Monday, September 15, 2014

IF YOU WERE ME



IF YOU WERE ME by Sheila O’Flanagan
 
Pages: 389
Date: 15/09/2014
Grade: 3.5
Details: Reading Group Read
            Book received from Headline Review
            Through New Books Magazine
Library

The blurb:

“Carlotta O'Keefe is happily engaged, and the wedding plans are coming together. She's clear about her future path, both personally and in her busy career. Maybe Chris doesn't make her heart race every time she sees him, but you can't have that feeling for ever. Can you?

Then, on a trip to Seville, Carlotta runs into Luke Evans. Luke broke her heart so long ago she'd almost convinced herself she'd forgotten him. Now, he's not that boy any more, but an attractive and intriguing man. And he can explain everything that happened way back when. Suddenly Carlotta's not so sure of anything any more.”

My thoughts:

This probably wasn’t the book for me. I liked the idea behind the story – two people who’d fallen in love as teenagers before being ruthlessly torn apart, reconnecting almost two decades later – but wasn’t overly impressed with the execution.

While I understand this is the story of Carlotta’s journey I still felt we saw too little of Luke Evans to make the premise believable. I know that first loves leave a lasting impression. I had no issue buying into Carlotta staying mildly obsessed with Luke over the years given the abrupt and unexpected separation years ago and the revelations afterwards. I didn’t even have a problem with her wanting to cancel her marriage because meeting Luke again made her doubt her feelings for her fianc├ę, Chris. In fact, that made sense. If it takes as little as one accidental meeting with an old flame and one passionate kiss to doubt whether or not you want to marry the man you’re engaged to, you are better off cancelling the whole affair. The only thing I did have a major issue with, was the ease with which she also allows her precious career to fall by the wayside after she meets Luke in Spain for the second time. She doesn’t know anymore about the man he’s become than she did at the start of the book and yet she throws her whole life upside down on the gamble he still resembles the boy she fell in love with as a teenager. It didn’t make sense and didn’t appear to fit the Carlotta I had gotten to know while reading the book.

I thought it was a shame the reader wasn’t given the opportunity to get to know Luke better. It might have been easier to suspend disbelieve and buy Carlotta’s change of heart and life if we’d been given a better idea of who and what exactly Luke was.

The story dragged for me at times. While I get what the author was doing; giving us a blow by blow account of a woman in her thirties reassessing her life and everything she’s held to be true up until then, I got a big bogged down by all the detail at times. In fact, the first 270 or so pages of this book all appear to be an introduction to a dramatic escalation of events. Suddenly everything happens at once, and while Carlotta’s break up with Chris was credible, the sudden implosion of her relationship with her best friend Sive seemed over the top and unrealistic. I guess it made perfect sense from a dramatic – turn the story on its head sort of – point of view, but it didn’t seem to fit the friendship they had until that moment and appeared to come out of nowhere. Just as what Sive did next, didn’t sit right with me and didn’t appear to add anything to the story either.

Anybody reading this review would be forgiven for thinking I didn’t like the book at all. And yet, that isn’t quite right either. As I said, I liked the idea behind the story. I enjoyed watching Carlotta slowly but carefully working out the priorities in her life. If You Were Me is a well written book and very easy to read (although it was equally easy to put down at times). Maybe it is just that I want more interaction between the two characters who will be the happy couple by the end of the book, while I’m reading the story. Or maybe it was just because I didn’t really warm to Carlotta.

Don’t allow my review to put you off. If you’ve read and enjoyed Sheila O’Flanagan books before, you will probably love this one too. If you’re a fan of Irish ‘women’s fiction’ this book will be right up your street. It just wasn’t quite up mine.

Friday, August 8, 2014

THE BOOK OF LIFE

THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness

Pages: 592
Date: 06/08/20114
Grade: 5
Details: No. 3 All Souls Trilogy
            Received from Headline Publishing
            Through Nudge
Own: ARC

The blurb:

“After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies.

At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency.

In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.”

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My thoughts:

“Even the darkest places need to be brought into the light of day, or else they’ll grow until they swallow a man whole.”


I’m always slightly apprehensive when I pick up the much anticipated final instalment to, what has been up until then, a fantastic trilogy. There is always the fear the finale won’t live up to expectations, that the author won’t be able to pull all the threads together. And those fears were busy niggling at me before I picked up ‘The Book of Life’. I loved both ‘A Discovery of Witches’ and‘Shadow of Night’ when I read them. I had fallen for Diana Bishop, the witch, and Matthew Clairmont, her vampire. In the first two books the author had woven a mesmerising web filled with mystery, suspense, danger, magic and love. I needed ‘The Book of Life’ to be at least as good as its two prequels had been.

The wonderful news is that it is. This book is the crowning glory of this trilogy. It more than lives up to expectations, answered all my questions and kept me enthralled from the first chapter.

The story picks up more or less where ‘Shadow of Night’ ended and drops the reader right back into the story. There are enough small reminders to refresh the reader’s memory although I would strongly advice against reading this book unless you’ve read the prequels.  

I really don’t want to say a whole lot more about the story. I know part of my enjoyment while reading the book was that I was never completely sure what might happen next, or who would show up and why. I will say that I loved reconnecting with characters I’d come to love while reading the first two books.

The love between Matthew and Diana is as beautiful as always and yet stops short of being overly idyllic. The author has her characters say things you wish someone would say to you; things you would have loved to have said to a loved one.

“My heart no longer knows where I end and you begin.” – Matthew

And,

“If you truly love someone, you will cherish what they despise most about themselves.” – Fernando

I loved the following quote about social media. Since blue is a relaxing colour for me too, I completely get this line of thought. In fact it was one of  those ‘that’s so blindingly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me before’ moments.

“She could not imagine why these companies all chose shades of blue for their logos. Blue had always struck her as such a serene, soothing color, yet all social media offered was endless agitation and posturing.” – Ysabeau

Or the moment when Matthew declares that he does not and has never ‘sparkled’.

One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn’t provide all the answers. We’re not given a fairytale ending. There are no miracle cures (not even for vampires) and problems don’t just evaporate. In fact, one or two problems continue to form a threat. I wouldn’t mind if that meant we might get to visit with Diana and Matthew again in the future but I won’t be upset if it doesn’t. The author leaves us at a point where things have slotted into place for this couple. Yes, they will face obstacles in the future, but we know they’ve reached a place where, together, they can face pretty much anything.

This was very close to a perfect reading experience. I lost myself in the story on the first page and didn’t resurface until I had read every single word. It is the sort of book you want to race through because you need to find out what will happen next and how they are going to solve their problems. It is also the sort of book you want to drag out for as long as you can because you know this is the last of it and you don’t want the story to end. I can’t wait to see what Deborah Harkness is going to come up with next.


“To every question I have ever had, or ever will have, you are the answer.” – Matthew

Monday, July 28, 2014

PRECOG IN PERIL

PRECOG IN PERIL by Theo Fenraven

Pages: 342
Date: 28/07/2014
Grade: 5+
Details: Previously published as three books
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

Gray Vecello meets Cooper Key, and the adventure of a lifetime begins as they explore the river on the houseboat Gray’s grandfather left him in his will. Along the way, they will meet new friends and dangerous enemies. 

Three of Swords: An old houseboat, a hot young guy, a couple of murders, and more mysterious keys than you can shake a stick at: it's an adventure Gray Vecello and Cooper Key will never forget. Gray has the sight, just as Graham had, but will it be enough to save them both? 

Knight of Wands: Gray Vecello and Cooper Key are back in the exciting sequel to Three of Swords. Graham's treasure is only the tip of the iceberg as a thief helps himself to a hidden stash of cash, Jolly Roger makes another appearance, and the guys finally meet others with special abilities when an emergency meeting of the group is called. 

