Review of ‘Hold Back the Stars’ by Katie Khan

Thanks to NetGalley, Gallery and Doubleday for the ARCs of this book.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting in one day. It’s an incredibly easy read. The concept is basically ‘Gravity’ but with a beautiful love story at its heart. Carys and Max are two astronauts stranded in space with 90 minutes to live and very little chance of survival. Their love story is told in flashback over the course of the remaining minutes while they try to find a way to save themselves.

It’s heartwarming and romantic and exciting. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the last third of the book which imagines what life would be like for Max and Carys if one were to survive without the other. This felt a little bit like it was filling out what is quite a simple story. However, I really enjoyed the concept of the book, liked the characters and found the slightly futuristic setting of Europia very interesting.

Review of ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig

imageThanks to NetGalley and Canongate for the ARC of this book.

I think Matt Haig is a very talented writer. His books are immediately absorbing and they manage to combine fast-paced story-telling with thoughtful reflections on life and human nature.

‘How to Stop Time’ is a novel about how fear of the future stops us from living in the moment and how despite the fact that fear is sometimes justified we shouldn’t let it prevent us from living life to the fullest. It’s beautifully told and does not hammer home this message in a heavy-handed way, rather it is the pay-off to an engrossing story.

The novel follows Tom Hazard, a man who ages 15 times slower than normal humans and so is over 400 years old. His story is told in the present with flashbacks to his life over the past 400 years covering the loves he has lost and the pain living with the condition has caused.

I’ve come to realise that I love novels that play with the concept of time. It’s utterly fascinating and offers such interesting plot options. This book is another enjoyable addition to this tradition.

My one quibble with this book is that Tom encounters several famous people over his life including Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is my one hang up with books about time; the protagonists always seem to be present at important moments of history and meet historical figures. This might be feasible for someone with the power to travel through time, but Tom does not have this power, he just loves longer, there’s no reason why that should give him the insight to be present at these events. It’s perfectly possible to live one’s whole life without meeting anyone famous. I rolled my eyes when Shakespeare turned up, it’s such a hackneyed trope to feature him in Elizabethan themed books. However, this is a very small point and did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I’d thoroughly recommend this and Haig’s other writing for people who enjoy good story-telling, thoughtful characters and reflections on life.

Review of ‘Plum’ by Hollie McNish

imageThanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for the ARC of this book.

I love love love Hollie McNish’s poetry. I thought that ‘Nobody Told Me‘ was an absolute masterpiece and I have really enjoyed reading ‘Plum’.

I love McNish’s point of view and wish my brain worked like hers. All her references resound with me and she perfectly puts into words thoughts and feeling I have had and makes me think more deeply about important issues. I love the train of feminism which runs through many of her poems and her poems on parenthood often bring me to tears. She is brilliant!

‘Plum’ is a collection of McNish’s poems cleverly interspersing current work with poems she wrote as a child and teenager. It’s a really thoughtful and entertaining read. I am so jealous that someone could be such a great poet aged 8!

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone.

Review of ‘What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday’ by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

imageThanks to NetGalley and Pan MacMillan for the ARC of this book.

My 2 year old daughter loves Julia Donaldson books, the What the Ladybird Heard series is not her favourite but she does like reading them especially making the animal noises which feature. I read her the new book today, she was quite excited to see Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len again and asked to read it again straight after we’d finished but got bored a few pages into the second read.

I don’t think this is the best in the series. The action is transplanted from farm to zoo and the animal noises aren’t quite as appealing, although my daughter enjoyed the hyena laughing then crying. The initial set-up to the story is similar to the previous two books; the ladybird overhears Len and Hugh plotting to steal an animal and deploys the other animals to help her foil the criminals. I thought the plot in the second half of the book was a bit weaker, less clever, interesting and funny than the other two books and it probably won’t engage children as much as they do, but I imagine kids who like those books will like this. It’s definitely not as successful as Donaldson’s most popular other books like The Gruffalo and Stick Man.

Lydia Monks’s illustrations are colourful and appealing and my daughter enjoyed spotting the little ladybird on each page. The use of mixed media is interesting and a bit different.

Review of ‘Before the Fall’ by Noah Hawley

imageThanks to Hodder and Stoughton, Bookbridgr and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

I was really excited to get the opportunity to read this book as I’ve enjoyed Noah Hawley’s TV work on Fargo and Legion. I think he’s a really talented storyteller and how on Earth does he find the time to work on so many quality projects?

This book did not disappoint. It’s a really well-written suspenseful story with strong treatises on wealth and how the media covers certain news stories. It’s rare for a page turner to take such strong standpoints on social issues and this brings depth to what could be a quite a lightweight story.

The novel starts with a private plane crashing into the sea with two survivors, a painter who hitched a lift at the last minute and the 4 year old son of the plane’s millionaire owner. The book follows these two characters, both of whom I really liked,  in the aftermath of the crash and highlights how they are treated by the investigating authorities and the media. It also relates the lead up to the crash from the perspective of each of passengers and crew members who died in the crash.

