Spoils [review]

Spoils - Brian Van Reet

Title: Spoils
Author: Brian Van Reet
Publisher:Vintage (Random House UK)

[Synopsis]

It is the spring of 2003 and coalition forces are advancing on Iraq. Images of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein crashing to the ground in Baghdad are being beamed to news channels around the world. Nineteen-year-old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard, on her first deployment since joining the US army two years earlier, is primed for war.

For Abu al-Hool, a jihadist since the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, war is wearing thin. Two decades of fighting – and the new wave of super-radicalised fighters joining the ranks in the wake of the September 11 attacks – have left him questioning his commitment to the struggle.

When Cassandra is taken prisoner by al-Hool’s mujahideen brotherhood, both fighters will find their loyalties tested to the very limits.

This fast-paced, hard-hitting account of eight weeks in the lives of a soldier and her captor forces us to reconsider the simplistic narratives of war spun by those in power. With its privileged insight into the reality of armed combat, Spoils shines a light on the uncertainty, fear and idealism that characterised the early days of one of the most important conflicts of our time.

[My Review]

For me, Spoils is a tricky book to write about. There were parts of it I found deeply fascinating and which really hooked me in – mainly the parts where Cassandra is in captivity, which were so disturbing but at the same time incredibly interesting to read about. The general theme of army life and conditions in Afghanistan is also one I found I became absorbed in.

I wasn’t overly keen on the way the novel was structured; I found the switches in narrator a little confusing. I usually really enjoy books that swap around a lot, but in Spoils I found it a bit off-putting at times. I think I really just wanted to read more about Cassandra’s capture, as that’s what really hooked me in from the synopsis! Unfortunately it takes a long time in the storyline before that actually happens, and I found myself feeling a bit impatient as I wanted the narrative to get to that point, despite knowing it would be disturbing / tricky at times to read. I understand that the section before that point is laying out the run-up to these events and really setting the scene, but I found that I much preferred reading the scenes about Cassandra’s captivity and how Abu al-Hool’s ‘brotherhood’ treated her, as it was just so intriguing and different to read about. I felt Cassandra’s captivity as if I was experiencing it myself, and this is a testament to Brian Van Reet’s writing and knowledge on the subject – very impressive.

I would recommend this novel, and feel it is an important novel to read especially with everything going on in the world today, and it’s certainly something different, as well as being a powerful read.

[Rating: 3.5/5]

Many thanks to the publisher, Vintage (Random House UK) for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

Dead Letters [review]

Dead Letters - Caite Dolan-Leach

Title: Dead Letters
Author: Caite Dolan-Leach
Publisher: Corvus

[Synopsis]

Ava doesn’t believe it when the email arrives to say that her twin sister is dead. It’s not grief or denial that causes her scepticism – it just feels too perfect to be anything other than Zelda’s usual manipulative scheming. And Ava knows her twin.

Two years after she left, vowing never to speak to Zelda again after the ultimate betrayal, Ava must return home to retrace her errant sister’s last steps. She soon finds notes that lead her on a twisted scavenger-hunt of her twin’s making.

Letter by letter, Ava unearths clues to her sister’s disappearance: and unveils harrowing truths of her own. A is for Ava, and Z is for Zelda, but deciphering the letters in-between is not so simple…

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[My Review]

This novel really surprised me – from the synopsis I thought it would be a mystery / psychological thriller-style book, but I wouldn’t class it like that. Though there is definitely a strong theme around mystery and what has happened to Ava’s sister, the story – I felt – is more of a slow burning drama or a family saga. It kept me hooked either way!

I felt the story is beautifully written and the characters are skillfully described. Ava seems less self-centered, flippant and rather annoying than her twin sister Zelda, but both seem pretty irritating in their own ways – in fact pretty much all the characters are unlikeable. However I felt that they were very interesting to read about and I really wanted to know what had really happened to Zelda – it’s a testament of the great writing that I still cared about what had happened to her! Ava’s subsequent ‘private investigation’ had twists and turns throughout which I really enjoyed reading.

