from Eastern Europe to Britain, seeking work. Behind him loom the figures of his dead wife, his beloved young daughter and his outrageous friend Rudi. Ahead of Lev lies the deep strangeness of the British: their hostile streets, their clannish pubs, their obsession with celebrity. London holds out the alluring possibility of friendship, sex, money and a new career and, if Lev is lucky, a new sense of belonging….’

Alison Weir – Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession
1pm, 1st June 2017

The second novel in the popular historian’s Six Tudor Queens series mines the story of Anne Boleyn, the young woman who changed the course of history. Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love. But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game. Chaired by Phil Rickman.

30 years of Rebus: Ian Rankin talks to SJ Parris
4pm, 3rd June 2017

The big tent morphs into the Oxford Bar for the afternoon, as we pull up a stool and celebrate the enduring brilliance of Rankin’s great Edinburgh detective creation.

John Boyne: The Heart’s Invisible Furies
1pm, 4th June 2017

Boyne’s new novel spans 80 years of Irish history. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, Cyril Avery will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home and a country. Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Absolutist. He talks to Peter Florence.

Are you going to the Hay Festival? If so, I’d love to hear what events you’re going to and what your highlights were.

Blog Tour: The Search by Howard Linskey

#BlogTour #BookReview @PenguinUKBooks @HowardLinskey @JennyPlatt90

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Search by Howard Linskey – I’ve got a review of the book for you today. Enjoy!

A bit about the book…

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Someone knows where the bodies are buried…

Little Susan Verity went missing during the heatwave of 1976. An unprecedented amount of police resource went into finding her, but to no avail. Until now. 

Convicted serial killer Adrian Wicklow was always the prime suspect. In the past, he’s repeatedly lied to the police about where Susan’s body is buried – playing a sick game from behind bars. But this time, he says, he’ll tell the truth. Because Adrian Wicklow is dying.

Detective Ian Bradshaw works with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to find the body. However, this is Wicklow’s life’s work. Would a murderer on death’s door give up his last secret so easily…?

The Search is the third book in the series, with No Name Lane and Behind Dead Eyes preceding it. If you’ve not read any of Linskey’s previous books, don’t fear as The Search works wonderfully as a standalone novel.

Paperback: 4th May 2017
Published by: Penguin Books

My thoughts… 

Set in Durham and centred around the case of missing Susan Verity, The Search is told from multiple perspectives – which I’m a huge fan of – as Detective Ian Bradshaw teams up with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to solve the 20 year old, re-opened mystery.

Early on, Bradshaw is sent to the prison where the terminally ill, suspected murderer Adrian Wicklow is locked up. The mind games begin as Wicklow gives Bradshaw an audio recording of his ‘real story’, promising that it would lead him to the missing bodies. This game of cat and mouse made me squirm; it was intense and angry, played out so well by the two characters, making my heart beat and my blood boil.

Wicklow is an intriguingly devious character, with a complex and troubled disposition. I found it fascinating how Howard Linskey portrayed him, as well as the affect that his personality had on DS Bradshaw – the more that he is exposed to Wicklow’s evil side, the more the case starts encroaching on his personal life, with the onset of night terrors. I was also fascinated by Helen and Tom’s relationship and was hoping for a different outcome (I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil any of the plot!). The parallel storyline of the mystery woman meant there was always lots going on, keeping me thoroughly interested throughout the book.

Whilst the story is a slow burner, it is also full of great dialogue and accurate descriptions. The Search is full of plot twists and the clues slowly unfold into a surprising conclusion. This book has everything I love (and want!) from a crime thriller: gritty characters, multiple perspectives, a shifting time narrative and parallel plots.

The Search gets a big thumbs up from me!

4/5

Give this a go if you enjoyed: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole or Ashes to Ashes by Paul Finch

About Howard Linskey: Howard Linskey is the author of the David Blake series, the first of which, The Drop, was selected as one of the ‘Top Five Crime Thrillers of the Year’ by The Times, and he has been called “one of the most commanding crime fiction practitioners at work today” by the Financial Times. His latest, The Search is out next week. Perfect for fans of gritty BBC Drama’s Broadchurch and The Fall, The Search is completely gripping and works brilliantly as a standalone title.

