Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

51j-9wc-v1LWhat I thought:

I was intrigued by the blurb on this book: Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston. But Maria Weston has been dead for 25 years. Hasn’t she? Back in the early noughties, before Facebook and at the dawn of social media, there was such a thing as Friends Reunited. I remember being so excited that I could now see where my old (pre-mobile, pre-email) school friends had ended up and actually get in touch with them! Until I saw one name….. the name of someone who it was widely believed had died just after we left school. It sent chills down me. First disbelief and then anger that someone was playing a nasty joke until someone got in touch and it came out that she wasn’t dead at all, as we had all believed for the last 10 or so years. The point I’m trying to get to was that when you see the name of someone whom you think is dead, it’s a bloody shock!

Anyhoo, on to the book. I absolutely loved it. Split between present day and a school-leavers party in 1989, Louise is now in her early 40’s, newly divorced with a four-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Sam, is the only person still in her life from her school days as she has deliberately distanced herself from almost everyone and everything to do with that time. We are given enough information to know that whatever happened to Maria Weston at that party, Louise feels responsible for it. More messages, a sense of being watched and an invitation to a school reunion successful ratches up the tension and keeps the plot pacey and gripping.

Verdict:

I loved this book. In a genre that I can become rapidly bored with these days, this one stands out amongst the best I have read in some time. It’s relatable, sometimes uncomfortable and keeps you guessing throughout. Massive thumbs up from me.

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Have you read this yet? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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Throwback Thursday: Dog Boy by Eva Hurnung

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen one that I read in 2010 and still plays on my mind even now:

9270148Dog Boy by Eva Hornung:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones years ago I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four-year-old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “uncle” in a high-rise apartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Uncle moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freezing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food, warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually, Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derelict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family is together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kills that any one of the pack manages to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs view the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privilege and one I won’t forget easily.

Verdict:

A highly recommended read. It will lift you up and tear you down but it is truly a wonderful, captivating, must-read.

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The Final Girls by Riley Sager

30215662What I thought:

Bloody hell, this book was addictive! A veritable feast of twists, turns, and bombshells, not to mention an incredibly unreliable narrator who keeps us firmly on our toes.

The ones who got away in separate massacres (think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween), Lisa, Samantha, and Quincy may have survived something truly horrific but at what cost? Having made it out alive from their own private hells they are bunched together by the press as The Final Girls. Although they have never met they have communicated a couple of times over the years but just as Quincy is getting her life together she is given the shock news that Lisa is dead. And then Sam turns up on her doorstep…

Ten years ago Quincy went on holiday with 5 friends to Pine Cottage, a cabin in the woods, and came back alone. She has lost a huge chunk of her memory about that night and only remembers running out of the woods screaming and covered in blood. Now living in an apartment in New York with her boyfriend and having created a successful baking blog, the news about Lisa rocks her world, but that’s only the beginning. Sam’s arrival, a hurricane ripping through her neatly composed life, sets off a chain of events that sucks Quincy in like a vortex and spits her out the other side. As Quincy and Sam’s ensuing game of cat and mouse increases in speed and ferocity, you’re never really sure who to trust.

 

  Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book. Dark secrets, red herrings, blind alleys – the perfect ingredients for a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It felt original and authentic and was astonishingly assured for a debut novel. I very much look forward to reading what the author comes up with next.

Fantastic book!

NB/ I received this book in return for an honest review from Ebury Publishing via Netgalley.

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Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

midnight roseWhat I Thought:

When you’re in the mood for a sweeping, epic saga, look no further than this book. The Midnight Rose was my first read by Lucinda Riley and will most certainly not be my last. I have an urge for something that would consume and enchant me and this meaty tome did just that.

Set over 100 years in both the UK (mainly Devon) and India, the tale starts with Anni on her 100th birthday in Darjeeling. She hands a letter to her eldest Great Grandson, Ari, which tells her life story and about her time in the England when she was a young girl and urges him to help track down the son she was told had died but even after all these years, she has never believed it.

The book weaves between the past and present and introduces a great cast of characters, including in the present day, Rebecca the Hollywood movie star who is filming at the gothic mansion in Devon in which Anni lived for a time, and in the past, Donald Astbury, who owned the mansion for a time.

