Review: Dark Waters by G.R. Halliday

Dark Waters (Monica Kennedy #2)

Dark Waters, the second book in the DI Monica Kennedy series by G.R. Halliday, is possibly even better than it’s predecessor. It’s darker, more gruesome and very atmospheric. The Scottish Highland setting was yet again the highlight of the story for me, with the sense of remoteness and isolation making for a truly chilling and tension filled read.

While this is the second book in a series it could easily be read as a standalone. There are some references to the events in From the Shadows and you’ll have missed a little of the character background but this is very much it’s own story.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

THREE MISTAKES. TWO MURDERS. ONE MORE VICTIM TO GO . . .

Annabelle loves to drive. It helps her escape her world, her past. Speeding on a mountain road in the Scottish Highlands, she sees a little girl step out in front of her. She swerves to avoid her. The next thing Annabelle remembers is waking up in a dark, damp room. A voice from the corner of the room says ‘The Doctor will see you now’.

Scott is camping in the woodlands in the Scottish Highlands – but in the middle of the night, he hears something outside his tent. When he goes out to have a look, a little girl is standing among the trees, staring right at him. Scott is never seen again.

When a dismembered body is discovered, DI Monica Kennedy gets called to the scene immediately. After six months away from the Serious Crimes team, they need her back on board.

As Monica searches for the murderer, another body is found. Monica knows the signs . . . She’s on the hunt for a serial killer.


MY THOUGHTS

I knew when I read the first book, From the Shadows, that this series had real promise so as soon as this the sequel appeared on NetGalley I couldn’t resist requesting immediately and I was not disappointed. Halliday has kept all that made From the Shadows such a great read and come up with something even better.

The story picks up a few months after the events of the first book with DI Monica Kennedy and the rest of the team still trying to come to terms with everything that happened. When a dismembered body is found however Monica is called to the scene and finds herself back on the hunt for another serial killer. At the same time it seems there may be something or someone hunting unsuspecting tourists who wander into remote areas alone.

It’s an incredibly dark and creepy read with a few moments which could easily come from a horror film, think Deliverance or Wrong Turn. I do love a creepy tale but even I found myself checking all of the doors and windows in my house to make sure no one could get in. I wouldn’t describe it as a fast paced or action packed read but there’s a real tension to the story that makes it very difficult to put down.

Main character, Monica Kennedy makes for an intriguing main character. I wouldn’t necessarily describe her as likeable or relatable but there’s something about her determination to get to the truth and her love for her daughter you can’t help but admire. In this outing we also get a little more of her backstory, her relationship with her parents and her father in particular seems to be on her mind a lot. It feels like there’s some real character development and I found myself wanting to know more about her.

I also very much enjoyed the sections from the point of view of kidnap victim Annabelle. Her fear at her captivity and the mystery around where she is and what is going to happen to her makes for compelling reading. I did have my doubts around whether I liked her at the start, she seems quite superficial, but I found myself really admiring her and rooting for her. She has such determination to escape and to survive no matter what.

The real highlight of this story was for me however the setting. The beauty and the wildness of the Scottish Highlands are used to full effect by Halliday. There’s a sense of isolation and remoteness that adds to the dark and chilling atmosphere. I loved the use of the small and insular communities who live by their own laws and don’t welcome strangers. There’s no technology, no internet or social media and barely any phone signal. In some ways it sounds like the perfect escape from the modern world but if you’re alone and need help it’s terrifying.

Similar to my thoughts on the first book though I do feel like Dark Waters would benefit from a few lighter moments to balance out the darkness. I can understand why the author decided to keep the tone the same throughout, there’s not really a lot to laugh about in kidnapping and murder, but it’s just so unrelentingly dark. Even when Monica is spending time with her family or when she’s in the car with Crawford there’s no lightness and I think it really needed it.

I also would have liked a little more background on Crawford, Fisher and the new member of the investigative team. We do find out a little more on Fisher this time around but it’s not quite enough to make him feel like a fully rounded character. I felt like we got to know more around victim Annabelle.

