February Recap...It's Been Emotional.

I'm an emotional reader. Actually, I'm just plain emotional as a person. I even cry at some adverts (The John Lewis Christmas one kills me everytime) or when people win on game shows. My 9 year old thinks it's hilarious.

And February certainly was an emotional reading month! I think I admitted to crying in every review I wrote. I've gone through a whole tree in tissues and ate my weight in chocolate. 

Top picks of February were:   







(click titles to see my reviews) 

I didn't realise until this week, but the end of January/beginning of February marked FOUR years as a book blogger! I can't believe my little blog has been going that long. 2013 was a very busy year with lots of stuff happening at home/work/Uni and I had to take an extended break, but this February I've loved getting back to the book blogging community, twitter and catching up with old blogger pals (and hopefully making new ones) My TBR pile has exploded again in the last few weeks. It's great being back! 

Book Review: The Invention Of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I haven't read Sue Monk Kidd's best selling novel, The Secret Life of Bees, but I always meant to. When I came across this, her latest book, I jumped at the chance to give it a go. I was especially interested after recently studying the period including in part the slave trade. Set in early 19th century Charleston, The Invention of Wings is based on the real life abolitionist and feminist, Sarah Grimke and Handful (Hetty), a slave owned by Sarah's family. Told in alternating chapters from each woman, it's a powerful story evoking sadness, anger and yet also a lot of hope.

When 11 year old Sarah is given Handful as a present from her plantation owning parents, she knows even then that the idea of owning another human is abhorrent to her. Sarah is determined to set Handful free...but she's female and lives in a time and place that expects nothing of women other than to marry well.

I was drawn in to both character's lives immediately. I loved Handful's determination and spirit and found her story, although often harrowing, awe inspiring and admired her greatly. While Sarah's position appears to be the exact opposite, I also loved her quiet bravery and determination and the way in which she gained strength throughout the novel. It's a novel to provoke strong emotions, and my only critique is that it felt very rushed toward the second half of the book where a lot happens very quickly, loosing some impact as a result. In an authors note at the end, Sue Monk Kidd tells us what happened to Sarah during the rest of her fascinating life, but as Handful is an imagined character, I couldn't help but wish she'd wrote an epilogue for her and her story felt just a little unfinished. Of course this is entirely down to Sarah Grimke being a real person with a researchable history, so completely understandable.

The Invention of Wings is one of those books that provokes a huge range of emotions; Anger, sadness, pride and a real connection to and care for the two main characters. It's a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Published by Headline (UK) January 2014

Book Review: The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Watching someone you love disappear through Alzheimer's disease is utterly heartbreaking. Seeing my Nan's deterioration over the last few years has been the hardest thing I've been through. It's a cruel, slow, torturous illness. Although less common, it isn't just an illness that affects the elderly, and Rowan Coleman bravely tackles the subject of early onset alzheimer's in this moving and beautifully written book, from both the suffers point of view as well as her family and carers.

Claire is in her early forties when she discover's she has early onset alzheimer's. She's all too aware of how it all ends, having witnessed her father go through the same thing at a very young age. When her councillor suggests she makes a memory book, it becomes something the whole family get involved in.

Claire's story is heartbreakingly sad. It seems crueller still that she'll be be deprived of those years where she'll see her children grow, have grandchildren and enjoy more comfortable times with her husband. Through the stories told in The Memory Book we discover what a strong, intelligent woman she was. I loved the way this was done; giving us glimpses of her life through both her own and her families point of view really lets you see the person aside from the alzheimer's.

Having seen the deterioration of a loved one first hand, I though Rowan Coleman got those early symptoms just right. I was particularly struck by Claire's loss of words for everyday objects, such as the remote for the TV and phone. I remember first becoming concerned about my Gran when she described a tea bag as the square thing to make a drink. I also found Claire's sometimes wandering commentary, how the conversation she was having to herself would change track in a heartbeat, poignant and very realistically done.

But what I really liked was how this book was told from all sides, Claire, her Mother, her Husband and her 20 year old daughter. I loved and recognised all the emotions involved, from anger to frustration, concern and at times humour. I sympathised and understood all of them. There's a strong theme of motherhood in this book, which coming from a family with four generations of very close (and at times fraught) maternal relationships, really struck a chord for me.

The Memory Book is an emotional read. For me it reminded me that while my Gran can't remember any more, the memories I have of our relationship are what helped to shape me and are still real. And I think that this is what the books about, both in the relationship she now has with her husband and the strength we see inherited by her daughter Caitlin. Rowan Coleman took a difficult subject and with sensitivity and care has made it work beautifully.