The Search blog tour has one more stop tomorrow (11th May), but you can find the other stops here:

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I received an advanced copy of The Search from the publishers in exchange for a fair an unbiased review. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (8th-14th May), a topic that has always interested me and been close to my heart. A major new study by the Mental Health Foundation discovered that over two-thirds of Britons say that they have experienced a mental health problem, with younger people more likely than those over the age of 55 to say that they have experienced an issue. Whilst people are becoming increasingly open and sharing their mental health stories, many people still think talking about mental health is taboo and there’s a big job to be done in raising awareness.

Today I’ve put together a roundup of some books that I’ve read to educate myself and that I’ve found both really interesting and enlightening. I haven’t got the last one on the list, but had to include it as it looks like a great tool for helping manage your own mental health.

As usual, I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the below and your thoughts on them.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

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Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness. Bryony Gordon has OCD. It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax

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Ruby Wax – comedian, writer and mental health campaigner – shows us how our minds can jeopardise our sanity. With her own periods of depression and now a Masters from Oxford in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy to draw from, she explains how our busy, chattering, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and stress. If we are to break the cycle, we need to understand how our brains work, rewire our thinking and find calm in a frenetic world. Helping you become the master, not the slave, of your mind, here is the manual to saner living.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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Susannah Cahalan was a happy, clever, healthy twenty-four-year old. Then one day she woke up in hospital, with no memory of what had happened or how she had got there. Within weeks, she would be transformed into someone unrecognizable, descending into a state of acute psychosis, undergoing rages and convulsions, hallucinating that her father had murdered his wife; that she could control time with her mind. Everything she had taken for granted about her life, and who she was, was wiped out. This is Susannah’s story of her terrifying descent into madness and the desperate hunt for a diagnosis, as, after dozens of tests and scans, baffled doctors concluded she should be confined in a psychiatric ward. It is also the story of how one brilliant man, Syria-born Dr Najar, finally proved – using a simple pen and paper – that Susannah’s psychotic behaviour was caused by a rare autoimmune disease attacking her brain.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth. “I wrote this book because the oldest cliches remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it …Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.

The Wellbeing Journal: Creative Activities to Inspire by Mind

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Explore your inner world and be inspired with The Wellbeing Journal. Developed in partnership with Mind, the mental health charity, each page of this gorgeous journal has been thoughtfully crafted and it includes activities, colouring, drawing prompts, contemplative quotes and lots of space for you to write about your own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Creativity and reflection can have a powerful, positive influence on our lives. Now, with The Wellbeing Journal, you can enjoy practising these skills every day and wherever you go.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, or you’re worried about someone you know there is plenty of help available through both Mental Health and Mind.

April Reads

It feels such a long time since I last wrote a monthly wrap-up post. I’ve had a funny month for reading – whilst I’ve managed to read a similar amount to previous months, it has felt stilted.

I’ve had days of no reading at all and then I’ve gone through sudden bursts of reading all day and all night until I couldn’t consume any more, until I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open. This month I’m hoping to read a bit more consistently and will be aiming for a manageable chunk each day! I’ve got LOTS of review books piling up for June releases, so my (rather ambitious?) aim is to read a book every other day in May. So far I’ve already ticked off two novels, hopefully I can achieve this.

How Much the Heart Can Hold (Sceptre) – 3/5
By Carys Bray, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Bernardine Evaristo, Grace McCleen, Donal Ryan, Nikesh Shukla, D. W. Wilson

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This collection of short stories explores how love is not a singular concept. Each story is penned by a different author and looks at different types of love, from Agape (love for humanity) to Philautia (self-love). I adored the stories by Carys Bray and Nikesh Shuklah – they were real, brimming with humanity, they stuck with me and left me wanting to read more by these authors. Bray’s story in particular conveyed so much in so few pages, it even made me well up! However overall I felt that this collection of short stories was uneven and some of the other stories had too much magical realism in them for me, particularly as I prefer realist collections. Unfortunately on this occasion I preferred the concept of the collection rather than the process of reading it.

