Thursday, 21 February 2019

February Fiction Reviews | A Spark of Light + The Dream Daughter

- SHARING MY THOUGHTS ON THE FICTION BOOKS I READ IN THE SECOND WEEK OF FEBRUARY - 

BOOKS MENTIONED

- source: library borrow -
MY THOUGHTS
In his line of work as police officer and hostage negotiator, Hugh is trained in attending calls that require his skills in listening, understanding, and of course negotiating, however, the situation at The Center is a little different. The Center is a women's health clinic in the state of Mississippi where abortions are performed, and on this particular day that Hugh is called to the scene to negotiate, he is soon to learn that his daughter is inside the clinic with the other hostages, and of course, the gunman.

As well as the narrative of Hugh, A Spark of Light sees the story unfold through the eyes of gunman, George, and also the hostages inside the Center - they all have their own personal story to tell. Interwoven between the scenes at The Center is the story of Beth, a seventeen year old who finds herself under arrest after taking pills acquired online in order to perform an abortion at home. The stories that run alongside each other are linked, quite obviously so in my opinion, and yet they are wrote as if they are not - a mystery even - with all being revealed at the end.

There is a lot going on in A Spark of Light, with a lot of characters to keep track of also. Although all the characters had their own individuality, with the kind of detailed backstory you'll often find in Picoult's books, I found that I wasn't able to fully invest in them all given the writing style. Chronicled by time, the story is told backwards - starting at 5pm and concluding at 8am, with an epilogue wrapping everything up in the end. I wasn't really a fan of this story telling method, but also I found it to be quite jarring; each time frame is split up into many sections, with different character perspectives, that were too short for me to be fully pulled into their own story. I enjoyed certain characters - Hugh, Olive, Louie - however, I feel like when an author has gone to the length of creating these layered backstories for every single character, giving them place & purpose, I want to be able to enjoy them all. Not necessarily like and connect with all the individuals, but appreciate their presence - I feel like I wasn't able to in this book.

I think the focus of A Spark of Light - abortion in the US - to be a very prevalent and topical one; being the kind of book that opens up discussion and conversation. Also, as a UK reader, I found the topic to be quite eye opening one, what with the laws & views surrounding abortion being quite different to those here. I was genuinely interested in learning more about this subject - as well as reading the 'Author's Notes' to garner more information, I have independently researched to further my knowledge on this matter. I feel like this is the reason why Picoult has written this book: to get people talking & thinking.

Given the focus of abortion in this book, it is worth noting that as well as sharing facts, views, and opinions on what is quite a sensitive topic, there is a scene of an abortion being performed on a patient that is walked through step by step almost. I know some readers would perhaps find this uncomfortable to read, understandably, so I wanted to point that out.

Jodi Picoult is quite well known for honing in on current, and often times controversial subjects, with a careful and unbiased brush... I do think her own personal views were loudest in this book (stating in the 'Author Notes' that she is pro-choice), but that the subject matter of abortion was written in a thoughtful & tactful way.

Usually, in a book by Jodi Picoult, I find myself engaged in the story because of the characters - Picoult's writing style lends to very character driven books - however that wasn't the case for me with A Spark of Light. Whilst her familiar writing style is very much present, I found I was pulled more by the plot than the characters themselves - I wanted to know how the story ended because I was intrigued and committed, not because I cared for the characters as such.

I found I came away from A Spark of Light quite unsure, especially with regards to articulating my thoughts into a review... There were parts I liked about this book, and parts I didn't. I feel like I could sit and discuss A Spark of Light with fellow readers for a long time - it is that kind of book - however I maintain a spoiler free blog, which makes that tricky!

To sum up, for premise alone, I would recommend A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult.

- source: library borrow (but I want my own copy) - 
MY THOUGHTS
Having recently lost her husband in the Vietnam War, Carly finds herself with more grief when she learns that the baby she is carrying - all that she has left of her husband Joe - has a heart problem, a complication that could mean her unborn baby will survive for a very small amount of time once born, if at all. With the prognosis bleak, Carly's brother-in-law Hunter shares a long held secret of his own, one that could very well ruin all that he holds dear, but also one that could save the life of Carly & Joe's baby. Hunter gives Carly a glimmer of hope, and after some scepticism, she grabs at it whole heartedly.

