If you’re after an easy-read romance with all the classic ingredients, Unrequited Alice might be the one for you.
Read my honest review here.
Purchase the novel here.
The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins (Harper Collins UK)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Family
Three estranged sisters have a shock when they attend the reading of their mother’s will – in order to receive their inheritance, they must complete a list of tasks together, spanning a year. For sensitive Dee, being close to her sisters seems like an impossible dream. Fleur, the free spirit and Rose, the control freak, think it’s a waste of time. The feud between these women can’t be fixed in a few weekends. For the sake of their mother, they’ll give it a go, but none expect the program to succeed. What they don’t know is that the next year will change their lives and relationships forever.
The Kicking the Bucket List is a wonderfully unique concept. How many of us would kill to have such a legacy from a parent who has passed on? An entire year of activities to bring a family closer together. Some say that love cannot be controlled, but this novel shows it can, at the very least, be manipulated.
The three sisters, Dee, Fleur and Rose, are distinct, well outlined characters. At time they can be a little two-dimensional, but some elements of their different personalities are sure to resonate with most, if not all readers. The majority of the novel is written from the perspective of Dee, however Fleur and Rose do get a bit of personal narration themselves. Although I believe it’s important for the story that each sister has ‘their say’, at times I felt that Hopkins struggled to strike the correct tone or style. Whilst Dee’s narrative is just that, a first person narrative like that found in many novels, the other two were harder to pin down. Sometimes they read like a diary entry, sometimes like a prayer, sometimes like a conversation with their deceased mother. I would have preferred if each sister had their own distinct narrative style, to provide context and individuality to their thoughts and feelings.
Nevertheless, The Kicking the Bucket List is for the most part a beautifully handled tale of sisterhood, touching on themes of grief, loss, love and happiness with great tenderness and respect. There were points during this novel were I was on the verge of tears, and many more when they were free flowing! Having siblings myself, I found it so easy to relate to the struggles these sisters were experiencing. Misunderstandings can cause so many difficulties and frustrations, and oftimes during the book I was close to yelling at them “JUST EXPLAIN YOURSELF!”. If everybody was honest, at least the world would be simpler.
Dee was the main focus of the novel. An artist and single mother of a grown-up daughter, she had a peaceful life down in the countryside of Cornwall, but the death of her mother alongside the passing of her landlady threw her life into turmoil. Many would crumble under these circumstances; her mother was the only member of her family she really spoke to, and she was being evicted from the home she had rented for over 25 years. I was really intrigued to see how Dee would handle these situations, and I can’t say I was disappointed. Although I don’t usually enjoy escapades of sensitive, big-hearted characters (I find them a bit unrealistic, weak and dreary), Hopkins has written a woman with backbone and integrity which is extremely admirable. The same goes for Dee’s sisters – although they all have dislikable traits, there was also something sympathetic about all of them.
My favourite parts of the novel were definitely when the three sisters were interacting on their weekend excursions. With a host of activities including colonics, cat sanctuaries and perfume palaces, Hopkins exploited many wonderful opportunities for laughs and tender moments. Often funny, always meaningful, The Kicking the Bucket List has to be one of the more unique novels of friendship within families. It’s an issue which affects us all, and I think we could all learn something from this book. I know I did.
The Kicking the Bucket List is published TOMORROW, 9th March!
Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan, Tor)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Pyrre is on trial. She has committed murder. But she isn’t a criminal. She is Skullsworn, acolyte of Anashael, the God of death.
To become a Priestess, she must complete the trial, a 14 day long mission to fulfil the words of a song. The song is a list of offerings to the god, victims of the acolytes training in death. One such offering must be “the one who made your mind and body sing with love”, and so Pyrre travels to Dombang, town of her birth, in search of a man from her past.
If she can fall in love with him, and then kill him, she is certain she will pass her trial. What awaits her in Dombang, however, is much bigger than her trial, and the requirements of her trial may not be as easy to fulfil as she believed. If she fails, all that awaits her is a violent death. She must not fail.
Phew! I feel like I need a breather.
Brian Staveley’s novels are truly epic. He has an uncanny ability to create entire worlds with a vast array of characters, religions and cultures. I was first introduced to Pyrre when I read the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Skullsworn is a prequel to those novels, and works brilliantly as a stand-alone story, so is perfect for readers new to Staveley’s work. Pyrre was always an intriguing member of the Unhewn Throne cast, however, so I’m delighted to learn more about her story.
She’s different in Skullsworn, though I can definitely see how she’ll evolve into the gruff, ferocious woman from the Unhewn Throne series. She’s a little more uncertain but I think she’s also more willing to take risks and accept and experience her own emotions. She’s a refreshing take on a female protagonist. One of the things I love about Staveley is that you’ll find no stereotypes in his work.
In Skullsworn you’ll also find no black and white. Each individual could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but there is always something sympathetic to create a bit of tension and interest. It would be incredibly easy to view Pyrre and the other Skullsworn as evil murderers with a vile and depraved religion, but when Pyrre explains how she feels about Anashael and death, it kind of makes sense! Anashael is not a malicious god. Death should be painless and quick, the furthest from suffering. His followers also accept that there is no sacrifice in death without having known the beauty and wonder of life. Many of Anashael’s followers are great lovers of the arts, in particular music. It is these intricate details, so thoroughly explored, which take Staveley’s novels from the run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure to the masterclass in expert story-writing.
Skullsworn, at its centre, feels like an adventure novel. There are plenty of swashbuckling action scenes, intriguing plot twists and warring cultures to stop the novel from being a bit of a slog – it’s a big book! The novel is certainly not for the faint of heart, and I think to really enjoy it you’ve got to love reading. It’s long and involving and there are complex themes which can take a bit of thought to wrap your head around. Luckily, Staveley is great at knowing how to get this information across. He tells you what you need to know and when, but doesn’t rely on giving the reader too much description at any one time. By the end of the novel you’re left with the feeling that you really understand the world he’s created.
You’ll also be left with the satisfying feeling of a story well-finished. He really knows how to end a book. So often, novels fall at the final hurdle. The longer the book, the greater the build-up, and often the finale can seem a little lacking in comparison to the rest of the story. In contrast, I think Staveley’s novel is weakest in the middle. We’re met all of our characters, Pyrre is well into her trial and at times I feel the story may have been progressing a little too slowly for my liking. I do wonder, however, whether a faster pace would have made the ending a little less enjoyable.
Skullsworn is a great adventure with a dash of romanced, wrapped around a core of characters who will play with your emotions (and even your moral compass), I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you’re not going to be too busy for the next couple of weeks.
Skullsworn is released on 20th April 2017.
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (Thomas & Mercer)
Unlike my other reviews, this was not provided by Netgalley. I simply read it and felt it deserved some advertisement.
Genres: Thriller, Trauma, Abduction
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviours, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.…
WOW. Loved this book. Just going to put it straight out there. Original, thrilling, enthralling, horrific, un-put-downable. I can’t decide whether it’s an extremely tragic story, or an ultimately uplifting one…maybe it can be both?
This novel is not for the faint of heart. It deals with neglect, abduction, rape, torture and murder. Why, you ask, do you want to read about that? Because Hutchison also writes about hope, love, family, bravery and heroism. The Butterfly Garden is a story about courage in the face of extreme adversary, people coming together just when they feel like they want to fall apart, and the power of one’s own convictions to see justice done.
The heroine of this story is Maya. She’s sassy and doesn’t take crap from anyone, but is also loyal to a fault, fiercely protective of those who need her help, and has a streak of charm that I’d challenge any reader not to fall for. She is extremely relatable and sympathetic, but with enough hard edges that I believe every bit of her story.
Speaking of the story, I love how it plays out. The novel opens with the discovery of the garden – most writers would leave this until the end. What Hutchison does is take us through Maya’s story along with the FBI investigators, unravelling each tantalising clue to her experience through detailed questioning. There is nothing chronological about the telling, and I love that. It’s very refreshing, and definitely keeps me engaged as a reader.
Alongside Maya is a brilliant supporting cast. It would be far too easy for Hutchison to create carbon copies of Maya for all the victims of the garden – after all, some people may think that there’s only so much variety to be had in a group of 16-21 year old females. The author, however, uses hobbies, speech and personality traits to create very distinct characters who each have their own roles to play in this story.
I must also praise Hutchison for her male characters. There are a lot of horrible men in this novel, but she doesn’t make a sweeping generalisation that all men are dangerous. In fact, I believe one of the kindest people is Agent Victor Hanoverian, who questions Maya relentlessly but also with compassion and understanding.
Even the Gardener isn’t black and white. He may be a fundamentally evil person, but even he has moments of softness – she gives him a humanity other authors may not have deigned to bestow, but that’s what makes this novel so great. It is firmly grounded in reality. According to Parents.com, every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted. There are thousands upon thousands of people all over the world with stories like Maya’s, and it’s important that we hear about them. Whether fact or fiction, it is important that the world never forgets the dangers children face in this world. Stories like The Butterfly Garden prompt us to remember those who are lost and bolster the search for those who may still be found.
This novel is a triumph.
Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard (Legend Press)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Thriller, Trauma
Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her best friend dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.
However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions, too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?
As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there’s another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can’t escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.
In many ways this is a horrible book. We spend a lot of time experiencing Lisa’s flashbacks and fear, and there are very few laughs. It’s sad. Of course, what would you expect with this subject matter?
But don’t let that put you off. Were it any different, it would be awful. As it is, the novel is a triumph.
Beard has managed to portray a realistic, well-rounded victim of trauma in an accurate and respectful way. Her psychological difficulties are at the forefront of the story, but Lisa is still a real human being and she isn’t defined by that one experience. She has depth and personality, and I think I really understand her.
I think the success of this novel is partly down to its pace. Although the storyline of Dare to Remember spans approximately 2 years, it takes a long time to get there. We spend a lot of time with Lisa immediately after the event, as she struggles to come to terms with what’s happened. It is a great way to really get your claws into the mindset of the character, though the subject matter and slowness does make it a bit more difficult to stay engaged with the book for long stretches. I’m a read from 8pm to 3am sort of person, so that didn’t suit me, but you may be a 10-page at a time person, in which case it’d be perfect.
Despite taking a little longer to read the novel than I would usually, there is a great air of intrigue which kept me coming back. Lisa can’t remember what happened that night, or even who Fergus was, though there is something, as my brother would say, ‘on the tip of her brain’. Her struggle to find out what that something is definitely keeps the pages turning, and when it is revealed it’s a worthy surprise.
I’m also delighted that Beard didn’t feel the need to give Lisa a man to ‘help her through’. Well, the psychologist is a man, but that doesn’t count. She is her own knight in shining armour, and that is a truly refreshing thing to find, even in this day and age!
It’s a great read for any fans of the thriller genre, and I’d definitely recommend. Just don’t expect a laugh.
Dare to Remember is available to purchase NOW!