Korean pop

‘Comeback’ – Lyn Ashwood and Rachel Rose

Comeback

Emery Jung is living his dream. Known by his stage name M, he is loved by millions of fans around the world as a member of the rising K-pop group NEON, but all fame comes with a cost, especially when one slip up can have viral consequences.

Alana Kim is trying to forget. After a tragic loss sends her spiralling, she escapes to her family in Korea, abandoning her love of music along the way. However, her plans are derailed when she literally runs into M, the famous K-pop idol.

When their paths collide, Emery and Alana must work together to prevent a scandal from ruining NEON’s success, sparking a journey of friendship, love, and healing. Unfortunately, fame and love aren’t easily compatible, especially in the world of K-pop.

This is a book that is relevant for anyone who has had a crush on a celebrity. For anyone who has daydreamed that one day, just one day, they would meet their idol and it would be love at first sight. It is a reminder of innocence and youth, and the Korean setting added a new flavour to a typical romance story.

Initially, I had trouble getting involved in the story and I think it was because I struggled to connect with the characters. The narrative perspective shifts between Alana and Emery in alternate chapters but, it was the supporting cast that I had difficulty keeping tabs on. I think the unusual names befuddled my brain and it took me a while to adjust. Despite this, once the story was progressing, I felt like I understood Alana’s dilemma and Emery’s internal conflict.

The Korean setting definitely made this story more interesting and enjoyable. On the surface, this is a cutesy story about young, forbidden love. Alana restrains herself from getting close to Emery because of personal issues, whereas Emery has his pop image and band to consider. As external factors throw the couple together, they realise that they need to acknowledge their true relationship.

I have very little knowledge or understanding of K-Pop and I found the terminology and different culture rather interesting. I could not help but compare it to my own pop obsession when I was younger and found there were plenty of similarities – thereby broadening the appeal of what might seem a rather niche novel. Still, it was fascinating to see how NEON’s fan-base worked and to get a glimpse of behind-the-scenes of being in a famous pop group.

Without the different setting, I think this would have been a very “middle of the road” story. Instead, I felt more interested in the characters and their surroundings. Reading it felt like a guilty pleasure and I can see this appealing to many young readers – most likely female ones. It is not complicated to read and once you have adjusted to the unusual names, the story moves quite quickly. The writers have also helpfully provided a glossary at the closing of the novel so not only do you understand the Korean words, but learn a little bit at the same time!

It is suggested that this might be the start of the series; if this is the case, I will be interested to see what happens to Emery and Alana next. It is an innocent story that shows the importance of love and family, with the pink gloss of a famous pop band.

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Re-birth

‘My Name is Monster’ – Katie Hale

4-star-rating

My Name is Monster

After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world.

Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. Changing her own name to Mother, Monster names the child after herself. As young Monster learns from Mother, she also discovers her own desires, realising that she wants very different things to the woman who made, but did not create, her.

A surprising and unexpected read. I was drawn to the book for its cover because it was so enticing. The plot itself had the same effect on me: I was intrigued to see how Mother and Monster would develop and what sort of hope, if any, would be provided at the end.

Firstly, this is very much a dystopian novel. After a sickness and global war leaves no known survivors, apart from Monster and Mother, this novel explores the idea of establishing a new world, a new type of living in a stripped-back society. This theme of re-birth is continued throughout the narrative, right until the unexpected closing. To be honest, I had not read the blurb of the story – I was too distracted by the cover! – and was taken aback by the similarity to current circumstances. However, this did not deter me because I was curious to see what sort of world that Hale creates, and to escape from checking the news all of the time!

I really appreciated the parallels made to Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is a book I studied very long ago, yet I enjoyed the similarities that are made. Indeed, once the narrative shifts from Mother’s perspective to Monster’s, it reminded me of Frankenstein and his own creation. The love that exists between both pairs of characters is extremely raw and the concept of power through education is interesting to consider.

Some may consider this a very stagnant narrative. It is like many post-apocalyptic films where there is very little dialogue. Reported speech, flashbacks and short episodes are what create this structurally unusual narrative. Rather than having traditional chapters, there are parts of the narrative – often only spanning half a page. Whilst this did make the book a rapid read, I could understand why others may find the narrative too disjointed and lacking cohesion. However, I felt this reflected the “new world” that Mother and Monster inhabit: we are learning about these episodes at the same time the characters are experiencing them.