Told from the perspective of Carly & Hunter, The Dream Daughter is a book that invites you in immediately, with a warm welcome that wholly envelopes you in the story. From the very first page I found myself invested in the complex, and emotionally charged, journey that Carly finds herself on.

I have previously read a few other books by Diane Chamberlain, and have always admired the way in which she writes family relationships - with heart & depth; the good and the bad. This writing style is very much present in The Dream Daughter, taking a deep dive at the unconditional love a parent has for a child, but with this particular book there is an added theme that I personally haven't seen her write before, but that works incredibly well woven into Carly's story. Although this theme is a large part of the plot, it isn't mentioned in the blurb, and so for that reason I'm not going to specifically state it here in my review. I will say it is something I love seeing in fiction, written in this way, and Diane Chamberlain has executed the use of it perfectly - allowing a level of understanding and simplicity for readers, with a topic that could be hard to wrap your head around.

There are many thoughts I'd love to share about The Dream Daughter, but without alluding to the theme I'm choosing not to mention, that makes writing about this book a little difficult.

You know those books that completely consume you - they hold you throughout, totally blow you away, and you want to treasure forever - well, The Dream Daughter is one of those books for me.
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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

February Fiction Reviews | The Way of All Flesh + An Unwanted Guest

- SHARING MY THOUGHTS ON THE FICTION BOOKS I READ IN THE FIRST WEEK OF FEBRUARY -

BOOKS MENTIONED

- source: library borrow -
BLURB
Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson's patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education. 

With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh's underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

THOUGHTS
In this historical fiction novel, Victorian Edinburgh comes to life with a story that focuses on the evolving (& rather experimental) medical field, more specifically that of midwifery. 

The Way of All Flesh begins with us meeting Will Raven as he discovers the death of his friend, Evie, a prostitute living in Old Town; the circumstances surrounding Evie's death are suspicious. Will had recently lent money to a desperate Evie, and we soon learn that the money Will gave Evie was not his own, having borrowed himself from a unsavoury lender. Will, a medical student, is set to be on the up in terms of prospects, and by lending to Evie he hoped he was helping her also... However, he may have indirectly contributed to Evie's death.

With Evie's death hanging over him, Will is apprenticed to Dr Simpson - a man renowned in the midwifery field. Living under the Simpson roof in New Town (a stones throw away, and yet worlds apart, from the poverty he has previously experienced in Old Town), Will is soon the right hand man of Dr Simpson as he is taken on calls of labour with the doctor, attending to patients at clinic, meeting other medical professionals, and continuing to learn within his profession, including the use of chemicals as anaesthetic agents. 

Will is one of the main protagonists within this book, however there is another also - Sarah, the Simpson's housemaid. It is interesting to see the Simpson household from her prospective, as well as Will's, but what I particularly enjoyed in Sarah's narrative was her strength, curiosity, and want for equality. Sarah has a great interest in the field of medicine, but as a female & housemaid, she is often reminded about not getting ideas above her station, and yet she constantly shows drive and determination. 

As the story continues, it becomes clear that there is a doctor in the city undertaking procedures that are dangerous, and illegal, with the lives of many young women being lost... With their own agendas, Will & Sarah soon team up and become a unlikely, and yet dynamic, crime fighting duo.

The crime is central to plot of this book, however I would say the focus was more on the medical side. Personally, I had no issue with this, however I just thought it to be something of note. I found the medical information to be fascinating, especially with regards to the innovation of anaesthetic. Given the setting of The Way of All Flesh, it is also worth noting that some of the medical scenes are quite graphic & gory - labours that don't quite go as expected, as well as surgery performed without any anaesthetic.

After the opening chapters of this book, I felt that there was a macabre depth to the story that would soon unfold, with that feeling indeed being correct. Whilst the plot is unsettling at times, The Way of All Flesh is a wholly engrossing mystery possessing atmospheric surroundings, engaging characters, and interesting medical knowledge of the time period.

- source: library borrow -
BLURB
A remote lodge in update New York is the perfect getaway... Until the bodies start piling up.