It’s very cleverly written let down only slightly by the final reveal of the reason why the plane crashed being a bit trivial and underwhelming. However, I may also have found it marred if it had revealed some big dramatic conspiratorial reason why the plane crashed. There was probably no completely satisfying ending to this kind of book. It’s often the case with whodunnit style books, the pleasure is in the reading rather than the ending which can never live up to all the possible conclusions you’ve imagined along the way.

I’d totally recommend reading this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Hawley’s books in the future. I think I have The Good Father in my Audible library.

Review of ‘Leaving Time’ by Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeThanks to Bookbridgr and Hodder and Stoughton for the ARC of this book.

Warning – this review may spoil the book!

I used to read a lot of Jodi Picoult and then I took a break because they were starting to get a bit repetitive and less impactful. I really enjoyed the first half of this book; it didn’t feel like Picoult’s usual style (moral dilemma, big twist that reveals different person is to blame than you would expect); it was more like a Harlan Coben style mystery – missing people, family secrets, hidden past etc. Then came the enormous supernatural Sixth Sense style big twist which I hated and which ruined the book for me.

What made me want to read this book is that I’d heard it had quite a lot of elephant behavioural science in it which I thought would be interesting. In fact, I found these sections the least interesting bit of the book. The bit I enjoyed was the sections set in the present where a 13 year girl called Jenna employs a psychic and a PI to investigate what happened to her mother Alice, the elephant behavioural scientist, who went missing 13 years earlier. I was willing to suspend my disbelief while the psychic stuff was just a bit of a character background gimmick, but the last third of the book goes full on with the psychic stuff and I lost all interest. Usually Picoult’s big twists are quite clever but the one in this book is just ridiculous. It spoilt the book which would have been much more engaging if it had been routed in reality.

What a shame, I was ready to give Jodi Picoult a second chance but on the strength of this book I won’t be reading any more of her books any time soon.

Review of ‘All Our Wrong Todays’ by Elan Mastai

cover97841-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for the ARC of this book.

I absolutely love this book! It is without doubt the best book I have read in ages. I loved it from the first page and the rest of the book did not let me down.

The book follows Tom, a time traveller from an alternate reality who ends up in our timeline and needs to find a way to fix the world despite the fact that his life is much better in our world. It’s sounds silly and hokey when I describe it but it’s really not. It’s thrilling and exciting, complex, layered and just so much fun.

The writing is wonderful, it’s so easy to read. Mastai manages to take complicated time-travel related concepts and makes them make clear sense.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough; I’m certain it’s destined to be a modern classic.

Blog Tour: ‘Relativity’ by Antonia Hayes

My first blog tour! I’m not entirely certain how they work, so I’m sorry if I’ve missed anything I’m supposed to include.

Thanks to Little, Brown for giving me the opportunity to read ‘Relativity’ by Antonia Hayes and take part in the book tour. It’s a unique and interesting read and a great choice for my first blog tour!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blogs on the tour. Today’s stops on the tour are listed in the image above.


9781472151704Book details

Title: Relativity
Author: Antonia Hayes
Publisher: Corsair
Publication date: 17 January 2017
Price: £8.99 paperback


Synopsis

Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.

His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.

Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life.  When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.

Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.


hayes-antonia-credit-angelo-sgambatiAbout the author

Antonia Hayes, who grew up in Sydney and spent her twenties in Paris, currently lives in London with her husband and son. Relativity is her first novel.

Author website
Antonia Hayes on Twitter


Review (includes vague spoilers)

I almost didn’t read this book. A baby stops breathing on the first page and as a mum of a nearly 2-year-old I didn’t think I could take reading about a child being hurt. However, I’m really glad that I picked it back up and kept reading. It’s a well written and thought-provoking book and it treats its subject matter and characters with compassion and empathy.

Luckily we find out on the second page that the baby, Ethan, didn’t die and has grown into an intelligent and thoughtful 12-year-old. It’s not until the near the end of the book that we have to read the description of Ethan being hurt and by then you know how his story turns out, so it’s easier to read that section even though I still found it very disturbing.

The book is about Ethan a 12-year-old boy who was shaken by his father, Mark, when he was a baby. His father went to jail and Ethan was brought up by his mother, Claire, with no knowledge of what happened to him as a baby and no contact with his father. Mark comes back into Ethan and Claire’s life and the family have to deal with the aftermath of what happened 12 years earlier and the different types of scars it has left on the three of them.

Ethan is a very clever boy with a love and understanding of and ability to ‘see’ physics. Much of the book uses the language and terminology of physics as a backdrop to the story. My brain glazes over a bit when it comes to physics so I found this was a little barrier to full absorption in the book while at the same time I admired how intelligently it was written.

At one point I worried that the book was going to veer wildly off course. Ethan appears to be a genius with superhuman powers and is on the verge of building a time machine. I was incredibly worried that the book was going to lose its grounding in reality but luckily it gets back on track. I was also worried that the story was going to be tied up in an unrealistic ‘happily ever after’, ‘tied in a bow’ neat ending, but thankfully Hayes avoids this and goes for a more realistic possibly less satisfying ending.

I googled Hayes when I finished the book and found out that the book was based on her own personal experience of her boyfriend shaking her 6 week old son. When I read this I was amazed that she had been able to write such a thoughtful and generous book which treats all its characters so fairly. We are able to understand how and why Mark shook the baby and how he behaved afterwards and we witness his family treating him kindly despite his indiscretion. I found this element of the story really thought-provoking. As a mum it’s both incredibly easy to understand how someone could snap and hurt a small child and at the same time completely unthinkable. It made me question whether prison is an appropriate punishment for a momentary lapse but then consider that maybe it is if the culprit won’t admit to what they’ve done and show remorse.

I’m really glad I read this book. It seems incredibly brave that Hayes would choose to absorb herself in the traumatic events of her past in order to write this book. Due to the subject matter I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it; however I did like getting to know all the characters each of whom is a well-rounded and interesting person and it left me with a lot to think about. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book quite like this and it’s always refreshing to encounter something new.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book. It has some great support including quotes from Graeme Simsion and SJ Watson on the cover!

Review of ‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld

imageThanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the ARC of this book.

‘Eligible’ is a retelling of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in which the setting is transplanted to modern day Cincinnati. I’d forgotten this was the premise and so got quite a surprise when I started reading the book and was launched into a familiar description of the Bennet family. It was like putting on a snuggly warm jumper and settling down on a comfy sofa in front of a roaring fire to watch a favourite film you have seen a hundred times; utterly familiar and delightfully comforting.

I’m not entirely sure why it is necessary to rewrite classics in modern settings when people could just read the original novel. However, I did enjoy this book. Even though you pretty much know exactly how the story will play out it is still a fun read and is interesting to see how Sittenfeld masters some of the challenges of setting the story in the modern era. For example instead off eloping with a cad, Lydia elopes with a transgender man and the reason Jane and Bingley must get married so quickly after meeting is that it is part of a reality TV show.

The experience feels like reading a book when you’ve already seen the movie adaptation but the book’s slightly different from the film. Nothing is a surprise, but you can still derive enjoyment from it.

Probably the biggest challenge for Sittenfeld is making Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship believable and desirable, because in this modern feminist era it should no longer be appealing to have a hero who is consistently rude and patronising to the heroine. I don’t think she quite pulls it off because she overcompensates by making Lizzy even ruder to Darcy; however it does help that in a modern setting the two characters are able to act on their sexual tension and start having sex long before they fall in love with each other. This is definitely a dynamic to their relationship which makes it seem more realistic and which Austen could never have used in her original.

All in all, you should probably read the original, and I assume this retelling aims to get more people to do that, but this book is a fun read which I think does the original work justice and which I expect Austen fans would enjoy.

Review of ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

Hooray, I’ve finally found time to sit down and read this enormous book and finish this trilogy! It feels like an achievement because these books are so unnecessarily long.

I enjoyed the first in the trilogy but I feel like the final two really needed a thorough edit. They rely on you having such an affection for the characters that you wish to read even the most mind-numbingly dull conversations and lengthy descriptions of situations where nothing really happens. This book is definitely better than the second in the trilogy which suffered from the author wanting to show off all her detailed historical research; however it is still far too verbose and just does not get to the point quickly enough.

I often find that when you read these epic fantasy trilogies that the conclusion feels too easy and the stakes aren’t high enough and there’s never any doubt that everything will be all right in the end. This book definitely suffers from this problem. Everything plays out in quite a muted way and the problems are solved fairly quickly and easily without much tension.

The trilogy also has too many characters and they are picked up and dropped with little explanation. Characters that I thought would be important such as Nathaniel and Sophie barely feature in this book. Characters who were terrifying in the first book such ar Satu are pathetic and easily foiled in this book. It feels like the trilogy was not entirely planned that well from the first book to the last in terms of some of the characters and their development.

I also found the pregnancy and childbirth and babies storyline weak. For most women, being pregnant with twins would be a major consideration and once they were born the mother would be exhausted and able to focus on little else. However, for Diana in this book, her children always feel like an afterthought. A few days are they are born she is jetting of to other countries to save the day and leaving them in the care of others. When they are born she doesn’t even try to feed them straight away. Surely she would want to know as quickly as possible if they could survive on milk or needed blood? None of the childcare elements ring true at all. The pregnancy and children just didn’t feel as important as they should have.

I read this book fairly quickly and easily so I must have enjoyed it, but looking back on it I find it hard to express why as I’m only really coming up with criticisms of it. I think the good faith engendered by my enjoyment of the first book encouraged me to finish the trilogy. I’m glad I did even though I found this book particularly exciting or memorable.

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