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!

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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!

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 ‘The Woman In The Window’ with Bibliobeth!

The Woman in the Window

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it!

Synopsis:

What did she see?

It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.

Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

CHRISSI: What was your initial impression of Anna? Did it change as the book went on?

BETH: I’m not sure what I thought of her to be honest. It’s perfectly obvious she was an unreliable narrator as I’ll get to in the next question but as a reader, I’m always prepared to give a character a chance and get to know more about them before I make a judgement. I felt terribly sorry for her because it was obvious she had severe mental health problems with her agoraphobia and because I knew this was a psychological thriller I knew that nothing she would witness from her window was going to be good!

BETH: Why did you think Anna was so obsessed with observing her neighbours? How did it make her feel more connected to the outside world?

CHRISSI: I truly think Anna was bored with her life. Observing her neighbours felt like she had something to do, what with being stuck in the house all day and night. I think observing her neighbours made her feel connected to the world because she almost ‘lived’ through them. She got to experience their every day routine and that became her routine too. Observing her neighbours gave her a sense of normality.

CHRISSI: There have a been a number of thrillers/suspense stories with an unreliable narrator suffering from a drinking problem. Why do you think the authors make that choice? How does drinking impact the story they’re telling?

BETH: Initially, this book very much reminded me of Girl On The Train i.e. mature female protagonist with a drinking problem witnesses something horrific. In this way, I think that it’s a narrative I’ve read about before so the author has to do something special to make it a bit different. Obviously, drinking can impair your judgement especially if you’re drinking to the extent that our female lead is AND mixing it with strong medication so things you see can be mis-interpreted. In this novel, we’re not even sure if what Anna sees actually happened as the drugs she is taking do have the potential to cause hallucinations….did it happen or didn’t it?

BETH: If this book were to become a film how do you think it would translate? Would you watch it?

CHRISSI: Hmm…I think it could potentially be a good film especially if an extremely talented actress was cast as Anna. I think the agoraphobia gives it an edge that many thrillers don’t have and it would be interesting to see them tackle mental health. I’m not sure if I’d watch it though. For me, it was a little repetitive in points, but they could take some of the repetitiveness out. I haven’t watched The Girl On The Train which is a similar book. I think for me to watch an adaptation, I have to totally believe in the cast.

CHRISSI: Do you think this book has enough about it to stand out in its genre?

BETH: Personally, I think it does. As I mentioned, this trope has been done before so you have to do something different and I think with the addition of the agoraphobia, it made things slightly twistier as you knew whatever Anna did see would be more difficult for her to deal with as she wasn’t able to leave the house and raise the alarm. It was a fascinating read and I think the author did a good job in describing how debilitating and frightening this condition can be for its sufferers.

BETH: What did you think of the ending? Were you satisfied or did you want more?

CHRISSI: I was interested in the story throughout but I found it to be a little bit predictable in points. Personally, I think it was a very cinematic ending. I wasn’t overly sold by the ending, but it certainly was full of drama. It is here that I could see the book being turned into a movie. They could do a lot with it.

CHRISSI: Did the story grip you throughout or did you feel your interest go at any point?

BETH: Generally, I did find it a compelling read and one that I would recommend however, I did kind of guess what was going on towards the end which was slightly disappointing. There was a moment where I was surprised (but I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet!) but as for what Anna saw out of her window – I saw it coming. I’ve done this a lot recently with thrillers I’ve read so perhaps I’m just getting better at predicting things or I’ve read too many thrillers recently?! Who can say? It didn’t affect my enjoyment though, I still thought it was a great read.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would definitely read more from this author. I thought it was a very accomplished debut and I liked the fact that the author tackled mental health.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

Friend Request

Friend Request

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Maria Weston wants to be friends. But Maria Weston is dead. Isn’t she?

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria–or whoever’s pretending to be her–is known to all. 

Thoughts:

I had heard really good things about this book, so was looking forward to checking it out. I put it on my Winter TBR and made it my mission to get to it. I really enjoyed this thriller and thought it was a great debut. I would definitely put this author on my radar to read more from in the future.

Friend Request centres around Louise who is a divorced mother. She lives with her son and has her own business. Everything seems to be going okay in her life until she gets a friend request from an old school friend Maria. The only trouble is…Maria has been dead for many years. The story flips between the past and the present. It becomes quite the mystery when the friend request comes at the same time as a school reunion. Louise is ashamed of her past, of when she used to do things to fit in with the popular kids and keep her friendship with Queen Bee Sophie. Those things included the bullying of Maria.

