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The Existence of Amy – Lana Grace Riva – Review

Posted in Reviews, Three Star
on January 31, 2021
existence of Amy Lana grace riva

Thank you to Lana Grace Riva for gifting me a copy of The Existence of Amy in exchange for an honest review.

Amy has a normal life. That is, if you were to go by a definition of ‘no obvious indicators of peculiarity’, and you didn’t know her very well. She has good friends, a good job, a nice enough home. This normality, however, is precariously plastered on top of a different life. A life that is Amy’s real life. The only one her brain will let her lead. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started reading The Existence of Amy. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. I read it very quickly over a couple of days, which tells me something. It’s not a perfect read, but it’s good enough that I kept reading.

This is clearly a very personal book, which gives insight into what it’s like to try and live ‘a normal life’ with OCD. Amy, on the surface of it, manages to live her life very normally. She has a job, she gets on with it and she has friends and colleagues who like her. However, it is very soon apparent that something isn’t quite right. 

Amy is an interesting character. We’re told the story through her eyes. This gives us real insight into how she has to do things in order to live normally. She is at times incredibly frustrating. Her mental illness defines so much of her, that as a reader you want to hug her or shake her and say ‘It’s okay’. She has put limits around her life and simultaneously relies on, and tried to push away, those nearest to her.  

Amy is extraordinarily lucky with some of the people she surrounds herself with. They really do save her and this was lovely to see. They are endlessly patient and endlessly try to rally her round – even to something as simple as after work drinks. I think this was valuable in showing the reader what is required to be friends with someone with such a debilitating mental health illness. 

It isn’t a plot-heavy book. The focus is very much on Amy’s introspection rather than any huge plot development. This will tick some people’s boxes and not others. I found myself wishing a little more happened, or we got to see a bit more of Amy’s active recovery, but that’s a very minor comment. 

Some of the characters could be a bit more fleshed out. They – including Amy – were a little dulled out. I wondered if this was intentional to reflect the state of mind of the protagonist, but it does make the novel feel a little superficial in parts. There are also some clunky phrases and rather a reliance on telling rather than showing. There were a few things skipped over entirely (again, this may have been to detail the way Amy’s mind works). The ending felt a little rushed in comparison to the rest of the book. 

It does feel like a relatively truthful and informative account of going through like with OCD, and I think this is where sometimes it falls down a bit as a fiction book. Overall, I enjoyed The Existence of Amy – but I’m not sure it is one I would re-read.

3/5 stars.

Library Ready Reads Review

Posted in Reviews, Round Ups
on October 21, 2020

As we stare into the abyss of another sort-of-kinda-pretty-much-a-lockdown, I’m reminded of a blog post I meant to write about my local library’s solution to the last one.  I thought the time had passed for this blog, but as our esteemed government has given me a second chance, I thought I’d get it up quicker this time around.

To encourage people to still use the library, but also reduce the risk of contamination with people picking up books, like many others, my library started offering ‘Ready Reads’. You pick the genres you’re interested in, how many books you want and add any notes that you like, and they’ll select the books for you. They were waiting for me by the entrance of the library and had already been checked out, so I didn’t have to use the checking out machine or anything like that. (Or at least I wouldn’t have had to, had I not been a greedy goblin where books are required and checked out another 4 or 5 at the same time. I have a problem, I know this. But right now I’m not prepared to do anything about it!).

I asked for three books (I didn’t want them to know how much of a book hoarder I am). I told them that I was after funny romance books or crime – and that I was particularly fond of cosy crime a la Agatha Christie.

When I went to pick up my books, I was told that they’d had fun choosing them for me – I think there are quite a few romance fans among the staff!

I received A Country Escape – Katie Fforde, Almost a Bride – Jo Watson and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith.

I read them all while on holiday, because that’s the sort of social being I am. My long suffering fiancé knows better than to try and jam any itinerary too full because I’ll stubbornly sit on any available chair with my book until he gets the hint. 

A Country Escape – Katie Fforde

You know where you are with Katie Fforde and this was exactly the sort of book you want to read on holiday. I’ve read pretty much all of her books over the years, some are better than others, some are very silly (but not silly enough to stop me reading them because hey, a girl wants a nice romance story sometimes). 

This one follows Fran who has always dreamed of being a farmer. When an elderly, distant relative aunt conveniently appears and offers her the chance to inherit the family farm – she jumps at it.

It’s country-ish and comforting. There’s a couple of bumps along the way but ultimately you know how it shouldend – you’ve just got to see how it unravels to that point. I read it in a day, I enjoyed it. I learnt quite a lot about the cheese making process. I’d probably only read it again if I was having a lazy day and wanted a quick read.

Almost A Bride – Jo Watson

I struggled with this one, I really did. At first, I thought one of the librarians might have heard of my plight (never coincide your wedding plans with a global pandemic, folks), and included this as a bit of a joke. But then, how would they know?

Oh goodness me. This was awful. It wasn’t even funny to make up for the ridiculous plot.

Annie believes her boyfriend is about to propose. Alas, that same day she finds him in bed with another woman (and nipple clamps no less..). She also manages to get fired and arrested in a particularly bizarre turn of events.

Anyway, thanks to some rich friends, she finds herself in Mauritius having a lovely time until the ex-boyfriend arrives. She finds another chap who agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend.

I found it incredibly irritating. Daft beyond belief. And there was none of the comedy I was promised. I’m all for a bit of escapism, but some of the characters have to be at least likable. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this one with a barge pole.  

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith

I’ve never read anything by Alexander McCall Smith before, much to my chagrin. I’ve always intended to, and I’ve had his novels recommended lots of times before, so I don’t really have an excuse. Mind, I was about 25 before I read my first Agatha Christie novel, so I am often a little bit behind.

I really enjoyed The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds. It wasn’t what I was expecting – actually as the book went on, it kept being not quite what I expected, but in a good way.

Part of the Isabel Dalhousie series, Isabel is asked to investigate the theft of a valuable painting from a wealthy Scottish collector. 

The crime mystery is set against a background of Isabel’s musings on ethics and the human condition, parenting and a few other smaller stories. This was the bit which surprised me, and I found I did really enjoy.

I’ve seen from some other reviews that a lot of people haven’t enjoyed this Dalhousie novel as much as some of the others. If I ever get to the bottom of my TBR list I’ll enjoy giving some others a try. 

In conclusion…

So those were my Ready Reads – enjoying two out of three isn’t bad going, especially given how snobby I can be about books. (I know you wouldn’t necessarily think it from reading my blog. I generally just don’t write blogs about books I don’t like, unless I feel really compelled).

Given the brief of funny romance or cosy crime, are there any books you’d recommend for me to read?

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. This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you purchase something through one of these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you.

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

Buy from Amazon

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.