Published February 2014 by Ebury (UK)

4.5/5






Book Review: The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

Sometimes, the minute you lay eyes on a book you just know it's going to be a good one. That's exactly what happened when The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman dropped through my letterbox completely out of the blue. The synopsis, the title, the colours of the cover...it all appealed to me and I knew it would be exactly my kind of book.

Rachel is at a point where she's really happy with her life. She has a fantastic marriage, job, friends and family as well as the sweetest daughter, six year old Ellie. But then, with no warning, Rachel dies. Just like that. One minute she's enjoying a romantic meal out with her husband, Max-the next she has heart attack. We join Rachel in her afterlife, one year on from that fateful night as she narrates us through the grieving process she sporadically witnesses her family going through, as well as her own.

We all say that should we die, we'd want our loved ones to move on. We mean it too. I don't think many people would wish for our loved ones to constantly grieve, lock themselves away and fail to live their lives the best they can. But what if we witnessed this moving on? How would it feel to see your husband fall in love with someone else? The memory of you begin to fade from your children's lives? Seeing the life you should have had being played out before you, minus you?  Jealous, angry, hurt? Even if rationally you know it's right. And this is how Rachel feels as she drifts between a white nothingness interspersed with brief 'access' to moments of Ellie and Max's lives as they begin to move on.

I think it's a credit to how sensitively Hannah Beckerman writes Rachel that I was pretty much immediately on side and sympathetic to her. Rachel is already dead when the novel starts, so we never get a chance to connect with her alive. It could have gone wrong, and she could have come across as bitter and awful. Instead, I empathised with her and it made me think about how I would feel. Honestly? Probably the same.

But at the same time I felt sorry for the ones left behind and thought Max's portrayal was especially thoughtful and endearing as he struggles between people telling him it's time to move on and the feeling that it's too soon. His first, tentative steps into the dating scene are filled with guilt, awkwardness and uncertainty. It's also injected with very subtle hints of humour which bring with it a realistic and human element. This is as much Max's story as Rachel's, if not more. As a mother to a daughter of very similar age to Ellie, I found Rachel's observations of her life particularly heart breaking and fully understood them. Ellie herself was sweet, if a little underestimated in her maturity. I think, perhaps, I feel this through comparing her to my own daughter rather than it being a criticism. It does go to show how well I did connect with Rachel, that I could fully put myself in her place.

The Dead Wife's Handbook is an incredibly original and touching book. At it's heart is a fear we all have- "Will I be remembered?" Rachel's journey through her family's lives in the two years following her death is both sad, yet heart warming and reassuring. It's definitely a book I'll remember and one I'd happily recommend.

Published by Penguin UK February 2013

4/5

Book Review: Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters

There are three things which attracted me to this book. Firstly, it's a book with a picture of beautiful old books on the front. Guaranteed to make a true book lover swoon. It's main character also works in a book shop and part of the story is set there. Finally, it's a story that intermingles past and present. My very favourite kind.

And oh how I did love it every bit as much as I hoped. Weaving the stories of two woman and spanning eighty years, this is beautifully written and at times achingly sad. Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase begins with Roberta in the present. Roberta works in The Old and New Bookshop and is fascinated by the old notes and letters she finds hidden amongst the pages of the second hand books brought into the store. But when she finds one belonging to her grandmother, Dorothea, it hints at a dark secret. One which changes the family history of which she was so sure.

I adored the war time love story between Dorothea and Polish Squadron leader Jan. It was so pure and elegantly written, I couldn't help but fall in love myself. The alternating chapters into Dorothea's past were probably my favourite and Louise Walters evoked the time and atmosphere so perfectly, drawing me in completely.

I also loved how Roberta's story developed alongside Dorothea's and was as much a journey of discovery for herself as it was to find out the secrets her Grandmother had kept hidden for so many decades. Aside from being Granddaughter and Grandmother, Roberta and Dorothea are linked by the things in their lives which remain unsaid and a fear of letting others in. This is all tied together beautiful in the closing chapters, which really are beautifully and tenderly written.

Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase is exactly the kind of novel I love. It's deeply romantic without being over bearing, it brings the two women to life so perfectly, faults and all. It's also subtly emotional, and I found myself with tears running down my face by the end. Despite being a début novel, Louise Walters easily blends lyrical and stark honest prose and keeps a perfect pace throughout. I absolutely loved this book and will be watching out for more from this author in the future.