I really enjoy books that incorporate social media. It’s so current and so now. It also can be incredibly toxic and fascinating to read about. I’m just pleased Facebook and Twitter weren’t overly popularly when I was at school. It’s scary how much I have to teach about the dangers of social media in primary school now, because children are getting onto social media earlier than they should be. Terrifying.

I loved this plot because it’s something that so many people can relate to. I’m pretty sure many of us have done things that we regret when we were school age. Even if it’s not as intense as Louise and her friends. There are many interesting relationships to delve into. The pace of this story is quite fast. There are some plot twists along the way that definitely keep you interested. I didn’t really enjoy the ending which was a shame and that’s the reason I haven’t rated this book 4 stars.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes! 3.5 stars

A gripping read and a very promising debut novel from Laura Marshall!

Talking About ‘The Cactus’ with Bibliobeth!

The Cactus

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green—a prickly independent woman, who has everything just the way she wants it and who certainly has no need for messy emotional relationships.

Family and colleagues find her standoffish and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs.

At forty-five, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward—a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control.

When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

CHRISSI: Initially, you didn’t think this book would be a book for you. Did your opinion change?

BETH: Kind of! I hadn’t heard much about this novel or author prior to seeing it on the Richard and Judy book club list and I know it’s bad and I shouldn’t do it but I totally judged it by its cover. I really should know better by now and NOT do that as occasionally it has no reflection on the story within but I can’t help myself, I still do it! Generally, I found The Cactus to be an enjoyable read with a fascinating female lead that I was intrigued to know more about and the narrative was interesting enough to make me want to carry on reading.

BETH: What did you make of the relationship between Susan and her brother Edward?

CHRISSI: Ooh, I think it was a rather broken relationship. I think there was a lot of sibling rivalry between the two. I don’t feel like it was a very loving relationship at all. I think Susan was too different. I feel like Susan felt her brother wasn’t as organised as her and she looked down on him for the way he was. Susan felt superior to her brother and couldn’t possibly understand why he would be left the house in their mother’s will.

CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite character in this book? If so, who and why?

BETH: I think Susan herself was a very well drawn character and as I mentioned above, I was curious enough about her story to become invested in the novel as a whole. She has quite a prickly disposition when you first meet her (one of the reasons for the name of the book?) and she appears to be quite a difficult individual but she does grow on you and when you understand more about her past, you can understand why she has such an impenetrable wall built around her.

BETH: How would you classify this novel? i.e. which genre does it fall into?

CHRISSI: Tricky question. I think I would probably put it in contemporary fiction, that’s if you don’t let me just call it adult fiction. Is that cheating? Oh well. Contemporary it is in my opinion! I think it’s a book that can be enjoyed by both sexes. It actually reminded me a little bit of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. That’s a book that I feel appeals to both male and female readers too.

CHRISSI: Share a favourite quote from this book. Why was it your favourite?

BETH: “But these days fairy-tale endings come in all shapes and sizes. It’s okay for the princess to end up with the prince, it’s okay for her to end up with the footman, and it’s also okay for her to end up on her own. It’s okay for her to end up with another princess, or with six cats, or to decide she wants to be a prince. None of these make her any more or less a feminist. It’s about finding out who you are and what you want, and then being true to it.”

I actually resonated with this quote so much that I shared it to my personal Facebook page! I love that it refers to fairy-tales, I love that the author is saying that it’s okay to be who you are and do what you do as an individual, as a feminist and as a woman. She hits the nail on the head and I just adore it.

BETH: Susan has a unique way of interacting with other people. Did you sympathise with her at all?

CHRISSI: I did! I can see that Susan would irritate a lot of people and put people’s backs up with her ways of interacting. To me, Susan was a character that would be diagnosed with autism. Her way of dealing with the world reminded me of a few children that I teach that are on the autistic spectrum. As you get to know Susan, I feel like you begin to understand why she is the way she is. The past can define us and I think it does define Susan.

CHRISSI: Can you compare this book to another or is it quite unique?

BETH: I have to admit, when I first started this book I thought it was going to be quite similar to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. In a way, it kind of is – with a tricky, somewhat isolated main female lead but in other ways The Cactus is very different. This was such as a relief as even though Eleanor Oliphant was one of my favourite books of 2018, I didn’t want another book so similar to it. Luckily this novel stands on its own perfectly.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would definitely give it a go! 🙂 I thought it was a decent read.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

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!