‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett: review

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett Synopsis:

Some moments can change your life for ever. Have you ever wondered, what if…?

A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their lives.

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them…

The Versions of Us
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett is a poignant, thought-provoking story of how possibilities, missed opportunities and decisions can affect many lives in various ways.

The story has three narratives that covers different possible versions of Eva and Jim’s lives (very sliding doors-esque!) and though all three are intertwined, the reader sees that one incident or decision can affect people’s lives in various ways. They switch between narrators so you get more than one perspective throughout which was really interesting to read. However I did, at times, lose track of which ‘version’ I was currently reading- the beginning of each part does start with version 1, 2 or 3 but I couldn’t always remember which differences belonged to which version, if that make sense! I’d be thinking ‘is this the one where they got together straight away? or ‘is this the version where that he is married to her…?’  and so I’d have to read on for a while until I twigged! I wouldn’t say this had a hugely detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the story though.

The characters were quite well developed and seemed like real people. For example, Jim seems like a really nice guy and very likeable, but he’s not perfect; in fact, the author doesn’t try and make ANY character perfect and I feel that this reflects real life more! I enjoyed reading about the characters and following them as they grew up through the decades- it makes you feel like you’ve really got to know them! It also made me think about how I would look back on my life (so far!) and I guess that’s often one of the purposes of books; to use fiction to reflect and consider your own- very real- life. Or maybe that’s just me…!

I really enjoy books that center around the ‘what if?!’ as they always make me think. The story was quite emotional at times- I always feel sad reading about marriages breaking up and affairs, etc, and this had plenty of that and more.  I always think, when chick-lit is done well, it is one of my favourite genres to read. Unfortunately it seems there’s a lot of crap to wade through before you find the gems- but luckily there are so many gems to find, and this is one worth reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Versions of Us. It’s a great first novel from author Laura Barnett and I look forward to reading future work by her.

Rating: 4/5

Buy with Amazon
 **Many thanks to the publisher and author for providing an ARC of this book in return for an honest review. **
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The Spider in the Corner of the Room - Nikki Owen

The Spider in the Corner of the Room!

The Spider in the Corner of the Room - Nikki OwenThe Spider in the Corner of the Room

Synopsis:

What to believe
Who to betray
When to run…


Plastic surgeon Dr Maria Martinez has Asperger’s. Convicted of killing a priest, she is alone, in prison and has no memory of the murder.
DNA evidence places Maria at the scene of the crime, yet she claims she’s innocent. Then she starts to remember…


A strange room. Strange people. Being watched.


As Maria gets closer to the truth she is drawn into a web of international intrigue and must fight not only to clear her name but to remain alive.
As addictive as the Bourne novels, with a protagonist as original as The Bridge’s Saga Norén.

The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen is a fast paced, original thriller that will suck you in and keep you enthralled until the very last word!

Nikki Owen has created an array of interesting, convincing characters that never seem one-dimensional, despite them sometimes being intentionally made to look ‘fake’. You really never know who to trust, and this is part of what makes this novel so engaging!

I don’t know a huge deal about Asperger’s Syndrome, but my friend has a family member who has Asperger’s and from chatting to her about it, it seems like this novel is very realistic in the portrayal of Dr Maria Martinez and the way she behaved and thought about certain situations- it certainly seems well researched.

The story is well written and is fast paced and gripping; I raced through this novel in less than 2 days and would have finished it quicker if it wasn’t for work getting in the way! There are lots of twists and turns in this story, and it’s hard to write a lot about it without giving any spoilers so I’ll just say- it keeps you guessing and makes you questions how we know who to trust!

One of the best, most original thrillers I’ve read in ages- highly recommended! This is part 1 of a trilogy, so I really look forward to reading the others when they are released!

Rating: 5/5

The Spider in the Corner of the Room is released on June 4th 2015.

Many thanks to the publisher and author for providing an advance reading copy of this novel in return for an honest review!

Buy with Amazon

 

Sharon Bolton’s ‘Little Black Lies’: reviewed.

Little  Black Lies by Sharon BoltonSynopsis:

In such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely…

When another child goes missing, and then a third, it’s no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and the villagers must admit that there is a murderer among them. Even Catrin Quinn, a damaged woman living a reclusive life after the accidental deaths of her own two sons a few years ago, gets involved in the searches and the speculation.

And suddenly, in this wild and beautiful place that generations have called home, no one feels safe and the hysteria begins to rise.