Despite these minor niggles though I thought this was a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a dark and atmospheric murder mystery.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

The Happy Ever After Playlist
The Happy Ever After Playlist
by Abby Jimenez turned out to be the feel good read I really needed. Laugh out loud funny, a little sad but completely adorable I sat down and read the whole thing in one go, smiling the whole time.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Two years after losing her fiancé, Sloan Monroe still can’t seem to get her life back on track. But one trouble-making pup with a “take me home” look in his eyes is about to change everything. With her new pet by her side, Sloan finally starts to feel more like herself. Then, after weeks of unanswered texts, Tucker’s owner reaches out. He’s a musician on tour in Australia. And bottom line: He wants Tucker back.

Well, Sloan’s not about to give up her dog without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really loves Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can’t deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There’s no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: With his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak?


MY THOUGHTS

This was very possibly a case of right book at the right time but I don’t care. I loved it and read the whole thing in one Saturday morning with the biggest smile on my face.

I had no idea when I started it that it was a sequel to The Friend Zone but while the author does recommend you read them in order the fact that I hadn’t made absolutely no difference to my enjoyment of this story. Would I have gotten more depth from knowing more of the characters’ backstory? Maybe, but it works perfectly well as a standalone.

From the very start when main character Sloan rescues dog Tucker this story is just ridiculously adorable. I loved each and every character and I adored the relationships between them. Sloan and Jason are so cute together. I loved the banter between them, especially before they meet in person. There’s a lot of teasing and flirting and sooo much chemistry. They seem to have an instant connection but unlike a lot of insta loves this one feels believable and real.

I liked Sloan a lot as a character, she’s kind, funny and tough, but Jason is swoon-worthy book boyfriend material. You could maybe argue that he’s a little too perfect or too good to be true (he’s sensitive, patient, generous, charming, funny and gorgeous) but I was more than happy to just go with it.

There was a lot to like in the secondary characters as well. I really want Kristen and Josh as my best friends, they were absolutely hilarious and sound like they’d be a lot of fun but I loved how they were always there for Sloan. They tease her, embarrass and push her but it’s clear they would do anything to protect her and want her to be happy.  The highlight of the story for me though was dog Tucker. He was a real character, stealing more or less every scene he was in.

The writing is wonderful, witty, fun and packed full of emotion. It made me stupidly happy reading it and I found myself smiling a lot. There are a few sad moments, Sloan is grieving and the new relationship is not all smooth sailing, but while I did shed a couple of tears it is an upbeat and positive story.

I also loved the song titles at the start of each chapter and yes I did listen to the play list as I was reading. Music seems to have become a much bigger part of my life during lockdown, it’s picked me up, calmed me, kept me motivated and helped me let off steam so listening to the tracks while reading really added to the whole experience (and I’ve fallen in love with a few of the tracks).

As you have probably guessed I loved pretty much everything about this story and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a bit of light relief.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan

Family For BeginnersIf you’re looking for some gentle escapism this summer I don’t think you can go too far wrong with Sarah Morgan’s Family For Beginners. With a story about love, blended families and grief it’s a bit of an emotional read but has the usual warmth I’ve come to expect. It may not be my favourite book from the author but I do think a lot of people will love it.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

New York florist Flora Donovan is living the dream, but her bubbly optimism hides a secret. She’s lonely. Orphaned as a child, she’s never felt like she’s belonged anywhere…until she meets Jack Parker. He’s the first man to ever really see her, and it’s life changing.

Teenager Izzy Parker is holding it together by her fingertips. Since her mother passed away a year ago, looking after her dad and little sister is the only thing that makes Izzy feel safe. Discovering her father has a new girlfriend is her worst nightmare – she is not in the market for a replacement mom. Then, her father invites Flora on their summer vacation….

Flora’s heart aches for Izzy, but she badly wants her relationship with Jack to work. As the summer unfolds, Flora must push her own boundaries to discover parts of herself she never knew existed – and to find the family she’s always wanted.


