Monday 25 March 2019

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
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 every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

What did I think?

You would have had to be living on the moon to have escaped the buzz around Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, so I decided to check it out of my local library to see what all the fuss was about.  

Wow!  Just wow!  I picked it up one night for just a sneaky peek and loved it immediately.  If I hadn't had to go to work, I would have definitely read this in one sitting but had to settle for reading it over a few days.  Once Eleanor got into my head she instantly had a place in my heart and I couldn't wait to hear how her story ends...or begins.

I'm a bookworm and the complete opposite of a social butterfly so I recognised a little too much of myself in Eleanor; I could empathise with her social faux pas and complete innocence that was heartbreaking at times.  It was like Eleanor could see inside my head and I don't want to share any of the hilarious moments but I hate eating in public, shudder when people talk while they're eating and I also have my own mug and spoon at work.  In fact, somebody once used my mug so I threw it out; that was labelled as a bit extreme by one of my co-workers but I'm sure Eleanor would have done the exact same thing.

Eleanor has grown up without her mother but they still have such a toxic relationship; I know mothers can be cutting at times with their truthfulness but this is like hearing the worst things you think about yourself being spoken aloud.  I could feel my anger bubbling under the surface at times as I willed Eleanor to stop listening to this awful woman.

We're all guilty of answering the 'How are you?' question with a 'Fine'.  Why do we do that?  Is it because the person asking the question isn't really asking how you are?  They don't really want to listen to your problems or achievements?  Or sometimes they would be willing to listen but we don't want to tell them?  Scratch the surface beneath the armour plated 'fine' layer and you will see the real person underneath, warts and all, which is what we did with Eleanor.

This is an absolutely essential read; it's both heartbreaking and hilarious in its honesty.  Having read it, I hope I will become more accepting and caring of my fellow human beings and I just want to share one quote from the book:

These days, loneliness is the new cancer - a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way.  A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don't want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they too might be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.

Let's fight loneliness together!  It's a fight we can win.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an OUTSTANDING book!  My biggest mistake of the year is taking so long to read it; so if you haven't picked it up yet, don't make the same mistake as me.  You need Eleanor in your life right now!  This is one of those books where a five star rating just doesn't seem quite enough; I feel like I need to add a distinction to the five stars to show just how completely awesome it is.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday 22 March 2019

#Toots - Linh Le James

A British non-romantic comedy built on white lies, pink elephants and grey areas.

LONDON: Four sisters swipe left on everything they hate, one cocktail at a time. 

Louise dreams of an exotic lifestyle, miles away from Hackney. 

Nick comes along. Famous, fit, funny and filthy rich. She will stop at nothing to seduce him. She will fake it till she makes it. All the way to the ka-ching bling ring. 
But the little white lies soon snowball into a mountain Louise’s Louboutins can’t climb. 

Jess juggles work, two babies, a cheating husband and nannies from hell. 
Carla goes on a bender, and wakes up next to her young assistant. Freddie.
Emily is getting over her cheating ex by throwing herself into the dating scene. 

When work, dating and proposals…all go wrong, the four sisters’ friendship is their only lifeline.

What did I think?

The first thing I'll say about this book is don't judge it by its cover.  Thankfully, I never judge a book by its cover or I might not have discovered this fabulous book by Linh Le James.  Perhaps it's because I remember the shell suit era that the cover of #Toots makes me shudder but when I figuratively peeled back the hideous nylon layer I discovered an absolutely brilliant book.  

Anyone who follows me on Goodreads would have missed my updates for #Toots because I started it and finished it in one sitting.  I simply couldn't put it down as my eyes were glued to my kindle following the lives of these four crazy sisters.  As each sister inevitably raced towards the latest car crash drama in their life it was like I could see it happening in slow motion but couldn't, and didn't want to, slow my reading pace.  

We've all been there and done crazy things (or is that just me?) so as crazily hilarious as the story is, it actually feels very true to life.  Where relationships are concerned, it's like every daft thing you've ever done, or thought about doing, is in this book.  With so much drama crammed into this book, Linh Le James has still managed to create characters that are so well developed that I felt like I got to know them, almost like a fifth sister.  Not since Little Women have I felt so connected to a group of siblings but #Toots is like the March sisters putting their gladrags on and going on a bender!

I was literally crying with laughter at times and when I turned the final page, I was already crying out for more so I'm absolutely thrilled that there is a sequel planned.  I can't wait to meet up with my literary sisters again!

If my blog had an award for most surprising book of the year, #Toots would definitely walk away with first prize.  I've never read anything like #Toots before; it's unique, funny and completely addictive.  An easy five stars from me for this exceptional debut by Linh Le James; romcom fans, you don't want to miss this one!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday 19 March 2019

The Gift of Friends - Emma Hannigan

Kingfisher Road - a leafy, peaceful street in the town of Vayhill. But there are whispers behind closed doors. Who is moving into Number 10?
Engaged to handsome, wealthy Justin Johnston, Danielle appears to her new neighbours to have the perfect, glossy life. But not everything is as it seems...
In fact, each of the other four women who live close by has a secret, and each is nursing their own private heartache.
But could a gift be waiting on their doorsteps? And, by opening their front doors, and their hearts, to each other, could the women of Kingfisher Road discover all the help they need?

