The woman who stole my life - cover

The Woman Who Stole My Life – review

I’ve been hugely looking forward to reading a new novel from Marian Keyes- she’s one of my favourite ‘chick-lit’ (I really don’t like that term, sorry!) authors because she writes her stories with more substance than other novels that are often categorised in this genre.

Here’s the blurb:

Stella Sweeney is back in Dublin. After living the dream in New York for a year – touring her self-help book, appearing on talk shows all over the USA and living it up in her 10-room duplex on the Upper West Side – she’s back to normality with a bang. And she’s got writer’s block.

Stella wants a clean break as she didn’t exactly leave New York on a high. Why is she back in Ireland so soon? Who is it who keeps calling? Stella wants to get back to being the woman she used to be. But can she? And should she?

The woman who stole my life - coverI’ve got to say, this book really made me laugh; it seemed like a different kind of humour to some of her other novels, perhaps more of a dry wit. The novel jumps between various time frames, and in this review I will try not to reveal too much about the storyline which the reader won’t learn quite early on anyway. The main bulk of the book is concerned with the recovery and aftermath of Stella’s sudden paralysing illness, the ensuing relationship with her neurologist Mannix Taylor and their busy tour of America whilst promoting Stella’s book One Blink at a Time. In a separate time frame we see her life as it is ‘now’, having returned to Ireland without Mannix, and finally extracts from One Blink at a Time reveal Stella’s thoughts and feelings whilst she was paralysed in hospital. This narrative strand was actually quite frightening and I really felt for Stella. Despite her frustration and fear during her time in hospital, Keyes still manages to inject some humour into the situation which stops the story from becoming too negative. The very serious subject matter is treated just right, leaving me thinking about the way paralysing illnesses must affect those who suffer with them but still including some of Stella’s quick wit.

I hugely enjoyed reading all three narrative strands, although I felt that the book seems to become a bit less humorous as the story continues. This makes sense really due to the content, as things in general start to go downhill for Stella in various ways.

Because you know from the beginning of the novel that Stella is single afterwards (we learn this fairly early on in the present day narrative), I was waiting for the point at which their relationship must fail – otherwise, why aren’t they together now? This certainly kept me reading and I barely put the novel down.

I didn’t feel particularly interested in some of the characters, such as Stella’s kids Jeffrey and Betsy, and of course her useless ex-husband Ryan, but I loved Mannix’s character- I felt like he was the perfect boyfriend character without seeming unrealistic. He was believable but didn’t always do everything right, which only added to the richness of his character. Stella, on the other hand, had a really hard time and I often felt so sorry for her- but her reluctance to show Mannix how much she really cared frustrated me at times, and her untrusting nature inevitably pushed Mannix away.

The one negative I felt about the novel was that the end did seem a little rushed – I was surprised to realise I only had a tiny part of the novel left and instantly wondered how it was all going to end given that there was only about 50 pages left. I feel that there could have been longer spent on the ending and would have happily read another hundred pages to be honest- this is a testament to Marian Keyes’ storytelling which is always brilliant in my opinion.

I don’t know if it’s necessarily her best novel out of all of them, but it certainly entertained me and was very enjoyable!

Rating: 4/5

I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.

The Woman Who Stole My Life
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The Prophecy of Bees – review

The Prophecy of BeesThe Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Bateman tells the story of Isabella, a teen who is NOT happy about having to move from busy London into a big old house in a country village, a decision made by her mother who she lives with. She soon learns of local superstitions, tales and curses regarding her house and the danger her and her mother might be in. She doesn’t believe any of them – or at least not to start with…

Bateman does a really good job of creating atmosphere in this novel. I really enjoyed reading about the different rituals and superstitions that the villagers have and the research Isabella does into the symbols she finds around the village, and the way they are often intrinsically linked with the Bible. The idea of a new family moving into a sprawling stately house which is rumoured to be haunted, and take on staff who are all very strange and warn of secrets the house contains, feels like it’s come right out of a gothic horror story, and often reads like one.

The Prophecy of Bees struck me as more of a Young Adult book, though I suppose that’s really more to do with the narrative voice in the novel. The book’s speaker Isabella is portrayed as a typical troubled teenager and you can’t help but be very aware of this throughout the novel; one of the main reasons being that she whines so much! She’s pissed off that she has to leave her boyfriend Cosmo behind, she’s pissed off that she’s cut off from her friends and old life in London, and most of all she’s pissed off that she’s stuck in the big creaky old house with her mum, who she really does not get along with, and a whole array of weird locals who keep warning her about curses and ghosts. She writes like a teenager so because of this I wouldn’t say the novel is written fantastically, but the story is conveyed well nonetheless.

Isabella got on my nerves a bit but seems to grow up a bit as the novel continues and grew in my estimations. The fact that she was a bit unpredictable and still quite young added a sense of confusion and peril to the story.

Although Isabella is quite annoying and I would feel sorry for her mum having to put up with her, Isabella’s mum is actually equally as annoying, if not more – she is snobby, obsessed with status and social and seems to ignore most of what her daughter says or feels. Because of this I didn’t feel overly concerned for mother or daughter’s welfare, despite the various dangers and threats that become apparent as the book continues. Despite this, the story was very entertaining.

I liked the ending which was quite different and had a good twist to it. One thing I would say though is that I wouldn’t list it as ‘for fans of Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep’ (as it is described by the publisher) as I really don’t see how it’s like those books at all, they’re too different to compare really in my opinion.

The Prophecy of Bees is a tense, atmospheric novel bursting with symbolism and a strong sense of creepiness. Easy and enjoyable to read, I sped through this in a few days – why not give it a go?

Rating: 4/5

I received an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review

The Prophecy of Bees

The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas

The Oyster CatcherHere’s a novel that I feel fits right into the ‘chick-lit’ genre (although I hate that term!). I don’t read a lot of this quite wide genre but I do love certain authors of this style, including Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella and JoJo Moyes! I’ve never read any Jo Thomas though, so thought I’d give The Oyster Catcher a go!

This is a feel-good, easy to read novel with likeable characters and a fun, light-hearted storyline that centers around Fi, who’s in Ireland for her honeymoon but is now suddenly single, having been dumped on her wedding day, as she lands herself a job with Oyster-farmer Sean. She somehow manages to get the job despite hating the sea and disliking the taste of oysters! Fi quickly makes both friends and enemies in the little village of Dooleybridge, Ireland, and the story dips between light-hearted fun and parts that seem, to be honest, a little ridiculous!

As the novel went on though I warmed more and more to the characters, particularly the protagonist Fi – though at times Fi irritated me a bit with her (bad) choices, and seemed to be a little stupid at times, overall she was quite an amiable character. Sean, Margaret and some of the other villagers were also likeable characters, and I thought it was good that they all had their quirks. Sean particularly was well developed as a character and was quite attractive, despite his moodiness – he was obviously the strong, silent type that so often appears in these types of books. The characters mostly seemed like people you might actually meet in a village in Ireland from the sounds of it! The only characters I really disliked, and not just because of their intended horribleness, were Nancy and the Johnny – they both seemed excessively clichéd, over-the-top ‘baddies’, and when you read the novel you’ll see why!

The Oyster Catcher is easy to read and there’s more going on than just the usual love story which I appreciated. I enjoyed learning more about oysters, something I hadn’t previously read about – that was something a little different! From the beginning of the novel it is clear what is ultimately going to happen and it’s very predictable in this way but the storyline is entertaining with enough happening that it remains enjoyable to read. I did, however, find some parts of the novel a little too hard to believe and some characters seemed a little undeveloped.

The descriptions of the sea and people throughout the novel were quite vivid and I could really picture the location in my mind, despite never having visited Ireland. I think Jo Thomas is a good storyteller and it shows through – by the end of the novel I wanted to run away to Ireland and live a carefree life like Fi does! I felt that, although she had a horrible time with her fiancé, she was quite lucky to be able to start afresh, even just temporarily, in a place where no one knew her, and this caught my imagination as I read, and will no doubt do the same to other readers.

Overall: This would be a good book to take on holiday; nothing too deep or thrilling, it just ambles along at a good pace. It’s not ground-breaking in terms of originality and is predictable but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and feel it’s worth giving a go if you fancy a simple, easy read that will leave you feeling warm inside. I’d be interested to read some of Jo Thomas’ other novels too.

It also really made me want to try oysters!

Rating: 3.5/5

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

The Oyster Catcher
If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go…

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You GoIf I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Would Never Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel tells the story of Katie and her friends as they grow up in Elephant Beach during the 1970’s, and  they way they deal with the various issues that life after war presents.

In my opinion there doesn’t seem to be one overarching storyline, but Chicurel uses Katie to narrate the highs and lows of her and her friends’ lives. Covering teenage pregnancies and drug addiction to casual racism and death, the story is fast paced and covers various issues.

I felt that If I Knew… is well written and creates a strong sense of atmosphere, creating a snapshot of what life must have been like for those living in America during the 70’s, and I enjoyed reading about this era which seemed to be, at times, quite grim and depressing.

One of the themes explored within the novel is the effect the Vietnam War had on individuals, from the men who were sent to fight to ‘the rest’ who stayed in their homeland. Luke, who protagonist Katie is in love with and has been for years, returns home from war as a seemingly completely different person and struggles to adapt back to civilian life. It is interesting to read about this aspect of American History.

“Some people never recover, and when you think about it, that’s the more normal – the more expected reaction. And we treat them as though they’re the sick ones.

Unfortunately the characters just didn’t feel that well developed to me; although I did like the main character Katie, she actually got on my nerves a lot. I just wanted her to go and speak to Luke if she was that crazy about him! A lot of the characters came and went without evoking too much interest, and I never felt that I really understood or empathised with these characters in the way I usually do with novels – this is particularly applicable to many of the minor characters – and because of this I often got a bit confused between them all without really caring what happened to them!

Each chapter seemed like a snapshot of Katie’s life, and of general life at that time, but they didn’t seem to flow well; the story felt quite disconnected and there was almost too much going on sometimes. It moved so quickly from storyline to storyline that I often got confused about who was being discussed.

There are tonnes of stereotypical 70’s, hippie references throughout – the group of friends all smoke weed, drink, party a lot and use the words/ phrases ‘man’, ‘far out’ and ‘outasight’ plus MANY swear words such as ‘un-fucking-real’ which got a bit tiring after a while!

I thought the book was interesting in parts but it didn’t leave me feeling overly moved or impressed. However I did really like the cover design!

Rating: 2.5/5