5/5

Published Feb 27th 2014 by Hodder and Stoughton (UK)


Six Months Of Reading In Bite Size Reviews...(Part One)

I suppose by now, anyone who follows this blog is quite used to the long breaks and I didn't want to bore you with yet another 'where I've been post'. Life has been crazy the last few months with work, taking on two Uni modules at once, exams, and organizing Lu's extremely active social life. I managed to read a few books. Actually, that's a lie. I read a lot of books for Uni, but I doubt you really want to hear about those. Anyway, here are some bite size (mouse sized bite size at that) reviews of  the BOOKS FOR FUN I read  in the last few months.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom 


'You must not become too friendly with them,' she said. "They are not the same as us.'

'How?' I asked. 'How are they not the same?'

1791: When seven-year-old Irish orphan Lavinia is transported to Virginia to work in the kitchen of a wealthy plantation owner, she is absorbed into the life of the kitchen house and becomes part of the family of black slaves whose fates are tied to the plantation.


But Lavinia's skin will always set her apart, whether she wishes it or not. And as she grows older, she will be torn between the life that awaits her as a white woman and the people she knows as kin. 

I loved this book. Powerful, heart wrenchingly sad and sensitively written. A 5 star read.

The Second Life Of Amy Archer by R.S Pateman 

On 31st December 1999, ten-year-old Amy Archer went missing from her local playground. Her body was never found and the lives of her parents, Beth and Brian, were torn apart.

On the tenth anniversary of the disappearance, Beth is alone, still struggling with the enormity of her grief and the horror of not knowing the fate of her only child. But the fear and confusion have only just begun, and Beth's world is turned upside down when a stranger knocks on her door, claiming to know what happened to Amy.

Beth is introduced to a little girl who is the uncanny double of her missing daughter, who knows things that only Amy would remember; the name of her favourite toy, the place where she scratched her initials, what Beth likes for breakfast. But this can't be Amy, she hasn't aged a day...


Now Beth is forced to question everything she has ever believed in, and push her faith and her sanity to the limits, if she is to find out the truth about what happened to Amy. 

I was expecting a deeply suspenseful, slightly supernatural unputdowner of a book with this one. In truth, I was a little underwhelmed. Hated the main character and in this story, that was NOT a good thing. Good enough to finish, but not particularly memorable. 

Shades Of Earth by Beth Revis 

Shades of Earth is the final novel in the teenage romantic science fiction trilogy, from New York Times bestseller Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe and A Million Suns. Perfect for all fans of The Hunger Games. Across the Universe was longlisted for the prestigous Carnegie Medal.

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They're ready to start life afresh--to build a home--on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience. But this new Earth isn't the paradise that Amy had been hoping for.


Amy and Elder must race to uncover who--or what--else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. But each new discovery brings more danger. And if their colony collapses then everything they have sacrificed--friends, family, life on Earth--will have been meaningless . . . 

No secret I'm a massive fan of this series and the final book in the trilogy was no let down, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout. Highly recommended (Reviews of Across The Universe and A Million Suns)

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone 

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet. Why would they? Anna is sixteen in 1995, fiercely determined to leave her quiet town and finally travel the world. Bennett's seventeen in 2012, living in San Francisco and trying to control his ability to travel through time - an incredible gift, but also an unpredictable curse, which constantly threatens to separate him from the people he loves.


When Bennett suddenly finds himself in Anna's world, they are inescapably drawn to one another - it's almost as if they have met before. But they both know, deep down, that it can never last. For no matter how desperate Bennett is to stay with Anna, his condition will inevitably knock him right back to where he belongs - and Anna will be left to pick up the pieces 

Billed as reminiscent of The Time Travellers Wife, this was a no brainer for me. I loved the romance and the nineties flashbacks. Beautifully and subtly done.

The Hit by Melvin Burgess  


Take it. Live it. F*** it.

A new drug is out. Everyone is talking about it. The Hit. Take it, and you have one amazing week to live. It's the ultimate high. At the ultimate price.


Adam is tempted. Life is rubbish, his girlfriend's over him, his brother's gone. So what's he got to lose? Everything, as it turns out. It's up to his girlfriend, Lizzie, to show him... 

Woah, this was not for the faint hearted at all. Violent, Gritty, disturbing... but strangely compelling. I'm not sure if it was brilliant or awful. Thought provoking nonetheless.







More next week.....

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