Book review: When I Wake Up by Jessica Jarlvi

cover110929-mediumWhen I Wake Up by Jessica Jarlvi
Publication date:  01 June 2017
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers
Length*:  5 hours 21 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)
Published by:  Aria Fiction
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads
My rating: 2 out of 5

Description

A breathtaking, heart-pounding, dark debut, sure to delight fans of The Girl on the Train and Before I Go To Sleep.
‘Why won’t Mummy wake up?’
When Anna, a much-loved teacher and mother of two, is left savagely beaten and in a coma, a police investigation is launched. News of the attack sends shock waves through her family and their small Swedish community. Anna seems to have had no enemies, so who wanted her dead?
As loved-ones wait anxiously by her bedside, her husband Erik is determined to get to the bottom of the attack, and soon begins uncovering his wife’s secret life, and a small town riven with desire, betrayal and jealousy.
As the list of suspects grows longer, it soon becomes clear that only one person can reveal the truth, and she’s lying silent in a hospital bed…

My Thoughts

I think I must be getting picky in my old age, getting harder to please. I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I thought Gone Girl was stunning, and Before I Go To Sleep was a delicious treat. So, I was intrigued when I read the premise for this book, eagerly digging into it. However, it turns out this is really not my kind of book. The premise is fantastic, but I found the pace of the novel difficult, feeling as though there were moments that I knew I was meant to find tense and didn’t. I ultimately finished the book more out of a sense of loyalty to the process of seeing the book through rather than being gripped.
I was hoping for a mind-blowing ending that, for me, never happened. For me, if you are going to have multiple suspects in a whodunit, and then tell the story from each of their points of view, as well as giving all of them sufficient motive, there needs to be a clue that it could have been them when the point of view of the narration is focused on them. The one who actually ‘dunnit’ is shown, even in their own point of view, to have been hurt by the accident, and filled with concern for Anna’s well-being. The only sign that they are a fallen angel is a one night stand, and they show regret and a want to recommit themselves to their spouse in light of their guilt. That this person, who doesn’t show a hint of violent tendency or desire for 90% of the book, only shows a violent streak at the end, confirming themselves as the attacker, is disappointing and feels like the never before mentioned candlestick holder that condemns the villains of old murder-mystery stories. Especially as all the other suspects are shown to have violent/seriously dodgy streaks.
So, all in all, I found it to be a disappointing read – sadly, not my kind of book.
Thank you to Aria and Netgalley for supplying me with an advance ebook of this story in exchange for an honest review.

Book review: Little Gold by Allie Rogers

32824973Little Gold by Allie Rogers
Publication date:
  02 May 2017
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult), Literary Fiction
Length*:  4 hours 30 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)
Published by:
  Legend Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

My rating: 5 out of 5

Description:

‘Life affirming and triumphant’ Mark A. Radcliffe

‘Wonderfully moving and atmospheric’ Catherine Hall

‘Vivid and touching… this book left me haunted long after I put it down’ Umi Sinha

‘Brilliantly handled… a great first novel’ Bethan Roberts

‘I found myself engrossed… a vibrant, moving tale’ Alison Smith

The heat is oppressive and storms are brewing in Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold, a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence, is struggling with the reality of her broken family and a home descending into chaos. Her only refuge is the tree at the end of her garden.

Into her fractured life steps elderly neighbour, Peggy Baxter. The connection between the two is instant, but just when it seems that Little Gold has found solace, outsiders appear who seek to take advantage of her frail family in the worst way possible. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can Little Gold share enough of her life to avert disaster? And can Peggy Baxter, a woman running out of time and with her own secrets to bear, recognise the danger before it’s too late?

My thoughts:

I always try to keep notes as I read books so that I will remember at the end of the book what I thought at the beginning. With this book I was so spell-bound, I forgot to take notes about a quarter of the way in. Most of the notes I did take were comments of “Yes!!” against references to solid chocolate Kit Kat fingers with no wafer inside, overcooked oven-baked beef burgers, and other references to my childhood. No surprise really since the story is set in 1982 and I was born in 1983. I was transported back to 1980s Britain with crystal clarity. Even Little Gold’s boyishness and her love of climbing the tree in her garden resonated with me – I was that tomboy girl, who had a tree with a branch that created a nook perfect for escaping to for some peace and quiet. Thankfully, given the course of the story, that is where the similarities with my childhood end.

The story gently leads you into the less than easy life of Little Gold and her brother and sister. That their mother doesn’t make an appearance and is barely referred to for a large part of the book is indicative, and makes their home life all the more heartbreaking.

Peggy, Little Gold’s elderly neighbour, is an instantly likeable character, who seems to radiate an aura of youth that led me to forget how old she really is.

I will avoid describing the events that cause this fragile stasis to unravel but must mention how delicately and gradually these events are introduced, lulling you into a false sense of security where although you feel mildly concerned, you don’t reach a point of outright alarm until the final portion of the story where everything happens quickly and unstoppably, sharing Little Gold’s bewilderment and helplessness.