What did I think?

The book world lost an absolute treasure when Emma Hannigan lost her brave fight with cancer in 2018 but it is testament to her spirit that she kept writing right up to the end of her life.  It would be easy to assume that Emma's final novel would be a weepy but it is in fact an effervescent story brimming with hope, love and friendship.  I was actually crying before I started the story, just from reading the letter to the reader from Emma's publishing family at Headline.  I wiped my eyes and put my tissues away as I let Emma Hannigan transport me to Kingfisher Road.

Kingfisher Road has some amazing characters living there, with so much laughter, tears and drama it reminded me of an Irish Coronation Street.  It all starts with a new resident, Danielle, moving into the street and the ladies welcome her into their fold.  Danielle seems to have it all, engaged to what is seemingly Ireland's most eligible bachelor, but Danielle is full of insecurities as she doesn't feel like she fits into Justin's posh horses and hairbands life.  Her insecurities aren't helped by her evil mother-in-law to-be who is definitely the villain of the piece, or at least one of them.

As we get to know each of the women, we realise that life isn't quite so rosy as it first appeared as each of them struggle with their own problems.  It just shows how quick we are to make snap judgements based on appearances, when you don't know what is lurking beneath the surface or behind that shining front door.  Even with their own personal struggles, what doesn't falter is their friendship for each other and we all know that a problem shared is a problem solved.  The strength and fortitude of these women constantly amazed me but I shouldn't have been surprised as they all have a little bit of the amazing Emma Hannigan in them.

The Gift of Friends is an absolute pleasure to read from start to finish; somehow it's equally serious and lighthearted as some stressful issues are dealt with but it seems to have a sprinkle of magic in the pages as we know that everything will be ok in the end.  The Gift of Friends is a beautiful sparkling addition to Emma Hannigan's everlasting legacy to the literary world.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Sunday 17 March 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. 

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale - a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer - it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

What did I think?

When I won a competition to pick 3 books from Wordery, the first book on my list was The Tattooist of Auschwitz; the book that everyone seemed to be talking about.  We all know the story of Auschwitz and just thinking about it is enough to give me goosebumps, which is why I was surprised to feel so emotionally detached when reading this book.

Don't get me wrong, it is a powerful story of love conquers all and Lale's eternal love for Gita is very evident throughout the story.  I just didn't feel any of the horror and sadness that you would normally associate with a story set in Auschwitz.  Maybe that's a good thing though, and a conscious decision by Heather Morris to concentrate on the positives, as it was quite a refreshing change to see that something good came out of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Lale's survival in Auschwitz is down to him being a bit of a wheeler dealer and he reminded me a bit of Del Boy; ducking and diving and getting people things that they asked for.  In that situation, everyone does what they need to do to survive and Lale kind of fell into becoming the T├Ątowierer.  What an awful job and one that I'm sure nobody would volunteer for, but if he hadn't been tattooing numbers on new entrants to the camp then he may have never met Gita.

I think you could tell that the story was originally written as a screenplay as the characters felt very one dimensional and flat, something that I'm sure would be rectified when shown on the screen.  Due to this, I didn't really connect or empathise with any of the characters.  I suppose the one that does spring to mind is Cilka, another prisoner who does what she has to do to stay alive and to protect her friends.  I'm not surprised to see that Cilka's story is the follow up to this book and I'm quite looking forward to reading it.

So even though I'm not raving about it, I still think it was a worthwhile read.  It's a quick, easy read and I think if I hadn't believed the hype about it being a weepy, emotional story I would probably have enjoyed the story of Lale and Gita's love against the odds a whole lot more.

I think everyone should read The Tattooist of Auschwitz and make up their own mind, however, I have no doubt that it will be a resounding success when it makes it to our screens.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Wednesday 6 March 2019

The Last Hours - Minette Walters

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.
In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people's future - including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.
Lady Anne's people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?
And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?

What did I think?

I consider historical fiction one of my favourite genres so when the mood came over me to transport myself back in time to a period of history, I picked up The Last Hours by Minette Walters.  Minette Walters is known for her thrillers, although I have never read one (yet), so I expected The Last Hours to be a bit of an historical thriller.  Oh I couldn't have been more wrong.  I can't remember the last time I struggled to finish a book but I almost gave up on The Last Hours at 33% but not one to be beaten...I forged ahead.

One thing that really stands out for me is the main character of Thaddeus Thurkell.  He's a bit of a black sheep in his family but Lady Anne sees his potential and makes him steward of the demesne when the pestilence claims the lord of the manor.  Thaddeus is such a genuine and honest character and I loved the way he interacts with everyone from the highest to the low.

To inject a bit of thriller into the novel, Minette Walters does throw in a murder and although there are a few suspects it was pretty easy to guess who the murderer was.  I still enjoyed this aspect of the book though, as the pace had been quite slow up until that point.  To be honest, if there hadn't been a murder I would have had very little to discuss about the book.