But three islanders—Catrin, her childhood best friend, Rachel, and her ex-lover Callum—are hiding terrible secrets. And they have two things in common: all three of them are grieving, and none of them trust anyone, not even themselves.

In Little Black Lies, her most shocking and engaging suspense novel to date, Sharon Bolton will keep the reader guessing until the very last page.

Little Black Lies

Little Black Lies is a gripping, emotive mystery set on the Falkland Islands. It addresses distressing but unfortunately all too real themes including child abduction, bereavement and relationships. It’s not one of Sharon Bolton’s ‘Lacey Flint’ series (which I have never read but would certainly like to!); instead it’s a stand-alone novel.

I love the setting where events unravel; it’s so atmospheric and quite creepy in many ways. At times I did actually forget that it wasn’t set nearer to England, but the isolated, Gothic atmosphere that Bolton builds so well would then bring me crashing back to the Falklands again!

This novel is very emotional at times, and written so well that even questionable characters end up gaining your sympathy; they’re so well developed and feel like real people. Because the novel is told from three perspectives, you also never know who is telling the whole truth or is hiding something, and I loved this interesting uncertainty throughout the story, with its twists and turns.

There were a few elements of the narrative that seemed a little too ‘convenient’, but nothing too unbelievable. At times the narrative also slowed down a bit and focused on a particular character’s past experiences which didn’t interest me as much, but it all contributed rather well to the story in the end!

I’m really pleased I got to read this great novel, particularly as it’s opened my eyes to a new author, and offers a slightly different twist on the usual mystery story!

Rating 4/5

Many thanks to the publisher for providing an advance copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

Little Black Lies is out in the USA on May 19th and the UK on July 2nd.

 Buy with Amazon

Book Haul pile

Quick book haul…

 
Hello! Just got a quick book haul to share with you today- definitely didn’t need to buy me books, I’ve got a HUGE ‘to-read’ pile already it couldn’t resist these as they were all either on a great 3 for £5 offer at The Works or really cheap from charity shops!


Firstly- In The Woods by Tana French

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)

Ever since reading The Secret Place by Tana French (which I reviewed here), I’ve really wanted to read more of her Dublin Murder Squad series. So I was really excited to see the first in the series, In The Woods, in The Works and part of the 3 books for £5 offer! I had to snap it up 🙂

Synopsis:

Dublin 1984 dusk, three children vanish in the woods. One, Rob Ryan, grips a tree trunk in terror, unable to recall any detail of previous hours. Twenty years later, the detective on the Dublin Murder Squad keeps his past a secret. But when a girl 12 is killed in the same woods, Rob and Detective Cassie Maddox — partner and best pal – investigate present and past.


The State We’re In by Adele Parks

The State We're In

Had my eye on this for a while, and I’d really like to read some novels by Adele Parks. This was also part of the offer at The Works!

Synopsis:

What are the odds that the stranger sitting next to you on a plane is destined to change your life? Especially when they appear to be your opposite in every way.

She’s a life-long optimist, looking for her soul mate in every man she meets; he’s a resolute cynic – cruel experience has taught him never to put his faith in anyone.

People can surprise you. In the time it takes to fly from London to Chicago, each finds something in the other that they didn’t even realise they needed.

Their pasts are such that they can never make one another happy and it’s when they get off the plane, that their true journey begins…


Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Raven Black (Shetland, #1)

  I do love a good mystery, and my grandma recommended this to me actually as she also loves crime/thrillers! I’ve heard good things about it so hopefully it will be great! I picked this up second-hand. Synopsis: It is a cold January morning and Shetland lies buried beneath a deep layer of snow. Trudging home, Fran Hunter’s eye is drawn to a vivid splash of colour on the white ground, ravens circling above. It is the strangled body of her teenage neighbour Catherine Ross. As Fran opens her mouth to scream, the ravens continue their deadly dance . . . The locals on the quiet island stubbornly focus their gaze on one man – loner and simpleton Magnus Tait. But when police insist on opening out the investigation a veil of suspicion and fear is thrown over the entire community. For the first time in years, Catherine’s neighbours nervously lock their doors, whilst a killer lives on in their midst.


Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Tigers In Red Weather

I’ve seen mixed reviews of this novel but it’s a Richard and Judy pick so that usually means it’s pretty readable! When I saw it in The Works I had to buy it and give it a go!

Synopsis:

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their ‘real lives’: Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.

Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena’s husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena—with their children, Daisy and Ed—try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut novel from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment.