MY THOUGHTS

I’m a big fan of Sarah Morgan’s writing and always enjoy her books but I’m afraid this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me. It has the same wonderful and warm writing I’ve come to expect from the author, well rounded characters and a real sense of place but I just didn’t get on with the story or main character Flora. It may simply be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time but I didn’t fly through this in the way I usually do with Morgan’s books.

Over her last few books, the author has been gradually moving away from the romance and into much more relationship and family type stories and Family for Beginners takes us further along that route. There’s very little in the way of romance in this story with the focus on florist Flora who so desperately wants to find a place where she belongs, a family who will accept her. After her mother died when she was young, Flora was raised by a cold and distant aunt who made it perfectly clear she wasn’t wanted and was an inconvenience. When she meets Jack Parker, recently widowed and father to two girls, she thinks she’s found somewhere she could belong.

Unfortunately Jack’s eldest daughter Izzy is not so keen on Flora coming into their lives and trying to fix everything. She’s barely keeping it together as it is so is determined to see the back of Flora. When Jack invites Flora to come with the family on a trip to the Lake District, Izzy is not happy and neither is Claire, the family friend they will be staying with. Secrets come to light and Flora discovers more about Jack (and herself) but will there be a happily ever after?

There is a lot to like in this story, I loved the lake district setting, I loved how well rounded and real the characters felt, the relationships between them and the way they developed over the course of the story. Morgan’s writing is as always wonderful and there’s a lot of emotion in those pages. I suspect if you love reading stories about families and family relationships you’ll really enjoy this book.

Unfortunately however I found myself becoming frustrated and annoyed with it and I’m afraid it was mostly down to Flora. She is exactly the kind of character I hate reading and I just found it so difficult to relate to her. I could understand the why behind how she is and I could empathize with her but I just found her endless positivity and optimism annoying. She’s a people pleaser who tries to fix everything which is pretty much the antithesis of me. She does develop over the story but I spent a lot of my time reading this book wanting to shake her and tell her to stop trying so damn hard all of the time.

It probably didn’t help that I couldn’t see the attraction in Jack as there wasn’t a lot of time spent in developing the relationship between them. Their first dates happen off the page and they’re never really alone together. As a result there’s no spark or chemistry between them making it hard to see why Flora was so desperate for the relationship to work. Flora seems to feel sorry for him and seems more attracted to the idea of rescuing him and finding a ready made family. As for Jack, he never feels fully present in the story and I had no real sense of who he is. He’s closed off, distant and completely oblivious to the feelings of those around him. Flora keeps saying how much he sees her but I didn’t feel like he showed it in the story. Maybe though it’s just because we never get his pov.

Izzy, whose pov we do get was actually the most likeable of the characters to me. She’s an absolute mess of emotions, anger, guilt, sadness, but she felt believable and relateable. She’s grieving her mother, dealing with a lot of changes in her life and hiding a huge secret. I really felt for her throughout the story, even when she was being kind of horrible.

I did think the author did a brilliant job throughout the story of portraying the different ways people deal with loss and how the loss of her mother still affects Flora many years later. This does make it a little bit darker than some of Morgan’s other books but there are moments of light in there too to balance it out nicely. I may have shed one or two tears but I did find myself smiling in places too and I very much enjoyed the conclusion.

Overall I think a lot of people will love this story but there were a few too many things that I found annoying or frustrating for it to be a favourite.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review

Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The SwitchWarm and funny, The Switch by Beth O’Leary is the kind of uplifting book I think we all need just now. The storyline may feel a little familiar but I loved the sense of community, family, friendship and love that runs throughout. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a feelgood read.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?


MY THOUGHTS

As a massive fan of O’Leary’s debut, The Flatshare, I was ridiculously excited to get my hands on an advance copy of her new book The Switch. Unfortunately however while I did very much enjoy it, I’m not sure it quite lived up to expectations (although to be fair these were probably unreasonably high).

