Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: The Dark Water by Helen Moorhouse


I did it! I finally finished a book! My reading mojo has flown out the window over the past few months, I just could not concentrate. It turned out my iron levels were quite low, which may explain it - but I managed to get through this.

I wrote a review of Helen's first book The Dead Summer here last year - I loved it. I found it a really good ghost story and as I said at the time, it completely reeled me in. This one - not so much.

Image: Easons.com
First of all, let's get the back cover out of the way:

Martha Armstrong has started again - new city, new home, new future. Yet she's troubled by her partner Will's obsession with the paranormal and an unwelcome face from her past. Troubles which threaten the happiness she thought she had found.

Her friend Gabriel McKenzie, a psychic medium, is troubled too - disturbed by ghosts he suddenly cannot see and haunted by ones he can't escape. Who is the strange intruder that leaves him mysterious messages in his apartment and watches him sleep at night?

So when a desperate call for help comes for Gabriel, Martha and Will make a decision to help him - a decision that takes them North, to the bleak Highland beauty of Dubhglas Castle and its lake, where mysterious occurrences are terrifying the staff. Could they be connected to Gabriel's nocturnal visitor and, worse still, to the powerful spirit of the brutal Jack Ball?

Together, they uncover the secret that shattered Gabriel's family and split a young couple apart, fifty years before.

Is it always best to uncover the past, or are some secrets best left lying in the Dark Water?

I hate doing negative reviews because I understand how long it takes to write a novel, and how passionate writers can feel about their characters. But I really, really didn't like this book at all. I found it a complete let down after the first novel.

It seems very cobbled together - there's too much going on. There's the stuff going on between Martha & Will, Martha & her ex, Dan, then Martha & her friend Sue (who is completely irrelevant), then Martha & her daughter Ruby who only really becomes important towards the end, then there's the feud between Will & Gabriel that is miraculously cured in no time, then there's a whole host of characters from the past - Claire, Martin, Jack, Laurence - enough. Seriously.

It had the makings of a great horror - the first few chapters suggested a really creepy haunting that needed to be investigated, but it took a horrendously boring turn after a couple of chapters and to be honest I struggled to pick it up. I've actually been saving it for when I'm sitting in waiting rooms and I need to pass the time, I couldn't bring myself to pick it up at home. Martha is not likeable, and by the time I got to the end I couldn't have cared less whether she came away unscathed or not.

The "baddie" of the piece wasn't remotely scary, and to bring the Krays into it felt completely out of place and a poor attempt at linking him to some well-known "bad" people. The final elimination of the baddie was rushed, nonsensical, and ridiculous. As was Dan's exit. One minute he's there all guns blazing and the next minute he's gone like a rocket?! What?!

I couldn't understand why Will was even still speaking to Martha by the end of it, to be honest. You can do much better, Will, seriously. She's a pain in the hoop. No doubt a wedding will feature in the next installment, with irritating best friend Sue in bridesmaid mode and adorable daughter Ruby all flowergirl-ed up. While I'm on the subject of Sue - why was she even there?! At one point I thought she was just brought in as a partner for Gabriel, but she was completely surplus to requirements in every scene she was in.

Considering Gabriel was pretty much central to the story, he didn't get much attention at all. I could have done with more Gabriel and less Martha. Much less Martha. The "twist" at the end where Gabriel speculates about Martha is laughable. I just hope to god that this doesn't mean the next book will also feature the same characters.

I hate to be horrible, but if you're expecting another novel as good as The Dead Summer, just approach this with an open mind. Maybe it's me, maybe I just don't have the patience, but I doubt it - very, very disappointed with this book overall.

I will read the next book, Sing Me To Sleep, but I'll be reading it on the back of how much I enjoyed the first book.

I'll be donating this one to the library.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Jojo Moyes - The Last Letter From Your Lover


I have only recently started reading Jojo Moyes' books - I've no idea why I was so late to that particular party, but I got there eventually with the purchase of Me Before You a few months ago. I devoured it, I adored it, I cried at the end, then I cried again because I had finished it. You know something is good when you actually miss it, and that's how I felt after reading Me Before You. I picked another of her novels up a few weeks ago, the 2010 release The Last Letter From Your Lover.