For the final portion of the book, I was inconsolable, stressed whenever I had to put the book down, worrying constantly in the back of my mind, needing to get back to the book and keep reading. I cried. A lot. It was devastating, but through that devastation remained beautiful, which I think made me cry all the more. Even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat, remembering how it made me feel. Rare and wonderful is the book that can have this effect.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Get it, clear your calendar, and spend a whole afternoon reading it, accompanied by an endless supply of tea, wagon wheels, and club bars. When you’re done, find an ice cream van and buy a 99p Mr Whippy Flake.

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for supplying me with a Kindle copy of this book.

Book review: After the Blue Hour by John Rechy

cover96224-mediumAfter the Blue Hour by John Rechy
Publication date:
 07 February 2017
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  224 pages
Published by:  Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

John Rechy’s first novel, City of Night, an international bestseller, is considered a modern classic. Subsequent work asserts his place among America’s most important writers. The author’s most daring work, After the Blue Hour is narrated by a twenty-four-year-old writer named John Rechy. Fleeing a turbulent life in Los Angeles, he accepts an invitation to a private island from an admirer of his work. There, he joins Paul, his imposing host in his late thirties, his beautiful mistress, and his precocious teenage son. Browsing Paul’s library and conversing together on the deck about literature and film during the spell of evening’s “blue hour,” John feels surcease, until, with unabashed candor, Paul shares intimate details of his life. Through cunning seductive charm, he married and divorced an ambassador’s daughter and the heiress to a vast fortune. Avoiding identifying his son’s mother, he reveals an affinity for erotic “dangerous games.” With intimations of past decadence and menace, an abandoned island nearby arouses tense fascination over the group. As “games” veer toward violence, secrets surface in startling twists and turns. Explosive confrontation becomes inevitable.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with this copy.

I had not read John Rechy before reading this book, and so had no preconceptions of style or story.  The book is written from the point of view of John Rechy, presented as a character, rather than literally the author himself.  However, the opening of the book is written as an author embarking on a holiday, after receiving correspondence from his publisher (Grove Atlantic) and so, even before the story had begun, I was questioning how autobiographical this book would turn out to be.  This question did not get answered through the course of the book, rather the book hints one way, and then the other, leaving you constantly in doubt about how much is autobiographical truth, and how much is imaginative fiction.  I still have no idea if the real John Rechy was invited to a private island by an admirer of his work (although instinctually, for reasons I can’t articulate, I’m inclined to think he was), and if the candid conversation and risky games really took place.  It is hard to draw the line to between ‘actually happened’ and fictional extreme.  This feels entirely intentional, and certainly adds to the intrigue of this book.

This is not a book for the weak-stomached.  At all times is graphic, frank, candid.  It does not seek your approval or judgement, it just is.

The relationships between the various characters on the island is where the action is in this story.  Asking what is truth and what is exaggeration is constant as John Rechy tries to figure out the personalities of his hosts.  Everything seems to be a game, but at the same time is so detailed and convincingly executed that you question if it isn’t something more serious or sinister.  This particularly true of Paul.  It is never quite clear what his motive is for inviting John to the island in the first place, or for then relaying his sordid love life, with shocking and violent sincerity, to John.

I found it to be an interesting read, deeply unsettling (as I suspect it is meant to be), and something I couldn’t drag my eyes away from.

If you want something gritty to get your teeth into and don’t mind coming out the other side feeling slightly shaken and a little weird, I recommend giving it a read.

 

Audiobook review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

51cmeqw2tdl-_sl300_The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Release date:
 15 March 2012
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  9 hours 57 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by:  Rachel Joyce
Published by:  Random House Audiobooks
Available at:  Audible.co.uk,

My Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Publisher’s Summary:

Winner: New Writer of the Year – Specsavers National Book Awards 2012

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof, or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking – to save someone else’s life.

Jim Broadbent has starred in a huge range of films, from British favourites including Bridget Jones and Hot Fuzz, to Hollywood blockbusters such as Moulin Rouge, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the Harry Potter films. In 2001 he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Iris. Most recently he starred as Denis Thatcher opposite Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.

©2012 Rachel Joyce (P)2012 Random House AudioGo

My Thoughts:

I purchased an Audible.co.uk download of this audiobook through my Audible.co.uk monthly subscription.

Whenever I still have a whole week to go until my Audible subscription renews, and I’m craving a book to listen to on the train, while I’m walking, to keep me company while I’m gardening, this is the audiobook I keep returning to.

It’s a gently told story, but not to be underestimated for that reason.  Jim Broadbent is the perfect narrator.  I can easily imagine him being perfect casting for the role of Harold, if this book were ever to be transformed into a film/TV drama.

It starts so simply with a man, just doing the same thing he always does every day.  Each unremarkable numb day.  He gets a letter from an old friend, and that sets in motion something in Harold’s mind that I think he can’t even articulate at that moment, never mind predict the end result.  He writes a reply and then walks to the post box, and then decides to walk to the next post box, and then just keeps walking and walking and walking.