The story is great, the characters are likeable and it’s warm and funny and incredibly sweet. It’s pretty much a big hug in book form. However while I more or less devoured the whole thing in an afternoon, I feel it’s missing that special something to lift it from a great read to a stand out one and I have a horrible feeling that in a few weeks I’ll have forgotten all about it.

It may be that I’ve been overdosing on romcoms and contemporaries lately (they’re pretty much the only genres I can focus on right now) but I felt The Switch was a little lacking in originality. The story seemed a bit too familiar and I’ve read more than one book where different generations of women discover they have something to learn from each other.

I did love the characters and the way they developed over the course of the story. Also really loved how many older characters had starring roles. Eileen in particular was a joy to read and I thought the author did a wonderful job of portraying an older person whose body may be slowing down but whose determination and passions are as strong as ever. I loved her adventurous spirit but I also loved how she created a community everywhere she went and how protective she is of those she cares about.

Leena took a little longer to grow on me. I could certainly relate to her but I think it’s safe to say she’s a bit of a mess at the start of the story and she’s keeping a lot bottled up inside which makes her come across as uptight. I found her inability to stop and relax frustrating, I mean, who complains about being given a couple of months paid leave (and I don’t mean because you’ve been furloughed and can’t go anywhere or see anyone). She does however develop quite nicely over the course of the story and I grew to really like her.

I also loved the relationships within the novel, the friendships old and new (some of which are unlikely) and also the romance. There are quite a few sparks flying and while it is a little predictable I was happy to go along for the ride.

I maybe would’ve preferred less secondary characters so they could be developed a bit further but each and every one does have a role in the story and they do all feel authentic if a bit eccentric at times.

Overall a great read that’s perfect for a lazy day or when you’re in need of a bit of cheering up.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key
The Turn of the Key
may be the first book I’ve read by Ruth Ware but it definitely won’t be the last. I loved Ware’s writing style and the dark and sinister atmosphere she created and somehow managed to maintain throughout. It’s a gripping read that kept me compulsively turning those pages until the very end.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.


MY THOUGHTS

The Turn of the Key is an addictive read based loosely on The Turn of the Screw, with the main character Rowan hired as live in nanny to four children. What initially seems like a dream job, however soon becomes a nightmare as she’s left alone to look after the children for weeks in a house with a bit of a dark history, spooky goings on and more than a few secrets. It’s not long before one of the children ends up dead and Rowan gets the blame despite her protestations of innocence.

It’s a genuinely creepy read at times and I loved the way the author built up the tension, revealing little hints and throwing in the odd twist along the way. I very much enjoyed the way the story was told in the form of letters from Rowan to a potential barrister. I’m not sure it felt wholly convincing as a letter but I did love the conversational style to it.

I thought the characters were for the most part well developed and intriguing and I loved how little by little more is revealed about Rowan’s past as the story unfolds. I’m not sure I would describe her as likeable or nice, she’s the typical unreliable narrator so you can’t really trust her, but I certainly felt some empathy for her by the end. The other characters are a little more mysterious and there were a couple in particular whose motivations I’m not sure I ever fully understood. It does however work within a story that keeps you guessing who dunnit so I can’t complain too much.

The real highlight for me however was the atmosphere which is dark and sinister throughout. I loved the Scottish Highland setting and the sense of remoteness and isolation it created. I also loved the use of technology, it’s a smart home with all of the latest gadgets, to give a classic story a much more contemporary feel.

If I had one complaint, it would probably be the ending. I’m not going to say much about it so no spoilers, but it felt a little rushed and unsatisfying to me. Possibly that may be what the author intended but given the build up I would have liked a little bit more.

Overall though I thought this was a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a slightly creepy who dunnit.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: Strangers by C.L. Taylor

Strangers by C.L. Taylor
I think Strangers could possibly be my favourite book yet from C.L. Taylor. Despite featuring three seemingly unconnected storylines, the tension never lets up throughout and I found myself unable to put it down.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.
Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.
And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.


MY REVIEW

I think this could possibly be Taylor’s best book yet. I absolutely loved it from the very first page to the very last.

With three different, seemingly disconnected, stories this shouldn’t have worked for me but somehow it did. I usually have problems with multiple povs, there’s almost always one story that I prefer to the others but here I found myself fully engaged with all three.

Annie is a single parent and manager of a fashion store in the Mead shopping centre. At her adult daughter’s encouragement she’s trying to put herself out there and meet someone new but while she does find a guy she likes there’s someone out there who doesn’t want them to get together.

Gareth is a middle aged security guard at the shopping centre who cares for his elderly mother who has dementia. He discovers his mother is receiving postcards from his father who disappeared and was presumed dead 20 years ago. Could he still be alive or is someone trying to take advantage of his mum.

Ursula is a bit of a loner. She blames herself for her fiancé’s death. She works as a courier and lives with a friend until they discover she’s been stealing from them. When they throw her out she’s desperate enough to rent a room from a rather odd guy, who won’t tell her what’s in the basement and insists the radio be kept on at all times.

Add to this rumours in the background of a serial killer responsible for the disappearance of several men in the area and you’ve got a truly gripping read.

I was completely addicted to each of the three stories and I thought the author did a brilliant job of balancing them. Annie, Gareth and even Ursula were very sympathetic characters and they felt very real and relateable. With so much going on in the story you would have thought there wouldn’t be much room to develop the secondary characters or the relationships between them but this wasn’t the case at all as the author took the time to make each and every character well rounded and believable.

It was however the plot that was the star for me. The tension never lets up for an instant and there are some truly creepy moments that had me wanting to hide under the duvet. It also keeps you guessing throughout and I genuinely had no idea where it was going or how the stories would eventually come together. When they finally do merge it lives up to all expectations and the ending is spot on.

Overall, this was a brilliant read and one I’d recommend to anyone who loves a good thriller.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage (Mirage, #1)
Mirage
by Somaiya Daud is probably not the most original story but there’s definitely something magical and unique about Daud’s writing and the world she creates. I found it an engaging read and am already looking forward to the sequel.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.


MY THOUGHTS

I have to confess I’ve been a little bit down on YA fantasy and sci fi lately so despite receiving an advance copy of this from NetGalley I kept putting off reading it. I thought it’d be the same story I’d read a million times before however, while there are a lot of similarities to other stories, there is definitely something special about this and it was not at all what I was expecting.

I should probably have read the synopsis properly before picking this book up as I had no idea it was sci fi. From the cover I thought maybe some kind of Moroccan inspired fantasy, I did not anticipate intergalactic travel and droids but actually despite these elements this book reads much more like fantasy. It may just be the magic of Daud’s writing (there’s no magic in the story), the beautiful and vivid descriptions, the romance and the intrigue but this never felt like sci fi and I was perfectly happy with that.

The story is a familiar one, main character Amani is taken away from her home and family by the Vathek (an alien race who have invaded and colonized her home world) and held captive within the palace. She bears an uncanny resemblance to the cruel and unpopular Princess Maram so is tasked with acting as her double. Terrified and with no other option Amani has to learn how to be Princess Maram so convincingly that not even the Princess’s family, friends or fiance can tell the difference.

This isn’t a fast paced or action packed story but a slower paced character driven story and I liked that a lot. We follow Amani as she’s taken from everything she knows and loves and forced into a strange and violent world where one mistake could mean her death. It’s an engaging read and Amani is very easy to like. She admits herself that she’s a bit of a dreamer and it is her faith and belief in her people’s religion and mythology that gives her the hope that she can get through anything. She’s not physically strong, she has no special powers or abilities but she still shows bravery and a determination to overcome all of the challenges thrown her way. I’m sure this will make her incredibly relateable to a lot of people.

I also loved how her character develops over the course of the story. Forced to pretend to be someone completely different she starts to question herself, she feels like she’s losing herself in the character she’s pretending to be and has to fight to hang on to what makes her unique, finding a strength she didn’t know she had.

There is as is compulsory in all YA novels a romance, this time a forbidden one between Amani and Princess Miram’s fiance Idris, and I very much enjoyed how it slowly developed. It’s not insta love but instead a connection forged through similar histories and an understanding or each other. Idris was not my favourite character, he comes across a little weak and naive but I did like how they were together.

