Learning To Breathe

Learning to Breathe

How did I get it?:

It was a gift!

Synopsis:

Indira Ferguson has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules—to study hard in school, be respectful, and to never let a boy take advantage of her. But it hasn’t always been easy, especially while living in her mother’s shadow.

When Indy is sent to live with distant relatives in Nassau, trouble follows her. Now she must hide an unwanted pregnancy from her aunt, who would rather throw Indy out onto the street than see the truth.

Completely broke with only a hand-me-down pregnancy book as a resource, Indy desperately looks for a safe space to call home. After stumbling upon a yoga retreat, she wonders if perhaps she’s found the place. But Indy is about to discover that home is much bigger than just four walls and a roof—it’s about the people she chooses to share it with. 

Thoughts:

I was immediately gripped by the synopsis of this book, so I put it on my Christmas wish list. I received a copy for Christmas and decided to get around to it ASAP. I’m pleased I did because although it didn’t blow me away, I thought it was a really interesting read. I will warn you though, it’s not an easy read. There’s sexual violence involved so proceed with caution.

Learning to Breathe follows Indy. She’s only just turned sixteen and finds herself pregnant after being assaulted. Indy now lives with her Aunt who couldn’t care less about her. She went from living with her dear Grammy who protected her, to someone who judged Indy on her mother’s reputation, which let’s just say, isn’t exactly glowing. Indy finds herself hiding the pregnancy, desperate to not be tarred with the same brush as her mother.

Indy is such a lovable character. I really wanted to reach into the story and protect her. I wanted to shake the adults in her life and get them to care more about the girl in front of them. I think the teachers at her school needed a good talking to as well. Completely useless!

This is Janice Lynn Mather’s debut novel and I think it shows a lot of promise. I did the feel like the pacing of the story was a little off. Sometimes it dragged and then the ending happened so quickly. The pacing of the story is what prevented me from giving this book 4 stars.

Would I recommend it?:

Yes!

A promising debut novel. The story isn’t easy to read but the main character is well developed and she makes you wish for a happy ending!

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The Dangerous Art Of Blending In

The Dangerous Art of Blending In

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer. 

Tired, isolated, scared-Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Thoughts:

I have been meaning to read this book for about a year now and I’m finally pleased to say that I finished it. I did have high hopes for this book and whilst it wasn’t quite a 5 star read for me, I still thought it was bloomin’ marvellous and a very accomplished debut. I will warn you that there’s some horrifying abuse in this story so beware if that content may upset you.

It centres around 17 year old Evan who is trying to find out where he fits in life. His Greek mother believes he’s a disappointment and regularly beats him. She constantly puts him down and the abuse he goes through is absolutely horrific. Evan’s mum is incredibly religious and uses religion as an excuse to beat her son who she believes God thinks is wicked and sinful. The reason why she feels this way is that she believes that her son could be gay. Evan feels terrible about himself and tries to be the ‘normal’ Greek son, even if it means hiding his true self. Evan’s father pretends the abuse isn’t happening as do others in Evan’s life and it’s absolutely heart-breaking.

Evan is an amazing character. I grew to love him really quickly and I hated to read about the abuse he suffered. His self-worth was obviously so low and I wanted to reach into the book and tell him his worth. I liked how the book showed the effects of his mother’s abuse on Evan. He clearly wasn’t used to nice and when it happened to him, he rejected it. My heart broke once more.

Evan and Henry’s relationship is very cute. It develops from a friendship and that’s my favourite sort. I also appreciated that Henry wasn’t a character to make everything better. Evan had to help himself and I like that. No-one wants to be reliant on another for happiness.

I thought that this book was such a good debut and I look forward to reading more from Angelo Surmelis.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

This book is heavy-going and intense but so beautiful!

Talking About ‘The House On Half Moon Street’ with Bibliobeth!

The House on Half Moon Street (Leo Stanhope, #1)

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder.

Leo Stanhope. Assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret. 

For Leo was born Charlotte, but knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – he fled his family home at just fifteen, and has been living as Leo ever since: his original identity known only to a few trusted people.

But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.

CHRISSI: I told you when I started reading this book that it wasn’t what I had expected. Did you have any preconceptions of this book? Did it live up to your expectations?

BETH: I know you weren’t super keen on this one when we originally looked at it and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect myself. I’m desperately trying to step away from judging books too much before I give them a chance so I went into it with an open and intrigued mind. Also, even though I usually read the synopsis before I get stuck in, I tried to go into this book a little blind so that I could find out all about it myself without making any pre-judgements. In the end, I’m glad I did this as it made the story and the character of Leo more exciting for me and I was curious to see how it would continue.

