Review | Making Faces by Amy Harmon

YA Nick Sparks – take that as you will! 3.5/5 stars.

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Thank you to Spencer Hill Press and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The UK paperback of Making Faces will be published on 21st February. If you can’t wait that long it’s already available to buy as an e-book.

The blurb: Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

My take:

Making Faces is a simple story containing a sweet, predictable romance. The strength of the tale is its characters who are pretty-much all likeable. However, I give particular praise to Harmon for making Bailey the stealth star of her book, his personality easily outshining those of the romantic leads. If Making Faces were refocussed so it was all about Bailey with everyone else as supporting cast, this could easily become a 5-star book. His character alone has earned this book an extra half star.

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ARC Review | The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

A quick, entertaining read. If you love gossip, this is one for you! 3.5/5 stars.

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Thank you to Penguin UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The paperback of The Fifth Letter will be published in the UK two weeks today on Thursday 23rd February. But if you can’t wait, the good news is that the Kindle Edition is already available for download.

The blurb: Joni, Trina, Deb and Eden. Best friends since the first day of school. Best friends, they liked to say, forever. But now they are in their thirties and real life – husbands, children, work – has got in the way. So, resurrecting their annual trip away, Joni has an idea, something to help them reconnect. Each woman will write an anonymous letter, sharing with their friends the things that are really going on in their lives.

But as the confessions come tumbling out, Joni starts to feel the certainty of their decades-long friendships slip from her fingers. Anger. Accusations. Desires. Deceit. And then she finds another letter. One that was never supposed to be read. A fifth letter. Containing a secret so big that its writer had tried to destroy it. And now Joni is starting to wonder, did she ever really know her friends at all?

My take:

The premise for this book is solid and intriguing. When reading the blurb, the mention of Joni’s “great” idea to get the friends to share huge secrets anonymously already had me thinking, “Well, that’s not going to go well, is it?!” So I was surprised that The Fifth Letter turned out to be a lighter book than I’d expected, although the dark undertones are certainly there. Moriarty could easily have taken this story into thriller territory if she had wanted, and the narrative walks a fine line between domestic melodrama, mystery and psychological thriller.

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ARC Review | The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Adam Sharp’s best = just ok for me. 3/5 stars.

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Thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The Best of Adam Sharp will be published in the UK this Thursday, 9th February.

The blurb: Can you define your life by a single song? Adam Sharp – former pianist in a hip Melbourne bar, now a respectable IT consultant in Norwich – can. And it’s ‘You’re Going to Lose that Girl’…

On the cusp of fifty and a happy introvert, Adam is content. He’s the music expert at his local pub-quiz and he and his partner Claire rumble along. Life may not be rock n’ roll, but neither is it easy listening. Yet something has always felt off-key.

And that’s his nostalgia for what might have been, his blazing affair – more than twenty years ago, on the other side of the world – with Angelina Brown, a smart and sexy, strong-willed actress who taught him for the first time, as he played piano and she sang, what it meant to find – and then lose – love. How different might his life be if he hadn’t let her walk away?

Then, out of nowhere, Angelina gets in touch. Adam has sung about second chances, but does he have the courage to believe in them?

My take:

I was delighted to get approved for an ARC of The Best of Adam Sharp as I’ve only heard good things about Graeme Simsion’s other books: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. Unfortunately, although it’s well-written, I didn’t like this book as much as I’d hoped I would.

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ARC Review | The Book of Mirrors by E. O. Chirovici

An interesting approach to story-telling, but not the gripping thriller I was expecting. 3/5 stars.

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Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book to read and review.

The Book of Mirrors will be published on 26th January.

The blurb: When big-shot literary agent Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors, he is intrigued. The author, Richard Flynn is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 80s, documenting his relationship with the famous Professor Joseph Wieder.

One night in 1987, Wieder was brutally murdered in his home and the case was never solved.

Peter Katz is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of what happened that night twenty-five years ago and is convinced the full manuscript will reveal who committed the violent crime. But other people’s recollections are dangerous weapons to play with, and this might be one memory that is best kept buried.

My take:

My review will be spoiler-free in the sense that I won’t talk about “whodunnit”. However, I will discuss what this book is not and that might be considered a spoiler by some. You’ve been warned!

Perhaps I went into this book with the wrong expectations. From the blurb and the intriguing first part of the story – full as it is of mentions of secret memory manipulations experiments – I was expecting the narrative to develop as a thrilling, complex, mind-bending mystery, something akin to Danny Boyle’s film, Trance.

Well, that’s not what this book is. In fact, The Book of Mirrors is more an exploration of memory than a thriller or mystery. If you’re interested in a meditation on the subjectivity and unreliability of recollection or memory loss, then this is a story for you. If you’re after an edge-of-your-seat whodunnit, then I’d pick up something else.

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ARC Review | The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

A wonderful book. I defy you not to fall in love with Flora Banks. 5 stars.

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Thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book for review.

The One Memory of Flora Banks will be published on 12th January.

The blurb: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

My take:

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m miserly with my 5-star ratings. In 2016 I read and reviewed 117 books and gave only 3 of them 5 stars. This makes me feel that when I come across a book I want to give 5 stars, I should be able to set off sort of klaxon, write “ALL OF YOU READ THIS NOW!” and that should be enough.

But that would be a bit lazy, wouldn’t it? 😉

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ARC Review | Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

A gripping story told by a compelling voice. 3.5/5 stars.

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Thank you to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book. My review is unbiased and honest.

Good Me Bad Me will be published on 12th January.

The blurb: Annie’s mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly. A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me. She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

My take:

My difficult relationship with the thriller genre continues! Yet again, another book being universally lauded fell a little flat with me 😦

I understand why so many readers love this book and it’s already being tipped as one of the great successes of 2017. The story is gripping, told in Milly’s first-person voice which is entirely convincing and compelling. You find yourself following her eagerly, whizzing through the chapters to find out what’s next. Also, whereas in other thrillers I’ve read, I’ve been annoyed by implausible character decisions, there’s none of that here. Everything Milly, her foster parents and sister, kids and teachers at her school do is believable.

However, readers should be warned that there is some highly disturbing content here, including first-person insights into the activities of a serial killer whose victims are all small children. This is not a fun, enjoyable read.

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ARC Review | Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

Although this book has a lot going for it, it’s not the upbeat mystery I was hoping for.  3/5 stars.

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Thank you to HarperCollins UK, 4th Estate and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book and the chance to review it.

Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars will be published on 12th January.

The blurb: Soho, 1965.

In a tiny two-bed flat above a Turkish café on Neal Street lives Anna Treadway, a young dresser at the Galaxy Theatre. When the American actress Iolanthe Green disappears after an evening’s performance at the Galaxy, the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate.

But as the news grows old and the case grows colder, it seems Anna is the only person left determined to find out the truth. Her search for the missing actress will take her into an England she did not know existed: an England of jazz clubs and prison cells, backstreet doctors and seaside ghost towns, where her carefully calibrated existence will be upended by violence but also, perhaps, by love.

For in order to uncover Iolanthe’s secrets, Anna is going to have to face up to a few of her own…

My take:

There are many things to like about Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars. I think this is the first story I’ve read which is set in 1960s’ London, a location which was brilliantly rendered, interesting and refreshing.

The diversity of the characters is also impressive. Aloysius, a Jamaican accountant, quickly became my favourite. The story moves at a good pace and there’s always something happening, mostly because the main characters are roving all over London and then southern England in search of the missing Iolanthe.

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ARC Review | Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Historical fiction at its best. 4.5/5 stars.

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Thank you to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book for review.

Victoria will be published on 22nd November.

The blurb: In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favor of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband…

My take:

I requested this ARC from NetGalley because I’d watched and thoroughly enjoyed the TV version which was recently shown on ITV here in the UK. I liked the characterisation of the historical figures and was particularly gripped by Victoria’s relationships with the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and Prince Albert.

Daisy Goodwin wrote this novel at the same time as writing the TV script and, as you might expect, they are very similar. If you have already watched the TV version, don’t read this expecting any surprises!

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ARC Review | The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

Historical fiction which will forever change your perception of one of the most famous names in science. 3.5/5 stars.

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Thank you to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.

The Other Einstein will be published on October 18th.

The blurb: What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

My take:

First, a warning: if you read this book, the words “Albert Einstein” will cease to solicit the immediate reaction of “total genius” from you. Instead, your first thoughts on hearing his name are likely to be, forever more, “what a total b*stard!”.

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ARC Review | Holding by Graham Norton

A touching tale of broken dreams and promises. 4/5 stars.

holding-by-graham-norton

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Holding will be published on October 6th.

The blurb: Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

My take:

I always think you can’t go wrong by starting a book with the discovery of a body in an otherwise quiet, crime-free setting. Holding hits the ground running when a skeleton is unearthed in the small village of Duneen; the mystery is handled well as it unravels and wrapped up satisfactorily as we follow the investigations of the local Guard, PJ, and the Detective Superintendent assigned to the case.

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