The star of the story was however Maram. I love a good villain and Maram fits the bill perfectly. She starts out seemingly nasty, vindictive and cruel but she’s much more complex than first appearances would suggest. As we find out more of her background and she softens a little I found myself feeling some sympathy for her. She’s very isolated and alone, desperate to prove herself a worthy heir to her cruel father’s empire by the only means she knows how. She’s unpredictable and it’s impossible to tell how she’ll react in any situation.

I also absolutely adored the world the author created, the descriptions make everything feel vivid and rich and I loved how the mythology was woven into the story. There are some heavy themes running throughout, oppression, colonialism, the stripping away of heritage and tradition and I thought the author handled them well.

As the first book in a series I thought it was pretty much perfect and I look forward to book two.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has not influenced my review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: Just As You Are by Kate Mathieson

Just As You Are by Kate R. Mathieson

Taking its inspiration from Bridget Jones Diary, Just As You Are by Kate R. Mathieson is a warm and funny story about trying to settle down and meet the one. It took a bit of time for the story to get going but once it did I found myself completely hooked, hoping that main character Emma would get everything she wanted. It’s not the most original or memorable story but it certainly cheered me up on a rainy February afternoon.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Emma Londstown spent her twenties travelling, and now needs to make up for lost time. All her friends are married, having babies, and settling into domestic bliss. Determined to catch up, Emma plunges herself headfirst into the online dating world, and discovers single men in Sydney are one of three things; tossers, illiterate, or nerds that work in IT (she must be sending out subtle hints in binary code.)

This story, set in the bustling city of Sydney, is a humorous, light-hearted novel for every woman who has ever wanted to find The One. With a clear underlying message – be yourself.


MY THOUGHTS

As you can possibly guess from the title, Just As You Are is a little bit of an homage to Bridget Jones Diary. It’s a warm and funny story about working out what you want from life, accepting who you are and following your dreams. It took me a little while to warm up to this story but once I did I found it a laugh out loud funny and enjoyable read.

I do think the synopsis is a little bit misleading as this isn’t really a light and fluffy read full of funny stories about online dating (there isn’t actually any online dating at all) but instead goes much wider than that. Main character Emma Londstown is returning to Sydney after years spent travelling the globe. After much nagging from her Mum and feeling left out by her friends who are all married with children she decides it’s time to settle down. She comes up with a three part plan, 1) get a job, 2) find a house, 3) meet the guy she’ll spend the rest of her life with.

Parts 1 and 2 of her plan come together quite quickly as, after a great deal of creativity with her CV, she lands a job at a top PR firm and her mother finds her a cheap (albeit dingy and damp) place to live. Part 3 however proves more difficult as the crazy hours she ends up working and limited options in the Sydney dating scene make finding Mr Right seem like an impossible task. Emma starts to wonder if she made a mistake in throwing away the number of the guy she spent an incredible night with in Fiji.

There is definitely something very Bridget Jones like about Emma. She’s constantly worrying over her weight, her clothes, her makeup. She feels left behind and lonely as her friends all seem to be focused on their own families and they can’t hang out the way they used to. She drinks too much has a terrible diet and is killing herself trying to pretend that she’s something she’s not (confident, qualified career woman who knows what she’s doing). It’s tough to read at times and incredibly frustrating as a lot of her problems are those of her own making. She’s lied her way into a job she’s in no way qualified for and keeps on lying even when well out of her depth.

Despite this, there is something relateable and likeable about her. Yes, she blunders about, says and does the wrong thing but her heart is in the right place and when it comes down to it she’s willing to work and to fix her mistakes. She’s funny and loyal and trying to be what everyone thinks she should be. I may have been frustrated with her but I did want her to succeed.

I also very much wanted her to get together with Nick as it’s clear from the start that they’re absolutely perfect for each other. Even in that one night in Fiji they have an instant connection and the scenes where they were together were the highlight of the book for me. I loved the banter between them and the awkwardness and the sparks.