The Midnight Rose is difficult to review without giving too much away, as the story unfolds with mystery, tragedy, scheming, romance, and loss. There is so much packed into this book, and I was so engrossed in the multiple stories that I didn’t want to put it down. There was one part that almost spoilt the book for me, however, and actually had me groaning out loud, was something that happened at the end. It was creepy but in a laughable, horrifying way and unnecessary for the plot in my opinion.

Verdict:

A hugely enjoyable, spellbinding tale of several families spanning generations. Highly recommended.

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Throwback Thursday: Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen Bonjour Tristesse which I read back in 2009.

9780141198750Bonjour Tristesee by Francoise Sagan

This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I’ve just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you’re teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile’s dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn’t need exams – she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). Shortly after, Anne and Cecile’s father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong…

I loved it. I don’t know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you’re an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).

Verdict:

I instantly fell in love with this book. I have since read a few more of Sagan’s books and been similarly blown away by how perceptive of humans and what makes us human she is. An extremely talented writer.

 

Have you read any of Sagan’s books? Any others you would recommend?

Review: The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

5129S0mNC-LWhat I thought:

I chose this book as I was going on holiday to Italy and like to take books with me that are set in the place I am visiting.

Sitting by her mum’s bedside just before she dies, Kit asks one last time about the father whose identity and name she never knew. Kit is stunned when her mum, Rosa, admits that he is not dead after all, but very much alive. After a period of mourning her mums passing, she tracks down the man she has believed dead for the last 30 years and sets off to the tiny Italian island of Elba to find him.

Emylia Hall’s descriptions of Italy (and its food) are sumptuous. Evocative passages about the landscape, flowers, fragrance, colours and taste of the food were mouthwatering. The Hotel that sits of a cliff edge with lush and blooming gardens, wit winding paths to the sea and candle-lit evenings: divine!

The Thousand Lights Hotel is a book about loss and betrayal and fear and hope. Kit has grown up in England with a mother who escaped Italy just before she was born and has always warned Kit to stay away from men and not to fall in love. She has an image of a man who should be held in contempt, and not the one who greets her at the hotel he owns and is loved by staff and guest alike. Valentino is a wonderful character who cares deeply about the people in his life, but there is a profound sense of something missing or lost in his life. When he and Kit finally meet and he is told who she is, it sets off a chain of events that unravel the past in a way that neither of them were expecting.

While I did really enjoy this book, I didn’t love it. For some reason, despite the beautiful prose and heavenly setting, I felt somewhat detached from the book and its characters. I never felt that I got to know Kit properly. I appreciate that she was coming to terms with a major loss and uncertain of the future but even so, I didn’t ever really warm to her at all felt unconnected to her story. I think my main issue was that it was paced slowly and steadily, and dare I say, monotonously. If I’m really enjoying a book, I can’t wait to pick it up again, but with this book, I honestly had nothing pulling me back to it when it was set down.

Verdict:

An enjoyable but slow read for me. Not much pulling power in this book. Delicious prose and lip-smacking foody descriptions make an ideal escapism read but I wan’t blown away by it.

 

Throwback Thursday: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have picked a book by one of my favourite authors – Joanne Harris. I have loved all her books and in fact, Five Quarters of the Orange is in my top 20 books of all time.

Gentlemen and Players was Harris’ first book set in the crime genre and it gets a massive thumbs up!

 

51EsKeqqRpLWhat I thought

What a great book; especially the end where I did NOT see any of those twists coming. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to turn to the beginning again to see where you might have picked up clues or see what you missed.

I am a HUGE Joanne Harris fan, my favourites of hers being the “foodie” books and I must admit to being a tad skeptical when I picked this up thinking that maybe she wouldn’t do thriller novels quite as well. I was wrong – this lady is no one-trick-pony. From the first page, you know that there are a murder or two which sets the reader up for the unfolding story ahead. The story is set in a public boys school that is centuries old and has a mighty reputation to uphold and is narrated by two people, in turn, to keep us guessing. The old school teacher, Mr. Straitley, adds some real comic moments too which add warmth to the book. However, whatever you think you know about this book, think again. By three-quarters of the way through I guarantee that you will flick back wondering when you could possibly have missed the signs (not once but twice).

Verdict

I highly recommend this book; I had great fun reading it. If you have only read the “foodie” books, then this will be a really great surprise. This author can write!

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