To Catch a Rabbit by Helen Cadbury

To Catch A Rabbit

I haven’t seen anything about this novel before, or heard of the author, but the blurb on the back intrigued me…

Synopsis:

A dead woman is slumped against the door of a grubby trailer. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch, but who is she, how did she get there, and why doesn’t CID want to investigate? As Doncaster’s youngest PCSO, Denton takes the case into his own hands, but he’s way out of his depth.

People are reported mission and Denton must work backwards, before anyone else falls prey to South Yorkshire’s murky underworld of migrants and the sex trade.


Well, that’s it for now! I’m hoping I’ll get round to reading these before too long as they all look great! Let me know if you’ve read any of them as I’d love to know what you think!

Laura xo

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers: review

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is an absorbing, mysterious story of scandal and secrets in affluent ‘Lime Park Road’.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

Synopsis:

Welcome to Lime Park Road. A picture-perfect street with a secret at its heart.

When Joe and Christy Davenport step behind the Oxford Blue painted door of their ‘for ever’ home, they believe their dreams have come true.

Yet the boxes aren’t even unpacked before a series of events leads Christy to become obsessed with the previous occupant, the glamorous, enigmatic Amber Fraser, whose departure from Lime Park Road is shrouded in mystery.

What happened to her? And why are Joe and Christy’s attempts at friendship with neighbours met with an unnerving silence?

As Christy unravels the shocking truth about the Frasers and the place she now calls home, she discovers that behind the closed doors of even the most desirable postcodes, terrible secrets lurk.

The story can be quite uncomfortable to read at times as it explores some difficult themes, but I feel like they’re dealt with well and prompts the reader to think (I don’t want to give any more specific details in case I give anything away) about the effect and ramifications it can have on not just that person and their family, but on everyone in the street!

Louise Candlish manages to create a strong air of mystery and at times the atmosphere really seems quite threatening and eerie! I could really imagine what it was like for Christy and Joe, excited about their new house but moving into that strange, odd atmosphere, and Amber, being Queen Bee with a beautiful house and adoring husband Jeremy and yet STILL not being satisfied with her life

The narrative switches between popular vixen Amber and homely, eager-to-please Christy, presenting each of their stories. It’s really interesting to read about the completely different experiences they both had of Lime Park Road, and how certain characters had changed so much between Amber and Jeremy moving out and a Christy and Joe moving in, but despite this I occasionally forgot which of the two main characters were speaking at the time! Although the characters are very different, they were obviously both living in the same house with their husbands, no kids, on the same street, surrounded by the same people, so at times I had to mentally remind myself who was speaking. This only added to the slightly bewildering atmosphere that Christy must have been experiencing!

The novel was fairly long at 512 pages and that gave me time to really become immersed in it. I felt like my experience of the story was split into 3 parts really: the beginning really intrigued me and I was anticipating what might happen later on, the middle felt a tiny bit ‘samey’ at times (but only SLIGHTLY, mind) and then the last third I really couldn’t put down! Candlish slowly revealed more and more of what the ‘scandal’ might have been, so as a reader I slowly pieced together what might have happened but wasn’t sure of certain details until the end! It really kept me hooked.

Reading The Sudden Departure of the Frasers really makes you consider what is really important in your ‘perfect house’, as well as the way that seemingly ‘perfect’ people can have some dark secrets! I’m really surprised that I haven’t read anything by this author before as she has written various novels, but I hope to read more in the future! I’d definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

‘The Sudden Departure of the Frasers’ is out in paperback on May 21st.

Many thanks for the publisher who provided a copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

Buy with Amazon

The Miniaturist: Waterstones Special Edition Hardcover design

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton: a complete change of opinion!

The Miniaturist: Waterstones Special Edition Hardcover designSynopsis:

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…”

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton is one of those books of which my opinion starts one way but changes completely by the end! It took me a good third of the book to really get into it- I just found the first 150 pages or so pretty slow and really struggled to get into it. I could still appreciate the wonderful language Burton used throughout and the interesting, vibrant characters but the storyline just wasn’t drawing me in. I found myself getting distracted, which is usually never a good sign…

I knew it was bound to be worth persevering with though, and I was so glad I did!

The Miniaturist really is beautifully written. Burton’s writing is full of intrigue and mystery; I could almost imagine being in 17th century Amsterdam with them all, as well as the vibrant- but at times threatening and scary – atmosphere that surrounds them all. Similarly the characters are all wonderfully constructed and convincing, covering a wide range of class, profession and personality type. I felt that the atmosphere grew as the novel went on, and after the first third or so I really became quite enchanted by it.