So why you may be asking if I loved this so much did I only give three stars, well, in addition to there being a lot to love there were things I thought could have been better. Firstly it’s pretty slow to get going, for the first third of the book not very much happens.

I also felt like much more could have been made of the secondary characters. Other than Emma and Nick the others feel a little stereotyped and don’t make much of an impression. There’s the overbearing mother and under the thumb father, the maneating coworker, the gay best friend and the overly demanding boss. I don’t necessarily mind a stereotype but it also seemed like many of these characters had a big part then disappeared never to be seen again. Emma’s parents for example disappear as soon as she moves out of the family home. I found it odd too that Emma doesn’t spend any time with her best friend’s families.

Finally I think the story could have gone a bit deeper and had a little more emotion. Yes it made me laugh but instead of spending so much time on Emma’s job it could have dug a little more into why she felt like she had to conform. It is obvious that she’s lonely, she admits it herself, but I didn’t feel it.

Anyway, overall I thought this was a really fun read and I’d recommend to anyone looking for a light holiday (or rainy afternoon) read.

I received an advance copy of this from the publisher via Netgalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War
This Is How You Lose the Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone did not make for the easiest reading but there is certainly something very engaging about it. I loved the creativity and imagination that went into it. It’s a very unique story and one I think I’ll be re reading at some point.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?


MY REVIEW

I loved the originality in this story but while the writing was wonderfully descriptive and imaginative I must admit I did not find this the easiest book to read. This was in part my own fault as I picked absolutely the wrong time to read this, work was busy, I was tired, stressed and having difficulty focusing on anything for any length of time, but both the concepts and the language made this a feel like a challenge rather than a pleasure at times.

From the very start you’re thrown in to the deep end of this story, no explanation, no scene setting and very little in the way of background. It quickly becomes clear that there are two factions in a war across time (yes the clue is in the title). One faction is seeking to influence the timeline to promote technology and progress, the other is looking for a return to nature. Each employs agents who hop back and forward in time, trying to influence the various different strands of time to their own ends by whatever means available.

Two of these agents are Red and Blue from whose points of view the story is told. They operate for rival factions but begin a correspondence which begins with a sort of taunting, challenging tone but quickly becomes something more. Given they come from opposing sides of the war however can they really trust each other, is a relationship of any kind possible or is it doomed to end in tragedy?

I really loved the creativity and imagination that went into the story. I loved the very different ways Red and Blue found to correspond with each other in the different times and places they visit. I loved the contents of the letters themselves and how the tone of them changes over the course of the book as they start to realize their feelings for each other. I loved the relationship that develops between them, there’s something very Romeo and Juliet about two people from warring factions who develop a bond despite their differences.

I even loved the little snippets of what they’re doing to subtly alter the timeline to their own ends, one through sudden force and violence, the other through slower more invasive means. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of time travel and the various theories surrounding (paradox theory, the multiverse etc) so I find pretty much every story featuring it intriguing. I just wish we’d gotten a little more of this. More of the background to these two factions, who are they, what are they and how do they do what they do? Over the course of the story there are more and more details revealed about the societies Red and Blue come from but it wasn’t enough and somehow seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Even by the end I couldn’t figure out what Red and Blue were, they certainly didn’t seem to be human. I spent a lot of the story just sort of going with it.

I also felt like the voices of the two leads were lacking distinctiveness, it sometimes took me a few pages to figure out whose story I was in. This was no doubt in part due to the complexity of the language used by both authors which took up most of my concentration. It’s very flowery and very deliberately plays with words and phrases, something I’m really not sure I liked. I could certainly appreciate it but I did feel like it took something away from the underlying story and I spent more time trying to understand the words used than the underlying meaning and emotion behind them. This was not helped by the occasional wandering off on tangents within the letters themselves as I found my concentration wandering off on a tangent all of it’s own.

