First a quick explanation!
Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.
In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.
That’s the plan anyway; and so far, so good…!
Title: The Reading List
Author: Sara Nisha Adams
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Blurb: When Aleisha discovers a crumpled reading list tucked into a tattered library book, it sparks an extraordinary journey.
From timeless stories of love and friendship to an epic journey across the Pacific Ocean with a boy and a tiger in a boat, the list opens a gateway to new and wonderful worlds – just when Aleisha needs an escape from her troubles at home.
And when widower Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to connect with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha introduces him to the magic of the reading list. An anxious teenager and a lonely grandfather forming an unlikely book club of two.
Inspiring and heartwarming, The Reading List is a love letter to storytelling – its power to transport us, connect us, and remind us that a new beginning is only a page away…
Review: As much about family and friendship as it is about books, The Reading List shows how the shared experience of reading and talking about books can bring even the most disparate people together and create unique bonds of understanding.
Reluctant reader Aleisha is only working at the library as a stopgap, to escape her family situation, but when she snaps at a vulnerable elderly man and regrets it, she finds herself recommending a book she hasn’t read from an anonymous reading list, as an olive branch. And having recommended the book, she feels compelled to read it. As he feels obligated to read it by her recommendation. And so begins a chain of small and seemingly insignificant meetings and book recommendations, that spark off a series of events and relationships that change both their lives (and those of others around them) in very significant ways.
I don’t feel that you need to have read all of the books on the eponymous reading list to experience the emotional impact of the story, but I confess that I have read them all and it did give an added dimension to the book, as I could relate the plots and characters of those real-life novels with the situations and characters presented within these pages. So, just for information, here are the reading list books in question: The Time-Traveller’s Wife; To Kill a Mockingbird; Rebecca; Life of Pi; The Kite Runner; Pride and Prejudice; Little Women; A Suitable Boy; Beloved. There is no necessity to have enjoyed all of the books on the list – they are all very different, and even Aleisha and Mukesh struggle with some of them along the way – but from a personal point of view, I concur with the list’s author in recommending every single one of them!
Obviously, this book has all of the right ingredients for a heartwarming, touching bookworm-y tale. The story encompasses sensitive issues around loss and grief, familial relationships and connecting to others outside of your comfort zone, but the main message I took away from it (and one I live my own life by) is the healing power of a good book.
Purchase Link: The Reading List on Amazon
Title: Interviews with an Ape
Author: Felice Fallon
Publisher: Random House UK – Cornerstone
Blurb: Ripped from family.
Sold into captivity.
Held for financial gain.
This is a book about vulnerable animals and the men who interact with them. And it’s about us. Our pasts and our present, and the way we see the world.
It’s about the triumph of hope, our infinite capacities to endure and to love – and how we survive through the tales we tell.
Interviews With An Ape is a work of imaginative daring, written with a direct simplicity yet deep insight. A novel of beginnings and endings, destruction and restoration, its many voices will linger long in the memory and in the heart.
Most of all it’s a story of homecoming told through a gorilla called Einstein who comes to us with a remarkable secret. He can communicate with humans through sign language.
Review: This book was a lot bleaker than I initially expected from the whimsical premise. A signing ape called Einstein conducts a series of interviews with different species of animals (and later, with various humans too). Through the course of these interviews, the author lays bare the various horrific cruelties inflicted by homo sapiens on the natural world and its inhabitants.
We see the perspectives of a hunting dog, a captive orca, an orphaned elephant, a breeding sow, a poacher’s daughter, a journalist, and every single thread reveals an unrelenting tapestry of misery and viciousness. So at first, I floundered a little, in the kind of discomfort you feel when unexpectedly faced with a graphic PETA ad. (I need to note that this discomfort is important in facing the issues in question honestly and is definitely a valuable and effective technique in raising awareness and in calling to action).
I found my footing in this novel when the various individual story threads began weaving together to form more of a coherent narrative – instead of the initial disparate tales of woe – and those connections enabled me to fully invest in the main characters, forcing me to confront previously ignored realities about how we treat the other (non-human and human) inhabitants of our world.
This wasn’t easy to read, but it was extremely well-written, and the important message within is delivered with graphic and memorable clarity. I feel like this should be on the curriculum for everybody to read, as a unique and fresh perspective on a well-worn global issue.
Purchase Link: Interviews with an Ape on Amazon
Title: The Bookshop Murder
Author: Merryn Allingham
Blurb: Bookshop owner Flora Steele escapes the sleepy English village of Abbeymead through the adventures in the stories she sells. Until one morning, everything changes when she discovers a body amongst her own bookshelves…
The young man with the shock of white-blond hair lay spread-eagled on the floor, surrounded by fallen books. His hand reached out to the scattered pages, as though he was trying to tell her something.
But who is he? How did he come to be killed in Flora’s ordinary little bookshop? Flora finds out he was staying at the Priory Hotel, and when the gardener suddenly dies in its beautiful grounds only a few days later, she is certain that something untoward is happening in her quiet village by the sea.
But are the two deaths connected? And is someone at the hotel responsible – the nervous cook, the money-obsessed receptionist, or the formidable manageress?
Determined to save her beloved bookshop’s reputation and solve the murder mystery, Flora enlists the help of handsome and brooding Jack Carrington: crime writer, recluse and her most reliable customer.