The pace is fairly slow; a lot of it centers around the way Zelda’s apparent death has affected her family and friends, and the way everyone reacts to the tragedy. The whole Antipova family seemed so destroyed, and this added to the slightly eerie atmosphere that circles the book. Dead Letters seems highly focussed on character development, but has elements of mystery too, which I always enjoy reading. Some of the clues and notes from Zelda seemed to me a little far fetched, but they kept me intrigued and allowed lots of humorous lines from Ava, with her dry sense of humour.

If you like everything fast paced or only books packed with suspense, then this might not be the book for you – but I really enjoyed it and felt it was something a little different too. A skillfully written story with an intriguing mix of family drama and mystery.

[Rating: 4/5]

Many thanks to the publisher, Corvus Books, for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review. 

Dead Letters is out in the UK in paperback and ebook formats on 4 May.

About Last Night [review]

About Last Night - Catherine Alliott

Title: About Last Night
Author: Catherine Alliott
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

[Synopsis]

The funny, enthralling and heartwarming story of a woman who gets a second chance in life – but will she have the courage to take it?

Molly has moved from London to rural Herefordshire chasing the Good Life. Swapping the tube for the saddle, she is living the country dream. Apart from it isn’t really her dream. It’s her husband David’s. And David is, well, rather dead now. Then a distant relative of her late husband kicks the bucket, leaving a London townhouse in her possession, and Molly dares to consider chucking it all in. Quitting the Good Life and going back to her good life.

But there’s a problem. A rather tall, handsome problem. In the shape of a man already living in Molly’s new house. And when a face appears from her past, Molly is more confused than ever. Will Molly’s London dream replace her muddy reality? Do any of the men in her life really have honourable intentions? And has she said goodbye to country life too soon?

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[My Review]

About Last Night is the third book I’ve read by Catherine Alliott. The other two – The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton* and Wish You Were Here** – I enjoyed and gave 4 stars to. I had high hopes for About Last Night, but it didn’t quite live up to the others for me. It’s entertaining and has some funny parts which made me laugh, making it a fun read – but it really hugely impress me, for a number of reasons.

The characters are quite fun, though some – including, at times, the main character Molly – were a bit irritating. I liked her to begin with and felt for her, but as the story continued I got a bit annoyed with her decisions and actions which were, at times, ridiculous. Quite a few of the characters in this novel felt overly simplified and not particularly convincing; I didn’t feel like any of them were really people I’d either know from my own life, or could conceivably imagine running into on the street, at work or…well, anywhere really. I do feel that I have to either empathise / like the characters, or feel just feel strongly about them (even really hate them) in order to engage with the characters and therefore the story, and I didn’t feel either of these things with this book’s characters unfortunately.

I found a lot of this story humorous and entertaining, and bits really made me laugh. There are some comical scenes and some amusing thoughts and utterances by Molly. The way she interacts with her kids, and her kids interact with her, can be really funny; their despair over their mother when she’s embarrassing or confusing them really did make me laugh. However, the story felt like it dragged on a bit at times, focussing too much on small details or dialogue, and so I found myself wanting to speed read through big chunks. I guessed quite a lot of what was going to happen beforehand, and so the fact that it then took ages to get to those parts frustrated me. The ending was positive and wrapped everything up nicely, though, which is always what you expect from a summery read like this.

Overall I feel that this is an enjoyable novel that will no doubt entertain and amuse readers; it did both for me but sadly the characters fell a little flat, and in my opinion the narrative could have been cut down by about a third. However I’d still recommend About Last Night if you’re after a fun and light-hearted read.

[Rating: 3/5]

Check out my review here for The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton.
Check out my review here for Wish You Were Here.

Many thanks to Michael Joseph for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

Goodreads Monday: Making It Up As I Go Along

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren’s Page Turners . To take part, you simply choose a random book from your TBR and show it off. Don’t forget to check out her blog and link back to Lauren’s Page Turners, and add your own links!