The novel addresses some serious themes and doesn’t shy away from highlighting the awful treatment of certain groups of people in Amsterdam during this era. I certainly felt quite emotional during certain scenes. It certainly makes you consider how far Western society has come, but also how far we have left to go when tackling these kinds of prejudices.

Overall despite the less amazing start (in my opinion anyway), I finished the book having really enjoyed it. I am really impressed that this is Jesse Burton’s debut novel and although I’m not usually a huge reader of historical fiction, but this still really drew me in as it went on!

Give it a go- and please let me know what you think of it if you do!

Rating: 4/5

Buy with Amazon

Phoenix by Ellie King

Hot New Release: Phoenix by Elle King + giveaway!

Phoenix by Ellie King
Phoenix
by Elle King looks really entertaining and something a little different if you’re into crime/ mystery novels! It’s available to buy now, plus you can win a copy too– see details at the bottom of the page.

Release Date: May 1, 2015

Publisher: Voodoo Lilly Press

Synopsis:

New York City homicide detectives Rachel Wayland and Artemis Gregory are first on the murder scene of a beautiful young gay man, the third victim of a serial killer dubbed the Moon Killer by the department. Their investigation leads them to Talis Kehk, charismatic lead singer of the rock group Phoenix Rising.

As the next full moon approaches, Rachel and her partner uncover clues that lead straight to Talis, even as Talis, exhibiting behavior Rachel finds strange indeed, considering the circumstances, uses every means possible to keep her close. Innocent or not, Talis has a secret, and discovering what it is will change Rachel’s world forever.


Buy Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | All Romance | Kobo | Scribd

About the Author:

Elle King lives in south Florida with her five-pound dog and a stack of manuscripts she hopes one day to finish.

Author Links:

Elle’s Blog

Elle on Facebook

Elle on Goodreads

 

** Giveaway **

If this has you interested and you’d like to win an ebook copy of Phoenix, entry is simple!  Tweet me @lauranazmdeh and include #Phoenix #giveaway! OR if you don’t have Twitter, just like and comment on this post with what you think you’ll like about this book!

I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday 20 May, so keep an eye out on Twitter or email, depending how you entered! **

Read on for an excerpt from the novel:

“It bugs me that there’s no obvious motive,” Rachel said. “Why kill these young people? Thrill seeker? Lunatic? Someone who’s taking revenge because of some slight, real or imagined? Except they all appear to have died peacefully. No trauma, so it couldn’t be revenge, could it?” She stared hard at her picture of the tattoo, as if it might whisper something to her. “What do you know about Phoenix Rising?”

“Played all over Europe before coming here—did you see that asshole cut me off? I oughta give him a ticket.” Artemis laid on the horn. “He wouldn’t have done that if we’d been in a squad car.”

“Phoenix Rising,” she reminded him, hiding a smile. He was all about road rage. She shouldn’t let him drive, but she enjoyed the frequent adrenalin rushes it provided her.

“Yeah. They’re huge right now, very popular. Lead singer is hot as hell.”

“Do you really have tickets to their concert, or were you bullshitting Creed?”

“I really have tickets.” He shot her a suspicious look. “Why?”

“When is it?”

“Saturday night.”

It was Thursday. “I suppose you’re going with Steve.”

“I suppose I am,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Don’t you dare.”

“What?”

“Don’t give me that innocent look. You want me to dump him and take you.”

“I think I should experience them firsthand, considering they’re on the periphery of our cases.”

“That is such shit.” He raced through an intersection on yellow. “A couple of bodies have bird tats and right away, you’re making a connection? I would guess that general design is in demand right now, given how popular the band is, and exclusive flash or not, plenty of shops are offering something similar. And let me remind you, the second victim didn’t have one. I am not dumping Steve in favor of you.”

Rachel grinned. “Where is this band staying? Let’s check them out.”

“How the hell are you going to justify that?”

“Call it a hunch, and I’m a detective doing legwork for a series of murders. They won’t say no.” She called the number Creed had provided, introduced herself, spoke briefly, and hung up. “That was too easy; the guy was über cooperative. They’re at the Waldorf Towers.”

“Do you know how much that place costs? A goddamn fortune, that’s what it costs.”

“I guess they have one then.” She tapped an index finger against her knee. “It’s on our way. Let’s drop by and welcome them to the neighborhood.”

“It’s not on our way, and you are not getting Steve’s ticket.” But he obediently turned right at the next light, headed for the Waldorf-Astoria.

Snazzy Books' Bookshelf

My Bookshelf ‘tag’ (sort of!)

Snazzy Books' BookshelfSnazzy Books' Bookshelf 2
Hello! So today I thought I’d do a post on our new bookcase, and the lovely books that are sitting pride of place on it.

There are some of my partner’s books (mainly non-fiction film theory/ cinema books) on there, but most of them are mine to be honest, and all are mine in the two pictures above (apologies for the rubbish lighting in the photos though!)

It’s an interesting group of books as most are unread. This is because I don’t tend to keep books unless I really love them, as I don’t often re-read books! I always feel that there are just SO many books I want to read that I don’t really have time to re-read many books really. I tend to give them away to friends or family when I’m done with them, to a charity shop or often they’re ebooks or borrowed from the library anyway!

This is kind of a blog post tag that I’ve just made up (but with 5 questions it’s only a short one) so if anyone else does this too please be sure to tag me in it or leave answers in comment section below as I’d really love to read your answers too!

On My Bookshelf:
The Miniaturist: Waterstones Special Edition Hardcover design
1 favourite book cover design: It would have to be the beautiful Waterstones special edition cover (hardback) of The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton (pictured right). I love the blue and white floral design with the gold, it’s so pretty!

2 favourite authors that feature on my shelves: They would have to be Peter James and Susan Hill. Both are authors I’ve read a lot of in the past, but the Peter James novel I’ve got on there called Perfect People is actually one of his standalone novels, not part of his Detective Roy Grace series, so I’m intrigued to try this out. There is also another peter James novel called Want You Dead which IS the newest in his Roy Grace series, and I’ve heard great things about it! With Susan Hill I think I’ve read almost every one of her Simon Serrailer series but I often get confused between which I have and which I haven’t! Because of this, when I was sorting out these bookshelves I kept 4 novels by her- The Betrayal of Trust, The Shadows in the Street, The Vows of Silence and A Question of Identity– because I wasn’t sure from reading the blurbs on the back which I’d already read! I really do have the worst memory when it comes to remembering what I’ve already read or which films I’ve seen!

I’ve also realised that I need to organise my bookshelves better as they’re all in a really random order!

…Phew! Long answer, sorry!

3 books I think will be highlights that I’m dying to read soon but haven’t yet got around to: I think these three are going to be really, really good from what I’ve heard: The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons, The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood and The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen.

4 books I wished were on my bookshelf but aren’t: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson and The Good Girl by Fiona Neill. I think they all look really gripping and interesting, and I’ve seen a lot of reviews which makes me think they’d be well worth a read! Just need to buy them now 🙂

5 borrowed books: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson, The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison (all lent by my mum), The Book of You by Claire Kendal (from a friend) and Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin (another friend)- so thanks to all those people, and sorry I take so long getting them back to you! I just end up stacking up so many books and then getting distracted and reading other more time-pressing novels first! Too many shiny new books distracting me 🙂

That’s it for now! I’ve got a few reviews coming soon so keep an eye out for those! And let me know what you’re reading at the moment and enjoying too, I’m always looking for new suggestions to add to my list!

Don’t forget you can add me as a friend on Goodreads!

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found

Book Club: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found
So, here’s the next Reading Group post-  sorry it’s taken ages, we had a while to wait until the next meet!

This month’s book was: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I hope you enjoyed the novel if you read along too, or at least found it interesting to read!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Synopsis:

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Cheryl Strayed Quote

Image: sheknows.com

I don’t often read autobiographies/ memoirs, so this was a nice change for me! This is not a book about hiking as such, but more about the emotions and experiences Cheryl went through when undertaking this enormous challenge. None of us in our book group had read this before and we all have varying interests, genre-wise.

The novel had a great mix of her internal thoughts and feelings, description about her surroundings along with her troubled past which led to her ‘breakdown’. We all felt like we understood her a lot more by the end of the novel, although there was still a lot of decisions that she had made that frustrated us! However I can’t imagine the state of mind she must have been in after losing her mother, so I don’t know how I could ever react in that same situation, and this feeling was echoed by most of the group.

In some ways I really admire Cheryl Strayed in it and in other ways I really dislike her. I have massive respect that she had the balls to go out and do this with next to no training or knowledge about the trail (which in all honesty is pretty stupid), and I can’t imagine the pain she must have gone through losing her mother and how that must have affected the decisions she made. However, I really felt sorry for her ex-husband, who seemed so lovely and who she really seemed to treat quite badly, and this made me less sympathetic towards her at some points. I also wanted to scream at her for a certain point in the novel when she becomes addicted to a substance with her then-boyfriend – it just felt SO STUPID, but hey – again I can’t imagine her frame of mind at the time what with everything she’d experienced.

This wasn’t a particularly fast-paced novel but it kept me wanting to read on despite the slower pace. A few others in the group felt it was a little slow/ devoid of action at times but I didn’t struggle to continue reading it at all personally. I feel like sometimes it’s nice to read something that doesn’t feel the need to rush the reader through its narrative. Even the more mundane descriptions of her bag and hiking gear were concise enough that you didn’t feel bored reading them.

I’d like to see the film version to see how they’ve adapted it. A few people also said they’d be really interested in seeing the landscapes that we read about in the book, as it’s hard to picture them properly sometimes, so I might try and get hold of it soon to watch!

I would certainly recommend Wild to most people I know, whether they have an interest in hiking and/or the Pacific Coast Trail or not, as I’m not hugely interested in either yet really enjoyed reading it.

The resounding conclusion from everyone else in the book group was “an enjoyable, entertaining read!”

Rating: 3.5/5


The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoEdit: We decided to change Next Month’s Book as Otrich had some themes that might upset some members of our group.

So the next month’s book group choice will now be: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Synopsis:

Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest.

No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts

Have you read either of these novels? If so, what did you think?

Million Dollar Question by Ellie Campbell

Million Dollar Que$tion: Blog Tour review

Hello everyone! I’m part of the book tour for Ellie Campbell’s Million Dollar Que$tion, so read on for more info about the book and my review!

 

Million Dollar Que$tion
by Ellie Campbell
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction, ChickLit
Release Date: April 25, 2015

Just as a huge financial scandal ejects Olivia Wheeler from her high-flying Manhattan job and high-society engagement, a silver Mercedes pulls up at lonely single-mother Rosie Dixon’s house with a cheque for one million pounds from the Premium Bonds.  Two very different strokes  of luck.  And yet both women have more in common than they realize.  While Olivia struggles with the humiliations of surviving in London broke and homeless, shy unassuming Rosie discovers that unexpected wealth arrives with its own mega-load of problems.

Can a career-obsessed workaholic find a passion for something earthier and warmer than cold hard cash? And can Rosie sift through envy and greed to discover true friends, true family and even true love?

Two strangers who’ve never met. Yet neither realises how each is affecting the other’s destiny or the places their paths touch and fates entwine.

But will they surmount the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

That is the million dollar question.

 CHAPTER 1

Rosie Dixon perched herself on the hard plastic chair, watching the drawing take shape. A line, followed by a squiggle. Snake maybe? Then what looked like a head of a person with ears on top. And was that a saddle on its back or—‘Do you like it, Miss?’ Emily asked.

‘Oh yes, it’s good.’ Rosie smiled encouragement as the young girl plucked another crayon from the Tupperware box and worked earnestly, tongue curled stiffly against her cheek in concentration. ‘Extremely good. I love the bright colours you’ve chosen.’

Finished, Emily pointed at the purple object. ‘What do you think that is?’

‘Um. Let’s see.’ Rosie peered closer. It vaguely resembled a bear, although how that fitted in with the ‘My Family at Home’ project, heaven knew. She didn’t want to offend but… ‘What’s his name?’

‘Bruno.’

Ah yes. ‘Bruno the bear. Of course.’

‘Bear?’ The girl shook her two perfect bunches and wrinkled her tiny freckled nose. ‘It’s not a bear, Miss, it’s a chocolate Labrador. Mummy’s boyfriend has one. Durr…’

‘Well it’s lovely.’ Rosie stood up. ‘And I’m Rosie, remember?’

Not that Rosie didn’t appreciate being called Miss, she did. Made her feel like a teacher, although the rather less grand title of ‘Teaching Assistant’ suited her fine. She’d been working at Avondale Infants for eighteen months now, supporting primary-aged pupils in classes of thirty-plus without needing to fret about parents’ evenings, lesson plans and the mountains of paperwork expected of a real teacher. She loved the small children and the hours meant she could still collect her own two sons from junior school.

‘Miss?’ Max, angelic curls disguising an impish spirit, frowned at his latest creation. ‘Can you help me?’

‘Shove over then.’ She nudged him playfully, as she squeezed beside him. Who’d have ever thought that she, shy little Rosie, always too timid to raise her hand in class, would be making a difference, however small, in the world of education? Just showed that good could come from the direst of situations. Even if it had taken a broken heart and some other God-awful trials to get her here.

She tucked a lock of shoulder-length hair behind her ear and handed Max a glue stick.

All things considered she really was incredibly lucky.

$$$

Mid-morning, the kettle in the staffroom had boiled and Rosie’s fellow teaching assistant, Gemma, was handing round the custard creams. Also in her early thirties, Gemma was recently divorced and had a secret obsession with The X Factor’s Simon Cowell that Rosie was sworn, on pain of death, never to reveal.

‘Anyone got an astrophysics degree?’ Carol, teacher of Orange Class, leafed through a stack of forms, eyebrows furrowed. ‘Certainly need one to fill in all these bloody risk assessments. Talk about ’elf and safety!’

Rosie joined in the laughter as she dropped a teabag in a smiley face mug. She was about to ask her colleagues, flopped onto chairs for their short break, if they were all right for beverages when Pauline Dawkins, Admin Officer, sidled up, a giant birthday card tucked under one paisley-clad arm.

‘Barry’s fiftieth. Whip-round,’ she hissed, spy-like from the corner of her mouth, as if the sole male teacher might burst in and discover the dastardly plot. ‘Drinks and cake at four.’

Pauline took her charge of The Birthday Book extremely seriously. Rosie had suffered the same ordeal when she’d turned thirty-three in March.

‘Oh, I’d love to be there, but I’ve my sons to pick up.’ Dutifully she scribbled, ‘Have a great day, Barry!’ unable to conjure anything witty or mildly original.

The envelope under her nose was stuffed with pound coins and larger notes. Rosie opened her ancient leatherette handbag, pushed aside her soggy egg sandwich and peeked inside her purse.

A lonely fiver lay folded next to a single fifty pence piece.

Her heart sank. That cash had to last the next two days until her monthly salary reached her bank. The twins, being eleven, always needed money for this or that and Charlie’s cheque was late again.

But then again poor Barry had recently lost his wife. Fifty pence seemed so stingy and she’d never dare offer the five pound note and ask for change.

There was an uncomfortable beat. Rosie’s fingers froze. Nobody was paying attention but still damp pooled in her armpits and along her hairline, her insecurities running rampant under Pauline’s scrutiny.

Was she assessing the havoc a runaway husband could create? Maybe worse – thinking it no wonder he’d strayed? If Rosie had once felt young, pretty and loved, it had all vanished with the end of her marriage. She cursed herself for not finding something smarter to wear than the skanky black cords pilled from the washing machine and a faded cotton blouse (Selfridges Sale 70% off) which sagged where it used to cling. And she’d totally messed up her hair attempting to add subtle honey-gold streaks from a Superdrug box to her mousy-brown frizz and ended up with tiger stripes instead.

Blow it, she thought, and handed over the fiver with a flourish, smiling to silence the warning pang from her gut.

‘Ta ever so.’ Pauline stuffed the note in the envelope. ‘We want to buy him a special present. Poor devil’s all on his lonesome…’ She broke off, fiddling with the plastic ID badge dangling from her neck. ‘I didn’t mean…well, it’s different for you with those darling boys, never a dull minute in your house, I’m sure.’ Her eyes fired with matchmaking zeal. ‘Now there’s a thought. Don’t suppose you and Barry…?’

‘No. Really.’ Rosie tried looking appreciative instead of appalled. Bearded bespectacled Barry was even more tortuously shy than Rosie and any attempts to speak made him extra nervous. They only had to reach the kettle at the same time and Rosie could feel her hands sweat, watching him twitch and stammer. As for fireworks, there’d be more sparks with two squibs in a rainstorm.

‘Just an idea.’ Pauline shrugged it off. She was basically a kind woman, Rosie thought, whatever catty things people said – just maybe a touch too blunt for the fragile sensitivities of a mostly female environment. And it must be excruciating asking people to hand over cash.

Pauline left to corner someone else and Rosie slumped onto an empty seat, tea forgotten. Two years since Charlie had walked out and no one – except Rosie in the secret corners of her soul – believed he was ever coming back. The beautiful home they’d spent ages lovingly doing up had been sold, Rosie and the boys now installed in a tatty two-bed terrace in a scruffy housing estate, where luckily the neighbours had welcomed her as one of their own.

Better off without him, everyone declared. What self-respecting woman stayed with a cheat after all? Outraged friends wanted him to suffer and occasionally Rosie did too. Not in a nasty, vengeful way, but at least to experience a few twinges of her own devastation.

She had fantasies in which he came crawling back, grief-stricken over what he’d carelessly tossed aside. She’d imagine herself on the arm of Colin Farrell, wearing a fiery-red figure-hugging dress, strikingly elegant, flawlessly made-up, her belly flat and her legs mysteriously three inches longer. She’d be ice-cool, telling him it was too late but usually in these daydreams – and she knew it was wrong – just as Charlie left, dejected, her stony heart would relent, she’d apologise to Colin, kick off her heels and run to Charlie’s joyful arms.

Other times her sleep betrayed her. She’d walk in the kitchen to find Charlie cooking spaghetti bolognese, wearing only a chef’s apron and an endearingly rueful smile. Silly stuff. Like last night – they’d sat in the bath together, him soaping her back. So convincing was this dream that in the morning she’d lazily stretched out her arm to him, forgetting that his side of the bed was empty and cold. He’d been her best friend and lover for so long. Not easy persuading her subconscious to switch from love to hate. Or even indifference. And he’d been such a caring father to Luke and Tim. Were they truly ‘better off without him’?

Determined not to submerge into despondency, she jumped up and tackled the backlog of crockery clogging the staffroom kitchenette.

Damn. She’d thought she’d got past all those predictable emotional stages, familiar to her as commuter stations. Denial. Shock. Anger. Depression. Last stop – Guilt – where she still lingered, scolding herself for not leaping to action the second Charlie’s secretary warned her about the female customer who showed more interest in the showroom’s Sales Manager than the vehicles on sale.

And why hadn’t she? Jumped? Leapt? Fought?

Because it had been unthinkable. Laughable even. With the red flag flapping inches from her face, Rosie had brushed it away with a smile, too certain of her husband to fall for that alarmist nonsense. This was Charlie, after all, her soul mate, who’d rescued her in her darkest hours, made her believe in her own worth after years of her mother’s jibes. He loved her even if she had grown two dress sizes finishing the kids’ meals, barely ever wore make-up, slumped around the home in baggy sweatshirts and couldn’t stay awake to watch an entire film when the boys were finally in bed.

‘…first out. Hey, what’s so fascinating about that sponge? You’ve been staring at it ages.’

Rosie hadn’t realised Gemma had joined her at the sink, let alone that she’d been speaking.

‘Sorry, Gem.’ She came out of her daze. ‘What was that?’

‘I was saying that as long as it’s not last in, first out, ’cos technically speaking…’ Gemma pushed her glasses up her nose and gave Rosie a meaningful glance before picking up a tea towel.

‘Technically speaking…?’

Gemma sighed as she wiped a saucer. ‘Rosie, you dingbat, did you hear a word I said? That meeting with the union reps yesterday, Carol’s just filled me in. They’re talking staff cuts. Redundancies. Teaching assistants in particular. Some of us – God knows how many – are for the chop!’

Written by sisters Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell writing under the pseudonym ‘Ellie Campbell’, Million Dollar Que$tion is that rare breed of novel classed as ‘chick-lit’ but which often avoids the overused cliches of this genre. It’s an enjoyable, well written story which which includes elements of romance throughout but this isn’t overplayed or made too cheesy. Those tropes are there, but they’re done in a charming way!

Similarly the characters aren’t placed into too defined, black or white categories. They have their faults at times but that makes them seem more real. Most of them are brilliantly crafted, realistic characters that we can probably identify in the people around us, whether we like them or not.

Olivia and Rosie are both quite different people but are both hugely likeable in their own ways, just as Olivia’s ‘friend’ from university seems a nice enough woman and then we hear that sadly all-too-familiar chime of “Meanwhile…’ bitterness crept in, ‘all these refugees and no-good slackers get it all for free” and we think, I know someone like that…

Similarly even Rosie’s brother Paul succumbs to the lure of big bucks and his greed tramples through his good nature. We know life often isn’t a fairy tale and there aren’t clear-cut ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people; instead Ellie Campbell creates interesting, three-dimensional characters that are believable.

The story was fun to read and got right into the story from the very beginning- no hanging about! It’s well written and is easy to read; I genuinely enjoyed every word and finished it really quickly.

I hope there will be many more to come from Ellie Campbell!

Rating: 4/5

Million Dollar Que$tion is, for a limited time, available to buy as an ebook for only 99p! This price is only available until 4 May so get it quick!

eBook:
Paperback:

Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell who collaborate across the mighty Atlantic, finding writing together the perfect excuse for endless phone conversations.  They are equally passionate about travel, animals and the great outdoors. Although Pam lives near London, with husband, three children and a dog, while Lorraine is on a Colorado ranch near wild and wonderful Boulder with husband, five horses, five cats, one dog and four chickens – they both believe in enjoying life to the fullest, be it discovering new remote locations or going on trail rides in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.