I'm sure lovers of 14th Century history will enjoy this novel, but reading it felt more like the lost hours for me.  I found the pacing slow and the storyline pretty uneventful and I was actually very surprised to find that the story was 'to be continued' in book 2: The Turn of Midnight.  Although this book wasn't for me, I'm happy to say that it definitely hasn't put me off wanting to read Minette Walters' critically acclaimed thrillers.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Monday 4 March 2019

The Hermitage (The DCI Ryan Mysteries Book 9) - LJ Ross

He thought he was invincible, but he was wrong…

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to unravel why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective…

DCI Ryan is thousands of miles away. He’s tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections. 

Ryan is a stranger in a foreign land, but he knows one thing – he’ll never give up

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular landscapes of Northumberland and Tuscany. 

What did I think?

I admit to feeling a little nervous that my favourite Northumbrian literary detectives were heading abroad to Florence in the latest DCI Ryan book, The Hermitage.  To be honest, I wasn't just nervous, I was could LJ Ross take these characters out of the beautiful (but seemingly deadly) North East?  Well, I needn't have worried as it turns out that you can take the detectives out of the North East but you can't take the North East out of the detectives - Frank Phillips, I'm talking about you here, my stottie loving friend.  

The Hermitage picks up the thread left dangling at the end of Dark Skies, book 7, when Nathan Armstrong, a famous author, literally gets away with murder.  As we know, Ryan is like a dog with a bone when he gets a killer in his sights and when Armstrong heads to Italy, so do Ryan and Anna.  Ryan turns into a bit of a stalker himself, turning up wherever Nathan Armstrong is, and although his actions border on harassment his charm and his team's belief in him always seem to get him out of the scrapes he inevitably finds himself in.

I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I adore my native North East and the way that LJ Ross brings our beautiful region to life in her novels, however, I was completely won over by the beautiful scenery depicted in The Hermitage; I almost felt like I was having a little holiday there myself.  I also loved finding out a bit more about Ryan's family and his childhood in his breathtaking family villa.

Of course, this isn't a travel guide so there's murder both and home and abroad for the team to solve.  With more shocks and surprises than ever, will Ryan get his man this time?  

So my fellow North Easterners, fear not that Ryan and his team are venturing to foreign climes, as there really is no place like home and they'll be back on home soil soon.  It does make me smile thinking about them abroad as you do always seem to run into a Geordie whenever you travel anywhere.  It's also testament to the multi-dimensional characters that LJ Ross has created over her previous 8 books, that the characters themselves can carry the story wherever the location.

No surprises that this is another well deserved 5 stars from me.  It's maybe not my favourite DCI Ryan book but the twists and turns are outstanding and the very satisfying ending brought a little tear to my eye.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday 2 March 2019

Live Happy - Bridget Grenville-Cleave and Ilona Boniwell

Part self-help book, part psychology primer, Live Happy features 100 pieces of advice on leading a life of contentment. 

A distillation of the latest research into happiness, this is a guide to the tools and strategies most likely to make you happy. Informative, factual, accessible, and scientifically rigorous, Live Happy gives the best available advice across a range of situations and activities that are relevant to our happiness. 

Advice featured ranges from simple lifestyle changes, such as taking up a new hobby and spending time in the garden, to more abstract long-term goals, such as improving your luck and putting value in experiences. Presenting recent psychological and scientific studies as practical steps for the reader to take, Live Happy offers the perfect mix of practical and aspirational.

What did I think?

A lot of work has gone into the presentation of Live Happy and it certainly pays off; you can't help but smile and feel relaxed just from the beautiful sky blue sunny cover.  Each page is either coloured or illustrated with clipart style drawings of what the section is about and I really think the presentation helps to inspire and get the message across.  Although I read this book from cover to cover, it is definitely one that you will benefit from dipping in and out of when you want some inspiration.

Live Happy sets out 100 ways to fill your life with joy.  Well, I don't know about you but I'd be quite happy with just a handful of joyous activities, so with 100 to choose from I really think there will be something for everyone in this book.  A lot of the ideas to find happiness are common sense but some of them are reminders of the simple things we may have forgotten.  We are all so busy with lives running at 100 mph these days that we rarely stop to smell the roses.  Funnily enough, that is one of the tips in the book: 'connect with nature' - spend more time in the countryside or your garden as natural environments help to reduce blood pressure and stress.

For me, the sections that resonated with me and became tips that I will take away with me are: improve your luck, think highly of yourself, relieve stress, forgive yourself, worry less,  learn to like yourself, learn how to say no and my personal favourite: enjoy a glass of wine.  What I love about books like this is that somebody else will read it and pick out a different set of tips to help and inspire them.

Live Happy has something for everyone, whether you need a quick pick-me-up or a reminder to appreciate what you have in your life.  I think that everyone who reads Live Happy will end up smiling at some point whilst reading it, so the book does indeed do what it says on the cover. ­čśŐ

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon