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Love In Absolute Certainty

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Thank you for choosing Match Your DNA, the world’s first scientifically proven test 100% guaranteed to match you with the one and only person you’re genetically designed to fall in love with.

There are several reasons why I was drawn to reading John Marrs’ The One. Firstly, I love a psychological thriller, particularly when I’m on holiday, and a week in Bordeaux made for the perfect setting to settle down with Marrs’ new book. Secondly, the premise seemed too intriguing not to pick it up, particularly as I met my boy online. If there were some way to push the boundaries of online dating even further and combine it with genetic absolute, surely everyone would want to try it, wouldn’t they?

Following five different Match Your DNA clients The One explores how absolute scientific certainty can affect relationships, dating and just how far some people will go for their ‘One’. Without wanting to include any spoilers, this book is far from the usual beach-read fodder – it takes you on an unpredictable thrilling journey through five different peoples lives and perspectives, all in the name of and quest for the ultimate – true love.

As with all multi-narrative tales there are, inevitably, some stories that work better than others. There was one story in The One that, for me, wasn’t as strong as the other four but fortunately that didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the book at all. I found the premise and characters (for the most part) absolutely gripping, with each story revealing a new angle or complication and I loved seeing how strongly ‘absolute science’ affects personal feeling.

From a more practical point of view, the format of this book makes it an ideal holiday read. The chapters are short and snappy, making it a perfect dip-in-and-out read whilst lounging on the beach, and yet the story is so unbelievably addictive that you’ll probably find yourself immersed until the end regardless!

4 star

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Don’t Follow The Herd

 

The Cows

(Yes, I own a cow-print chair and I’m not even sorry!)

I see a bead of sweat pop out of his forehead and flop down his face like a melting slinky.

Two major points drew me to The Cows – 1) Dawn O’Porter (I’m a complete fangirl when it comes to DO’P so picking up her debut adult novel was a bit of a no brainer!) and 2) the title. I went through a bit of a cow obsession as a teen (to the point where I still have a cow print bedroom back home…) and though I’m pleased to tell you that it has somewhat subsided, I was still intrigued to see what DO’P would do with such majestic creatures as a title…

Tara, Cam and Stella are three very different women leading very different lives but with the same problem – the expectations and demands of society are restricting their voice. One utterly embarrassing incident later and the three women find that unless they grasp the mettle, their lives will be played to someone else’s tune. It’s time to take a stand and stop following the herd.

I raced through this book, devouring every page! There is a lot going on, with three complex and separate female voices narrating the tale, but DO’Ps authorial flair effortlessly carries the story and creates an addictive novel you won’t want to put down!

Controversial, current yet classic The Cows focuses on the age-old issues aligned with growing-up, womanhood and friendship as well as the new and unexpected. It attempts to cover almost every modern feminist issue and though it is a successful and enjoyable read (one I won’t fail to recommend), I felt that a couple of balls could have been dropped to keep a stronger level of focus and character integrity.

The characters are the strongest part of The Cows. All three women have their own defined voice, character and personality and whilst flitting between the three could be confusing in anyone else’s hands, DO’P has written each so well you enjoy checking in with each one! Even if you don’t agree with their methods, motives or philosophies, you will come to understand what makes Tara, Cam and Stella tick. I really enjoyed the change of pace as you transition between the three viewpoints and whilst some of the things they experience are dotted with artistic license, you forgive DO’P because you just want to know what happens!

The Cows is hilarious, heart-breaking and oh so familiar! As DO’P shows what these women have to face, justify and tackle in their day-to-day lives her novel becomes a stark reminder of how far we have to go in order to accept all forms of individuality, free from judgement. So please do follow this recommendation to pick up the book but #dontfollowtheherd…

4 star

 

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A Myriad of Mysteries

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A bottle of wine.

With a first line like that was it any wonder I was hooked by the latest offering from Anthony Horowitz?! The boy very kindly bought me this book for Christmas as I loved The House of Silk and as I have a penchant for murder mysteries too it seemed like a perfect pressie – and it was! (The fact he now wants to borrow it had, I’m sure, nothing to do with the selection…!)

Editor Susan Ryeland is reading the latest offering from her highly successful crime writer, Alan Conway, when she realises that the final chapters of his last book are missing. The next day in the office, when investigating where the final chapters could be, Susan’s Publisher announces that Conway has committed suicide. Is his death related to the missing pages or could they even be the reason he was killed?

Magpie Murders is an exceptionally clever book – a murder mystery wrapped in another murder mystery. You start by reading Susan’s tale before you delve deep into the story she is reading, the final Alan Conway novel. Feeling as unsatisfied as she does when the story abruptly ends, you then pick up with Susan again as she looks for the missing pages. Sounds complicated but Horowitz’s accessible and fast-paced writing makes the transitions simple and easy to follow (a different font also helps!).

The credentials and strength of Horowitz’s murder-mystery-writing background are clear throughout Magpie Murders with mysterious clues, red herrings and suspicious characters at every turn. The tale within the tale is a perfect golden-age crime story, written in a tone and voice that harks back to the greats of Christie and Chandler, yet it doesn’t overshadow the modern mystery – they compliment each other as much as they intertwine.

There is nothing about this book that I didn’t enjoy. It instantaneously makes you desperate to solve two crimes – racing towards finding the final chapters, desperately hoping for the answer to not only Susan’s mystery but the other fictional one too! Horowitz has created a wonderful modern mystery with Magpie Murders and I look forward to chatting it over with the boy once he’s read it!

4 star

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Splendid Indeed

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Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.

Hosseini made his mark on the literary world with his debut novel, The Kite Runner (review here). I’d heard a lot about his follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns, with many recommendations saying that it was the female equivalent to the best-selling debut and after promising myself that 2017 would be the year to read more, I thought what could be better than finally getting around to my next Hosseini?

Spanning 40 years, A Thousand Splendid Suns follows Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from very different backgrounds who come together when Laila accepts a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. After a rocky start, the two women soon learn that it’s not where you come from that matters but who you are and the people you surround yourself with that will determine your future.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book concerned with the women of Kabul, focussing on their means of survival and their strength. Through Mariam and Laila, Hosseini creates an intensely moving tale, one that transports the reader deep into the culture and country of these two remarkable women. Mariam is stoic and solitary, coming from a background that has taught her not to trust, and Laila is intelligent and forward thinking but circumstance has forced her back towards the traditional. Together, their tale is highly emotive, deeply moving and, though gripping, at times it is difficult to read.

In the background of Mariam and Laila’s lives, Hosseini tells the modern history of Afghanistan, using the personal to demonstrate the global. The futures of Mariam and Laila are determined by the society around them and this interplay creates tension and difficulties at every turn. The never-ending change of power creates a struggling society where rules and morality are in flux and the domestic space becomes less and less stable. Mariam and Laila have to reinvent their ideas and ideals and their development within A Thousand Splendid Suns creates an addictive narrative.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a wonderfully tragic and compelling title with well-rounded and complex characters that will have you racing through the pages, wishing for a worthy outcome for both Mariam and Laila. For me, Hosseini absolutely nailed his ‘second album’ and I can see why the recommendations for this book were given so earnestly – it’s beautiful and riveting.

4 star

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Truth in the Tale?

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My father trusted me with the details of his death.

To call Jodi Picoult my guilty pleasure would do her a disservice – she’s a fantastic writer – but she is a writer whom I turn to when I want a thought provoking yet easy read. I have read most of her books and love the way she weaves ethical issues into a modern narrative. Some of my favourite modern reads are Picoult’s but to read more than one on the trot exposes the formulaic structure a fair few of her titles follow ­– sorry, but its true! The Storyteller was my first Picoult in about two years and is definitely up there as one of her best.

Sage Singer doesn’t really like being around people. She works nights baking bread in a local café and generally keeps herself to herself. She goes to a grief support group in an attempt to face her demons and there meets a quiet, old man. An unlikely friendship develops but is threatened when Josef asks Sage a question that he shouldn’t ask and she doesn’t know how to answer…

As with all Picoult’s stories, The Storyteller has a central premise and in this case it’s the concept of forgiveness. It’s a complex and difficult area to explore, particularly in the context of The Storyteller, which examines the right to forgive and who benefits from the act of forgiving. You’ll ponder Sage’s dilemma long after you’ve finished reading and there’s a lot of content within the book to make it a perfect book group read.

The story is written using multiple narrators, each voicing a chapter (or chapters) at a time. Picoult’s strength is writing in the first person and her effortless ability to shift perspective and create different yet equally convincing characters carries the story masterfully. Josef’s tale of growing up in pre-war Germany is insightful and complex; Minka’s dark and reluctant reminiscences of her time in incarceration is harrowing but effective; and Sage’s story provides an excellent link between those secrets of past and what lies in the future.

There is a secondary narrative interspersed throughout The Storyteller, an italicised sub-narrative about a mysterious stranger visiting a village. I think this will be a crowd divider and I’m loath to say that I fell quite heavily on one side of the fence, feeling it an unnecessary addition and it became a bit of a distraction to Picoult’s detailed main storyline. Picoult clearly researches her novels thoroughly before writing, it’s part of why she is so successful, and yet I felt her truth became a little murkier with this vampiric second tale.

Overall, however, The Storyteller is a gripping novel with a dark but important message. It focuses on people living through one of the darkest periods in human history and Picoult’s writing not only makes it relevant but also makes it real.

4 star

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Modern Mythology

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I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you just kill me?’

Show me a book with a modern take on Greek mythology and I’ll happily give it a whirl but add in an exceedingly good cover, an attention-grabbing blurb and a recommendation from one Miss Carrie Hope Fletcher and I’ll add it to the top of my TBR list! Chosen to kick-start my reads of 2017 is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton.

Life is hard for Arthur Braxton. His mum has just walked out on the family and his dad is now in the middle of an existential crisis. He keeps getting bullied at school and girls won’t give him the time of day. One day, playing truant, Arthur comes across the old Oracle – a disused and abandoned bathhouse. Upon entering, he comes to realise that not only can anything happen but that his life will never be the same again…

In The Drowning of Arthur Braxton Smailes takes the pain and uncertainty of adolescence and mixes it with the drama and violence of Greek mythology. In any other hands this book would have been a disaster but with Smailes ingenious writing and intriguing narrative, it is an utter triumph.

The story of Laurel, Arthur, Silver, Delphina, Maddie, Madam Pythia, Kester and Pollock is a unique and ethereal tale, grounded in the today. Juxtaposing reality with mythology, gritty urban landscapes with the otherworldly, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is a multi-narrative story about first love and finding your place in the world.

The woven mythology in the narrative (particularly reworked stories of Apollo and Delphine, Castor and Pollux, Medea and Jason) is effortless and works wonderfully well within the world of Arthur Braxton. It’s a weird, strange and addictive story that will definitely divide readers but, if you are willing to be completely transported into the world of The Oracle, it will reward you with a unique tale and thought-provoking reading experience.

You can probably tell that I loved this book and raced through it, mainly because it surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to be gripped and enthralled by The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. It’s a book that lingers and stays with you long after the cover has been closed. It will be a firm fixture on my bookshelves for many a reread and was a fab first read of my new year!

4 star

(Also, writing under the name Caroline Wallace, Smailes’ next book The Finding of Martha Lost is out this March and it sounds just as fantastic – I can’t wait! Lucky for me, my birthday is around that time…)