To begin with it seems that walking is giving him room to think.  It soon becomes apparent that in many ways Harold is walking away from his life, and then himself.

It’s one of those books where publisher’s summary doesn’t do justice to the places the book takes you.  An ordinary slightly dull man, living his ordinary slightly dull life, does one little extraordinary thing and the ramifications turn out to be huge.  This unassuming man who seems to think when all is said and done he is a waste of space and oxygen, is shown that he does have value.  More than that, he inspires other people, is briefly a media sensation, does something quite beautiful.  At the end of it all this is a remarkable man who has faced up to the pain of his past, and can at last move forward.

It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think.  I thoroughly recommend it as a wonderful weekend listen/read.

 

Audiobook review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

61q7rd1eu9l-_sl300_The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Release date:
 03 July 2014
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  12 hours 02 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by:  Jessie Burton
Published by:  Audible Studios
Available at:  Audible.co.uk,

My Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Publisher’s Summary:

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways. Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

Jessie Burton was born in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.

©2014 Jessie Burton (P)2014 Audible Studios

My Thoughts:

I purchased an Audible.co.uk download of this audiobook through my Audible.co.uk monthly subscription.

I first heard about this book at last year’s London Book Fair, where it was held up as an example of effective marketing launching a debut novel.  It’s been on my to-be-read list ever since, and finally it’s moment came.

I hadn’t bothered to read the publisher’s summary on Audible before I downloaded and began listening, so beyond a glowing recommendation from an exhibition, had no idea what to expect.

As the story began, I really wondered what kind of a book it was going to be.  The beginning is very gentle, even though Nella is only a girl as she arrives at her husband’s house for the first time after a wedding arranged by her mother.  She is only seventeen, still a child really, and has a head full of romantic notions about her new life.  Her illusions are quickly shattered by both her husband’s aloofness, and the sharp cold tongue of her sister-in-law.

Told in the naive understanding of a girl who thinks she should be a woman, events unravel at an increasing rate, secrets leaking out as it picks up speed.

No one is what they seem, and all are hiding a compromising secret.

There is so much in this book: romance, deceit, social prejudice.  For me, the most striking thread through the book is the story of a young girl who finds herself in a situation which is markedly different from the one she thought she had agreed to.  As she finds herself wondering who she can trust, if everyone has been deliberately misleading her, she is forced to grow up, and find the maturity and strength to bravely take charge of an increasingly out of control situation.

I won’t go into detail about the ending, for fear of ruining it for anyone who goes onto read/listen to the book after reading this, but it a brave and unexpected ending executed extremely well.  It left me with that “wow” feeling.

It is great to hear that this book is to be made into a BBC three-part drama.

Audiobook Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

61-noujtgwl-_sl300_The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
Publication date:
 07 July 2015
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Length:  10 hours 11 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by:  Thomas Judd
Published by:  Audible Studios for Bloomsbury
Available at:  Audible.co.uk

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:

It’s 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the listener on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles longstanding traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

My Thoughts:

I purchased an Audible.co.uk download of this audiobook through my Audible.co.uk monthly subscription.

This book has sat in my wish list since its release last year.  When my subscription to Audible.co.uk renewed this month, I decided it was time to satisfy my curiosity about this book.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Immediately the intrigue begins with Thaniel discovering that someone has broken into his flat to give him a gold pocket watch, which will not open.  A bomb goes off near Scotland Yard, and watch saves him from the explosion.  From here a series of unlikely but logical events lead him to the watchmaker with a pet octopus, a headstrong female scientist, and the maker of the bomb.

Thomas Judd narrates perfectly, adding enough character to dialogue and narration to give the words life, without becoming a distraction from the story.

This book is a page-turner.  I listened in commuter-chunks to and from work.  I almost missed my stop on the train several times – I was that engrossed.

Listening in these chunks in no way interrupted the tension and compelling nature of the story.  In fact, I found myself thinking that this book would make a wonderful serialised radio play, or tv drama.  Each scene, each chapter is a perfectly constructed episode that satisfies your last curiosity, and then presents you with a little cliff-hanger that leaves you hungry for more.

I loved this audiobook, and imagine that in paper-book format it is just as wonderful.  I recommend it heartily, but with the health-warning that reading/listening to it on public transport will result in missing your stop!

Book review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

cover78296-medium

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Publication date:
  02 June 2016
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)
Approximate reading time*:  3 hours, 30 mins
Published by:  Penguin Books (UK)
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one. Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not. As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum. Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.

My Thoughts:

I fell in love with this book from the beginning.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Leon, who just wants to look after his baby brother and his mum, and genuinely is just doing the best he can.  The story is one heartbreak after another.

The story has a few concurrent themes covering racism, social-care for children, the dynamic of relationships between adults and children, and how different people deal with the inevitable hardships of life.  It has pace, and is full of subtle and well-timed observations.

It is rare for a book to make me cry, no matter how heart-wrenching the story.  To date three books have succeeded:  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and now, My Name is Leon.

Thank you to NetGalley.com and Penguin Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book.

5 of 5