A pleasantly enjoyable narrative that was certainly thought-provoking, considering what is happening in the world today. I enjoyed Hale’s writing style but am unsure how she could follow this story with something as equally provocative. The love that exists between the two protagonists whilst may not be overt, shows readers that this is what quintessentially makes us human.

With thanks to Canongate books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Bingo 2020 category completed: Chosen because of its cover.

 

Hard work

‘Royal Flush’ – Margaret Irwin

Royal Flush

This is not an historical novel in the ordinary sense. It is something new: the life of an actual royal family, whose story is so rich and varied that it falls naturally into the form of a modern novel. The heroine is that `Minette`, princess of England, Duchess of Orleans, who linked to dramatically the fate of her brother, Charles II, with that of her cousin, Louis XIV.

Goodness, this book was hard work. It felt physically draining to read and I tried so hard to enjoy it. Persevering to the end, I thought I would grow to like the novel but, alas, this was not the case.

First published in 1932, I was really excited with the opportunity to read this book. As readers of my blog are aware, I firmly believe that books are timeless and I was really enthusiastic about having the chance to read my oldest book of the year so far. Whilst this is not a classic as such, you can certainly tell that it was written a while ago because of the writing style. It was wordy, lengthy and there felt like a lot of detail. I guess that this was one of the features that deterred me from the book.

Having studied this period in History many years ago, I was also keen to see a fictitious account with some familiar characters. However, I found myself confused by the vast array of people, particularly as they were often referred to as ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’. I felt disconnected with the protagonist, Minette, and was unsure of what she was doing and with whom. Indeed, when pregnancies came and went, I am certain that I had not fully read the narrative – it felt like a miracle pregnancy!

There was so much promise with this book and I kept going in an attempt to enjoy Irwin’s writing. I guess I have found an author who I cannot immerse myself with and found the lack of energy in the narrative too hard-going. I did eventually sympathise with Minette but it was too little, too late. She clearly had a difficult life – a bit like my reading of her story!

I despise giving one-star ratings but this was unavoidable. I stuck it out to the very end because I wanted to see what would happen to Minette and whether this novel would gradually grow on me. Whilst I was wrong on this occasion, I can safely say, hand on heart, that I did try my best.

With thanks to NetGalley and Agora Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Life parallels

‘What we Forgot to Bury’ – Marin Montgomery

5-star-rating

What we Forgot to Bury

Truth and deceit blur as one woman’s desperation twists into another’s desire for revenge in this mind-bending psychological novel.

Charlotte Coburn has a tragically dark past. But she’s safe now. She lives in a gated community, protected from danger. When teenager Elle knocks at her door looking for shelter during a particularly severe storm, the woman can’t help but think how lucky Elle’s been to have found someone as friendly as her. Except Elle chose her door on purpose…

She knows all about Charlotte’s secrets because they ruined her family and her life. And it is time that everyone else knew. But Charlotte’s past has left a dark void in her life, so she is concocting her own vicious plan, convinced that Elle can help fill that void.

As events unfold, the truth unravels and pulls both women into a dangerous game that will leave you wondering, Who’s the villain?

This was a thrilling read and one where I couldn’t quite predict the narrative. All of the characters had an agenda and I could not fathom who would be the most guilty. Indeed, it felt like we are on a journey with both Elle and Charlotte as truths are eventually discovered.

The narrative alternates between Elle and Charlotte’s perspectives. It got a little confusing when they were always socialising together because I found that as I could not put the book down, I did not necessarily pay attention to who was narrating events! My bad. Despite this, I felt connected to both women and enjoyed the ambiguities that the writer deliberately leaves with their stories.

As the plot developed, it was interesting to see parallels emerge between Elle and Charlotte. Some were more obvious than others, but it was clever to see how they were not as opposing as each thought. Whilst they may have different social backgrounds, there are enough ties to bind them together – not just because of Elle’s father.

I could not bring myself to trust Charlotte, even though she is presented as more forth-coming than Elle. However, I found it difficult to believe Elle’s complete motives as it did not feel her heart was truly in her mission to clear her father’s name. As the women become closer friends, it felt that a more mother-daughter relationship was developing. Elle clearly is suspicious of Charlotte’s motives, and this is transferred to the reader.

