10.2.19

BOOK REVIEW: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

The Centre for women's reproductive health offers a last chance of hope- but nobody ends up their by choice.
Its very existence is controversial, and to the demonstrators who barricade the building everyday, the service it offers is no different from legalised murder.
Now life and death decisions are being made horrifyingly real: a lone protester with a gun has taken the staff, patients and visitors hostage.
Starting at the tensest moment in the negotiations for their release, A Spark of Light unravels backwards, revealing hour by hour what brought each of the people- the gunman, the negotiator, the doctors, nurses and women who have come to them for treatment- to this point.
And certainties unwind as truths and secrets are peeled away, revealing the complexity of balancing the right to life with the right to choose. 

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 355

I am a big fan of Jodi Picoult's books and her last book, Small Great Things totally blew me away. However, I have very mixed feelings about her latest book, A Spark of Light. I heard the author talking about it on Radio 4 and the idea sounded fantastic but I came away feeling a little disappointed once I had reached the end.
The premise is that a group of people have been taken hostage at a Women's Health Centre by a gun man. In America, women's health centres deal with female reproductive health and they also carry out abortions. This is obviously a highly contentious issue and I was impressed by how far Picoult went in tackling it. She looks at many different angles and viewpoints, religion, gender, age, sexuality, ethics and morality. I do feel that she engaged in the subject well but the book fell down for me by being overly complicated. The story begins with the final negotiations and works its way back, I didn't have a problem with this but the problem was the number of characters involved. I was fully focused when reading but there were so many times when I was too confused to enjoy the story properly. Each character has their own back history which is a fantastic way of examining different view points. But the sheer amount of characters and jumping back and forth took away the impact of the actual story for me which was a shame.
I still felt quite invested in these characters so I was disappointed when there was a lot of loose ends, I didn't even want happy endings for them all but I was looking for some form of conclusion.
For me, A Spark of Light has a fantastic and important core element in the issue it is tackling but I did not feel that it was executed effectively.

4.2.19

BOOK REVIEW: A Rose Petal Summer by Katie Fforde

'She'd recognised him the moment he'd entered the room, but he didn't appear to remember her. Of course it had been nearly pitch dark when they had met, and so long ago. He laughed and Caro's heart gave a lurch...'
He was the one who got away, the young man with whom Caro spent one magical evening in Greece, and whom she's never forgotten.
Now years later, they've met once more in a beautiful old house in Scotland. Soon Caro is falling in love, all over again.
But will the one summer he falls for her?

Publisher: Century Books
Pages: 387
Published on February 21st

Katie FForde's books are always a delight and A Rose Petal Summer is bound to be a hit. Caro and Alec met as teenagers one night on a Greek island and she has never forgotten him. In the present day, Caro takes on the job of companion to an elderly man in the Scottish Highlands and she recognises his son Alec the moment he walks into the room. He is effectively her new employer but he doesn't show any signs of recognising her. Does she still have feelings for him and how will he react once he remembers their previous encounter?
I really took to Caro, she seems like a genuinely good person but she can look after herself too. She normally lives on a houseboat in London so Scotland is a real change for her but she quickly falls in love with the beautiful surroundings. It is so strange for her to see Alec again, he is divorced with a beautiful daughter called Rowan who Caro takes under her wing. He is back in Scotland to run the family estate but he harbours a desire for a different kind of occupation. Caro can see glimpses of the young man she met all those years ago and the attraction is still there. When Alec divulges his aspirations to her she falls in love with him more and is determined to help. Add into this story, wayward teenagers, a Hollywood power couple, a romantic mystery to solve plus a wedding to plan and you have a very entertaining story indeed.
I loved the locations in this book, Katie Fforde moves from the Scottis
h estate to Caro's quirky boat in London, to a beautiful chateau in France. They all have their own delightful charm and make it so easy to get caught up in the story.
A Rose Petal Summer is a romantic read about two people finding each other again. A lot has happened to Caro and Alec over the years so it is interesting to see if that spark between them is still there. This is great book to lose yourself in for a few hours, I can highly recommend it.

Many thanks to Alice at Penguin for sending me a copy of the book to review, A Rose Petal Summer is published on 21st February. 

26.1.19

BOOK REVIEW: Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen

Louis and Louise are the same person in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final 'e'.
They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle.
They both suffer one catastrophic night with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home. 

