Summer Reads - Review of The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas

I was very kindly given this to read by Headline and decided to read it when we were having lovely sunny weather, and it completely transported me to the Italian countryside.

The plotline

After a miserable break-up with her long-term boyfriend, Ruthie Collins drunkenly spends her half of the flat sale money on a run down Italy......on ebay. As you may already know, I am not an avid reader of 'chic-lit' novels, and the romance element seemed as predictable as they all generally are, the description of life in Italy, the culture, the people, the food, everything, was fantastic and spot on. You will 100% be transported to the beautiful rolling hills of Italy when you read this book, I promise. I started early on to daydream about buying my very own rundown farmhouse in Italy with my very own Italian love God...I digress.

When Ruthie turns up to her farmhouse in the pouring rain, she is shocked to discover just how much work she will have to do. She is also greeted by a goat who thinks he owns the property and a very angry neighbour.As she starts to realise just how much time, effort and money will be needed to make the house liveable again, she starts to wonder if she has made a terrible mistake. Her mother, boyfriend and brother have already made it clear to her that they think it is a crazy idea for her to by the house in Italy. As she slowly begins to settle in and work on her new home she battles the locals, feeling lonely and the wrath of the family next door who believe the house is not hers to buy.

Along with the slightly predictable romance element which I still enjoyed, Ruthie starts to learn some life lessons, and find what truly makes her happy. If you want an easy read which transports you to Italy and all it's beauty. this is a great summer time read.

Review of The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

I bought this novel from an antique shop a few months ago and recently decided it was time to give it a read. I also saw that  it was being given free as an ebook on iTunes for a limited time, so hopefully some of you had had the opportunity to read it for free.

The story is about the kidnapping of Mia Dennett, the daughter of a prominent and infamous judge and what happens before and after her disappearance. Mia meets a stranger at a bar, goes home with him and thus begins the events of Mia's kidnapping.When Mia is returned to her family, she has no memory of what happened to her when she was kidnapped, and her memories slowly start to unravel as the novel goes on. It is told in two parts, before and after. I found this method interesting but at the same time it broke up the momentum of the story and wanted to read fluidly what happened during Mia's kidnapping. Most of the 'after' parts are about how Mia is struggling to remember what happened and how her family (mainly her Mother) are worried about her and how they all try to help her remember. Different parts of the novel are from different characters points of view which I enjoyed. The most interesting and complex character by far has to be Colin, the mysterious kidnapper.

At first, Colin seems to be your typical criminal without a heart, hardened to a life of committing crimes. But, as the story unravels, his character becomes much more interesting, more grey than black and white and his story became incredibly emotive. There are some great twists in the novel, not all of which are overly believable, but they still make a good ending to the novel. The main reveal, which I won't mention as I don't want to spoil the novel for those that haven't read it, was so incredibly sad and my heart went out to Mia.

This is a great psychological thriller with a heart,easy to read, somewhat disjointed at times (the romance between Eve and the detective-meh) but overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more of her novels in the future.

Review of The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

I first saw this book on the way back from a trip down south in a well known motorway services store... and it really caught my eye visually. Not only because the book cover looked appealing, it was a big chunk of a book, which I love (over 700 pages fyi) and when I read the description on the back I just had to read it. The translation into English is also faultless, so well done Sam Taylor.

The story is about what happened during the summer of August 1975, when local girl, fifteen year old Nola goes missing. It is also about what happens when 35 years later Nola's remains are dug up in the garden of the famous writer Harry Quebert's home. Not only does this make Harry look somewhat guilty, but buried with her is his manuscript to his best selling novel. Bad times for Harry.

The novel is narrated by Harry's best protege, Marcus Goldman, who comes to the aid of Harry when he is arrested for Nola's murder and starts to investigate what really happened on that fateful night in Somerset, New Hampshire all those years ago. He begins to write a novel about his investigations and why he believes that Harry is not guilty of Nola's murder. Whilst Harry certainly is the main suspect, Marcus thinks that Harry is only guilty of loving a fifteen year old girl and writing his masterpiece based on this forbidden love.

Twist after twist

Without giving any of the plot away other than what you can read on the back, this novel is so full of twists and turns it will leave you slack jawed and open mouthed in shock. Those twists just keep on coming!As Marcus starts to delve into the past, we learn more and more about the dark secrets some of the inhabitants of Somerset have, and also about the affair between Harry and Nola. We also learn more about the relationship between Marcus and Harry and how Harry was much more than a teacher  to Marcus and even more than a friend. I didn't especially warm to Marcus and I found him rather one dimensional, which is fine as there is so much happening within this unique and captivating crime novel as it stands.

