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Review: Wrong Bed, Right Brother by Rebecca Brooks

Posted in Books, Reviews, Two and a Half Star
on July 6, 2020
Wrong Bed Right Brother Review

Thanks to Entangled Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

Honestly, when you pick up a book entitled Wrong Bed, Right Brother, you kind of deserve anything it throws at you. And throw it, it does. If you’re under the misapprehension that it’ll be a serious romance book then let me disillusion you quickly….

The premise is thus:

Amanda has had a crush on her co-worker, Luke, for as long as she can remember. She sort of thinks he’s interested but she’s not sure. And he’s about to move to the other side of the country…

Seizing her opportunity on a weekend away, she sneaks into his bedroom to make a move. It all seems to be going so well, until she realises – it’s not Luke! It’s his twin brother, Noah. 

Of course it was a mistake, but why is their chemistry so hard to ignore?

I think that tells you all you need to know about what you’re letting yourself in for. I’d love to say it gets less ridiculous from that point in but… I’d be lying. 

Still, I didn’t hate it. I went along for the ride. It was silly. The characters were underdeveloped, there wasn’t a great deal of what we might call realistic plot. But, it kept my mind off the way the world is falling apart for a couple of hours so, there is that. 

I didn’t really warm to the characters very much. They annoyed me a bit (but not enough to stop reading the book), towards the end I didn’t really care whether they got together or not. Probably because I knew they would (not really a spoiler alert – you only read these books for the happy ever after, right?).

I would have liked the romance story to be a bit more developed. The drama seemed a bit strained – the whole concept of Noah moving to LA simply to be with his brother was seemed a little forced, but I’m not going to pull it apart completely because it did the job it needed to do well enough. 

When I read it, I didn’t realise that it was part of a series. I don’t think that matters particularly to the enjoyment of the book, but does help you understand why some things are just never explained. It’s tricky to get the balance right when you write something that you want to work as a standalone piece and as part of series because you don’t want to repeat yourself too much. That being said, Wrong Bed, Right Brother errs a bit too far the other way and I think the reader does need a bit more backstory before your two protagonists end up against a barn wall. (That is just my opinion and perhaps I didn’t have an exciting enough youth). It’s never really explained why Amanda and Noah don’t like each other, but you’re expected to understand it’s a long standing feud. In that respect it gallops along too quickly to build up the necessary tension for the pay off to really be effective.

Overall, it was okay – a bit of fun, a quick read and nothing too serious. It did lack a depth in storytelling and characterisation, but honestly that’s not what you’d read this sort of book for anyway. You can predict the end from the first page (I mean, quite frankly from the title!), but there’s no harm to it. It’s not written in the most sophisticated way, but also not in a way which irritated me too much either.

On balance, I won’t re-read it, and I probably won’t seek out anything else by this author, however it kept me amused for a few hours and honestly, that’s all it was designed to do.

2.5 stars

A Keeper by Graham Norton – Review

Posted in Five Star, Reviews
on November 24, 2019
A Keeper by Graham Norton

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for the ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

I think most people come to a book written by a celebrity with more than a little scepticism. It’s easy to see why – there’s a lot of tripe written and published because the person who wrote it is already famous, and the publishing houses know it will pretty much sell itself. 

However, don’t make the mistake of putting Graham Norton into this category. The man can write. 

It was actually going to see Norton talk about his first novel, Holding, that sparked off this blog in the first place. (Take that as you will). I had toddled to the local theatre with my mother to see him be ‘interviewed’ by a local radio host (I think, does it matter?). Alas, the interviewer was rather poor, but Norton himself still came across well (he really does seem as lovely as he is on TV), exceptionally well read, knowledgeable about literature and intelligent. I read Holding in one sitting, remembered what I liked about reading and decided to set up a book blog….where I never did quite get around to reviewing that particular book. Whoops.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the topic (book) on hand. 

A Keeper follows Elizabeth Keane as she returns to Ireland following her mother’s death to oversee the sale of her home and wrapping up of her estate. While clearing her mother’s house, she comes across a series of letters that lead her to the identify of her father and the truth about her – and her mother’s past. 

While Elizabeth sets about unravelling the mystery that she’s uncovered, her life as she knows it back in NYC is unravelling in an eerily similar way. The present, past and future weave together in a cleverly written novel.

Graham Norton knows people. Of course he does – he’s made a career out of knowing how to get the very best out of people when he interviews them. His biggest strength as a writer is his characterisation. He really gets underneath the skin of his characters: they are real, they are visceral, everything they feel, say, do, or act like feels so very true. He draws in his reader’s empathy from the first page – and this is as true for A Keeper as it is for Holding. There is never a moment that you don’t believe a character would have acted in the way he’s written; you understand exactly why they react as they do, and why they think, feel, speak in a certain way. It’s magical.

Which isn’t to say that all the characters themselves are nice. But they’re real; they’re tangible and you can understand why they’ve done what they’ve done. 

It’s also why I’ll forgive the moments of the plot which get a little bit far fetched, or dramatic. Norton is such a good storyteller that you believe them. You want to get to the bottom of the mystery; you want everything that’s happening back in NYC to work out for the best; you want – somehow – for Elizabeth to be able to have that final, impossible talk with her mother where she tells her the full truth. You don’t, of course, get that. 

A Keeper is quite a dark book, full of suspense and at times unsettling.There are elements of The Woman In Black – just without the supernatural aspect.  It’s skillfully written and paced – slow enough to draw you in and make you wonder, but not drawn out so long you lose interest. Told in flashback and in present day, it weaves a generalised feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction with life, with real tragedy, exceptional circumstances and an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Norton is a skilled writer; you can certainly see that he’s someone with a real passion for literature and storytelling. There is an enjoyment for the written word that comes across clearly on every page. While, personally, I found the ending was a little bit too over dramatic, I can see why he chose to include it as  it did fit well with the overall story arc – so perhaps I’m just being picky. (I had to find something!).

I would absolutely recommend to anyone. This is not a book by a celebrity; this is a book by a gifted novelist, who also happens to be a chat show host. (Those that know my opinion of celebrity writers will know that this is an accolade of the highest honour!). I can’t wait to see what he writes next. 

Five stars. 

How Do You Like Me Now? – Holly Bourne

Posted in Books, Five Star, Reviews
on August 16, 2018

Guys, I think I’ve finally cracked it.

I’ve finally found a hyped book that I actually like!

I know, nobody is more surprised than I am. And I went in full sceptical, only to find myself hooked by about page five.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

How Do You Like Me Now? By Holly Bourne is a fast-paced, contemporary novel, in equal parts funny and heartbreaking.

In her twenties, Tori Bailey wrote a memoir come self-help book entitled ‘Who the fuck am I?’ , which propelled her to social media stardom, as a lifestyle guru and all round envy of all. She seems to have it all. Now in her thirties, she’s struggling to write her follow up book, as the happily ever after she wrote about is unravelling day by day.

It goes without saying that between your twenties and your thirties, things change. Your friends change, their priorities change, and the things you once thought were wonderful don’t seem that way anymore – and sometimes the things you once thought were awful don’t seem so bad. Holly Bourne really captures this feeling of change and uncertainty in a very neat way – and a way which feels particularly visceral and real. This novel is, in many ways, the story of Tori Bailey realising that the world does not necessarily move at her pace, and things change whether you want them to or not.

There is a sort of hubris at play. Tori is not an unlikeable character, not by a long way, but because of the life she’s led, she does assume that most people envy her and want her lifestyle. She is somewhat shocked when faced with the realisation that people don’t. When her best friend (who, though she never says it in quite so many words, Tori clearly regards as less cool, less pretty, less thin, and therefore unable to be as happy as her) chooses a settled relationship and a family over going out and getting drunk, Tori sees it as a betrayal. There is a lack of empathy for the fact that people might want a baby, a husband, a job which is secure but not necessarily exciting, and that’ll be enough to be content. From this point on it’s a steep learning curve for the woman who is still cashing in on the belief that her life is just a slightly more glamorous version of what it was when she was in her twenties.

Tori’s problem is that she always seems to be chasing the next big dream – aka the way of capturing her fan’s attention, and Instagram likes. And it is quite clearly apparent why quite early in the book. Her relationship with Tom – ‘Rock Man’ from her book – is at its best neglectful and at its worst abusive. There is one particular passage which is hard to read, and is very powerful – you’ll know if when you read it – where Tom’s behaviour moves from disinterest and into abuse of trust. It’s heartbreaking to see how desperate Tori is for him to love her or show her any affection – or really just have a good time with him. As a reader you’re screaming at her to just leave him, but of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Tori is crippled by the idea of letting her fans down, of losing her dream and fairytale ending. She blames herself for Tom’s behaviour – believing that if she was just a little bit prettier, or more exciting, Tom would come back to her. Tom, in turn, gaslights her and throws her a bone every time she’s about ready to end with him, and generally treats her appallingly. Real life, for Tori, is a vicious circle that is a world away from the fiction she portrays on her social media.

There are times when this novel reminds me of the Black Mirror episode where your social media rating affects everything – your life, your job, where you live… Only it’s as if Tori is the only person who knows she’s in this bubble. She is so afraid of facing the truth because she’s made such a public display of how wonderful everything is. Social media penetrates every moment of her life; if she’s not posting on it, she’s reading it. All her friends are posting their life events on there (babies, weddings, engagements etc etc), as if they’re living a second life on the platform. And for Tori, social media is very much a competition. She’s bet her livelihood on it. She’s consciously made her life public on a scale that none of her friends has, so when it starts to unravel, she feels forced to keep up the appearances.  It’s not quite as narcissistic as I’m making it sound (well, it sort of is), but it’s also desperately sad. Tori is trapped by the walls she has built herself, and though deep down she knows what she needs to do, she is paralysed against doing it. So instead it manifests through her acting out in different ways.

I think it is this which makes Tori so relatable, even though she is a social media celebrity. She’s flawed and she’s sad. Everyone has been in a situation which doesn’t quite feel right – be it a job, a relationship, a lifestyle, a place – and making a decision to change is not an easy one. We’ve all had moments where our lives seem to be switching upside down, our friends are moving on without us, we’re running out of time to achieve everything we want to. Holly Bourne does a very good job of capturing the emotions related to this.  We’ve all said things we don’t mean to our friends. Tori’s feeling of betrayal as her friends move on and she’s forced to look at her life in a new, harsh, life is very visceral. Her feelings are so raw and well written that it made me pause as I was reading.

I was in places moved to tears, in others frustrated and annoyed with the characters. And if that doesn’t capture the feeling of being in your late twenties and early thirties, I don’t know what does. So yes, Tori does occasionally grate on you, she is self obsessed, she is a little vacuous occasionally, but she’s meant to. Bourne manages to write a book about, essentially, “finding yourself” for the second time, without it being twee and preachy. That’s impressive. The ending is open, and I do hope there will be more from Tori. I would love to see her what happens next – and how she recovers her sense of self.

I completely recommend this book, 5 stars (and a couple of tears). 

How to Keep a Secret – Sarah Morgan

Posted in Books, Reviews, Three Star
on June 14, 2018
How To Keep A Secret

 

I received an ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

I’ve read a couple of Sarah Morgan’s books over the years. How to Keep A Secret is a departure from her previous style – and a welcome one.

The story is based around three generations of women from the Stewart family. Grandmother Nancy has always seemed a little distant to her daughters. Lauren appears to have the perfect family life in London, but her daughter Mack, is starting to act out. Jenna married the perfect man, and seems to have it all. But when tragedy hits, and Lauren finds herself back in her old family home in Martha’s Vineyard, the secrets that have pulled them apart start to unravel.

Each chapter starts from a different perspective, so we know what the characters are hiding before they reveal it to their family. And boy, are there a lot of secrets going on with the Stewarts. You do sometimes wonder if they have ever spoken frankly to one another! It’s devastating at times to see their carefully crafted lives crumbling apart. It takes time, but eventually they all manage to channel their anger, hurt, frustrations, betrayal – I could go on – into something much more positive.

Although positioned as a romance book – and there are romances in it – this is much more a book about family, friendships and moving on from things that seem too big to ever get over (be it a past, a betrayal, or a future plan that seems out of grasp). How one event can shake you to your core and effect your future forever. And mosty, how keeping a secret can harm you, instead of helping.

There is a lot going on in How To Keep A Secret but Martha’s friendship with Alice is one of the elements I wanted to highlight because it has been clearly thought about. In a book like this, if one friend wrongs the other in the way Alice wrongs Martha, she would be unforgivable – unredeemable – from thenceforth stricken from the narrative except to be spoken about in unflattering tones. However, here, Martha tries to rebuild the friendship in quite a positive way. I think that’s a lot more realistic, and a lot more powerful. It showed greater character development and strength from Martha than casting her lifelong friend out would have. It was very enjoyable to read.

A couple of minor points are undeveloped. Lauren’s love interests are a little unbelievable, for different reasons which will become apparent when you read it. The relationship with Scott in particular is altogether rather too convenient. It was a little predictable in parts, and I felt the ending was lacking a little energy compared to the beginning – but that was only a very slight niggle.

I enjoyed that not everything is quite wrapped up in the end, but there is an acceptance that it’s okay for things not to be. So much of the characters’ struggles have been brought about because they desired so much to appear outwardly perfect. Jenna, Lauren, Martha and Mack have been through too much to really have a ‘happy’ ending, but in its place they have found female solidarity, a closer family unit, and found that sharing is better than concealing.

Overall, an enjoyable book, and one I will doubtless re-read, with a couple of limitations. I’d give it three and a half stars if I could, but I can’t so it’ll have to be 3.