Today I’m going to pick a book I recently bought, but haven’t read yet so it’s still on my Goodreads TBR list…

Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

Making It Up As I Go Along - Marian Keyes

Title: Making It Up As I Go Along
Author: Marian Keyes
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin
Publish date: 6 October 2017

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[Synopsis]

Welcome to the magnificent Making It Up as I Go Along – aka the World According to Marian Keyes™ – A bold and brilliant collection of Marian’s hilarious and often heartfelt observations on modern life, love and everything in between.

From a guide to breaking up with your hairdresser to entering the fifties-zone, the joys of her nail varnish museum to singing her way through insomnia, Marian will have you laughing with delight and gasping with recognition throughout – because at the end of the day, each and every one of us is clearly making it up as we go along.

I usually end up going for fiction titles (though I do love some non-fiction as well) so this is a change, plus Marian Keyes is an author I loved growing up and still do! I’m hoping this will be a great read and something a little different.

Have you heard anything about this book, or have you got it on your TBR list? 

Don’t forget… follow me on: instagram @snazzy_stuff_goodreads Laura / and twitter @lauranazmdeh!

Lie To Me [review]

Lie To Me - Jess Ryder

Title: Lie To Me
Author: Jess Ryder
Publisher: Bookouture

[Synopsis]

We’re going to tell our story and then it will all stop and Mummy will be safe. You want Mummy to be safe, don’t you?

Three minutes. That’s all it takes for Meredith’s entire world to fall apart when she watches the videotape of her four-year-old self with Becca, the mother she’s never known.

Meredith can’t believe what her eyes have seen. Yet what if her memory has locked away the painful reality of her childhood? Can there be any truth in the strange and dangerous story her mother forced her to tell on camera?

The search for answers leads Meredith to Darkwater Pool, the scene of the murder of a young woman, Cara, over 30 years ago. What could possibly be the link between her mother and the victim?

To find the truth Meredith must search through a past that is not her own. The problem is, she’s not the only one looking…

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[My Review]

I really enjoyed this fun, fast-paced mystery. Lie To Me is different to how I’d expected it to be – it’s not really about the crime itself, as such (even though that is the basis of the book), but more about the ripple effect that this incident has had across those involved and their family and children, and how it affects their lives.

Though Meredith’s ex-boyfriend is investigating the cold case, that’s the only real police work included. There is the odd interview with other detectives, but we mainly see the story from two ‘civilians’: from Meredith’s point of view as she tries to work out what happened, and from Cara’s as the events leading up to her death unfold. The characters themselves are quite simple and though I didn’t feel like I hugely cared a lot about them, I was still very intrigued as to who played what part in Cara’s death.

Some parts are slower than others, and there wasn’t really a huge tension or drama with Cara’s murder like I thought there would be. It just didn’t feel very menacing or threatening – maybe because it happened years ago, but as the reader you’re still seeing what happens to Cara, so I expected to feel a bit more threat. However I liked that the book presented everything from a non-police angle; it made a change from the many police procedurals and detective novels I’ve read recently and was a breath of fresh air in that sense!

I really liked how the story focused on the characters who were involved and slowly reveals more about what their lives were like before and after the crime. I was interested to find out what actually happened to Meredith’s mother, and how she linked in with the story. Some parts I could sort of guess but there were still some surprises along the way and it kept me reading on – I finished it very quickly!

Overall I feel that this is an entertaining novel that’s well worth a read, and I would definitely try future novels by Jess Ryder – Lie To Me is fun, easy to read which kept me interested.

[Rating: 3.5/5]

Many thanks to Bookouture who provided a copy of this novel, on which I chose to write an unbiased and honest review.

DON’T FORGET… FOLLOW ME ON: INSTAGRAM @SNAZZY_STUFF_GOODREADS LAURA / AND TWITTER @LAURANAZMDEH!

