Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

image

image

Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

This is becoming a bit of a theme recently, but THIS BOOK IS GREAT! Dear Amy absolutely had me gripped from the start and I found it really difficult to put down. The story really drew me in and it was so fast paced I whipped through it in a few days.

In other news, I also finished reading an absolute shocker of a story this week – review on Friday – so this unexpected run of positivity will be short lived. Anyway, I digress…

Dear Amy is the story of a teacher, Margot Lewis, who also freelances as an agony aunt (Amy – hence the title). One of her pupils goes missing, and despite the police thinking that she ran away from home, Margot has her suspicions. At the same time, letters start turning up addressed to the Dear Amy column from Bethan Avery, a local girl who disappeared some years before who had never been found, suggesting that she had been kidnapped and asking for help. At this point, about a million questions are thrown up. Are the letters really from Bethan? How can a girl who has been kidnapped be posting letters? Why doesn’t she just say where she is? Are the two cases linked? Is Margot really as sane as she appears to be? There are so many layers, plot twists and unexpected events that take place in the novel that it really did have me guessing until the very end (if you’re sick of hearing me trot this phrase out, wait until my review on Friday. That book definitely didn’t have me guessing anything for ONE SECOND).

I was completely hooked by the storyline in this novel from the very beginning. I really liked the fact that the main character, Margot, was an unreliable narrator. Her mental health issues and the fact that she had stopped taking her medication made me question everything that she said had happened. I wasn’t sure if she was imagining whole chunks of the story, entire events/characters or if her viewpoint was so altered that the ending would be along the lines of ‘so I imagined the whole thing?’ I subsequently spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference people, situations and timelines to try to ascertain where the truth might lie. This might sound tiresome but I liked the added complexity and depth that this gave the main storyline. 

However, I did find that when it came to sub-plots, especially the quite frankly weird and totally inappropriate love interest, the unreliability of Margot’s story made me second guess everything a bit too much. Was the character a complete figment of Margot’s imagination? Was his interest in her real? Was he who Margot thought he was? I think the story would have been just as interesting without this detail (it wasn’t the most scintillating romance ever) and overall I didn’t feel that it added anything to the book.

I liked the fact that the story wasn’t overly gore laden or too graphic. A lot is left to the imagination when the author describes the kidnappers actions and I think that this allows the reader to either brush over the repulsive events as too awful to think about or fully immerse themselves in their brutality, depending on their own personal preferences. I think that there’s often a fine line between too much and too little detail, but in this instance I think Helen Callaghan got it just right.

I don’t usually read so called kitchen sink thrillers so I approached the story with fairly low expectations, but I really enjoyed the book – it was a total page turner from start to finish. It was a fairly original idea (I think – like I said, I’m not a afficianado of the genre) so I guess fans of something like The Girl on the Train would really like it. I’m not saying that Dear Amy is as good, but it is close. The writing style is quite easy, pacey and isn’t overly descriptive, making it a good beach read if you want something darker than the usual chick lit. Lucinda recommends!

Rating: 8/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #12 Read a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.

Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

image

Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

FINALLY- A book with likeable characters, great person of colour representation, queerness, feminism…and it’s brilliantly written with a super heartwarming story that’ll suck you in so you can’t put it down. Brilliant!

Juliet Takes a Breath is the coming-of-age story of Juliet Palante, a Puerto Rican teenager who lives in the Bronx with her madcap family. She discovers feminism through the book ‘Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind’ by Harper Brisbane (which she reads to freak people out on the subway) and, after writing to the author to tell her how much she enjoyed it (despite not really recognising herself in the text) lands an internship to help Harper research her next book. Moving to Portland, Oregon gives Juliet a total culture shock and living with Harper exposes her to a completely different way of life. She uses the opportunity to learn about being gay, being a person of colour, being female and being a feminist, all whilst trying to figure out who she is and trying to get her family to accept her. Nothing major then.

I really loved reading this book. There’s such great, positive representation and a brilliantly written story which taught me so much about other cultures, history, oppression, feminism, my own body… I could go on. It’s really well written, interesting, funny and sweet without being overly saccharine or having a happily ever after ending that ends up in so much current YA literature.   

I loved the main character Juliet, who was bold and strong but also scared and vulnerable at times. She felt very ‘real’ to me and despite our many differences I identified with her as a chubby, queer nerd girl who finds safety in the confines of a library. Her family members were all amazing, especially her brother cousin and aunt and I loved reading about how close they all were and supported each other no matter what.

I initially really liked Harper, the hippy writer who acted as a kind of queer feminist Yoda to aid Juliet in her voyage of discovery, but my opinion of her changed as the book went on. I loved the way that the two characters were so different and the way that Harper exposed Juliet to so many new experiences, but I hated the way that she made so many assumptions about Juliet and in the end I thought she was actually quite self centered.

Through Juliet’s journey (literally and figuratively) the reader gets to learn so much about topics that you were afraid to ask about – from periods to polygamous relationships to white privilege. Every topic is handled sensitively and the writing is never preachy, only informative. 

There is an awful lot in the book about racism and the differences between being a white feminist lesbian and a person of colour feminist lesbian which I hadn’t really considered before. I’m not sure if this is my white privilege or because I’m British but I’m not used to people talking about their race all the time or referring to themselves expressly by their heritage. Some of the ideas discussed made me a little uncomfortable, like a racist slur said about Juliet’s white girlfriend and a POC only party but through the character of Juliet the ideas are often questioned and both the positives and negatives are discussed. 

Because the main character is Latino it was really interesting to view feminism and lesbianism through her eyes – how it fitted in with her religion, her traditional family, her views on men, her experience of privilege, her sense of self etc. This was a viewpoint that I hadn’t read from before and I thought it was executed brilliantly.

My only criticisms of the novel would be that I think it’s a little unrealistic for almost every character that Juliet encounters or knows to be gay and that perhaps a few straight people would have added another dynamic. I also felt that the negative way in which every white person was portrayed was a little unfair – although heaven knows there’s enough books out there where the only black character is a villain/token gesture/non-existent so maybe the author was just trying to redress the balance.

Overall I loved reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to explore feminism and queerness from a different perspective, or just anyone looking for some great intersectional YA.

Overall rating: 8/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book involving travel.

 

Guess who’s back…back again

image

Hello lovelies!

Just to let you know that I’ve given myself a bit of a blogging holiday lately – I’ve just taken on a new allotment, plus we’re in the middle of refurbishing our other house and life just got in the way a bit. I haven’t finished any books in weeks (highly unusual for me) because I’ve been completely exhausted and wanting to just watch something that requires no brainpower on Netflix. However, I’ve promised myself that I’ll be back on it next week, so look out for new reviews on Mondays and Fridays.

Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend,

Lucinda x

I Wish I Loved My Local Library, But I Don’t.

Confession time – I hate going to my City Centre’s library. I wish I didn’t, but it really is a horrible place.

I have wonderful memories of going to our village hall as a child where there was a small but well stocked library, with a lovely librarian, children’s corner, seating area etc. It could only have been the size of a small storeroom but it had everything I needed as a precocious four year old. As I got older, I obviously had access to my school’s libraries (I read every single book at least twice) which although larger were pretty much static in terms of getting new books in. Our local library was replaced by a mobile one (basically a van full of books) which felt incredibly precarious as you climbed into it up some rickety steps and shook as you walked along it. Again, it wasn’t exactly well stocked (YA hadn’t really been invented so there was just a handful of Judy Blooms and Paula Danzigers in the “teens” section). Luckily, my parents always encouraged me to read and I would pester them to buy me books, so I could continue to be a bookworm throughout my teenage years. Then Amazon happened and books got super cheap, then the Kindle, then Netgalley – so I stopped using the library altogether. It’s only recently that I realised I could download ebooks from them for free that I decided to renew my membership.

That’s when I found that wave after wave of funding cuts have made the library, well, pretty dreadful.

When you walk into our main library (previously a nightclub), you’re presented with a subterranean tunnel which leads to some public toilets. Being pretty much the only public toilets in the city centre, the smell is horrific and they look disgusting (more public services cuts). You can then either take the lift or walk up two flights of stairs to the one main room (the smell permeates all the way to the top of the building). Once there, it’s not immediately obvious where to go. There’s an NHS quit smoking advice centre, a cancer helpdesk, a benefits/asylum area (I think)… but no books. I walked through the security turnstiles and found a small desk at the side of the room. There were people wandering around with lanyards on but it wasn’t immediately obvious if they were librarians, volunteer helpers or people working in the myriad of other services that the library now offers. I assume I’d arrived at the helpdesk (there was no sign) so I picked a lanyard wearer at random and asked if she could renew my membership. I’d previously tried to do this online and it seems that someone had messed it all up, so it took her some time to unpick what they’d done and set me up properly. I made the mistake of leaning on the counter during this process and realised that it was sticky with an unidentified substance (ewwwwwww). I grabbed my new card and got out as fast as I could (but not before two drunk men tried to chat me up).

I’ve used the online services that the library offers – free ebooks and audio books – but I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

So guys, make me jealous – do you have a fabulous local library? Or is yours just as horrible as mine? Do you feel bad for not using it more? Comment below!

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

image

Picture credit: http://www.Netgalley.com

The best of Adam Sharp is about a middle aged man (you guessed it – Adam Sharp) working in a dull but well paid IT consultancy role. His relationship with partner Claire is also dull but functional, in an I’ll-cook-tonight-can-you-take-the-bins-out type way. Adam and Claire seem to be blandly plodding through life when a blast from the past gets in contact to reconnect with Adam. What happens next is possibly the most unemotional assessment of what would happen if… that I’ve ever read. There’s some sexy bits, some intrigue and lots of game playing, which make some parts of the book interesting but ultimately… yeah. The word that springs to mind is just, you know… dull.

Let’s start with the characters. Adam Sharp is a boring middle aged man. He builds IT databases. He’s in a pub quiz team. He has a dull partner who is in a walking club. He says himself that he’s not especially good looking. He lives in Norwich. AND YET WE ARE LED TO BELIEVE THAT HE MANAGES TO PULL AN EXTREMELY ATTRACTIVE AUSTRALIAN ACTRESS – because he can play the piano. I think the author may have wildly overestimated the effects of pub singers on women. Yes, it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility but really? We’re also expected to believe that after a brief relationship in their early twenties, this glamorous, clever woman – who lives, let’s not forget, half way around the world – gets back in contact to pick up where they left off. Despite having a sexy husband and three kids. And living in Australia.

Then there’s the female characters themselves. There’s poor dull Claire, passively letting Adam drift out of her life (after 20 odd years) because her job keeps her happy. Then there’s Angelina, the sexy actress with the great life, loads of cash, husband, kids etc. And Adam gets to choose between them. In real life, I suspect both of them would have ditched him long ago. Instead, Adam selfishly meanders into a bizzare love triangle where he weighs up his options based entirely on what is best for him. There is literally no thought given to what the women are thinking or feeling – only a brief bit of guilt that he might break up a marriage and this would make him like his dad, who he hated/idolized in equal measure. This utter selfishness made me really dislike him – by the end of the book I wanted him to end up alone and living with his mother.

As far as the story goes, there’s an awful lot of Adam thinking about songs that express his emotions, but literally nothing about him actually feeling anything. A lot of the songs are pretty mainstream (Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan etc.) but I wasn’t familiar with some of them so the meaning was lost on me. There’s a lot of technical waffle about playing the piano in b minor or whatever which again was lost on me.

Throughout the book, the author mentions that Adam and Claire DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN at least ten times. I have no idea why this is such a massive deal, especially as we’re told that they’re both ok with the fact. Is the author saying you can’t have a happy lasting relationship without kids? Does that somehow make it ok to go off with other women? I’m not sure.

In fairness, the middle part of the book was quite interesting. Again, there was far too much technical detail about what wine was being drunk (who cares) and nothing about emotions/thoughts/feelings but once the story finally got going I found it could be quite enjoyable. Yes, there are some bits which are so middle aged man fantasy as to be almost a pastiche (short red see through negligee anyone?) but there was at least a bit of suspense. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long and concluded with a terrible ending but for a while I thought the book showed some promise. Case in point – the torrid love affair is interspersed with whole days devoted to logging on to the wi-fi to get some database building done. Whilst sat next to the woman that you’re passionately in love with. Who is also working away on her own laptop. Who said romance is dead?

Overall, I found this book quite boring. It picked up in the middle (where there was some actual action) but for the most part it was just a story about a man dithering between choosing one passive woman over another, with no concerns for their emotions or the fact that they might not want him. The sex scenes were more factual than passionate, there was far too much technical detail and I didn’t think the use of music to convey emotions worked particularly well. In fairness, the songs chosen were not the type that I would usually listen to so perhaps there was a layer of subtlety that was lost on me that other readers would have enjoyed – but I couldn’t find it. Not terrible, but not for me, I’m afraid.

Rating: 5/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Thank you!


Hello lovely readers!

I’m very pleased to announce that my little blog has got over 50 followers! I also learnt that I’ve got over 200 likes! Wow!

I would just like to say a really sincere thank you to everyone who has read my posts, liked my content and commented on ramblings. I always respond to each and every comment and try to engage with other bloggers on a regular basis. This blog has never been about numbers or some weird extension of a popularity contest but it’s great to know that there’s a little corner of the internet that I’ve made my own – and that others like it too. 

I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump at the moment but I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule (Monday and Friday reviews, Wednesday news/feature article) next week. 

Much love to you all and happy reading!

Lucinda x

Review: Frenched by Melanie Harlow (Blind date with a book)

image

https://jukejam.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/try-a-blind-date-with-a-book/

I read this book as part of a book tag challenge which I found on Lara’s blog. I think this is a great way to read something that you would never have chosen yourself, and hey, who doesn’t love a free ebook? In order to participate in the challenge, I completed a simple quiz that Lara had created. The result identified a free ebook called ‘Frenched’ by Melanie Harlow which I downloaded and read. The rules of the challenge state that anyone can take part as long as they agree to read and review whichever book is chosen for them…so here goes…

I have to say that I was initially disappointed in the book that I was given as it’s not the usual kind of thing that I would read. The front cover just showed a shot of a woman in a lacy bra which suggested that the story would be sex-heavy and content-lite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not prudish in any way but I often find that sexed up chick lit can be a bit boring and predictable, especially if it badly written (which it often is).

To my surprise, I actually quite enjoyed the book. As the cover suggested, the story was predictable but was actually quite well written.

Please note that this is not the kind of novel that you would recommend to your mother (unless you have an extremely open relationship) as the two main characters end up having sex A LOT and when they’re not they’re either thinking about it or talking about it. There is a major focus on the main characters orgasming at the same time, as though this is the holy grail of great sex. In real life the female character would have got a UTI from the endless amounts of shagging (and possibly had to visit a sexual health clinic because SHE DIDN’T USE A CONDOM). I sensed that the author felt a bit of moral reluctance about having a character say the immortal lines ‘go ahead, I’m on the pill’ (as though pregnancy was the only thing that she should be protecting herself against) so there was a clumsy justification about ‘feeling that it was ok’ even though she was was aware of the risks because ‘she just wanted to feel close to him’. You won’t be thinking that when you test positive for chlamydia (or worse), I thought to myself.

Apart from that, there was an interesting bit of s&m action where it was nice to see a) a female enjoying herself and b) even playing a dominant role (although this scene was only mentioned briefly as a memory of the night before).

The sex scenes are quite varied and the narrative moves along nicely. Although the main female character falls hopelessly in love (in a week) and just wants to get married and have babies she doesn’t come across as particularly weak or needy in the majority of the text – although in the last few chapters she almost considers a relationship with her idiot ex because he buys her a pink Chanel handbag, which was so stereotypically awful that I couldn’t help but cringe. 

Some of the characters were a bit one dimensional and were often described as part of the scenery with no interaction between themselves and the two lead roles. For example, the main character has two friends who are totally interchangeable as their personalities are not explored at all. I think it would have added to the narrative if they had had a bigger part to play.

Overall the novel didn’t hold my attention enough to want to download the subsequent titles in the series but if you’re looking for an easy read (with lots of sex) then this is a good book to go for.

Overall rating: 5/10.