As I say though I was very tired and having difficulty focusing on pretty much anything for any length of time when reading this. It is however a fairly short book at only 200 odd pages so it didn’t take me too long to read it. I was left with a slight feeling of confusion at the end though and I do think it’s one I may re read at some point (when I’m less tired) as I feel like I’ve missed some things that I’ll pick up on a second reading.

Overall therefore a wonderfully unique read that I’m glad I’ve read even if I found it a challenging read at times. I would recommend this to anyone but maybe wait till you can give it your full focus.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: Just a Boyfriend by Sariah Wilson

Just a Boyfriend (End of the Line #2)
Just a Boyfriend
by Sariah Wilson was a sweet and fun read but probably not the most memorable of stories. The characters are likeable and there are some heavier themes which add a little depth but while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it as much as I hoped.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

Ian “Bash” Sebastian and Ember Carlson were high school sweethearts…until their single parents got married. With one thorny twist of fate, a secret young crush went from on fire to off-limits. What could a new stepbrother do but bail? Now, after almost four years, Bash has returned to Seattle, and he’s back in Ember’s orbit at End of the Line. EOL is the go-to college for second-chance scholarships. But what about love?

Sure, the old hurts are there. So is the attraction—and it’s more magnetic than ever. Still, they’re adults now, levelheaded and just fine with the friend thing. If only to make family dinners less awkward. But when they agree to start dating other people, moving on threatens to bring them closer together than ever.

Is it time to admit their past to their parents? Even trickier, their hope for the future? Because Ember and Bash deserve a love story of their own. With all their defenses down, can they make it a happy ever after?


MY REVIEW

Sariah Wilson’s books are a fairly recent discovery for me and while this is only the second one I’ve read I will definitely be checking out her others as I very much enjoyed it.

This probably falls under the category of stepbrother romance although if you’re uncomfortable with that type of story I’d argue that it’s more of a second chance at love story as the main characters were in a relationship before their parents even met each other let alone got married. It was only as a result of their parent’s whirlwind romance that Bash and Ember went their separate ways, not seeing or speaking to each other for over three years until they’re reunited at EOL college.

Ember and Bash are very likeable characters and I love how the story (including the flashbacks to when they first met) are told from both points of view. It really gives you a chance to get to know them and how they feel. It is a little frustrating at times knowing how crazy they are about each other and how one honest conversation about how they feel could solve a whole lot of confusion and angst but given their family situation they’re doing the best they can with what they know.

It is quite a sweet and funny read and I did love the relationship between Bash and Ember. There is lots of funny banter and teasing (they’re both very competitive) but what I loved most is how well they know each other and how they’re there when the other needs them and neither of them has it easy. As well as the light and the fun there are also some heavier themes running through the story including drug addiction, abandonment, depression and cancer. I’m not entirely convinced the author covers them the way she should (and I would argue not all are necessary) but it does give the story a little more depth.

Given the characters are in college this probably fits into the new adult category but it reads a little on the young side. There is plenty of chemistry between Ember and Bash, and more than one heavy make out session but there’s no actual sex or for that matter bad language (I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing). I also felt the character sometimes acted younger (and more inexperienced) than their age particularly when you consider everything they’ve gone through.

As far as secondary characters go, these were a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them were central to the story and I thought were very well rounded and believable, others I thought we could have done without as their role seemed to be to make a very obvious point. My biggest gripe however was probably with the parents. I’m not sure if it’s what the author intended but wow they really annoyed me with how selfish and controlling they were. Ember’s mother uses the cancer card to guilt trip Ember into doing whatever she wants and she’s completely oblivious to how she really feels. Bash’s father puts way too much responsibility on Bash and seems to completely completely reverse his opinion on Bash’s mother at one point. It did not make sense to me although I think I was mostly just annoyed that they put a stop to Bash and Ember’s relationship by running off and getting married after three weeks of dating and deciding they wanted everyone to be a big happy family.

Overall therefore I’d rate this as an enjoyable read but I’m not sure I’d consider it to be a memorable one. If you’re looking for a cute contemporary romance without an R Rating this may be right up your street.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars