Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Big Fat Love by Peter Sheridan

This book was recommended to me by my Mum, who had borrowed it from the library the previous week.

Peter Sheridan (brother of Jim) is an Irish author, director and playwright. He wrote and directed the movie The Borstal Boy and several acclaimed plays. Big Fat Love (also known as Every Inch of Her) was first published in Ireland in 2003.

Back Cover:

Are You Ready For Philo?

The nuns at the convent of the Good Shepherd in Dublin's North Wall certainly aren't. But on a quiet Sunday evening they find their peace shattered by an insistent knocking on the front door - and there she is. Weighing in at 240 pounds and covered in tattoos, Philo is hardly an ideal candidate for the sisterhood. Add to that the smoking, swearing and eating, and the nuns have a challenge on their hands.

But she needs refuge, so Sister Rosaleen finds she can't say no, and before long her charity is rewarded. For Philo has a heart every bit as big as her waistband and soon even the most stony-faced North Wall resident is wearing a smile. 

Larger than life in every way, Philo has brought a whole new energy to this beleaguered community. But sooner or later she will need to face up to the cracks in her own life, and the secret she's been running from for as long as she can remember...

Philo is a thirtysomething straight-talking Dublin woman who turns the convent of the Good Shepherd upside down - albeit not always in a bad way. Her influence over the nuns is both funny and touching, in particular one scene involving Sister Rosaleen and cigarettes. Philo has had a hard upbringing and uses food to deal with all of her issues, both past and present. She promises the nuns that if they let her stay, she'll help out in any way she can - and none of them have any idea just how much she will help some of the members of the local community. 

Through helping others, Philo ultimately ends up helping herself - her journey from a lost soul needing refuge to that of an independent woman taking control is an utter joy to read, and you won't be able to put it down. I was rooting for Philo from the very beginning of the book - with a character like this, it's hard not to. It's testament to the writing talent of Peter Sheridan that a man in his early fifties (at the time of writing) could write  the life story of a 30-something mother so perfectly well that I was convinced that Philo was a real person. 

Though the story is one of hope and survival, it also has its dark moments. Philo's matter-of-fact way of recalling horrific past events isn't easy to read at times, but there's so much humour scattered throughout Philo's thoughts and interactions with people that the bad stuff doesn't drag the book down. 

I recommend this book thoroughly - if only to discover the novel way Philo has of getting revenge on some of the people who have done her wrong. 


S xx

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore

Hey guys! I've another 400+ pager for you today.

Cornwall is one of those places I've never been to but always been fascinated by (nothing to do with pasties, I swear), so when I saw that the majority of this novel was set there, I was sold. Here's the back cover bit:

Lamorna Cove - a tiny bay in Cornwall, picturesque, unspoilt. A hundred years ago it was the haunt of a colony of artists. Today, Mel Pentreath hopes it is a place where she can escape the pain of her mother's death and a broken love affair, and gradually put her life back together.

Renting a cottage in the enchanting but overgrown grounds of Merryn Hall, Mel embraces her new surroundings and offers to help her landlord, Patrick Winterton, restore the garden. Soon, she is daring to believe her life can be rebuilt. Then Patrick finds some old paintings in an attic, and as he and Mel investigate the identity of the artist, they are drawn into an extraordinary tale of illicit passion and thwarted ambition from a century ago, a tale that resonates in their own lives. But how long can Mel's idyll last before reality breaks in and everything is threatened?

Shifting imperceptibly from one generation to another, The Memory Garden vividly evokes the lives of two women, born a century apart, but who face the same challenges to their happiness and survival.

Firstly, I don't think the blurb is 100% accurate. The story does shift from that of Melanie Pentreath, a writer/teacher in the 2000s, to Pearl Treglown, a servant in the early 1900s. But while Pearl is struggling with recent shocking family revelations and the effects of an illicit love affair, Melanie is trying to get over her ex-boyfriend and deal moreso with her relationship with her father than the death of her mother. The only real challenge Melanie is facing is one of her own - she needs to figure out where she belongs, and who she wants to share her future with. 

I didn't instantly find Melanie likeable - it's not that I disliked her, it's just that I couldn't get a clear picture of her in my head. Usually when I start a book, I instantly picture the character - with this book, the main character seems to be the house. I just wanted to move in and start helping to clear the vines and uncover the paths. The writer conjures up an image of somewhere that is truly idyllic - and when I googled Lamorna Cove, it was just as I imagined it to be. It's a stunning place.

The author has really done her research into the artists of Lamorna Cove - her descriptions of the paintings are bang on, as you can see for yourself if you look at some of the work by artists that she mentions (Dame Laura Knight, for example). 

Melanie's story is good, it plods along at a steady pace and there aren't too many twists or turns - there's a story arc involving a Croatian lady which I find completely unnecessary, but it doesn't take away from the overall feel of the book. It's Pearl's story, however, that made me want to devour this book. It's so beautifully written and it brings the Old Hall alive, if only for a few pages at a time. I also love how the writer wrapped Pearl's story up - it was touching and sentimental without being twee, and it closed the book on a hopeful and happy note despite the reader knowing otherwise from earlier on in the book.

All in all, a solid read and one I'd recommend, if a little too long. It almost reminded me a little of Helen Moorhouse's The Dead Summer (which I reviewed HERE), but without the ghostly element. 

S xx

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: 50 Shades of Grey.

I'm not going to give you a traditional review of this book (I'll do a little one at the end), and I'm not going to go down the hilarious taking-the-mick/parody route that has been done so much better than I ever could (Kitty Catastrophe and Karen, to name my favourites). I'm just going to get a few little things off my heaving bosom. Sorry - my chest. It's infecting me already.


The back cover: 

Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

When literature student Anastasia Steele interviews the successful entrepreneur Christian Grey, she finds him very attractive and deeply intimidating. Convinced that their meeting went badly, she tries to put him out of her mind - until he turns up at the store where she works part-time, and invites her out.

Unworldly and innocent, Ana is shocked to find she wants this man. And, when he warns her to keep her distance, it only makes her want him more.

But Grey is tormented by inner demons, and consumed by the need to control. As they embark on a passionate love affair, Ana discovers more about her own desires, as well as the dark secrets Grey keeps hidden away from public view...

It doesn't sound so bad on the back, does it? I actually read the synopsis of this a while back on Amazon when they were running their 2 for 7 deal on paperbacks, and skipped it over in favour of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. I later succumbed to all the hype and bought it in Tesco for around e7. I can honestly say, that this is without a shadow of a doubt, the worst book I have ever, EVER read, and I have been reading since I was three years old. 

Firstly, as you're all probably aware (or maybe not), this started life as a Twilight fanfic called... eh... Master of the Universe. You can read all about that HERE, where they do a couple of nifty comparisons between the two. Are we all picturing He-Man now? Yes? Good.

I don't know how it was published in its current form. The writing is so juvenile, it's actually hilarious. E.L. James writes as if she's just discovered the existence of  metaphors and similes. "She has her teeth in a book". "He's all muscles and shoulders in his t-shirt". "His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel". I burst out laughing several times while reading it. Also, I'd like someone to tell me what "sandles" are (page 428). Bad editor. BAD. 

What I want to know is, why has the world gone 50 Shades mad?! Apparently, Virgin Atlantic will now be providing an audio copy of the book for their passengers to "enjoy". You can read the article in Cosmopolitan here. I'd like you to read, in particular, this quote from Virgin Atlantic's head of PR Fay Burgin:

"We want to give our female passengers the chance to enjoy the book in an intimate way, away from prying eyes. Of course, we can't promise to spare any blushes and can't be held responsible for any risque* behaviour that listening to the recording inspires."

Are you serious, Fay Burgin? Have you read the book? The only risque behaviour that could possibly be a result of reading this book "in an intimate way" is for someone to have an episode of the  Gerard Depardieu kind from laughing.

I'm interested, also, as to what you picture when you think of Christian Grey. For me, it's now a mash-up of He-Man, Winnie the Pooh (thanks Kitty) and this ungodly creature:

Why have women started declaring Christian Grey as "The Ultimate Man"?! What's so great about a moody prick who likes to control stupid girls? Is this what women want, a brutish bully that throws money at them and makes them feel like shit? Oh, but it's okay, is it, to want to hurt someone every time you look at them, as long as he leaves painkillers? There's nothing sexy about Christian Grey, he's a domineering asshole, yet women are gaga over this fictional idiot. He also appears to have fingers the length of bananas. Or something equally as long and impressive. Are there any Buffy fans among us? Remember the episode Hush? Remember "The Gentlemen"? That.

Type "laters baby" (worst catchphrase EVER) into eBay or Etsy and marvel at the bucketloads of cushions, rings, handcuffs, posters and other various objects emblazoned with that stupid saying. It's ridiculous. I do quite like the cake though. I could eat that cake, even if his lips are a little weird. 

Throughout the book, Ana blushes so much that someone should really send her the No.7 Rosy Tone Colour Control, and bites her lip so much that I imagine by the end of the third book in the trilogy, she'll look like this:

Ana's attitude to technology is also amazingly stupid - she refers to the laptop on more than one occasion as "the mean machine". Ana, it's a Macbook, not Optimus Prime. I won't mention her Inner Goddess for fear of exploding with rage, but I'll say this: Lizzie McGuire has a lot to answer for.

To finish up this incredibly jumbled post, I'm going to leave you with three things. One, the funniest line in the entire book. This is thought by Ana as she's tying her hair up in pigtails:

" The more girly I look, perhaps the safer I'll be from Bluebeard."

Two:  E.L. James, not content with the mysterious weirdo Christian's skeletons and his tortured past, introduces a mysterious 'Situation' to deal with towards the end of the book. Nothing makes me want to rush out and spend another 7 quid like a mysterious Situation.

And finally, Three: My actual review of the story.

50 Shades in 50 Words
Holy Cow. Hips. Long Fingers. Go. Stay. Inner Goddess. Yes.
No. Go. Stay. Cry. Bite Lip. Stay. Go. Taciturn. Breathe.
Holy Cow. Bite Lip. Stay. Go. Long Fingers. Yes. No.
Bite Lip. Cry. Holy Cow. Situation. Inner Goddess. No. Yes.
Bite Lip. Don't. Do. Cry. Long Fingers. Ow. Cry. Cry. 

I don't know how I finished it, but I did. It fried my brain - probably at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells.

Please don't waste your money. Get a Harlequin Blaze. Or a comic.

S xx

*My keyboard shortcuts aren't working. Imagine there's a fada on the "e". 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

To try and do something about the fifteen thousand times I hear "Mammy, I'm boreddddddddddddd" on an  average wet day, I rejoined the library and joined the 7 year old up too. Frankly I don't know why I stopped going at all, I just think I forgot about it to be honest. Our local county library only costs 2.50 per year for adults, and it was free for the little man. He was delighted - he came home on Friday afternoon the proud carer of 3 Dr. Seuss books he hadn't read, and some other disgusting looking one about giants and snot. I picked 4 this week - the first of which I read today, it's 'A Bend in the Road' by Nicholas Sparks.


A Bend in the Road is Nicholas' fifth novel, following on from well-loved novels such as The Notebook,  A Walk to Remember and Message in a Bottle. It was published in 2001. Here's the cover stuff:

Miles Ryan's life seemed to end the day his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident two years ago. Missy had been his first love, and Miles fervently believes she will be his last. As a deputy sheriff in the North Carolina town of New Bern, he not only grieves for Missy, but longs to bring the unknown driver to justice.

Then Miles meets Sarah Andrew. The second-grade teacher of his son, Jonah, Sarah had left Baltimore after a difficult divorce to start over in the gentler surroundings of New Bern. Perhaps it is her own emotional wounds that make her sensitive to the hurt she sees first in Jonah's eyes, and then in his father's. Tentatively, Sarah and Miles reach out to each other. Soon they are both laughing for the first time in years... and falling in love.

Neither will be able to guess how closely linked they are to a shocking secret - one that will force them to question everything they ever believed in... and make a heartbreaking choice that will change their lives forever.

Although I've seen all of the movies based on Nicholas Sparks' books, I've never read any of them. I really liked this one - I loved both main characters. Miles is beautifully written as the grieving widower, the man who is trying his best not to let his obsession over finding out who killed his wife interfere with his daily life. His devotion to his son Jonah is apparent in every exchange between the two. Sarah, too, is dealing with a huge emotional burden - her divorce, and in particular the reasons for the divorce. Hearing that her ex-husband is due to be remarried also hits her in a way she wasn't expecting. Miles is different from any other man she has known, but she is uncertain how he will feel when she reveals some of her past. They're both initially nervous around each other, and it's endearing rather than annoying.

Sarah is Jonah's teacher, and agrees to give him the extra help he needs with his schoolwork after falling behind when his mother died. Miles and Sarah grow closer, until we can see them gradually opening up to each other and falling in love. It's a tender romance, one that isn't rushed, and it culminates in both characters being able to relax and enjoy the company of a kindred spirit.

As expected, something comes along to test their feelings. Miles' obsession with finding out who killed his wife reaches a dangerous level, and when Sarah discovers something disturbing, it puts her in an unenviable position. Will they be able to get through this? And will they still be together at the end of it?

I read this book in one sitting - all 445 pages of it. I couldn't put it down. The story of Miles and Sarah is told to us in the book by an unnamed man - one who is pivotal to the story. I did have my suspicions about who the mysterious male narrator was, but it didn't destroy the story for me when we discovered who it was. There is an underlying theme in the book about forgiveness, but I think it's mainly about how to move on with life and cope with past pain without letting it consume you.

Sparks managed to give both the killer and the victim's wife very similar (if not the same) issues, and I was surprised to find myself rooting for the killer at the end (I use the term 'killer' loosely, by the way). The end is a little bit twee, but all in all I really liked it and I'll be picking up a few more of Nicholas' novels the next time I'm in the library.

I despise the term chick-lit, but I'd describe this as 'chick with a kick'. It's a little meatier than some of the romance novels aimed at women (meaty as in lots to sink your teeth into, not as in that book with the word grey in the title of which we shall not speak) and all the story arcs are interesting and well-written. 

Consider me a new fan.

S xx

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Amazon UK are currently running a deal -  two paperbacks for £7 - so finding myself the proud owner of a wee Amazon voucher a few weeks back, I picked up two. I got Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black" and this one - "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson.

SJ Watson is an English author, and this is his debut novel (I thought he was a woman until I googled him, apologies there Steve). HE was accepted into the first Faber Academy "Writing a Novel" course in 2009, and this book is the result. It won a couple of prestigious awards (The Crime Writers' Association Award for Best Debut Novel and the Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year). Here's the back cover spiel:

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine's life.

I have to say, now that I know SJ is a man, I'm even more impressed with how the main character of Christine is written. SJ has a powerful writing style, and has written a strong female character with lots of personality. She's extremely engaging and likeable, and I found myself rooting for her all the way through. It's also lovely to read a book where the main character is in her forties - I can't think of too many others like it.

Basically, Christine suffered a trauma a few years back, and now suffers from severe short-term memory loss. She can remember up to the trauma, and she can hold her daily memories for the duration of the day, but by morning, all is lost and she begins the day over again not knowing anything about her life. Her husband, Ben, has to remind her of who she is every single morning.

This arrangement seems to work for them..... until a doctor gets involved and encourages Christine to write a journal. He calls her every day to tell her where the journal is, and so Christine spends a good chunk of her days reading up on what's been happening and what she's been feeling. The book is split into three parts - The present day, the journal, and the present day again. The tension is slowly built up as you read the journal part, and you know something's coming, but you're not exactly sure what.

What does come is a brilliant sequence of twists and discoveries - some good, some bad - and I promise you, you won't be able to put it down. Is everyone in Christine's life being honest with her? Is she going mad? Can she trust anyone? Can she even trust her journal - herself? The whole lot builds up into an explosive revelation, one that I have to admit I didn't even see coming.

I began this book at 10.30pm one night last week while I listened to a concert on TV in the background, and I could not put it down. I tell a lie - I put it down twice - once, to have this conversation: 

Himself: What's that concert?
Me: Slash.
Himself: Guns n Roses?
Me: Well, yeah, he used to be with them.
Himself: But he's not now?
Me: No.
Himself: Who's the lad singing? 
Me: Myles Kennedy.
Himself: He's not from Guns n Roses?
Me: No.
Himself: Do you like that kind of music?
Me: Sure you know I do.
Himself: Oh right. So which one is the lad from Guns n Roses?
Me: Here, take the remote, I'll finish me book in the kitchen.
Himself: Ah no stay there, but which of them were in Guns n Roses? (patience - gone)

The second time I put it down was to sing along to Sweet Child O' Mine. I mean, you have to, don't you?

Anyway, it's a brilliant book, a seriously impressive debut, and the rights have also been acquired by Ridley Scott's production company so I would expect to see it in movie form some time in the future. It's too good not to moviefy (yes, that's a word. Maybe.)

Any reading recommendations for me?

S xx

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review: The Dead Summer by Helen Moorhouse (Paperback)

Hey guys - I've mentioned this before, but I have been in love with reading since (according to d'Mammy) I was about 3 years old. I devoured books as a child and still do - but I find myself going through phases lately. I haven't been able to concentrate of late, but last night I picked this book up at 11pm and could not put it down. I read it until 3am and then finished it today - it's "The Dead Summer" by Helen Moorhouse.

This is Laois-born Helen's first novel, and this paperback version was released earlier this year. I'd never heard of it, I haven't checked any book recommendations in a long time. I was browsing the book section in Tesco about a month ago with a bottle of wine in one hand, a bag of sweet chilli crisps in the other, fully intending to add another Mills & Boon to my collection. Feeling very let down by the selection of "Sheik's Bride" or "His Reluctant Mistress" titles (ick), I took a look through the fiction section. This one caught my eye - here's the spiel from the back cover:

Leaving behind a broken marriage and a city life she no longer wants to lead, Martha Armstrong takes her baby daughter to start again in the beautiful English countryside. Living in a tranquil cottage in the heat of a perfect summer, it seems that all her wishes have come true.

Until the noises start.

Plagued by mysterious footsteps, scratchings, and crying in the night, Martha is at first unnerved and then terrified. What is happening to her idyllic existence? Is it all her imagination or is someone persecuting her?

Little does Martha know but the cottage has witnessed terrible hatred, fear and pain in the past, when two young Irish sisters lived in it. The fate of these girls and the baby born there now casts a dark shadow over Martha and her daughter.

Martha begins to unravel the story of the cottage's past, and uncover the terrifying secret that still haunts it. But can she discover the truth in time to keep herself and her little girl safe from the evil that threatens them?

To be honest, I was expecting a typical spooky "she closed the door and suddenly, BOO!" story, but I wanted to read something different after a solid year of "she looked at him with lust in her eyes and his pants tightened" and it was only €5.95 so I took the chance. I'm SO glad I did - this is a little gem. The characters are so well-developed - even down to Gabriel, and that's saying something, as he only appears half way through the novel. 

Martha is a young mum, recently divorced, who leaves the big city behind to follow her dream of writing a storybook for children. She thinks that Hawthorn Cottage is the perfect place to start her new life - sure, her new landlord is a little pushy and brutish, and the townsfolk seem to be holding something back from Martha, but that's nothing to worry about, right? And the noises - well, houses settle, don't they? Mice scratch?

This book is interspersed with letters written by one of the sisters that lived in the cottage in the 1950's. As we read these letters, it becomes glaringly obvious who the writer is - but it doesn't ruin the ending. If anything, it makes you want to read quicker to find out how the writer ended up where and how she did. Helen gives us no hint as to what is going to happen right up to the last few chapters, and that's refreshing. There's nothing I hate more than figuring out an ending with a half a book to go. With this book, I was devouring the chapters to find out the fate of the two sisters equally as much as I wanted to find out what Martha would do. 

One of the characters in this book is one of the most horrible, evil characters I've come across in a novel in a long time - the things she did actually made me bawl crying, and it was for this reason I found the book hard to read in places - I wanted desperately to find out what happened, but I didn't want to read any more of the terrible things this person did. I didn't find the book "bone-chillingly scary" or "genuinely terrifying" as some have - I did however find it disturbing, upsetting, and very, very sad in places. I felt heartbroken for the poor victim and the unimaginable cruelty that befell him at the hands of this evil person - and yes, as I mentioned above, I did have a little cry. Okay, I cried more than once (dont' let that put you off though, I cry at ads).

I didn't plan to buy this book, but it was definitely worthy of a read and it's definitely one I'd recommend if ghost stories or thrillers are your sort of thing. Helen has a fantastic writing style, very descriptive and imaginative without using try-too-hard language (no danger of that on this blog, that's for sure). One of the most effective scenes is so simply written - the main character, on her own, watching repeats of Desperate Housewives, tired, but afraid to go to bed. I could almost feel her fear hopping off the page when I was reading, and it takes a strong writer to convey that sort of emotion without the usual "heart-thumping, mind-racing" kind of writing.

All in all it was a brilliant debut novel - worth a read, also, is the included three-page extract from Helen's next novel, "The Dark Water". It's a follow-up to this book, featuring some of  the same characters, and I can't wait to read it and see what happens in their lives! It's due to be published later this year.

For now, though, "The Dead Summer" gets 5/5 stars from me!

S xx