Accompanying them on this new adventure is Gray's cousin, Harper, who's having problems of her own. Peace and quiet will have to wait as they take another trip downriver on their houseboat, The Constant Companion, before flying to New York City to beard a lion in his den and unexpectedly meet the SOS. 

The Lightning Struck Tower: Gray Vecello and Cooper Key are back in the last book in the Precog in Peril series. Snatched by PsiOps, a covert arm of the government, they’re offered training in exchange for their psionic help. Will they take the deal, and if they don't, what will PsiOps do to them? 

Gray and Cooper meet new friends and enemies in this final chapter in the trilogy. The story takes the reader from New York City to Ely, Minnesota, and back to Gray and Cooper's marina in Red Wing, where they will face the ultimate test of their powers. Someone will live... and someone will die.

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My thoughts:

“The cards had shown me my future. Time to grab it around the throat and strangle it into submission.”

People following my reviews will know that I’m in love with Theo Fenraven’s words. I fell hard and fast when I read Blue River, the love grew when I devoured Transgression and solidified while I enjoyed Wolf Bound and Lavender Rose.

I love an author who can lift me out of my daily life and drop me in another world. It is even better when that other world becomes my reality while I’m reading, even when the subject matter is otherworldly. This author manages that trick every single time.

Each book by Mr. Fenraven I’ve read so far has been unique. He doesn’t write according to a formula. Every story is a completely new adventure of discovery for the reader, as I imagine it must have been for the author too.

Each and every book by this author has also left me impressed with and envious of his ability to use words to their best advantage. Where others need a paragraph he can convey the message in a sentence or two. Not a single word is superfluous, and most of them are exquisitely beautiful. The dialogue sounds true and sparkles and descriptions leave the reader with a clear picture of what they are looking at.

“Watching him, I felt longing bloom in my belly... or maybe it was flowering lower down.”

There is a lot going on in this book. This is one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read. Cooper and Gray are beyond beautiful together. Their love for each other, the way the worry about the others health and happiness and the interaction between them kept an almost constant smile on my face.

But there is so much more. The paranormal angle is thrilling yet plausible. Gray initial reluctance to accept his abilities and his slow journey towards learning more about and eventually embracing them, made it feel like something that could happen to any of us.

And finally there are the mysteries. Who killed Graham and the Crystal Lady? Who is after Gray and Cooper and why? And most vitally, how far do Gray’s powers really reach and will he be able to fully embrace and utilise them when it is literally a matter of life and death?

There isn’t a boring moment in this book. The sweet, tender and on several occasions scorching hot love between the two main characters will have you smiling.

“That night I found out how ticklish he was.”

The tension, resulting from the mysteries and dangers the characters face as much as Gray’s fear of and reluctance to use his ability keeps you on the edge of your seat.

“My nerves were stretched so tight, Cooper could have played an adagio in D flat on me with his violin bow.”

Cooper has to be one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever read. And before you think that makes him sound boring, let me reassure you. Cooper was also one of the most fascinating characters ever. Because we see him through Gray’s eyes we get a real opportunity to appreciate his kindness. While his role is to protect Gray from psychic attacks, the younger man is protective of his older lover in every possible way. For personal reasons I loved how we changed their diet in the hope of helping Gray’s IBS.

The cliffhangers at the end of the first two parts of this story would have killed me if it hadn’t been for the fact I had the sequels ready and waiting. If I’d had to wait months for the revelations I would have uttered one or two obscenities.

From my description so far you may have gotten the impression that this is a sweet romance come paranormal tale of suspense. And you’d be right. However it is so much more. Theo Fenraven manages to open our eyes to things we know but prefer not to think about in the most gentle of ways regardless of the shocking nature of the revelations. These tales aren’t told for their shock value – although they do shock – they are here to make the reader aware of what’s happening in this world to kids who are different from ‘the norm’. It is a wake-up call delivered in the most beautiful of words.

Your heart gets broken early on in the book when you learn about Cooper’s past and the way his parents treated him when he came out. You think it can’t possibly get any worse and then you meet Wade, and hear the ordeal this character had to go through at the hands of their father and find yourself in the middle of a battle between despair and pure hate. Knowing this is fiction doesn’t make it any easier. The author may have invented this character, he didn’t invent the situation. It happens. Kids are living those nightmares and the world looks away, not wanting to know.