He Said She Said [review]

He Said She Said - Erin Kelly

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Erin Kelly
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

[Synopsis]

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

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[My Review]

I did not expect He Said She Said to have such an impact on me. I didn’t know a huge deal about the story before, granted – I decided to read it based on the brief synopsis but found myself completely immersed in the dark, twisted and disturbing story!

The narrative switched between the present day and the past storyline, when the attack described in the synopsis takes place. It slowly unravels more and more of what happens, with some dark secrets along the way. Without giving anything important away, it’s really a story of secrets, guilt and how different people deal with traumatic events. It’s also about how an incident’s consequences and effects can affect different people in different ways.

The characters in He Said She Said are so well crafted – I really cared about Laura and Kit as we learn more and more about them because they’re so likeable, so because of this some of the book’s events felt like they shocked me to my core! They’re both ‘eclipse hunters’, so they spend a lot of time travelling to see eclipses around the globe (something that had never occurred to me as hobby for some reason) and it was interesting to read about this. I myself think eclipses are really interesting but couldn’t personally see myself ever crying over one – but perhaps I’ve just never had a powerful enough experience…

I loved the way the story really kept me guessing so you never quite know the real version of events, with lots of tangled emotions creating a really absorbing and, at times, dark novel. It’s also a story that left me really thinking about not only the characters themselves, but their lives and the book’s ending after I finished reading it which doesn’t always happen with other novels. As well as being thought-provoking and addressing important issues around how the law deals with victims of certain crimes (and it dealt with this issue really well, I felt), it was also very interesting and truly entertained me, Plus that ending left me reeling!

A well-written, tense thriller with a difference. Highly recommended!

[Rating: 5/5]

Many thanks to the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

The Loving Husband [review]

The Loving Husband - Christobel Kent

Title: The Loving Husband
Author: Christobel Kent
Publisher: Sphere

[Synopsis]

Fran Hall and her husband Nathan have moved with their two children to a farmhouse on the edge of the Fens – a chance to get away from London and have a fresh start. But when Fran wakes one night to find Nathan gone, she makes a devastating discovery. As questions about her husband and her relationships start to mount, Fran’s life begins to spiral out of control. What is she hiding from the police about her marriage, and does she really know the man she shared her bed with?

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[My Review]

I have to say that although I’m usually a fan of ‘domestic noir’, which this book fits into, this story fell flat for me. However I still thought it was an entertaining read.

The main protagonist Fran was irritating and unlikable. Now, it doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to dislike the book because of this, but the rest of the story wasn’t enough of a hook to make me care what happened, and I struggled to really care about any of the characters.

The writing style was a little confusing. I usually love storylines that flick back and forwards between past and present, but this book presented these different timescales in such a way that I got really confused about where on earth I was. Perhaps if they’d been a bit more clearly marked it would have helped me enjoy the novel more, but as it was it was a little bewildering and meant I had to keep re-reading sections to figure them out.

I did, however, enjoy the way the story kept releasing hints about what had happened. There was an air of mystery and suspense which I appreciated, and which kept me reading on as I wanted to know more, though sometimes it was a little obvious.

The ending was satisfying enough – not disappointing but didn’t blow me away. I would still read The Crooked House by Christobel Kent, though, to compare. This isn’t a bad book, it’s just not – in my opinion – anything exciting or hugely different.

[Rating: 2/5]

Many thanks to the publisher, Sphere, for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

Have you read The Loving Husband, and if so what did you think?

Spotlight: Spell Caster

Spell Caster cover

Title: Spell Caster
Author: Leah Hamrick
Publisher: Solstice Publishing

Today on the blog I have a spotlight post for Spell Caster, a collection of three short stories by author Leah Hamrick!


Three paranormal short stories. One sweet, one dark, one fun. Which one will be your favorite?

Love Caster: There is nothing greater than pure, sweet love, and that’s something Anna Bowden knows all about. While trying to get the courage to kiss her boyfriend Killian, she has to deal with her overbearing dad, who will stop at nothing to tear them apart.

In the Darkness: After Anna Bowden witnesses someone—or something—lurking in her backyard, it starts a chain of frightening events that leads to a gruesome discovery.

First Holiday: Featuring the characters from Frost On My Pillow—be prepared for a sweet, fun, wild ride. While Ethan gives Lyla—who has never celebrated Christmas before— the task of finding out the true meaning of the holiday, he surreptitiously tries to tell her how he really feels, but before that can occur, a lot of decorating and snowball fights have to happen!

The book is available to buy now on Amazon here!


About the author

Leah Hamrick lives in Michigan with her partner in crime husband Jon, daughter Khloey, and plethora or reptiles. She’s the author of many short stories and a novel (more she has yet graced the world with, meaning they’re not published… Yet!) She enjoys heavy metal music when she isn’t writing, she loves hiking, going to the beach, and reading anything that’s paranormal romance, which is the genre she writes in, (mostly!) You can check out her stuff on Amazon… Just type her name and walah, a bunch of new stories you can fall in love with!

 

Goodreads Monday (but somehow ended up on a Sunday!): The Loving Husband

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren’s Page Turners . To take part, you simply choose a random book from your TBR and show it off. Don’t forget to check out her blog and link back to Lauren’s Page Turners, and add your own links!

Today I’ve picked:

The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent

The Loving Husband - Christobel Kent

 

Title: The Loving Husband
Author: Christobel Kent
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sphere

[SYNOPSIS]

Fran Hall and her husband Nathan have moved with their two children to a farmhouse on the edge of the Fens – a chance to get away from London and have a fresh start. But when Fran wakes one night to find Nathan gone, she makes a devastating discovery. As questions about her husband and her relationships start to mount, Fran’s life begins to spiral out of control. What is she hiding from the police about her marriage, and does she really know the man she shared her bed with?

This is on my Netgalley and Goodreads TBR list and I want to get around to reading it very soon. It might be the next book I read, actually!

It looks intriguing, though I’ve seen mixed reviews, so we shall see…

Have you read this, or have you got it on your TBR list? Let me know what you think! 

Don’t forget… follow me on: instagram @snazzy_stuff_goodreads Laura / and twitter @lauranazmdeh

The Two O’Clock Boy [review]

The Two O'Clock Boy - Mark Hill.jpg

Title: The Two O’Clock Boy
Author: Mark Hill
Publisher: Sphere


[My Review]

Well, this was an explosive and impressive start to what promises to be a great new crime series!

The Two O’Clock Boy features an intricate, interesting and fast-paced plot which kept my intrigued – and guessing – until the end. The main character, DI Drake, is a bit of a maverick and is certainly different in many ways to the usual high-up Detective, though I won’t say how, and the rest of the team have their own quirks and personality traits which make them an interesting team to read about. I really liked Flick, too, although at times she didn’t really help herself in being liked by others! Described as being a great book for fans of Luther, I’d have to agree – it’s got a real edge to it and I always love reading crime series set in the UK (this series being set in London).

In this book people are not who they seem to be, and those who should be helping others don’t always set up to the mark. No one is perfect, nothing is too clear cut – some people have good parts and bad parts to them, but it doesn’t make them good or bad, just human. To me it also poses the question: can people really change? The characters in this novel really make it such a gripping, impressive read – they’re complex and full of surprises.

The story twists and turns with plenty of action and grit. The narrative focuses on two main timeframes – the present day, as Drake and his team set about furiously trying to solve the case, and back in the 80’s at a horrible children’s home. Some parts are quite hard to read about, particularly those set in the past narrative, with the poor kids stuck at Longacre Children’s home, but it all adds to the shocking feel of the book.

Dark, deep and deliciously twisted… I raced through The Two O’Clock Boy and am already looking forward to number 2 in the series!

[Rating: 5/5]

Many thanks to Sphere for providing a copy of this novel, on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.