Whilst Charlotte is presented as a lecturer, I could not believe in this career. She hangs around her house so much, that there is very little attention paid to her work-life. It features very few times that I interpreted her as more as a woman who did not work and was supported by Noah. It would have been nice to see a bit more “normality” from a key character, particularly as so much detail is provided about Elle and her education.

This was such an enjoyable narrative because there are so many motives from a range of characters. All key characters have different backgrounds and desires, meaning that I was distrustful of many, especially as the plot thickened. I could not work out where Noah fit into the plot and was pleasantly surprised when the writer began revealing more information towards the end. I found that my reading speed increased as I became more connected to the plot, making the entire story even more enjoyable.

I would argue that this thriller is something more different to books of a similar genre that I have recently read. There is always a fear of indulging too much in one type of story but, Montgomery’s narrative keeps it fresh and interesting. A great start to my April reads that has resulted in another new author on my radar.

Save the elephants

‘No Entry’ – Gila Green

3-star-rating

No Entry

Broken-hearted after losing her only brother in a terrorist attack, 17-year-old Yael Amar seeks solace on an elephant conservation program in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. She is soon catapulted into a world harmonious with nature where she can heal and devote herself to the wildlife that is so important for the continued existence of all mankind. She is dazzled by her new best friend, reunites with her devoted boyfriend, and is fascinated by a local ranger who peels back another layer of meaning in her surroundings with each lesson. Then, on a drive through the safari, she sees something shocking. Soon her haven on earth is seething with blood and betrayal and she is warned that she is no match for the evil that lurks in the men’s hearts around her. Now she has a secret she must keep from the people she loves the most if she is to stand against the murderous forces that threaten Kruger, her new friends, and her own life. But will taking a stand do more harm than good?

This book was decidedly average. I enjoyed the premise of the story and was left wanting to go on holiday, book a safari and explore on adventures far and wide. However, there were a lot of elements that were missing from this story, meaning that there was plenty of promise but just not enough for me to fully enjoy it.

Our protagonist, Yael, has been sent to a conservation park in Africa. There are hints about what happened to her past, to her brother, and I think Green could have really developed this further. (With the book being just over 250 pages, I think there is plenty of space for expanding on the narrative.) I would have liked to have read a flashback about what happened to Yael’s brother, rather than the sketchy, third person accounts that eventually come through. Indeed, at times I wondered if I had missed part of the story because other characters appeared to know more than myself! Reenacting the story from Yael’s perspective, taking the reader back in time, would have definitely helped me connect with a character who I felt incredibly isolated from.

There seems to be a lot of emphasis on character clothing. It felt like a fashion show! I would have preferred more developed imagery – especially with the rich setting of the National Park. Instead of narrating character actions, I would have enjoyed reading more descriptions of the setting and Yael’s surroundings.

Overall, I felt the narrative was a little disjointed. It left me wondering whether there was a lot of story that had been edited out? It disrupted the flow of the plot and this left me feeling quite frustrated. Even more so, that I had guessed the outcome of the plot before about half way through.

The crime aspect of the story was interesting and certainly raised more awareness about poaching. Some of the elephant descriptions were appropriately horrific and this was required as part of shocking the reader about the circumstances. Yael is definitely impacted by it and I wished her boyfriend had been more present to offer her that emotional support.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book but felt like plenty was missing. With added detail and more development, this novel would have been far more immersive. I was surprised to learn that this is the start of a series, so I wonder what will come next for Yael. However, as an example of young adult fiction, I imagine it will suit these readers, particularly as it is on such a different topic.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Welsh politics

‘Rebecca’s Children’ – Kate Dunn

Rebecca's Children

Lives are on the line as the workers fight back in the Welsh countryside…

1829, Wales

For centuries. generations of the Jenkins family have eked out a living from their Carmarthenshire hill farm. But when a fire destroys virtually all of their possessions the children witness their lives crumbling around them. Mary and William find they have barely enough land left to provide for their basic needs.

Their only option is to take on more work, but William longs for action, and Mary begins to suspect that he has become embroiled with the Rebecca-ites, a shadowy group of nationalists pitted against the English landowners whose tolls have bankrupted so many Welshman.

As tensions mount, Mary becomes ever more torn between her mistrust of the rebels’ violence and her growing attraction to Jac Tŷ Isha, one of their leaders. And when the British government decides to put a stop to the revolt, the danger to the men she loves increases a hundredfold…

REBECCA’S CHILDREN is a poignant, beautifully crafted saga of love and betrayal, set against the background of Wales in mid-1800s – a country aflame with political and social unrest.