Publisher: Orion
Pages: 296

Julie Cohen's last book, Together was one of my favourite reads in 2018 so I was ridiculously excited to see what her latest book would be about. Louis & Louise follows a baby born in 1978, one narrative explores what would happen if the baby was a boy- Louis and the other narrative explores the events if the baby was a girl- Louise. Both Louis and Louise have the same set of circumstances; same parents, same friends and childhood experiences, so what difference does their gender make? Louis & Louise is quite a simple idea really but Cohen uses it to visit so many complex issues- parent and child relationships, loyalty, gender, friendship, sexuality and the wealth divide in America.
This is a fantastic book and so relevant for the time we live in. It left me with a huge amount to think about and question. At first I enjoyed Louise's narrative more as I think I obviously identified with her as a female. However as Louis' narrative developed, it was just as enjoyable. It was fascinating to observe how they both react to identical circumstances. Their relationship with their parents, Peggy and Irvine is so well done. Having had difficult relations with my own parents in the past, it was quite profound to have it presented on the page. Cohen shows how all parents make mistakes at times but if you strip everything back, that vital family link and shared history will always be there. It's often much easier to be angry at somebody you love rather than someone you don't have that attachment to. Louis and Louise are born in 1978 so this book felt quite nostalgic to me. I was born four years later in 1982 but I could identify with both characters and the events in their childhood. Cohen cleverly uses twins Allie and Benny as Louis and Louise's best friends and it was a good way of comparing them gender-wise, plus a good marker for how different they are in the present to their closest friends from the past. Both Louis and Louise leave the tight-knit community that they grew up in whereas Allie and Benny remain for one reason or another.
I think Louis & Louise will appeal to so many readers. I marvelled again at the capacity Julie Cohen has to explore human emotions and feelings. She never shies away from the uncomfortable or complex and this brings a huge amount of realism to her writing. Cohen's talent sings from every page of this book and I urge you to read it.

Many thanks to Orion for sending me a copy of this book to read, Louis & Louise is out now. 

21.1.19

BOOK REVIEW: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

A young woman murdered in a run-down Manhattan hotel.
A father publicly beheaded in the blistering sun of Saudi Arabia.
A man's eyes stolen from his living body as he leaves a secret Syrian research laboratory.
Smouldering human remains on a mountainside in the Hindu Kush.
A plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.
One thread that binds them all.
One man to take the journey.
Pilgrim.

Publisher: Corgi
Pages: 892

I Am Pilgrim was chosen by my book group, I had heard positive things but it is not my usual type of book so I didn't know what to expect. At 892 pages, it is pretty long but in my opinion it is fantastic. The pace is relentless, each chapter is a good size but you do not want to stop reading. The book is split into four parts, each one dealing with a different part of Pilgrim's journey.
Pilgrim has many names and he's lived many lives and even though this book is long, I felt that we barely scratched the surface as to who he really is
. Part of a super elite division of the intelligence service, Pilgrim's whole life has been dedicated to duty and serving his country. There are moments where a he talks of the life he would have liked with a wife and possibly children but ultimately he knows that the decisions he has made will always prevent that.
It is difficult to review the book without giving the plot away. Ultimately, Pilgrim is chasing a man known as the Saracen who poses a catastrophic threat to America and the wider world. He is terrifying, a new breed of terrorist; educated, cunning and highly radicalised. Terry Hayes is obviously writing from an American perspective but I was impressed by how he showed the events that led up to the Saracen's chosen path. He is not trying to make excuses but he is trying to understand the reasons why and in reality I think it is the best way of tackling these issues. It is a cat and mouse chase across many destinations, corruption, crime and coercion are rife and Pilgrim knows that ultimately he can only trust and rely on himself.
I Am Pilgrim is a fantastic book to immerse yourself in, Terry Hayes himself described it as an epic read. Don't let it's length put you off, I have read it on just under a week and I was not bored at any point. My only criticism is that there does not seem to be any positive roles for women within the book. I understand that the intelligence service is still very male dominated but it did seem strange that women were not represented. The majority of females within the book, even in a position of power were either corrupt or being manipulated by men. The others were weak characters or just downright unpleasant. I hadn't realised until I was thinking about the book afterwards and I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
I Am Pilgrim is a real adventure but terrifying as you can easily see that the events could actually happen. It is a book that I know I will read again in the future, Terry Hayes' writing is assured, entertaining and highly realistic.

14.1.19

BOOK REVIEW: The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Meet the Adults.
Claire and Matt are divorced but want their daughter Scarlett to have a 'normal; family Christmas with them all together.
Claire brings her seemingly eligible new partner Patrick.
Matt brings his extremely patient girlfriend Alex.
Scarlett brings her imaginary friend Posey.
He's a rabbit.
Together the five (or six?) of them grit their teeth through Organised Fun Activities, drinking a little too much after bed-time, oversharing classified secrets about their pasts and, before they know it, their holiday is a powder keg that ends- where this story starts- with a call to the police...
But what happened? They said they'd all be adults about this...