Image Source: booktopia
As always, I'll start off with the back cover:

"Know this at least: somewhere in this world is a man who loves you... 
A man who has always loved you and, to his detriment,
suspects he always will."

1960. Jennifer Stirling lives a life of luxury with her wealthy husband. On paper, she has it all. In reality, she's dangerously devoted to another man who is asking her to risk everything...

2003. Ellie Haworth works as a journalist for a national newspaper and is in love with a charming writer. On paper, she should be happy. In reality, her career is foundering and the man who holds her heart belongs to someone else...

When Ellie stumbles upon a set of passionate love letters from the 1960s, both women's lives entwine. And as she pieces together the fragments of the past romance, what she unearths dramatically transforms her life, and Jennifer's in the process.

The book starts off in the present day, from Ellie's point of view. She's involved with a married man, running away from all the problems in her life, and refuses to believe that she is anything other than blissfully happy. When she discovers a love letter from the 1960s, it has such a profound effect on her that she resolves to get to the bottom of it.

From about page 20 on, we are taken back in time to the 1960s to the life of Jennifer Stirling and her husband Laurence - a wealthy, successful, glamourous couple. Jennifer has just woken up from a car accident that left her with a damaged arm and a head injury that rendered her unable to remember great chunks of her life. To the outside world, Jennifer and Laurence are the perfect couple. But all is not well - along with Jennifer's partial memory loss, there are a circle of people who seemingly don't want her to remember every detail of her life before the accident, a husband who is losing his patience at her inability to just accept the here and now and stop asking questions, a housekeeper who knows more than she's letting on - and Jennifer is left feeling like a huge part of her life is missing.

When she stumbles upon letters written with more passion and love for her than she could ever imagine her husband showing, she is determined to find out more about who wrote them, what happened to him, and why they aren't together.

I LOVED the way this book was written. I loved that the majority of the book was entirely devoted to Jennifer's story, and the romance was so beautiful and passionate. I loved that we weren't jumping from the 60s to the 00s every second chapter - because Ellie's story, while the catalyst for later events, is not the main point of this book, and to be honest, I didn't find her very likeable. I adored Jennifer and her lover. The longing they had for each other in their encounters had me in tears more than once.

I don't want to say too much in case I spoil it, which I would hate to do, because it's truly such a beautiful story to watch unfold - but I can say that I picked this up at 12 pm today and couldn't put it down until I had every last page read. Not too many books do that for me anymore - I've some on my reading list that I'm dreading trying to get through.

An utterly timeless love story - make sure you have tissues for the end.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review - The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood


I haven't done a book review here in a while, so I thought I'd do one on this, one of the books I bought last month.

Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a press journalist currently living in London. The Wicked Girls is a crime/thriller, was published in 2012, and if you haven't read it, you need to put it on your must-read list. Now.

Back cover spiel:

The noise was overwhelming, the feral, chanting voices of strangers wanting justice.


Twenty-five years ago two little girls were imprisoned for murder. Now journalist Kirsty Lindsay is reporting on a series of sickening attacks on young women and her investigation leads her to cleaner Amber Gordon.

For Kirsty and Amber, it is the first time they have seen each other since that dark day when they were children. Aware of the danger they are in and with new identities - and families - to protect, they will do anything it takes to keep their wicked secret hidden...

When I initially started reading this book, it took a while to get into it. I think I was trying to guess what was going to happen, which is a really bad habit of mine. Once you relax into it, it gets absorbing pretty quickly. Both female leads are strong characters, and they're so well-developed, I felt like I really knew them both by the end of the book. It's difficult to write a really comprehensive review without revealing a load of spoilers, but I'll try and give you some idea of what to expect from it. 

What lengths would you go to to protect the ones you love? What would you do if you were getting on with your life, and suddenly had to deal with the worst event in your past all over again? That's what happens to Amber and Kirsty.

While we already know from the cover that the two girls committed a terrible offence all those years ago, we don't know the circumstances or the actual events surrounding that fateful day - until all is slowly revealed in short flashback chapters. It left me feeling slightly different about the whole lot - I didn't have sympathy for either, initially, but that had changed a little bit by the end.

Would things have turned out differently if both girls had been given exactly the same opportunities to get their lives back on track after that horrific day? One of the women had to fight for everything she had, while the other seemed to have a little more encouragement. One was punished, while the other one was not only punished, but expected to know and do better. Both women ended up with very different outcomes at the end - begging the question, as I put forward in my synopsis of the book on Goodreads (there's a button over there on the right sidebar if you want to be my friend there), are we a product of our genes, or our environment?

Who knows - but it is a very scary prospect to think of something in your past rearing its ugly head right out of the blue. I think that's what was the most frightening thing for me (not that I've a load of skeletons, but y'know) - the actions of an unrelated person brought the past mistakes of both these girls right back to haunt them. The tension bounces off the page, and I felt sick for the characters more than once. 

An absolutely brilliant piece of writing, and unlike another popular crime novel that everyone seems to be reading at the minute, this one has an ending worthy of the rest of the book.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One Year On: Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking


[Image: Awesome Books]

I wanted to wait a considerable amount of time before reviewing this book. Firstly, before I do, let me give you some background information on smoking & how it affected me.

I grew up in a non-smoking household. I didn't really know any smokers. When a cousin offered me a cigarette around aged 16, I said no - but it haunted me after that. All I wanted to do was try it. I couldn't get my hands on cigarettes for ages, until a night out with other girls from my class in school. I was almost 17 at that time, I split the price of a pack of 10 with my friend, and that was it. My dirty little secret relationship began. At first, I'd save them for when I was out at the weekends, but then it got more and more frequent. By the time I reached 18 I was smoking 10-15 a day.

This toxic little affair continued for the next 10 and a half years. In that time, I had my son, now 8. That didn't stop me smoking. Numerous chest infections and inhaler prescriptions didn't stop me smoking. My GP constantly told me to try and quit them because I was taking the contraceptive pill and was at a high risk of blood clots - but that didn't stop me either.

What DID make me want to do something was waking up on average of three times a week with a sore, painful, heavy chest. I would have been around 26 at this time - did I stop? No, I swapped to lighter cigarettes. After a GP lecture, I tried patches for about two days. Nada. Then, I tried the disgusting gum. I don't think I got to day 2 with that. Finally, after another GP mini-lecture, I started taking a course of Champix. They worked, I stopped smoking for over a month- and got increasingly depressed. I couldn't sleep, when I did I had nightmares, I was paranoid, miserable, sad, constantly on edge - I looked and felt like I was off my head half the time (to the point where a lady in Boots refused to sell me tablets containing codeine) so I ditched the tablets. I bought an e-cig, and had nothing but contempt for everyone around me as they enjoyed their lovely cigarettes and I sat sucking on a plastic stick. I went back to the cigarettes.

In early 2012, I finally realised that I didn't enjoy smoking any more. I didn't find it relaxing, or enjoyable. Half the time I'd have a cigarette half smoked without even thinking about it. I tried again, using only willpower. When my husband (also a smoker) didn't up and leave me it's a miracle. I was like an absolute Antichrist, and thought about nothing but cigarettes for the three weeks I was off them. I ended up walking into a pub on Paddy's Day, having a few drinks, buying 20 cigarettes, and had about 4 left by the time I went home.

I was browsing Amazon (or it may have been Awesome Books, I don't remember) one night shortly after that, and came across Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking book. It was only a couple of euro second-hand, so I ordered it and thought nothing more of it. I bought the one aimed at women but essentially they're all the same.

In the meantime, we were planning our wedding for last October. Unfortunately, my husband's father was also becoming increasingly ill. He was a lifelong smoker and constantly nagged both of us to give up smoking ("they're a poison and a rob"). We did the usual 'nod and agree' thing, not really paying much attention. On the warm evening of May 27th last year, a Sunday, he was taken into hospital. As he waited for the ambulance, I saw him sitting in his room, in his best suit, waiting to be taken in to hospital, knowing he wasn't coming home, with a nebuliser mask in one frail, nicotine-stained hand and a lit cigarette in the other. That image will stay with me for as long as I live.