It's winter in the Catskills and the weather outside is frightful. But Mitchell's Inn is so delightful! The cosy lodge nestled deep in the woods is perfect for a relaxing - maybe even romantic - weekend away. The Inn boasts spacious old rooms with huge wood-burning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a book and someone you love.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity - and all contact with the outside world - the guests settle in for the long haul. The power's down but they've got candles, blankets, and wood - an genuine rustic experience! Soon, though, a body turns up - surely an accident. When a second body appears, they start to panic. Then they find a third body. 

Within the snowed-in paradise, something - or someone - is picking off the guests one by one. They can't leave, and with no cell service, there's no prospect of getting the police in until the weather loosens its icy grip. The weekend getaway has turned deadly. For some couples, it's their first time away. For others, it will be their last. And there is nothing they can do about it but huddle down and hope they survive the storm.

THOUGHTS
When six different parties of guests head to Mitchell's Inn, a secluded lodge in the mountains of upstate New York, for their respective weekend breaks, they didn't plan on finding themselves isolated and without power due to an ice storm. Friday evening, as the weekend begins, many of the guests try to get to know one another and make the most of being snowed in, that is until murder arises...

An Unwanted Guest is told in chapters, using a diary like method of clocking in, observing what is happening at given times throughout the weekend. Through this storytelling method we're able to get to know all the characters, what led them to this winter weekend away, as well the dynamic they have with their direct fellow guest - for example, we know Henry and Beverley, a middle aged couple, are away on a make or break trip, with their marriage on the rocks and tensions high between the pair. Each set of guests have a unique story of their own, and it is interesting to see how the individuals interact within the group of hotel patrons. A lot of the scenes I felt like I was people watching, and I really liked that.

Spanning the course of a weekend, the pacing of the plot within this book was really well done, and I felt invested in the story from pretty early on. I really enjoyed the writing style - a lot of the narrative was quite short & snappy, but yet there still felt like depth to the story and characters. The author wrote in such a way that I found I was frantically page turning at times, and could empathise with the paranoia and uncertainty many of the characters felt.

One thing that knocked my personal rating of An Unwanted Guest was the actual murderer reveal, which is a little disappointed in a sense as when reading a mystery thriller everything is leading up to the ending pretty much. Without giving away too, I will say that everything was plonked in front of you at the end, as opposed to having been put together through clues found throughout the book. The ending is two parts almost, the murderer reveal, and more - the more definitely redeemed my disappointment of whodunnit.

This was my first reading experience of Shari Lapena, and I don't see it being my last.
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Thursday, 7 February 2019

Reading Record | January


My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts on a monthly basis, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

This reading record covers the entire month of January.

- Note: any books marked with an asterisk (*) I have been gifted for free in exchange for an honest review -

TUESDAY 1ST JANUARY
Starting the new year with two fresh new reads - I had been planning this; strategically planning my books around starting the new year on a clean reading slate. Both of the titles I'm starting - When All Is Said* (fiction) and Trekking Beyond* (nonfiction) - are review books, but ones I've been super keen to delve into.

Today I have made time for reading at many intervals throughout my day - start as you mean to go on!

WEDNESDAY 2ND JANUARY
I finished reading Trekking Beyond* - a great book to start the new year with; inspiring adventures... Even if not to the far flung destinations featured within.

FRIDAY 4TH JANUARY
Today I placed my first book order through Abebooks - a hub for independent & second hand booksellers - and have ordered three books through two different sellers. I'm keen, and slightly anxious, to see them arrive.

Buying second hand books online means you can't actually see the condition of them, unlike in a store, however I have very few resources locally in which to buy second hand books. 

Fingers crossed!

SATURDAY 5TH JANUARY
Finished my first fiction title of the year - When All Is Said by Anne Griffin*; a heavy but poignant fiction book to start the year on. A solid start to my year in fiction. 

MONDAY 7TH JANUARY 
Round 24 of Bout of Books begins today. I have a whole reading record post of the week long readathon, which you can find here. The short of it... I read 3 books in total during Bout of Books.

THURSDAY 10TH JANUARY
The first of my books from Abebooks arrived today - happy with my experience with this seller. Book was described as being in very good condition, which if I'm honest I was a little dubious about, but I would say it was indeed accurate. I paid £3 and some pennies for a used copy Fire Season by Philip Connors (a nonfiction title I want to read this year), when it would have cost me 4 times that amount new. Such a good saving, and I look forward to reading this book in the near future.


MONDAY 14TH JANUARY
Started the week with a trip to the library - I had a reservation to pick up, and also two returns having completed them during Bout of Books. I came away from the library with 3 books in total, even though I went in for the 1, with one of the borrows being Kate Morton's newest release: The Clockmaker's Daughter.

Without a doubt Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors, and her 2018 release of The Clockmaker's Daughter is a book I have been anticipating reading since publication... However, I own all her other books in paperback, and so have been holding out for the release of that in order to purchase my own copy.

I hadn't even thought about borrowing this book from the library, but after stumbling across it whilst browsing, I happily checked it out to bring home with me... No more waiting until April (paperback release in the UK). Of course I jumped straight into the book once home!

SUNDAY 20TH JANUARY
I'm going into the new week with the aim of finishing up some books that currently have lingering bookmarks.

I have had a week of quite distracted reading, so I've been picking up things on & off depending on my mood, resulting in no books finished this week. I wouldn't be too fussed about that, however 24in48 is coming up next weekend and I want to go in with a fresh TBR and not multiple other books hanging over me so to speak. I will be more focused this week.

TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY
Today I finished reading The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton. Obviously, I not long ago spoke of my delight at finding this title at the library... However it wasn't until the first 150ish pages that I really got into the book (I do think this contributed to me distracted reading week). I will have shared a review of The Clockmaker's Daughter by time I post this, but I will say it wasn't my favourite Kate Morton.

WEDNESDAY 24TH JANUARY
Finished off the nonfiction title I had been reading - The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker*. I'm trying to keep up my nonfiction reading (which I focused on a fair bit last year) by picking up at least one nonfiction book a month, so I'm happy to have completed two this month now.

Also, today I was approved on Netgalley for the newest Michelle Paver book: Wakenhyrst*. Out in early April, this is one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and I'm so happy & thankful to be able to get an eARC!


FRIDAY 25TH JANUARY
I pulled together my TBR for 24in48 today - a readathon taking place over the weekend.

MONDAY 28TH JANUARY
Taking part in 24in48 was so much fun - I read four books (one adult fiction & 3 middle grade mysteries) in just under 14 hours, and found a bunch of new to me bloggers to follow also. You can find my 'Reading Record' post for this readathon here.

THURSDAY 31ST JANUARY
Ending the month finishing Roar by Cecelia Ahern. I have been working through this collection of short stories all month, and found I really enjoyed it. Highly recommend!

READ IN JANUARY

Happy reading!
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Friday, 1 February 2019

January Fiction Reviews | The Clockmaker's Daughter + The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley + Roar

- SHARING MY THOUGHTS ON THE FICTION BOOKS I'VE READ IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS OF JANUARY -

BOOKS MENTIONED

- source: library borrow - 
BLURB
My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead whilst another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe's life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artists sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

THOUGHTS
Although I only discovered her books a few years ago now, I would without a doubt say that Kate Morton is a favourite author of mine; I steadily worked through her backlist books, and having adored those, I would say my anticipation to read The Clockmaker's Daughter was quite high... But it didn't quite meet the same level of feelings as her other novels for me. I did enjoy The Clockmaker's Daughter, however I didn't love it like many of her other books.

Kate Morton definitely has a writing stamp - being well known for historical fiction infused with a mystery, with interwoven timelines of past & present. If you look over her other books, you can see underlying themes and styles throughout them, understandably so (I'm not knocking that - I actually like when an author has a writing stamp; going in knowing what you're getting). The stamp can be found in The Clockmaker's Daughter, but she has also switched things up a little.

Initially I found it difficult to get into The Clockmaker's Daughter, however after the first 150(ish) pages (part 1), I soon found myself flying through and enthralled in the unfolding story - which is complex. The Clockmaker's Daughter isn't the kind of book you just fall into, or one I would deem an easy read; you need to remember the characters (of which there are many), follow along closely, and pick up on the little things, in order to fully immerse yourself in the story.