I started this review by confessing to my love affair with Theo Fenraven’s words. This book deepened that love. I know this author has found a fan for life in me. It’s about time the rest of the world woke up to the beauty they’re missing out on.

While something tells me it’s unlikely, I can’t help hoping these characters will start talking to their creator again one day soon. I would love to spend more time with Cooper and Gray.

I’ll end this review with a quote that states what has been my motto for the past 15 years or so. Cooper and my reasons for adopting the attitude may have been different; the result is the same; a better and less stressful life.

“I decided I would be as positive about life as possible. It made things easier for me.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

THE FINAL SILENCE



THE FINAL SILENCE by Stuart Neville

Pages: 325
Date: 21/07/2014
Grade: 5
Details:  No. 4 Jack Lennon Investigations
             Received from Harvill Secker
             Through Nudge
Own

The blurb:

“Rea Carlisle has inherited a house from an uncle she never knew. It doesn't take her long to clear out the dead man's remaining possessions, but one room remains stubbornly locked. When Rea finally forces it open she discovers inside a chair, a table - and a leather-bound book. Inside its pages are locks of hair, fingernails: a catalogue of victims.

Horrified, Rea wants to go straight to the police but when her family intervene, Rea turns to the only person she can think of: DI Jack Lennon. But Lennon is facing his own problems. Suspended from the force and hounded by DCI Serena Flanagan, the toughest cop he's ever faced, Lennon must unlock the secrets of a dead man's terrifying journal.”

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My thoughts:

I fell in love with Stuart Neville’s writing when I read The Twelve, early in 2011 and he’s impressed me more with each subsequent book.

‘The Final Silence’ is a return to the Jack Lennon mysteries after Ratlines; last year’s wonderful, stand-alone, historical thriller. And it is a welcome return. The books in this series are exquisitely written. Neville pulls the reader into his story on the very first page and hooks them further with each subsequent chapter. His mysteries are not for the faint of heart. He’s not afraid of violence, less than perfect characters or controversial plot developments; all of which make his stories more realistic and thrilling.

Jack Lennon is such a compromised hero. The way he is described, the actions he takes and the decisions he makes are so flawed and yet so very human that it is impossible not to root for him even if while you wish he’d make life easier for himself. His relationship and obvious love for his daughter Ellen may be the only thing that is pure and without a darker side, but it shows his character better than any of his less than ideal decisions do.

The same can be said for most characters in this series. With one or two exceptions they are all human and recognisable because of their flaws, prejudices and mistakes as much as their more admirable traits.

Stuart Neville’s books are about more than ‘just’ the mystery, fascinating as it may be. His characters all have lives that come into play. Their health, background, status influence the way they operate. Every issue is handled with care and sympathy without interrupting the flow of the story or distracting from the mystery; a remarkable achievement to say the least. As a result the book has far more depth than the average mystery/thriller.

“I won’t cry, Flanagan thought. A command to the frightened little girl that still lived inside her despite all the rotten, ugly things she’d seen.”

This book, like its predecessors, is set in Northern Ireland in the present and doesn’t directly deal with the violence of the past or today’s politics. Even so, it is impossible to write a realistic story without touching on the differences between the various factions or politics. Peace has descended so recently that old animosities are still very much alive, be it less openly. Politics don’t play a main role in these mysteries but they’re there, under the surface. They influence people and their actions; they create an atmosphere filled with a barely perceptible but always present tension. Northern Ireland is as much a main character in this story as John Lennon is.

In short, this is a book for anyone who enjoys an in depth, well written and thrilling story written by an author who weaves magic with his words. One warning though; while you could read this book as a stand-alone, I would advise against it. The Jack Lennon books are best enjoyed in the order in which they were written. And since there isn’t a bad, or even less than good, book in the series, you could do worse than going back to the start.