On Monday morning, May 28th, one year ago today, the book arrived in the post. I had no intentions of giving up that day, but it was warm outside and I decided to sit out the back garden and read it. I smoked the whole way through reading the book, as is advised. I read it all in one sitting, it took about 2-3 hours. I had my "final cigarette" and cursed it goodbye. When I had finished, I put the remainder of the pack of cigarettes into the bin. I have neither smoked, nor wanted to smoke, since. (this remains true as of today, Jan 9th 2016 - and today, Jan 14th 2022).

My husband's Dad passed away in September, 6 weeks before our wedding, from a combination of ailments  that can mostly be attributed to smoking. My husband gave up smoking shortly after his Dad passed, and hasn't smoked since either. He did it with pure, stubborn willpower and the very real fear that he would end up with a lung disease too if he didn't stop.

I can't tell people what exactly the book says, or what it does, because all it does is present you with facts. Some people reckon it "brainwashes" you in a way - I don't know whether it does or not, but if it did, I'm eternally grateful to it. I can honestly, 100%, hand-on-heart say that I have not had one craving since I stopped. In the first few days and weeks I had the odd "I'll go out for a smoke now" but instantly then thought "sure what am I at, I don't smoke". I planned a wedding on top of a family illness and bereavement and had no cravings, no bad moods. I actually cannot stand the smell of smoke now at all, and I don't envy smokers the way I did when I tried other methods.

I'm delighted to be able to say that I'm a non-smoker, and I'm really proud of my husband for doing it too. With regard to the weight thing - I did put on weight, but I can't, in good faith, attribute that to stopping smoking. My issues with food go much further back, and I reckon I'd have put it on anyway. There's lots of time to shift it - but I can now do that while knowing I'm completely free from nicotine for the first time in my adult life.

I'll finish up by answering a question I get asked all the time - no, I don't have any more money now than I did before. But I'm not counting out 20c pieces on a Wednesday to try and scrape a tenner together. And I don't get up in the morning with a sore chest and a diabolical sense of smell. My clothes don't stink. I can wear lipstick again. I can breathe properly again. I don't have to freeze my arse off standing outside when it's cold.  My excess risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has now dropped to less than half that of a smoker.

This book changed my life.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review - The Dark Threads by Jean Davison


I haven't done a book review in a while, so I decided that this one was incredibly worthy of a post. I've had a strange fascination with old hospitals from a young age - I've always been intrigued by them. A while back, I came across a website devoted to High Royds, a former psychiatric hospital in West Yorkshire. I desperately wanted to read an account from someone who had been a patient there - I found this book and immediately ordered it on amazon.

The true story of how a bright teenager was transformed into a zombie thanks to a cocktail of drugs and electric shock treatment for an illness she never had.

Jean Davison lost years of her life when doctors misdiagnosed her mental state as chronic schizophrenia.

Sucked into the psychiatric system, she lost her job, her boyfriend, and all self-esteem. But eventually she managed to break free.

Told with humour and insight, using extracts from her medical case notes, Jean's memoir raises disturbing questions about psychiatric treatment in the sixties and seventies, which are still relevant today. Her story offers hope to others.

Jean Davison was voluntarily admitted to High Royds in 1968 at the age of seventeen. She had been questioning her faith, her life, her environment, found it hard to deal with her lack of confidence in making friends, and questioned what direction her life was going in. Having spoken to a psychologist, she agreed to his suggestion that "a week of rest and observation" in High Royds would do her no harm.

Nine days later, Jean was receiving ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) and had been heavily drugged for supposed schizophrenia since she had been admitted. The months passed, and Jean became increasingly disillusioned with the treatment she was being given and the psychologists who supposedly knew best. She entered the hospital a bright, pretty, albeit very shy, girl, three days after attending a disco with her friends. She left it as a day patient months later, almost two sizes heavier, covered in boils, and drugged up to her eyeballs. It took another 3 and a half years for her to finally break free of the treatment for an illness she never suffered with. 

The book contains some notes from Jean's doctors at the time - information not revealed to her at the time of her treatment. It's an absolutely fascinating account - it's just unbelievable how Jean was treated without any actual diagnosis. If anything, her brother appeared to be in need of some kind of therapy. Her family life wasn't ideal by anyone's standards, but at the back of it we do get the sense that for all the hassle they caused her, her parents did care in their own way. What is amazing is that her family life wasn't considered as a potential cause for some of her problems in any way until years down the line.

Jean's accounts of trying to adjust to life outside the hospital are at times heartbreaking - her crippling shyness made it hard for her to endear herself to others, often being mistaken for being snobbish. One of the most touching conversations in the book was only a couple of lines long - between Jean and Arnold, a patient at the hospital.

On my first day back at the day hospital I sat in the armchair next to Arnold who immediately made the effort to turn and speak to me.

"Are you feeling better now, Jean?" His words came out laboured but clear.

"Yes, thank you, Arnold."

"Good. I am pleased."

Arnold, who spent his time sitting mutely staring into space. Arnold, who had great difficulty in speech and movement. Arnold, who had more reason for despair than I had ever known, had remembered my name, noticed my absence and shown concern for my welfare. Dear Arnold.

As we can tell from the fact that she has written this account, Jean did manage to regain control of her life and finally began to live it. From her own words at the end: 

The most frightening thing about what happened to me is that most of it could still happen to a young person, or indeed anyone, today. I was a casualty of the narrow medical perspective of conventional psychiatry. With almost no knowledge of me or the context of my life, psychiatrists swiftly began treatment for what their training told them was an illness requiring brain-changing drugs and ECT. 

That's a scary thought - have we all not, at one time or another, sat down and wondered what we were doing? Where we are going? Who we really are? I know it's unlikely now that someone presenting to a GP or psychologist with a crisis of faith or identity will be admitted to a psychiatric ward, but it is the case that more and more people are being prescribed drugs to deal with different situations. It would make you wonder if sometimes the pills are doled out as a first response rather than a last resort  (and without full disclosure of side effects).

Jean doesn't dismiss the use of modern medicine in the book, nor do I, but I was genuinely shocked to discover (statistic from a different source, not the book) that over 300,000 people in Ireland are currently taking a form of anti-depressant tablet. ECT is also still used. 

An extremely thought-provoking read.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: New Town Soul by Dermot Bolger


Bad blogger, blah. I know. I haven't had time to pee, never mind polish lately. I do have some swatches for you, but I'll save them for their own post later on in the week. For now, I have a book review - it's New Town Soul by Dermot Bolger.

[Source: http://www.dermotbolger.com]

First, as usual, here's the back cover spiel:

Shane is Joey's new best friend, with a personality for every occasion and a strange sense of recklessness. Joey longs to get close to Geraldine, but she won't have anything to do with him while Shane is around. Is Geraldine right to suspect that Shane is weaving a net of evil around them? And who is the strange old man who seems to know more about Shane than anyone? What secret will Joey unearth in a derelict house in Blackrock? 

New Town Soul is a supernatural thriller in a very real world - it is about the freedom of being young and the enslavement of being immortal.

Dermot Bolger is an Irish author, playwright & poet. Published in 2010, this was Bolger's first foray into teen fiction. I use that term very loosely, because I didn't find this in any way juvenile or aimed strictly at teenagers. As a stand-alone novel, I found it completely enthralling and read the entire thing in one sitting (and I'm definitely not a teenager).

A supernatural thriller set in Blackrock in modern times, the story is mainly told from the point of Joey Kilmichael, a young lad who has recently changed schools due to being bullied for following in his late father's path by writing and singing his own songs. When Joey arrives at his new school (having done all the prerequisite facebook stalking beforehand to find out what his new classmates are like) he has already decided that there will be nobody there who shares his interests and has all but dismissed everyone. On his first day there, however,  his attention is turned to two people - shy, beautiful Geraldine, who intrigues him instantly, and wild, rebellious Shane, who can command the attention of anyone in the room.

Joey befriends both Shane and Geraldine, but has very different friendships with both. Shane brings out Joey's wild side, encouraging him to have new experiences and face his fears. Geraldine's friendship is more of a deeper, thoughtful one. Geraldine confides in Joey and tells him some information about previous experiences with Shane, and explains why she is less than enamoured with him anymore. As time goes on, Joey becomes more and more suspicious of Shane, wondering if his initial desire to be considered his quiet sidekick was misplaced. The appearance of strange old man Thomas doesn't help - why does he seem to have an unquenchable interest in Shane and Geraldine?

As mentioned, the book is set in Blackrock - now I'm not from Dublin, but I was drawn into it while reading this. Mentions of Bull Island, the Hellfire Club and other instantly recognisable local landmarks make this a very easy story to read. Some of the more supernatural suggestions in the book were ludicrous but yet I still didn't find the book too fantastical to enjoy. Anyone familiar with the legends and stories surrounding the infamous Hellfire Club will have heard of experiences and tales not too dissimilar to some here, which grounds the story in a way and stops it from crossing over into the ridiculous.

By page 40, I did have a fair idea that I'd figured out what the big secret was (and I was right) but I still didn't have a notion how it was going to pan out. The book is written in short, snappy chapters, each one focused on one of the main characters. Only Joey's chapters are written in the first person, and Dermot Bolger did a fantastic job of writing from the POV of a 16-year-old boy.

I'm really glad I picked this book up in the library - being 100% honest if I'd seen it in the teen fiction section I probably wouldn't have gone near it, purely based on that label. It's a fantastic book, and deserves to be read without any labels. It's almost a modern-day teenage ghost story - but the ghost is one we'll all have to face at one time or another, our own mortality. Dermot Bolger doesn't treat his readers like children, he makes us use our imaginations and question our darkest desires and wishes.

Contains no swearing, no sex, mild violence, no drug use, minor alchohol references, some horror.

I'm delighted I took a chance on it, and I'll definitely keep an eye out for more of Dermot Bolger's work.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Bohemia by Veronika Carnaby


When Veronika Carnaby got in touch with me to ask if I'd like to read her book, I took a look at the description and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I love finding different genres to read, and a book about the Beat Generation was certainly a new experience for me.

[Image Source]

Bohemia was described by Veronika as:

Influenced by the works of Beat Generation authors and great poets, the story takes place during 1960 and chronicles a group of bohemian twenty-somethings who defy the "ideals" of a mid-twentieth century society to seek creative fulfillment. On a deeper level, it portrays the creative path that artists of all mediums tread, all the while depicting the challenges faced by youth in the '60s. Moreover, the book has also gained support from legendary jazz musician and composer, Archie Shepp, who has contributed some brief words to it.

Now - I'm not familiar with the world of jazz at all, so I had to google Archie Shepp.  I'm actually none the wiser having googled him, apologies Mr. Shepp. I didn't have to google the Beat Generation - I'm sure there will be comparisions drawn between Bohemia and Jack Kerouac's On The Road - Kerouac being one of the original generation of  bohemians and a big part of the movement in the 50's & 60's.

The Beat Generation is something that's worth a google, if you've never heard of it - it was full of fascinating characters (also, the term Hipster? Totally a Beat Generation word). Bohemia is told from the perspective of one of those characters - Valerie Freed, who aches for something more than a 9-to-5, stifled existence in the town she grew up in. With her best friend Emm, and two free-spirited lads (Jimmy and Lester), Valerie sets off on a journey that changes her life in several ways.

The writing is beautiful. Veronika manages to draw us in to this magical, creative, eccentric little community of musicians, writers, dancers and all-round like-minded people on a mission to do exactly what they want to do, and makes us feel as if we are right there with Valerie. I was aching for her to succeed, for her to accomplish something. The people she meets on her travels are fascinating, each one leaving their own little mark on Val, and I felt a little sense of loss every time one of them moved on. It's actually hard to believe that Valerie herself hasn't written the book.

It's not a fast-paced rip-roaring thriller by any means, nor is it a book that I found easy to get into. I had to give it a couple of tries (I think in all honesty this was because it's one of the only e-books I've read, I find it very odd not to have the paper book) and I'd definitely love to tackle it again in a hard copy to give different chapters the attention they deserve.  The ones in particular about The Ladybug Club were so descriptive and colourful - Veronika has a serious flair for making a particular place as much of a main character as any of the human ones. This book is - it's a journey, an insight, an experience. I can't believe this is only Veronika's first novel, nor can I believe this isn't a real first-hand account of life in 60's Bohemia.

I'm glad I stuck it out, because I won't forget Bohemia for a long time.

Also, Roxford - very cool cat.

Veronika has a blog, which you can check out HERE.