I enjoyed the plot of the book, and the way in which everything was woven together, however some of the characters fell a bit flat, with the narrative of Birdie and the pull of Birchwood Manor being the main hold for me throughout. 

As well as the characters, I wasn't a fan of the ending of this book; I wouldn't say it was done in the style of Kate Morton's other books - everything tidied up neatly in the end. I feel like each story link had an ending, but not the depth they deserved; some of the conclusions left me pondering.

There were definitely positives and negatives for me, but I do believe they balanced themselves out given that overall I would say I had a good reading experience with this book. I'm happy to have read The Clockmaker's Daughter, however it isn't a Kate Morton title I'd recommend for first time readers of her writing.

- source: my bookshelf - 
BLURB
After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife's hometown, Hawley finds word as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother's mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter's present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Both a coming-of-age novel and literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

THOUGHTS
I love reading books with familial relationships at the centre, and that's what prompted me to pick up The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley - I knew very little about this book going in, having only come across the book when another blogger shared it in their favourites of the year post.

The story follows the relationship of Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo, who have lived an unsettled life, but have now set up long term upon us meeting them. The two of them are trying to make a place for themselves in the hometown of Loo's mum (& in turn Samuel's wife), who died when she was very young.

Alongside the present day narrative we also have alternating chapters that allow us to learn more about Samuel - how he came to be a man marked with twelve bullet wound scars, the reason why they have lived an unsettled life, and also how he came to be a single father. Without a doubt, Samuel Hawley is a flawed man, and yet as a reader I came to care for him and felt invested in his life. Whilst a man with faults, Samuel's relationship with Loo, was interesting to watch unfold as you could see he struggled (& thrived) at protecting and providing for his daughter; I like that the author explored this kind of family dynamic, as well as touching upon being a product of your environment.

As we look into Samuel's past, we also follow Loo as she makes her journey into teenage years, and has her own set of trials & tribulations. There is growth as a person, self development, love for another, and also unresolved mysteries surrounding her childhood.

The two storylines meet at the end, with Samuel and Loo truly coming together with a little more understanding also. Hannah Tinti concluded the themes in this book well, however the plot itself was kind of open ended. Often times I don't like when a book is left open for interpretation, however I felt it worked well for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.

Much has gone into this book, with a mixture of themes explored, and genres colliding, however at the heart of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley you'll find love, acceptance, and belonging.

- source: my bookshelf -
BLURB
Have you ever imagined a different life?
Have you ever stood at a crossroads, undecided?
Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to roar?

The woman in these startlingly original stories are all of us: the women who befriend us, the women who encourage us, the women who makes us brave. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf and The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged her Husband, discover thirty touching, often hilarious, stories and meet thirty very different women. Each discovers her strength; each realises she holds the power to make a change.

Witty, tender, surprising, these keenly observed tales speak to us all, and capture the moment when we all want to roar.

THOUGHTS
Short story collections always make for interesting read - with some stories liked and others not so much - but hopefully something for everyone found within: I found this to be very much the case with Cecelia Ahern's newest release, Roar.

Within Roar you'll find thirty stories highlighting prevalent matters that women face in day to day life - these are all told in a creative way, with magical realism running throughout, and all of which are handled in a sensitive manner, even when the story itself is humorous in nature. The collection as whole is all about empowering & lifting women - which the stories themselves definitely put across. There are a variety of themes that run through the book, and also diversity in the characters too.

Speaking of characters, each story has a different woman front and centre, however she has no name; being referred to as 'the woman'. I think this was a brave writing tactic as it could go one of two ways - you'd feel connected to the character as you can put yourself in their shoes more easily, or you'd feel disconnected from the character as she hasn't got the depth & substance we'd be used to in a book. Personally, I found the focal woman of a story having no name didn't impact my reading experience in a negative way.

Naturally there were some stories I enjoyed more than others, with a few of my favourites including: The Woman Who Grew Wings, The Woman Who Ate Photographs, The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband, The Woman Who Wore Her Heart on Her Sleeve, The Woman Who Guarded Gonads, and The Woman Who Smiled.

Roar is a wonderful collection of cleverly written short stories that you can dip in & out of (I read my copy throughout the month of January), and would make a good introduction to Cecelia Ahern's writing style.
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