Friday, June 17, 2016

Five Star Friday #3 - Sweet Home by Carys Bray

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Every so often, usually a Sunday, I like to take a few hours for myself and spend them browsing different book websites, stocking up my Kindle, and adding to my always-growing TBR pile. One such Sunday, I came across this collection of short stories by Carys Bray, author of A Song for Issy Bradley.

Published | 2012
Page Count | 156
Genre(s) | Fiction, Short Story, Contemporary, Magical Realism

A collection of 17 short stories themed around family or parenting. There's a fairytale element to some (The Ice Baby, a story about a man who carves a much-wanted baby from ice to please his wife), but overall it's a fascinating take on family and the various trials and tribulations parents go through. Stand out stories include "The Rescue", in which a father is trying to save his son from the grip that drugs hold over him; "Love: Terms and Conditions", where a mother is determined not to make the same mistakes her own parents did, and "The Countdown", which takes a look at the worries of a first time father. Some of the stories are not for the faint of heart - they can get very, very dark and touch on subjects that may be uncomfortable for some to read about.

Even though some of the stories had a slight fantasy element to them and others veered into very dark territory, this was a relatable, interesting collection. At the core, most parents worry about the same things. Whether their children will fall in with the wrong crowd (whether or not their children are the wrong crowd), bullying, drugs, making mistakes, repeating history - each story is a slice of someone's life and gives just enough information about them so that we can get a feel, a snapshot, a few moments in their head.

(click a cover for more information)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Books I Read in May

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I have 13 books for you this month:

The Rick O'Shea Book Club

The picks for May were "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers and "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. I bought both, but chose to read the latter.

In this book, Dawkins presents facts about organised religion in order to prove there is no God. Do I agree with him? Not on everything, no. I think that while the facts were interesting and the hypocrisy of some religions are glaringly obvious, I think that Dawkins can be quite preachy and mocking of those who have a particular faith. It was a bit condescending, but it was definitely an interesting read.

Review Copies 

I'm really trying to get through my Netgalley requests, I've stuff sitting there since last September - so I got through four review copies this month.

My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry
Reviewed in full here, this is the story of two women who both have a huge role in one man's life. As the book opens, the man, Ed, has been murdered. The story is then told from the POV of Ed's muse, Carla, and his wife, Lily, over a period of fifteen years. I enjoyed this a lot.

Homecoming by Tanya Bullock
I received an email a while ago asking if I would like to read "the strangest love story ever told" - who can resist that? This is a short little novella, under 100 pages, but it was sweet and touching. It addressed a lot of issues that we don't often see in books - I don't want to give the plot away so I'd recommend taking a chance on it.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
I somehow ended up with two ARCs of this one - billed as Barack Obama's favourite book last year. This is the story of a marriage, that of Lotto and Mathilde, two hipster model types who fall for each other instantly and marry within weeks. Mathilde is mysterious, Lotto is creative. We get a look at their marriage from both sides - the first half from Lotto, the second Mathilde. Both paint a very different picture of their marriage and one has been hiding quite a lot. I found the book okay, but boring compared to what I was expecting.

Until Beth by Lisa Amowitz (YA)
Beth is a stellar guitar player, so much so that she ends up in a school for talented youths. Her boyfriend is one of a number of teenagers who have inexplicably gone missing, but could someone at the school hold the key? This was alright, but I've seen it a million times before. If "chosen one" or "divergent" or "immune" or "special" or "unique" stories are your thing, you may enjoy this. Personally I want to see strong independent female characters who don't just rely on some sixth sense to get by.


I listened to three this month while doing housework or cooking, I find it such a great way to get more books in. Funnily enough I haven't been able to concentrate on any fiction yet, I tend to zone out, but I'm enjoying working my way through the autobiography section on audible and the library (there's a blog post here about how to borrow audiobooks from the library).

Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart
I was really disappointed with this - I actually gave up halfway through. But poor wifi and having nothing else to listen to made me finish it one day, and it improved a bit - I just found it a bit repetitive, especially when half the stories have already appeared on Miranda's TV series. The main gripe for me was "18 year old Miranda" (Miranda using a high pitched moany teenager voice) popping in every few minutes, using slang like "sozbuckets". No.

The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton
I love Graham Norton, I'm a big fan, and this was enjoyable. I really enjoyed the stories about other famous people - Madonna, Dolly Parton, Cher - and I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes gossip from Graham's various shows. There's a great story in here about Liza Minelli's wedding, enough to keep even the biggest gossip hound going!

The Soundtrack to my Life by Dermot O'Leary
I liked the premise of this - a life story told through songs. Just to be clear, there's no actual music on the audiobook (I naively thought there would be) - but Dermot talks about his life and career so far by dedicating a song or two to each chapter and talking about how it links in with that time period. There's the first song he played on radio, the song he listened to over and over while on holiday, songs from childhood, the song he associates with his first presenting gig, songs from T4, the X Factor, etc - my only gripe is that he talks quite fast so I couldn't always catch what he said, but this was enjoyable and it prompted me to make my own mini list about songs that I've attached to memories (I've listed them on my Goodreads review here).