Oh, I didn’t really enjoy this one. I tried so hard but it wasn’t a read for me. Whilst appreciating the historical element, I struggled to engage with either plot or characters.

I do dislike offering poor reviews and maybe I should have discontinued reading this book. However, I was desperate to give this novel a chance and wanted to see if the plot would pick up and that I would begin to enjoy it. Alas, this time it was not the case.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this plot to be so political. I was completely unaware of the ‘Rebecca riots’ that took place in nineteenth century Wales, and actually thought this book was about a family! The riots were based on land ownership against the English, leading to many protests and violence. The protagonist, Mary, gets caught up in this behaviour because of her brother’s involvement, and then falls in love with one of the leaders.

There is a little romance in the story but it does not dominate. I could not believe in Mary’s love interest but found the story surrounding Hugh curious to watch. Indeed, it was the authorial note at the closing of the novel that made the read all the more worthwhile because he seemed like a person with a fascinating story to tell.

I’m disappointed to say that this book did not meet my expectations. It wasn’t favoured by myself and I often lost interest when reading. You can’t always choose books that perfectly match your tastes and in this case, I got it quite wrong.

With thanks to Sapere books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Behind closed doors

‘4 Riverside Close’ – Diana Wilkinson

3-star-rating

4 Riverside close

How well do you know your neighbours?

When residents of a North London cul-de-sac enrol in a seemingly innocent social network, they soon find themselves embroiled in a murky web of sinister manipulation and murder.

From the outside, Caroline and Jason Swinton have an idyllic life. But when the cracks start to appear the residents of Riverside Close are drawn into a dangerous game.

When Jason’s body is discovered in a house on the close, everyone becomes a suspect. 

Could his lovely wife be responsible for his murder?

Or do the neighbours have a motive for wanting him dead?

As the secret lives of those living on the Close are gradually revealed, it becomes clear that someone is hiding something they will stop at nothing to protect…

This was a tricky read for me. I found the characters too obvious, too many to start with and the ending altogether convenient. I struggled to relate to the lead women in the story and found the final revelations lack-lustre and not very shocking. Despite my misgivings, it was an average story that sadly did not meet my expectations.

Based on the blurb, I was expecting Jason’s murder to dominate the narrative. However, although the prologue begins with the act taking place, two thirds of the story are about events leading up to Jason’s demise. The writer does not make the time period clear and it would have been helpful to have a reference to days before the crime occurs. As such, I thought I had missed something significant in the plot and was confused why the writer had put so much time in establishing the characters and only a third on the investigation of the murder.

The three women that dominate the story felt like over-used stereotypes. Rich, bored and conniving would summarise them accurately. The lure of a new social media site encourages the women to sign up in anticipation of meeting like-minded individuals who wish to see the tourist sites of London together. However, whilst one is blackmailing and using this site as a massive scam, two others are drawn into illicit affairs and encounters. Alexis is the convenient “detective” who is trying to divorce her scumbag husband (another obvious character “type”); Susan is the spoilt, rich woman who seeks more than what her husband offers. On the other hand, Caroline seemed to add a bit more depth as the one behind the website. However, she disappointingly does not feature as prominently and I was expecting more of a surprise at the closing of the story.

I found it difficult to connect with these women, mostly because they were such over-used, typical characters. Initially I struggled to engage with the plot because it kept switching between the different people and I could not remember who was who. This did lessen my overall enjoyment of the story because, by the time I was clued up on the characters, I was more frustrated with the plot development.

Whilst I so far have criticised the story, now is the time to explain why I did enjoy elements of it. The premise of the story is really interesting: I was drawn to the setting of an affluent close in the London suburbs where, actually, the neighbours do not really know one another. Olive, the road’s “spy” keeps tabs on who is coming and going and I thought that was something many readers could relate to! Riverside Close appears such an idyllic setting but, obviously, things are not what they seem.

The varied narrative perspectives means that readers experience different aspects of the plot development. If the writer had been more adventurous with the characters and plot, this novel could have been more mysterious and gripping. There were some surprises during the story which I think readers would appreciate. For me, it was too little too late – the frustration had already settled.

This is an average thriller and one that sadly, fell flat. I was hoping for more than this story delivered. There are plenty of stronger narratives out there than this and, whilst the premise was interesting, the delivery was not as exciting as anticipated.

With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.