Publisher: Orion
Pages: 403

The Adults could be classified as a festive read as it is set over the Christmas period but I read it in January and still enjoyed it so don't be put off now that you've taken down your tree and eaten the last mince pie.
The Adults follows Claire and Patrick and Matt and Alex as they embark on a rather tense festive trip away. Claire and Matt are divorced but they want to give their daughter Scarlett the treat of them all spending Christmas together plus Scarlett's imaginary friend Posey who is a rabbit.
So they all set off to The Happy Forest determined to have a good time or at least not to kill each other. However, the book opens with the transcription of a 999 call requesting an ambulance to the holiday park as a guest has been shot with an archery arrow so maybe things haven't quite gone to plan.
The Adults is a highly entertaining read, it is full of awkward situations and underlying tensions constantly threatening to spill over.
I loved the idea of The Happy Forest setting, it is very much
an exaggerated version of Centre Parcs and I'm sure many readers will identify with the humour in this.
Caroline Hulse sets a good pace from the very start and it was interesting to get different character's perspectives on events taking place. There is a lot of humour within the story and many experiences that are easy to relate to and empathise with. The Adults is an easy-going and entertaining read, it was a great start to my 2019 reading.

Many thanks to Orion for sending me a copy of The Adults to review.

7.1.19

BOOK REVIEW: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

'Think of it as an adventure, Perry had said right at the beginning of all this. And it had seemed like one. A bit of a lark, she had thought. A Girls Own adventure.'
In 1940, eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the  comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of these years have been relegated to the past for ever.
Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence. 

Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 333

Kate Atkinson is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was a huge fan of Life After Life and A God in Ruins so I was very excited to read her latest book. Transcription is wonderful. I really took my time with it as I read it over the busy Christmas period but I'm glad I didn't rush as I enjoyed it so much from start to end.
The main character is Juliet Armstrong, she's terribly British, no-nonsense and I was very fond of her by the end of the book. At the age of eighteen, Juliet is recruited by MI5 to work as a typist, transcribing the conversations between British Fascist sympathizers . As these things often played out, Juliet is soon given other duties and quickly finds herself at the centre of a tangled and dangerous web. We re-join her in 1950 where she is now working as a producer at the BBC. She thinks the war is long behind her but the past comes knocking on her door looking for answers and retribution.
I find Kate Atkinson's writing so compelling, it is wonderfully nostalgic as she discusses London during the war but she does not shy away from the horrors either. Atkinson covers bombings, murders and loss in such a clever way, her descriptions are sympathetic and full of emotion but also somehow matter of fact. Reading accounts from the war and talking to relatives who lived through it, I think she has it spot on. People were surrounded by tragedy during those years and it must have come to feel like some bizarre form of normality.
The espionage element of the book is fantastic and brilliantly subtle. There are so many instances where you are holding your breath as you just don't know what the outcome will be. Transcription is full of humour too, Atkinson slips it in in the most unexpected of places and she will have you laughing out loud.
I always get to the end of this author's books and want to shout about them from the rooftops! Transcription is wonderful, it is captivating and skilful,  you will not be disappointed.

2.1.19

Book Review: Winter by Ali Smith

Winter. Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old story goes...
When four people, strangers and family, converge on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas, will there be enough room for everyone?

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 322

I have such mixed feelings about this book so I apologise in advance for the incoherent review. I've not read anything by Ali Smith before but this caught my eye in a bookshop recently so I thought I'd give it a go.
I loved the author's use of language, her choice of words is exquisite. Some of my favourite parts of the book were past recollections by the main characters. I really appreciated the rich imagery she created and the very comforting and no
stalgic feeling it brought with it.
Some parts of the book were a little too abstract for me. There's a floating head which I found quite easy to go along with but then there was a floating cliff face which suddenly appears in the dining room and this totally lost me. I've thought a lot about it but I truly cannot understand it's purpose.
The characters are a mixed bag, none of them could be described as likeable but they are interesting. The family is highly dysfunctional but this obviously just adds interest to the story.
So as you can probably tell, I'm not too sure what I made of this book, on the one hand I enjoyed Ali Smith's writing style and use of language but on the other hand some of the concepts sadly went over my head.

BOOK REVIEW: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

The Centre for women's reproductive health offers a last chance of hope- but nobody ends up their by choice. Its very existence is cont...