Ashes to Ashes by Paul Finch (Avon) – 3/5 

Ashes to Ashes is book number six in DS Mark Heckenburg series and is a thrill-a-minute detective story packed full of gory action. We follow Heck from London to his hometown of Bradburn on his mission to catch the killer. I took part in the blog tour for Ashes to Ashes and you can read an extract of the book here.

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous (NLVI Publishers) – 2/5

A story of a misogynistic sociopath, this book didn’t do anything for me. I got annoyed by the narrator’s incessant whining. It was a short book at only 143 pages but still felt like a slog to get through, which for me is never a good sign! As I said in my full review, I think this is a marmite book – you either love it or hate it.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber) – 3/5

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I don’t know where to start with this one. It’s epic, it’s lyrical, it’s expansive. Barry’s writing is beautiful and often made me pause to reread swathes of sections. It was full of suffering, wartime carnage and love; some of the dialogue, thoughts and feelings made my heart hurt. There were parts I sped through, however on top of this there were also parts which felt extended, never-ending and perhaps that was Barry’s intention – after all, we follow two soldiers and lovers into civil war that spans many, many years.

I honestly felt so conflicted when I finished this. I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t quite connect with the characters. I think I might have to reread this in the future when I’ve got more time to concentrate on it and absorb it. If you’re looking for something a bit different I’d recommend this as Barry’s writing style is like nothing I’ve read before – on top of that it won the Costa Prize and I know that many, many people have loved Days Without End.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press) – 4/5

Effortless to read and brilliantly claustrophobic See What I Have Done is the fictional retelling of the alleged Lizzie Borden murders. This is an absolutely cracking debut and one that you should go out and buy asap! The lovely folk at Tinder Press are doing a huge marketing campaign around the book and I’m positive it will have great mainstream success. You can read more about the story here.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage) – 5/5

This was my favourite book of the month by far; the story sung to me. A tender tale about the complexities of friendship and overcoming circumstance, Gustav and Anton’s lives are at the heart of this book. Split into three parts, we journey through their friendship, their love and their lifelong commitment to one another. Set in a post WWII Switzerland, it starts in kindergarten when the two children meet, the narrative then shifts back in time to look at the relationship between Gustav’s parents and later it goes forward to them as two grown men. Tremain pens humanity and pain on the pages so exquisitely – so much so that her writing flawed me, with the last paragraph making me cry happy tears. This was my first foray into Tremain’s writing and I am so happy and excited that I have the rest of her books ahead of me to discover. I’d love to do a full review of this but I just don’t think I’ll be able to do it justice.

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books) – 4/5

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I first heard about Six Stories through Twitter and I was immediately interested in reading it as the book was getting loads of great reviews from bloggers that I trust. First of all, this is such a unique concept for a crime novel; inspired by the podcast Serial, Six Stories takes historical crimes and dissects them through six individual ‘podcasts’ which are set out as chapters within the book. Wesolowski creates a haunting landscape at Scarclaw Fell and as we delve deeper into the crime committed we learn the part that each character played. The web grows larger and as readers we’re encouraged to make our own mind up about the fateful day that Tom Jeffries died. Six Stories is inventive, mysterious and full of horror. Also, Orenda Books publishes some absolute corkers, they always have stunning cover art – definitely one to check out if you’re on the hunt for a fantastic independent publisher.

Obsession by Amanda Robson (Avon) – 4/5 

One evening, a wife asks her husband a question: who else would you go for, if you could? It is a simple question – a little game – that will destroy her life. Obsession is an explosive psychological thriller. I’ll be taking part in the blog tour for Obsession later this month, so I don’t want to give too much away here! Keep your eyes peeled for my post on 19th May!

As usual, I’d love to hear what you’ve read this month. Do you have any recommendations for me?