Couldn’t put it down

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

5-star-rating

Chergui's Child - Jane Riddell

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

Thirty-something Olivia is recovering from a traumatic event five years earlier, when she is summoned to the bedside of her dying aunt, Dorothy. Shortly afterwards, she learns that her aunt has left her a large sum of money. She also receives a letter with a startling revelation. From Morocco to London to the south of France, this is the story of one woman’s journey to make her life whole again.

I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review, Generally, I avoid reading more than one book by the same author too close together. I feel there is a danger the writing would be too similar and I wouldn’t get the enjoyment I sought from it. Having recently finished Daughters of the LakeI was concerned that Chergui’s Child would be of a similar offering. However, I am delighted to say that I was very much mistaken and I just couldn’t put this one down.

The plot captured my imagination straight away. Following Olivia’s story, both in present day and six years previous, Riddell vividly portrays a woman’s love for her family. Olivia is determined to follow her aunt’s final wishes and through her journey, readers learn of her fragility and innocence to love. She was such a likeable character and, without wanting to give away the plot, I could really understand the feelings Olivia describes as her a journey becomes a web of mystery.

Riddell’s descriptions of Morocco and the south of France are delightful, making Chergui’s Child a definite summer read. Cosied up at home, I felt myself being transported to warmer climes and could easily imagine the exotic scenes of Morocco and see Olivia’s travels through France.

This is a pacey drama that will not disappoint. The emotionally-charged roller-coaster that both the reader and Olivia experience keeps you gripped right until the final pages. It is difficult not to share Olivia’s frustrations as she travels across France and the ending leaves you satisfied that she has finally found closure.

Redeems itself at the end

‘Mockingjay’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

The final instalment to ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, I found myself finally being able to complete this series without having seen all of the films! Interestingly, my response to the first half of the book (i.e, part one of the film), was the same as the film: quite a lot of talk and description that slowed the pace down considerably in comparison to the opening novel. However, the second part of ‘Mockingjay’ kept me guessing with its twists and turns; the ending had me physically gasping aloud as I could not see how the story would conclude.

There is a lot of focus on Katniss’s mental state, which the film certainly overlooked. Tormented by her role in the two Hunger Games, she still struggles dealing with the death she has caused and her now pivotal role in the rebellion again the Capitol. It was this that slowed the pace down but on reflection, was a key part to the story’s conclusion. For a seventeen-year-old girl, she definitely carries a lot of emotional baggage and her conflicting emotions towards Gale and Peeta have her searching inwardly in a bid to find peace with herself.

As I drew closer to the end of the novel, I initially felt the ending was becoming predictable and too simplistic for even a teenage audience. However, the final few chapters intensified the plot and Collins surprises readers with Katniss’s fragility and the Capitol’s downfall. Not wanting to reveal the ending, I could not believe how ‘The Hunger Games’ ended and applaud Collins for taking the bold step of not keeping characters alive just because of popularity/importance. I think this is what redeemed the story and, coupled with Katniss’s troubled state of mind, could not put down the book until I had reached its satisfying conclusion.

What was also refreshing about ‘Mockingjay’ was the fact it was not a similar plot to the first two books. Not having to read about another Hunger Games made the novel more enjoyable. But, Collins does continue to interweave the theme of playing games throughout, to the extent that at times I had to pause and think about what was being suggested as the story came to its end.

The explosive finish really caught my imagination. Vivid descriptions made it difficult not to imagine the Capitol’s eventual downfall as the rebels grow in power and, whilst the film adaptations mean you cannot but see Katniss as Jennifer Lawrence, the heroine she becomes is admirable and disturbing at the same time. I found myself always wishing she would be able to return to the humble young girl she was at the start of the series, but enjoyed reading how she attempted to deal with the pressures that being the Mockingjay gave.

This was a really enjoyable read and a series I would not hesitate to revisit in a few years time. Even after finishing it, I found myself haunted by parts of the story and I think this is what makes a solid read. Collins concludes ‘The Hunger Games’ series in a satisfying way, leaving no room for a further instalment, whilst at the same time giving her fans exactly what they deserve: an ending that you can sit and imagine other parts to the story.

An echo of the first

‘Catching Fire’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.

Following on from ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Catching Fire’ follows Katniss and Peeta in the aftermath of winning the Games. What I liked was the fact that little time has passed as Collins continues the story just where we left off. With the return of Effie and Haymitch plus new characters introduced, I found this novel very easy to pick up.

Unlike the first novel, Collins seems to focus more on Katniss and her internal battles. As she deliberates the fall out from defying the Capitol, readers witness her emotional turmoil in the desperation to protect the ones she loves. Whilst I enjoyed learning more about Katniss and her character, it did come with its downfall. This slows the pace compared to the first novel which did leave me feeling a little bored at times.

‘Catching Fire’ sees Katniss returns to the arena, battling in a special edition of the Games with Peeta, fighting against previous victors from the other Districts. I found this turn of events disappointing and not too dissimilar from the first novel. I would have preferred seeing more developments from the Capitol but instead was presented with what felt a replay of ‘The Hunger Games’. True, new characters and a different battleground meant that the challenges were unique, I couldn’t help but read with a strong sense of déjà vu. This left me feeling quite frustrated towards the end of the story and ready to see the finishing pages.

Would I recommend this? Well, if you enjoyed the first book then you should certainly read ‘Catching Fire’ to find out what happens next to Katniss. As long as you are prepared for a bit of repetition from the first book, you will probably find this an enjoyable read.

Twisted and disturbing

‘Sharp Objects’ – Gillian Flynn

4-star-rating

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

When two girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her home town to report on the crimes. Long-haunted by a childhood tragedy and estranged from her mother for years, Camille suddenly finds herself installed once again in her family’s mansion, reacquainting herself with her distant mother and the half-sister she barely knows – a precocious 13-year-old who holds a disquieting grip on the town. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Having read Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ a few months ago, I was keen to see what her other books were like. ‘Sharp Objects’ doesn’t disappoint and follows the same crime/thriller genre that kept me guessing almost until the very end. However, I found the narrative quite suffocating and twisted, and the protagonist, Camille, rather disturbing.

Without wanting to give too much away, I found the plot development rather slow and dense. It took me a while to really get into the story and I think this reflects Flynn’s writing style as this was the same for me when reading ‘Gone Girl’. Perhaps I was trying to compare the two novels because I had enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ so much, it distracted me a little from what was happening in the opening chapters. But writing this review now, I guess the suffocating narrative simply reinforces Camille’s home town of Wind Gap and how the community have reacted to the murders of two young girls.

As readers learn more about Camille and her family, you cannot help but be shocked by the revelations. This is what I found cleverly disturbing and what I consider to be the main hook of the story. Finding out about Camille’s childhood and growing up in Wind Gap, it is hardly surprising that she carries such emotional baggage and it makes you question whether she can really handle investigating these murders. In addition, the stark contrast between her and her half-sister, Amma, really blew me away. I forgot the massive age difference between the two based on how they behaved and this I feel became another element to the narrative’s development.

So, to consider this novel twisted and disturbing is, in its own right, a compliment. Once you are hooked and get a “feel” for what ‘Sharp Objects’ is offering, you cannot help but follow Camille on her journey. The ending was full of unexpected surprises that redeemed the slow start for me. If you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ then definitely pick up this read. Like me, you might find yourself comparing the two novels, but I feel that ‘Sharp Objects’ certainly deserves an identity of its own.

Spot on

‘The Hunger Games’ – Suzanne Collins

5-star-rating

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.

In a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live TV show called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

I’ve been promising myself to read this ever since I saw the first film. Now, three films down and one to go, I have finally managed to get round to reading the first of this trilogy. Unsurprisingly, the film adaptation played in my head over the course of my reading, but this did not lessen my enjoyment as I rapidly finished this novel.

What I enjoyed most about this novel is the added detail that you just don’t get in the film. Learning more about the characters and their actions during the Hunger Games added depth to the plot and made the action more intense. In addition, the detail Collins goes into for the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was quite surprising for me as I didn’t feel this was portrayed so closely in the film. For me, it was this element that reinforced the novel’s young adult audience.

I really liked the relationship established between Rue and Katniss. It was very touching at times and has a clear impact on how Katniss plays the remainder of the Hunger Games. Collins portrays a different side of Katniss and perhaps it is this that sets up the development in her relationship with Peeta?

Having finally read the first in the series, I did not find ‘The Hunger Games’ disappointing. It delivered on every expected level and I would recommend this to anyone. If you have seen the film, you will not be disappointed by the original plot. If you are lucky enough to not know the story behind this trilogy, the originality and it’s characters will keep you hooked right until the very end.

A story within a story about a story‏

‘The Silent Tide’ Rachel Hore

3-star-rating

The Silent Tide - Rachel Hore

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

The new novel from best-selling author Rachel Hore, much loved for her stories in which past and present are grippingly entwined.When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…

One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.

Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.

This is a decent read and one that ashamedly took me several months to read. Not through lack of enjoyment, I can assure you, and this does merit to Hore’s writing. I could quite easily pick up where I left off, even when considerable time had passed and did not feel I had lost a connection with the characters. However, I did find that by the time I was reaching the novel’s climax, I had forgotten the opening chapter and did need to skim it again to remind myself of how the story began.

The Silent Tide follows two women working in the publishing industry – Isabel in the 1950s and present-day Emily. The parallels between the two women were not as striking as I initially expected and their main connection, Hugh Morton, becomes the fuel for the story. As Emily learns more about Isabel and her life, she becomes dedicated to ensuring that Isabel’s story is told in a new biography about Hugh Morton – Isabel’s eventual husband. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep Isabel’s story intriguing, but I found Emily a rather insipid and bland character who “got in the way” of me finding more about Isabel. As the novel progressed, I felt that Emily was a mere vehicle that allowed readers to explore Isabel’s life and became frustrated when the story returned to present-day. It was this that influenced me to rate this book three stars, rather than four.

Isabel’s character was particularly interesting throughout and I really enjoyed seeing her develop from a young girl who left home, to becoming a reputable editor. When her life makes a sudden change through her marriage and then pregnancy, we see how social expectations of the role of the woman in the home makes Isabel feel suffocated and isolated from her busy working life. The way Hore portrays Isabel’s emotions, both towards Hugh, her mother-in-law and post-pregnancy, were really convincing and I could feel Isabel’s frustrations towards the confinements of her new role and what is expected of her.

The novel’s closing chapters were unexpected and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It even made Emily redeem herself a bit more after her “bumbling” through the story. The Epilogue was brilliant and a great way for Hore to close The Silent Tide but I did found it a little “ploddy” in the story from the focus on Emily. That being said, it’s a harmless read and as I have demonstrated, one you can easily come back to after time has passed without having lost the thread of the story.

Two characters whose lives are tantalisingly close

‘A Twist of Fate’ – Joanna Rees

4-star-rating

A Twist of Fate - Joanna Rees

A Twist of Fate – Joanna Rees

Romy and Thea, two beautiful baby girls, their future’s sealed with the flip of a coin. One will enter a life of privilege, surrounded by only the best money can buy. The other will fight for survival in an orphanage, against an evil regime who seek only to exploit her. Throughout the years their paths will cross, neither knowing who the other one is, their lives overflowing with secrets, blackmail and murder. From the snow covered forests of Eastern Europe to the glistening white beaches of the Caribbean. From the gutters of London’s Soho to the towering skyscrapers of New York, A twist of fate tore them apart, only their strength and determination can reunite them…

A tantalising story of how two different lives can intertwine over the years, this novel really had me yelling at the bad characters and rooting for Romy and Thea. Rees creates such convincing protagonists with Romy and Thea that by the end of the story, I felt like I really knew them and could sympathise with their plights.

The narrative is cleverly structured to follow the lives of Romy and Thea, starting in the 1970s and finishing practically in present day. The chapters switch between Romy and Thea and initially, it is like reading about the prince and the pauper, because the girls are at opposite ends of the social spectrum. However, when Romy is unexpectedly talent-spotted as a model, her status is elevated and I found that I couldn’t help but see similarities between her and Thea’s way of living. Secondly, Rees keeps the narrative interesting and does not focus on the intricacies of Romy and  Thea’s lives. Instead, the chapters usually begin setting the scene of the current year, then having several paragraphs recounting the time that has passed since the previous chapter – because often we are leaving the character on an ‘Eastenders’ moment (cue dramatic cliff-hanger music). Instead of finding it frustrating that it kept switching between the two characters, I enjoyed this element so much because I knew they would eventually be crossing paths…

It is tantalising the way that Romy and Thea’s paths cross without them realising it. For instance, Brett becomes central to both the characters lives and I wanted to scream at him and the author for not linking Romy and Thea sooner! Brett is such an easy character to dislike that I certainly enjoyed hating him whenever he appeared. The whole idea of fate is really played out in this story and Rees keeps readers teased to not allow Romy and Thea come together at the earliest opportunity.

This is a great summer read and has many elements that will keep you guessing throughout. Historical references such as the falling of the Berlin Wall and the tragic events of September 2011 are clever ways to keep the story rooted in time and I found this quite appropriate to give added depth to the story. ‘A Twist of Fate’ is definitely one to read because it is quite unique in terms of women’s fiction and certainly does not offer happy endings and a successful love story on a plate – the characters really have to work at it!