Other Fiction

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker
Lillian went on a dream trip to Fiji and ended up stranded on the island after the plane crashed. One of only two survivors, Lillian is now preparing to give one final interview to the media to get them off her back. But Lillian is hiding something - what happened on the island? A great read for the first 50-60%, then it got a little silly for me.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
This was a 5 star read for me, it's a creepy Hammer-esque novel about a man reflecting on a summer spent at The Loney, a wild place with a Shrine reported to have healing properties. Along with his parents, his mute brother, and some family friends, the boy spends the summer at the creepy Victorian mansion where his parents are convinced his brother will be 'healed'. It's atmospheric, it's weird, it's creepy, it's disturbing, and I really enjoyed it.

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (YA)
Written in 1973 and set in the late 1940s, Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his magician uncle Jonathan after his parents are killed in an accident. Jonathan lives in a three storey stone mansion, one that has an incessant ticking in the walls. While trying to impress a new friend, Lewis unwittingly unleashes real evil - can he find and stop the clock ticking? This was enjoyable, a nice read, might be a good one for young teens around Halloween.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
This short book has been nominated for multiple prizes, more notably the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. It focuses on Lucy Barton, who is reminiscing about a long hospital stay she endured some years before. Her estranged mother shows up and they talk about people from childhood. There are allusions made to some darkness in Lucy's past but it doesn't really go anywhere - at one point I thought the Mum was a figment of Lucy's imagination because she was so detached. This has been billed as the story of a relationship between a mother and daughter but I didn't get it - I didn't enjoy it and felt it was overhyped. But I am in the minority and it's short, so give it a go and let me know if you like it!

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (YA)
Described as being similar to "We Were Liars", this is a magical realism story in which teenagers are able to have their wishes granted - for a price. You want to be beautiful? Fine, but you'll have diminished intelligence as a result. You want to erase a painful memory? Okay, but here's some physical pain for you instead. This is full of secrets, lies, and it took me a while to read - I didn't love it. I liked the idea a lot but felt that it dragged a bit.

And that's it! If you have any audiobook suggestions please leave them in the comments, I'm running out of autobiographies and would love something light and easy to listen to - non-fiction if possible!

As always, you can go to my BOOKS 2016 page to access clickable book covers for all the books I read, they will take you to my full Goodreads review.

See you in July...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Five Star Friday - All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Not Sponsored or Paid | No ARCs


It recently came to my attention (because I searched for it) that of the 407 books listed as "read" on my Goodreads page, I have given a full five stars to a mere 64 (just under 16%). I want to make book posts more regular on here, so every Friday I'm going to talk about a book I've rated 5/5. Starting with this - my first five star read of 2016.

Published | April 2015
Page Count | 544
Genre(s) | Historical Fiction | War Fiction | WWII

Winner of the Pulitzer Price for Fiction 2015

A story about a blind French girl and a young German soldier who are linked by the horrors of World War II. We follow Marie-Laure as her city is being evacuated. Her father, a museum locksmith, is also a skilled model maker and has made a model of the city for Marie-Laure so she can learn to find her way around. We meet Werner in 1934 at the orphanage where he lives. He has a natural way with electronics, particularly radio equipment - this talent earns him a place in the National Political Institute of Education, eventually ending up with him being enlisted to the army. Although neither Marie or Werner know each other, their lives are linked and they will prove to have an effect on each other.

It's written in short chapters, so there was a lot of "just one more chapter" going on while I read it. I found it easy to read and thought the main characters and settings were distinctive enough so that I never had to go back and check who I was reading about.

The book is about survival during the very darkest times - both physically and metaphorically. My understanding of the title was that it was a nod to both Marie-Laure's inability to see physically and Werner looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, but the author explains that's it literal:

It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.

I'll give five stars to something if it's the kind of book that gives me a book hangover - that takes me days to get over, one that I miss when it's finished. This was that kind of book - I wanted to post a picture of the cover to every book group I'm a member of, I wanted to talk about it with people and recommend it. It was a January pick in The Rick O'Shea Book Club, and I thought it was an excellent book club choice. It was wonderfully descriptive, even Marie-Laure's chapters, which is a feat in itself considering she had to rely on her other senses to describe what was going on around her.

I had one issue with one scene towards the end of the book that disappointed me - I felt that it was gratuitous and lent nothing to the story. I won't confess to knowing a huge amount about WWII, so I don't know if it was commonplace at the time, but it felt a little out of place compared to the rest of the book (it's in the "Berlin" chapter).

The rest of the book was so enjoyable that I felt it deserved the full five stars - I loved how the two characters were linked, and I thought the author did a great job of portraying the War from both sides.

I'd absolutely recommend it, apart from being a great piece of historical fiction, it's a wonderful story about survival, hope, and solace.

(click a cover for more information)