If you are looking for a light read. this may not be for you only in terms of it's sheer length. It is easy to read though and there are so many layers to it and so many shocks. It is also a book about love, emotions, bonds, loss, being a writer and so much more. I would thoroughly recommend reading this even if you are not into crime novels, as this is so unique and so much more than a whodunnit.

Review of In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Sine I was about six or seven and discovered Are You There God? , It's Me Margaret, I have been a massive fan of Judy Blume's novels and quickly devoured them all as a young girl. As an adult I read her adult fiction book Summer Sisters, which I also loved. When I heard that Judy was releasing a new novel after 16 years, I was so excited to read it as she has a magic touch with her characters and makes you really care about them.

What is the story about?

The novel focuses on a range of characters living in Elizabeth in the early 1950's during a series of plane crashes that affected everyone in the area. The books main character is Miri, a 15 year old girl who has a single mother and lives with her, her grandmother and Uncle in a two story house. We learn all about her feelings about her long lost father, her relationship with her family, in particular her mother, and her relationships with friends and her first boyfriend. As we get to know Miri we see how the plane crashes affect her and the people around her.

There are rather a lot of characters in the book, but they are all linked in some way to the plane crashes that really did occur in the early 1950's in Elisabeth. Sometimes we get to know a character just before they board a plane that crashes, which for me did succeed in making the crashes even more sad and terrifying at the same time. We see how the crashes affect people in different ways, how they cope with such awful disasters, one after the other is interesting and really makes you think about how you would cope if that happened to you. *Shudder.

The start of modern day aviation

As we see many relationships in Miri's life fall apart after the crashes and that she is going to start a new life in Las Vegas, the book then cuts to 35 years later in 1987. Many of the people in Miri's life from the time of the crashes have gathered together to commemorate and pay tribute to those who died, the survivors and those that were heroic. Learning about what had happened to the characters so many years later was very interesting, but I felt that cutting to Miri 35 years later left me feeling distanced from her when only a few pages earlier I felt I knew her so well. I felt sad about one relationship not happening, if you have read the book you will know who I mean no doubt. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the nostalgia of the 1950's, getting to know Miri and the other characters and the terror of the skies when aeroplanes were still so new and exciting, until that fateful year.  The novel is about families, growing up, love, culture of the 50's, tragedy and so much more.I was very interested to learn that Judy really had lived through these air disasters in her youth in Elizabeth, and you can really tell her heart and soul has gone into the book. For me, the magic of Judy Blume is the way she manages to make her characters come to life, I always feel that I know them so well and I really do care how they feel and what happens to them. It really made me reminisce about her teen fiction all those years ago. Am I too old to read Forever again? Ok, maybe not Forever, maybe Tiger Eyes....

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Published 29th May 2015 by W&N in Hardback

To describe this book quickly and easily, it is a bit like the film Sliding Doors. It is a story about Jim and Eve and we read about three different versions of their lives where different fates and decisions awaited them.

Throughout the book we read about the three variations on their lives and the decisions they make that will impact their whole lives. This is not a happily ever after kind of book, it deals with real issues, relationship problems, heartache, family issues and the complexities of every day life. I read this in ebook format and because it wasn't as easy to flick back to check, I did get rather confused initially about which version was which. It is a long and winding novel full of twists and turns and what if's.

Decisions made

Jim and Eve first meet in 1958 when she has a puncture in her bicycle. The decisions made after this will go onto create the three versions of what could have been for Jim and Eva. It is not  just a love story, it is a story about peoples lives and the decisions they make. It is about dealing with the complexities of life and love and dealing with what life throws at us. The novel covers a wide range of subject matters and gets very deep and raw at times. It is not as simple as, if Eve and Jim are together they will have their happily ever after, as we all know, life is never so simple.

I would definitely recommend this novel if you like authors such as Ian McEwan or Judy Blume, where the author takes on everyday life and it;s ups and downs and you really get to know the characters inside and out. A beautifully written novel which is complex, raw, realistic and moving.

Review of One Small Act of Kindness by Lucy Dillon

Published April 23rd 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton

I am not normally a reader of many 'Women's fiction' or "Chick-Lit' whatever you want to label it as. I have no issue with it and I have read some books which fall into this category which were fantastic reads. What drew me to One Small Act of Kindness was the idea behind the novel. Small acts of kindness to our fellow humans can really change their lives for the better. Doing one nice thing for someone else can make a huge difference to their lives and I totally buy into that.

The story is about a married couple called Libby and Jason who have moved back to where he used to live to save his parents hotel after his dad dies. Before they had a fairly luxurious lifestyle and home in London. His mother, Margaret, is still grieving and the hotel has been losing money. The couple become joint owners of the hotel with Margaret and set about doing it up so that they can attract more visitors.

Libby's one small act of kindness

Libby and Jason haven't been at the hotel very long when there is an accident outside on the country road. A woman has been hit by two cars and is lying unconscious in the road. Libby rushes to her and instructs one of the drivers to call the police and an ambulance and she sits with the woman and talks to her until they arrive. When the woman in the accident comes round in hospital she has no idea who she is and has no memories. Libby visits her a few times at the hospital and offers to let her stay at the hotel until her memory returns or someone comes to find her.

Before I go to Sleep

There are elements of Before I go to Sleep in at as 'Pippa' as the woman with amnesia calls herself at first deals with having no memories of the past, no memories of her partner and this is for me the strongest storyline in the novel and the most interesting to be honest. We, the reader, share her frustrations and wariness as she starts to piece together her past. Libby and Jason have left their demons behind in London (or have they..) but the stress of trying to deal with Margaret and the hotel and finances may prove too much for them.

I liked this novel. I enjoyed the dog elements very much, although parts where so upsetting and sad! The characters were very well written and I could picture them all so easily in my head.  There were certain parts which I won't spoil for you, that made me think that it wasn't likely to be that way 'in real life', but it is a work of fiction after all. There are strong elements of friendship, kindness, love, family and secrets. It is funny at times, sad, and creepy and I would say this novel has a real heart to it.

Review of Day Four by Sarah Lotz

 Published in Hardback on 21st May 2015 (UK) by Hodder & Stoughton

After reading The Three by Sarah Lotz and throughly enjoying it (see my review here ) I really couldn't wait to read the follow up Day Four, and let me tell you, I wasn't disappointed.

Whilst I found The Three to be unsettling at most and at times creepy, Day Four takes the scary/creepy factor to a whole new level. Set on a cruise ship, Beautiful Dreamer, the story gets creepier and more claustrophobic in each chapter. Everything starts off fine on days one to three, but on the fourth day aboard, the ship suddenly stops moving. There is no radio or wifi signal and no clear idea of why the ship has stopped. As the days progress, passengers start to panic, food runs low, the toilets stop flushing, their is no electricity and people start to behave increasingly erratic as their panic grows.  A virus breaks out causing people to be very sick which makes things much worse considering they are stuck on a boat with no sign of rescue.Then both passengers and some crew members start to see strange things, apparitions, and when they find the body of a murdered woman in her room, things go from bad to worse.

The characters

Throughout the story there are some key characters whom we follow in the story. There is Maddie, (The Witch's Assistant) the assistant to the famous medium aboard the ship, Celeste, who knows she is a fake but can't get a better job because of her past. Celeste is the medium who has an organised event aboard the cruise but is running away from a scandal back at home.Two elderly women known as the 'Suicide Sisters', Helen and Elise who have come on the cruise for their own private reason you can probably guess from the name they are given. Then there is one of the maids on the ship, Althea (The Devil's Handmaiden) who secretly hates most of the passengers and her colleagues but has to pretend to be nice in order to keep her job. Then there is the doctor, Jessie  (The Angel of Mercy) who has a secret past and fights a daily battle to keep his demons at bay. Gary is known as the 'Condemned Man' and he does very bad things which are about to catch up with him. There are more characters, many more, but the chapters are each split by the person narrating, which is usually one of the characters I have mentioned.

Things start to get very strange when the medium Celeste starts to act increasingly odd and not her usual grumpy drunken self. Her readings become a daily event and she is unnervingly correct about everything she says about her fellow passengers. She doesn't seem to need sleep or eat or use the bathroom which makes her assistant Maddie extremely perturbed.Slowly but surely she starts to take over the ship as more people get ill or go slightly mad, around her is an oasis of calm and cleanliness, almost like a cult following.

My thoughts....

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and after finishing the novel you can see the link with The Three as certain bits in the book cleverly link back to the first novel. The feeling of society aboard the ship falling apart and people acting like animals feels extremely real as does the claustrophobic nature of the story. I found it to be extremely creepy  and could easily imagine it being a terrifying movie that I would have to watch behind a huge pillow ( I know my scary film limitations).
If you read The Three and enjoyed it I would say that this novel is written completely differently and the story does not follow on from what happens in The Three except for a few character references from the first novel. I would say you don'y HAVE to read The Three first to get Four Days but it would help to understand the deeper meaning of the book and the things that happen aboard the ship. What a page turner! Phewf!