As the unlikely duo set about investigating the baffling case, guilty faces greet them at every door. And they soon realise there’s more than one person hiding secrets in Abbeymead…
The start of a brand-new murder mystery series featuring bookshop owner Flora Steele and crime writer Jack Carrington. Fans of Agatha Christie, Faith Martin and Joy Ellis will love this perfect cozy murder mystery novel. An utterly addictive story that will have you guessing until the very end.
Review: Just as the blurb promises, this is a classic-style cosy mystery, and set in a bookshop too… be still my bookworm heart!
Not only that, but the amateur duo investigating the mysterious death of a young man – apparently by natural causes – are the owner of said bookshop and a mystery author. So the whole novel is imbued with bookish vibes throughout. Who could ask for more?
Well, as a mystery fan, me! I need a diverting plot with plenty of clues and a few twists, and the opportunity to try to solve the case before the sleuths do. And I got all of that here. Along with hidden treasure, some mild peril and a traditional secret room situation.
The relationship between the two main characters, Flora and Jack, is nicely established and develops very naturally as the story progresses and the setting (rural England in the aftermath of WWII) feels authentic and interesting – I can’t remember reading another cosy mystery set in this timeframe (feel free to jog my memory with any you can think of in the comments!).
Farfetched in places, but fun throughout; I would definitely read more from Merryn Allingham and Flora Steele in future.
Purchase Link: The Bookshop Murder on Amazon
Title: Triflers Need Not Apply
Author: Camilla Bruce
Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph UK
Blurb: Belle Sorensen loves men.
She loves them to death . . .
Early in life Belle Sorensen discovers the world is made only for men. They own everything: jobs, property, wives. But Belle understands what few others do: where women are concerned, men are weak.
A woman unhampered by scruples can take from them what she wants. And so Belle sets out to prove to the world that a woman can be just as ruthless, black-hearted and single-minded as any man.
Starting with her long suffering husband, Mads, Belle embarks on a killing spree the like of which has never been seen before nor since.
And through it all her kind, older sister Nellie can only watch in horror as Belle’s schemes to enrich herself and cut down the male population come to a glorious, dreadful fruition . . .
Based on the true story of Belle Gunness whose murderous rampage began in Chicago in 1900, Triflers Need Not Apply is a novelistic tour de force exploring one woman’s determination to pay men back for all they have taken.
Review: This book was far darker than I initially expected – for some reason I assumed from the blurb it would be some sort of comedic murder romp, like Arsenic and Old Lace!
Instead, this is a story full of bitterness and bile, rage and revenge, violence, murder, lies and betrayal, with a main character who displays increasingly socio- or psychopathic feelings, thoughts and behaviours as the story progresses. It was fascinating to see the story through the perspective of this deeply flawed main character, and therefore to better understand what is driving her behaviour in a way that those around her cannot.
Also fascinating was how, although men play such a major role in Belle’s life and activities, the male characters in the book all somewhat blur into each other while female friends and family members are much more distinct, perhaps because it is their approval and affection that Belle craves.
The plot presents horror piled upon tragedy, so is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, and the author gives us an insight into the depravity which humanises Belle and allows us to pity her without blurring the morality or softening the terrible acts she commits.
I was haunted by what I read for days and nights after putting this book down and was driven to do some research into the true story of Belle Sorenson. When I looked up the available facts, I was even more deeply impressed at how the author neatly blended them into this fictional, but horribly plausible, account.
This one is perfect for true crime fans who like to get not just the facts, but a cohesive narrative to frame and explain them.
Purchase Link: Triflers Need Not Apply on Amazon
Title: The Amazing Edie Eckhart
Author: Rosie Jones
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group, Hodder Children’s Books
Blurb: Hello! My name is Edie Eckhart and I’m eleven years old. I’m a little bit different. I have a disability called cerebral palsy, so I talk slowly and fall over a lot. It’s never really bothered me because I’ve never known anything else.
Edie Eckhart is Excited with a capital E to start secondary school with her best friend Oscar – the fish to her chips, the bananas to her custard. But when she and Oscar are put into different tutor groups on their first day, Edie is devastated. Who will play secret hangman with her in class? Who will she eat sausage rolls with?
But while she’s plotting her reunion with Oscar, she accidentally gets cast as the lead in the school play. As Edie discovers a passion for performance, she also finds new friendships, talents, and dreams. After all, it’s easy to shine on and off the stage when you’re Amazing with a capital A.
A sparky middle grade series from TV comedian Rosie Jones. Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Wilson and Dork Diaries.
Review: I have to fall in line with every other review I have read of this book and say that I adore Edie Eckhart and loved reading her ‘diary’. And I would have loved it even more when I was a pre-teen myself and going through similar issues of identity, jealousy and confusion.
I love that the main character in the story has cerebral palsy, as there is definitely not enough representation of disability in fiction, but more importantly, her CP is part of who she is but not what the story focuses on. The heart of the book is Edie’s struggle to uncover who she wants to be, how she wants to relate to other people, and to understand and balance her conflicting feelings – relatable to anyone, of any age.
Funny, moving and extremely well-written, with a main character that will win your heart and hold onto it after the book has ended, this is an absolute must-read for all children, parents, teachers… everyone really!
Purchase Link: The Amazing Edie Eckhart on Amazon
Some really great books in this selection: full of heart, well-written and with some important messages respectively.
I hope everyone reading this is safe and well, and able to find an escape from the madness of the world in whatever way suits them best.
I’m off to disappear into another book, until my next review – wishing peace, love and book-love to you all.