BETH: What do you think you anticipated from this novel? How did your opinion change as you began and then finished it?

CHRISSI: I was NOT keen at all on reading this book. I did a you (hee hee) and judged it by its cover and the crime genre. I’m not a massive fan of the genre because it doesn’t always capture my attention. I personally feel that the genre is overpopulated and there are so many similar books. However, my opinion completely changed. I was pleasantly surprised and I feel like Alex Reeve brought something new to the genre.

CHRISSI: We’ve read books set in Victorian London before. How do you think the setting is compared to other books set in the same era?

BETH: I think the setting was definitely very evocative. Victorian London is one of my favourite settings to read about and I especially enjoy crime set in this era. However, because a lot of different works of fiction have been set within this time period, there is always a chance it can feel a bit stale. Luckily, I don’t believe this is the case with Half Moon Street. The author drops you expertly into the Victorian era with a lot of vivid descriptions of the streets and the people that walked them at this time in history. It took me right back in time, like I wanted and sits perfectly alongside other books set in this period.

BETH: Who was your favourite supporting character and why?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure it’s a ‘favourite’ as such but I was intrigued by Rosie Flowers. Yes, that really was her name. I wanted to know whether I could trust her or not and I was very interested in her history. It’s hard to pick a favourite as the characters are incredibly well rounded and developed. I think I could have easily picked a few. Maria herself intrigued me throughout, even though she had died (not a spoiler) early on in the story!

CHRISSI: Did this book capture your attention all the way through? What was it about the story that kept you reading?

BETH: I can say with complete confidence that my reason for turning the pages was most definitely the character of Leo. From the very beginning, you understand what an extraordinarily difficult life he has had and this could have made a story all of its own. When a murder is thrown into the mixture, Leo (turned amateur detective) becomes an even more endearing character who you find yourself rooting for constantly.

BETH: How do you think the author manages to capture the dark side of Victorian London?

CHRISSI: I felt like Alex Reeve really captured the dark side of Victorian London well. I definitely felt the atmosphere that I can imagine was around Victorian London. There were many elements that portrayed Victorian London effectively. The prostitution, the murders, the gore (especially the talk of the innards at the start!) the role of the men and women. It was all there in all it’s glory gory. It really struck a chord with me, that Leo knew he’d be put in an asylum if it was found that he dressed as a man.

CHRISSI: Without spoilers, what did you make of the ending? Can you see this becoming a long series?

BETH: I liked the ending! I thought I had it all figured out but not quite. Things are resolved to an extent but the reader is definitely left hanging in one respect as to what might happen next (generally speaking) in the life of our main character, Leo. It absolutely has the potential to run as quite a long series because of the strength of Leo’s character and the potential adventures that he could become embroiled in.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. As long as the series doesn’t go on for too long. I think it’s my problem with some crime fiction. It seems to go on for many books and my interest wanes. A trilogy is enough for my attention span! 😉

Would WE recommend it?

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink ever weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything…

Thoughts:

People were going on and on about this book and I’ll be honest- I was scared of the hype surrounding it. Call me a wimp if you will, but I’m so used to hype letting me down. Really, I should’ve known it would be a good read because my dear sister and fellow book blogger Beth was nagging me to read it. I’m so pleased that I made time for it, because I thought it was a truly brilliant read.

The title itself intrigued me. I assumed before reading it that she wasn’t completely fine at all. I was right. Eleanor is a simply fascinating character. Her life consists of working and barely socialising with anyone. She’s a socially awkward character and in many ways, I felt she came across as having autism. She’s very to the point and blunt. This doesn’t exactly win her any friends. She’s such an outcast that she’s often someone that her co-workers laugh at. Eleanor drinks vodka over the weekends and isolates herself from the world. When Eleanor becomes closer to Raymond who works at her company, Eleanor’s outlook starts to change. They both help an elder man when he becomes ill in public. From then, Eleanor realises that she isn’t as fine as she thought she was. You see, Eleanor has an awful history. She wants to become happier and doesn’t want to be lonely or isolated anymore. Can she do it?

I loved that this story was a mix of melancholy and hopeful. There were some really fantastic laugh out loud moments. Eleanor seemed like she belonged in a different time period. She wasn’t up together with the modern world and why would she be? She was always alone. Gail Honeyman perfectly paints a picture of Eleanor’s isolation. Eleanor is incredibly awkward and you can see how her behaviour isolates herself from the rest of society. Please don’t think that this is a doom and gloom story though. It isn’t. It certainly becomes more hopeful. I don’t think I’ve rooted for a character as much as I did with Eleanor. She is complex but utterly wonderful. I can imagine that some readers might find her rude but her past has shaped who she is today.

I think it was perfect how more and more of Eleanor’s history came out as the story progressed. I think this was a fantastic way to build anticipation and keep the reader invested in the story. I was eager to find out what had happened to her. It’s horrific but so well written. You grow to love Eleanor so much that is breaks your heart even more when the truth is revealed.

This was an excellent debut from Gail Honeyman. Highly recommended!

Would I recommend it?:
Without a doubt!

This book is well worth the read, in my opinion! Eleanor stole my heart!

Talking About ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ with Bibliobeth!

Dear Mrs Bird

How did I get it?:
It was a gift!

Synopsis:

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

CHRISSI: We all know now that you’re a cover judger. (Tee hee!) What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Sssh, that’s a secret! Oh well, you’re right, everyone probably knows by now. To be honest, with Dear Mrs Bird, I didn’t really have any impressions of the cover, positive or negative. I thought it was an okay cover, remarkably inoffensive but something that didn’t give away much about the contents of the novel (which can both a good and bad thing!) or stands out in any way. Luckily, I had heard good things about it from my fellow bloggers and had some vague idea about the arc of the story so I was looking forward to reading it.

BETH: Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favourite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

CHRISSI: My impression of the book was indeed that it was charmingly old-fashioned. It was awfully British. I loved how Mrs Bird described anything ‘naughty’ in the letters as ‘unpleasantness.’ I also loved the use of the word ‘jolly’ too. We don’t use jolly enough. I’m going to make it my mission to bring it back. I liked it said someone was ‘awfully lucky.’ There was a lot of ‘awfully’! Two of my favourites were ‘Right-o!’ and ‘Crikey!’ It definitely gave me a sense of the era and of the characters’ personalities.

CHRISSI: One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

BETH: I do love a strong female friendship in a novel, especially one like Emmy and Bunty’s where they are so close that they literally become part of each other’s family. I think both girls needed the other one in their lives for strong support, humour and to confide in during the tough and dangerous times that they are living in. This is particularly evident when a crack forms in the relationship and the two girls are almost lost without the other to lean on.

BETH: Did you have a favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I did have a favourite character. I did enjoy the friendship between Emmy and Bunty, but I have to say I liked Emmy more. I thought she was a very easy character to like. I was rooting for her throughout the story. I really wanted her to do well.

CHRISSI: Did you enjoy the pace of the story? Was it ever too slow/fast for you?

BETH: I did enjoy the pace. It wasn’t particularly action-packed and exciting but I don’t think that’s what the author intended it to be. It was about very ordinary characters doing extraordinary deeds and displaying huge amounts of resilience when placed in war-torn London and having their lives put at risk every single day. At some points it did feel slightly too “jolly hockey sticks,” and “British stiff upper lip,” but at the same time, I really enjoyed the quintessential and classic British-ness of it all.

BETH: Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted?

CHRISSI: I could see it from both Emmy and William’s point of view. Emmy was worried about William losing his life and wondered how her good friend Bunty would deal with that if it happened. William was purely doing his job though so I can totally see why it got his back up.

CHRISSI: If you were to put this book into a genre, which one would you put it in?

BETH: I think I would put it in historical fiction, purely for the World War II aspect, the emotional accounts of the bombings and the brave efforts of so many volunteers to keep London and its inhabitants safe each night.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes, I liked the author’s rather gentle writing style!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Of course!

The Silent Patient

The Silent Patient

How did I get it?:
NetGalley- thanks to Orion Publishing

Synopsis:

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

Thoughts:

Ahhh this book. I had seen it absolutely everywhere and I held off until February to read it, as I had an ARC. The struggle to wait for it. The struggle. I can confidently say that I’m so pleased I waited. It was an amazing read. I’m absolutely blown away that this is a debut novel. It was incredible. I really should stop gushing now and get into my review.

This has a really exciting premise. It’s about a woman named Alicia Berenson who is accused of murdering her husband. The trouble is, since the crime, Alicia hasn’t spoken. For six years she’s been living in a mental health unit called The Grove. The Grove is for very dangerous people with serious mental health issues. Readers then meet Theo Faber, who has had a tough childhood. He’s now a psychotherapist. He’s intrigued by Alicia and wants to be the one to ‘cure’ her and getting her to speak again. He wants to help solve the mystery as to why she murdered her husband.

This is one of those reviews where I’m going to be terribly vague because I don’t want to ruin the story. I will say that it’s an incredibly well written story. It’s so compulsive. I desperately wanted to find out what was going on. I absolutely loved the inclusion of Alicia’s diary. Argh. I want to say so much but I can’t because of spoilers. It is a bit of a slow burner, which I don’t usually enjoy, but this one had me from the very beginning.

I have to admit that I didn’t see the twist coming. I know many people will do, but for me I was quite shocked which is why I had to give it a 5 star rating. I think this will be an excellent book club read. It truly deserves all of the praise it’s getting.

Would I recommend it?:
Without a doubt!

A truly excellent 2019 debut. Alex Michaelides is truly one to watch!

Talking About ‘Only Child’ with Bibliobeth!

Only Child

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

We all went to school that Tuesday like normal. Not all of us came home.

When the unthinkable happens, six-year-old Zach is at school. Huddled in a cloakroom with his classmates and teacher, he is too young to understand that life will never be the same again.

Afterwards, the once close-knit community is left reeling. Zach’s dad retreats. His mum sets out to seek revenge. Zach, scared, lost and confused, disappears into his super-secret hideout to try to make sense of things. Nothing feels right – until he listens to his heart . . .

But can he remind the grown-ups how to love again?

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Wow. As soon as I read the initial few chapters I have to admit, I found it a struggle to put it down. It begins with Zach and his teacher in a closet desperately hiding from a gunman in their school with numerous other children and it was so powerful and moving I had trouble catching my breath at points. I have such strong opinions on gun violence myself and to read a book about a school shooting was poignant and troubling. It certainly left its impression on me.

BETH: As a teacher yourself, how was the reading experience of Only Child for you?

CHRISSI: Absolutely terrifying. Absolutely. It is my worst fear. I can’t even begin to imagine something this awful happening in my classroom which I try to create as a home away from home. Like many other educators, our classroom is our home and a place for the children to feel safe. A teacher likes to control their classroom and rightly so. Something this horrific makes you lose control and that is terrifying. I hope I am never in the position where I have to save my children’s lives. I’m not sure I could go back to the classroom if that happened to me. I’m in awe of educators that do return to the classroom. I can’t even begin to imagine how much strength that takes. Gun crime is horrific and I feel blessed that I work in a country where this kind of crime is incredibly rare. It doesn’t mean that dangerous things wouldn’t happen in the classroom. We’ve even had to develop a lock down policy, just in case, which is a terrifying idea. It really would be my worst nightmare.

Excuse my little rant. Aside from the fear it gave me, this book was utterly compelling to read. I was really impressed with Zach’s narration. How clever to tell the story from his point of view. It’s horrifying what children go through when this happens in their safe place. 😦

CHRISSI: Many books have been written about gun crime, but rarely from the point of view of a child as young as Zach. What did you make of Zach’s narration?

BETH: That’s true! I never realised that before. I think writing it from the point of view of a child was an incredibly clever thing for the author to do. In a way, it made it more horrific as you were seeing it directly through a child’s eyes and although in some instances, Zach came across a little older than his years, I think these parts were necessary so we could feel the full impact of what he has been through, how he continues to suffer and how he manages to pull himself and his family through the other side.

BETH: How do you think Zach, his mother and his father differed in their experiences of grief?

CHRISSI: Zach, his mother and his father definitely differed in their experiences of grief. Grief affects us in all in different ways. Zach has nightmares, bed-wetting and feels guilt because initially he feels his life will be better without his brother. Zach’s father retreats into work. He tries to be there for Zach as much as he can. Zach’s mother is initially very shocked and then her shock turns to seeking revenge and justice for her son.

CHRISSI: Do you think this book should have been longer?

BETH: For me, I felt it was the perfect length. I don’t think there was anything else the author could have done or said – I think she got her point across and it ended on a rather hopeful note for the future which was pleasant to read amidst all the darkness and despair.

BETH: Reading the Magic Tree House books aloud “to Andy” helps Zach cope with his grief. Which books have helped you through difficult times in your life?

CHRISSI: One of the most powerful books I’ve read that have helped me is Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive. I was absolutely amazed and how Matt Haig just ‘got’ me. I believe I have suffered from anxiety since I was younger. Matt’s words were the only words that I’ve really connected with. I felt like he understood what was going on in my head which is a very powerful thing.

CHRISSI: Should Zach have returned to school earlier?

BETH: Absolutely not. He had obvious PTSD about the terrifying incident that he had to go through and was amazingly resilient considering how he suffered. I know if it was me, I’d have trouble going back into that situation, especially if I was still having nightmares so a child as young as Zach was certainly shouldn’t have been forced into going back before he was ready. Yes, it’s important to move on and realise that it was a rare occurrence that was unlikely to happen again but the extent of the trauma that people go through in these situations is not realised enough, in my opinion.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would definitely. I was really impressed with this book.

Would WE recommend it?

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!