Holiday Reads 2016

Gary and I had the most wonderful holiday.

Between work and a very busy summer and Gary’s appendix bursting in the middle of the night (which is a story for another day!), it’s been a stressful couple of months and we both really needed a break.

So we booked a little villa in the south of Portugal and off we went for a week in the sun…

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It was blissful. 28 degrees (at least!) every day and nothing to do but sleep, sunbathe, eat and…read!

I have always been a bookworm and I used to get through two books a week. These days, I don’t have a bus commute or a lunch break at work, so I’m down to one book a month but there was no stopping me on holiday and I devoured TEN in the space of our seven lazy days…

**NO SPOILERS**

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.
Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.
Her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival. And a tiny wooden hut that is Everything.

I was really gripped by this book for the first two thirds. It’s dark and it’s intense and the premise is really interesting. I also liked Peggy as a protagonist and the way that the narrative flips backwards and forwards in time added extra drama.

I did have a problem with the ending though and, for me, too much was left unresolved. I know that lots of people like books that do this but I personally find it frustrating, particuarly when you’ve become so wrapped up in the world of the characters and their story.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I would read more by this author, so I’ve given it three out of five.

3/5

The Hummingbird’s Cage by Tamara Dietrich

Joanna has spent ten years married to a monster.
Everyone thinks she has the perfect life, but behind closed doors she lives in constant fear of her husband.
Escape seems impossible – and then a stranger offers her a chance to flee.
On the run with her young daughter, Joanna finds herself in the mysterious town of Morro. With no memory of how she got there. And no idea of what the town truly is.
Joanna faces a rare and terrible choice – stay safe, or return to face the fight of her life, to save herself and her little girl.

I really enjoyed this book.

It started in one place and ended up somewhere entirely unexpected and I really love when a book catches me by surprise like that.

I really can’t say much more without giving it away but I would really recommend this novel and will be looking out for more from the author.

5/5

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A young woman is making a living faking it as a cut-price psychic (with some illegal soft-core sex work on the side). She makes a decent wage mostly by telling people what they want to hear. But then she meets Susan Burke.
Susan moved to the city one year ago with her husband and 15-year-old stepson Miles. They live in a Victorian house called Carterhook Manor. Susan has become convinced that some malevolent spirit is inhabiting their home. The young woman doesn’t believe in exorcism or the supernatural. However when she enters the house for the first time, she begins to feel it too, as if the very house is watching her, waiting, biding its time . . .

I’m already a fan of Gillian Flynn and so when I saw that this short story had been released, I had to grab it.

And it didn’t disappoint.

It’s as tense and taught as her full length novels and has enough twists and turns to pull you in and keep hold of you until the last page.

My only *slight* issue with it is that the story is a little bit predictable but Flynn’s writing is sharp enough that that is forgiveable.

4/5

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

My name is Amanda. I’m 18. When you look at me, you might see that I’m pretty and popular; you might think my life is easy. But being me has never been easy. Because I haven’t always been Amanda. When I was born, I was named Andrew. Now, at my new school, I finally feel like myself. But do I owe my new friends the truth about my past?

I couldn’t have loved this book more.

It’s honest and funny and heartbreaking in places and I would love to read more by this author.

5/5

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband’s hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.
Curious, she opens it – and time stops.
John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.
Cecilia – betrayed, angry and distraught – wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband’s secret, she will hurt those she loves most . . .

This novel balances the stories of three women, all connected to one tragic event and somehow manages to get right under the skin of all three.

I read this in a single afternoon, because I just couldn’t put it down, and I’m sure that I will read more of Moriarty’s novels in the future.

The ending bothered me a little bit, because it felt slightly anticlamatic, but overall I enjoyed it and it kept me hooked.

4/5

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.
He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.
But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves…

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years and the villa just happened to have a copy, so I couldn’t turn down the chance to grab it.

And it did NOT disappoint.

Once I’d got my head around who was who – why does everyone have three names?! – I was entirely gripped and couldn’t put it down.

It’s REALLY dark and very violent in places but the twists and turns are brilliant and I didn’t see the final answer to the mystery coming at all, which is always a good thing.

I loved it so much that I almost don’t want to read the others, in case they’re not as good, but I’m sure they will find their way onto my bookshelves one day…

5/5

The Girl With No Past by Kathryn Croft

Leah Mills lives a life of a fugitive – kept on the run by one terrible day from her past. It is a lonely life, without a social life or friends until – longing for a connection – she meets Julian. For the first time she dares to believe she can live a normal life.
Then, on the twentieth anniversary of that day, she receives a card. Someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed the life Leah has created.
But is Leah all she seems? Or does she deserve everything she gets?
Everyone has secrets. But some are deadly.

This was kind of a mixed bag for me.

I liked the set up and the main character, Leah, and the tension that is in the first two thirds of the book. I also liked the way that the storyline flips backwards and forwards between the past and present.

However, I didn’t connect with the ending and when Leah’s ‘crime’ was revealed, it felt rather anticlamatic, given all the guilt that Leah has been living with. I also thought that the ‘twist’ was too sign posted, which took the surprise out of it.

Overall, it felt a bit uneven and I’m not sure I’d pick up another book by this author.

3/5

Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

When Maisie is struck by lightning, her face is partially destroyed. She’s lucky enough to get a face transplant, but how do you live your life when you can’t even recognize yourself anymore? She was a runner, a girlfriend, a good student …a normal girl. Now, after a single freak accident, all that has changed. As Maisie discovers how much her looks did and didn’t shape her relationship to the world, she has to redefine her own identity, and figure out what ‘lucky’ really means.

I read this in a single sitting, because I geuinely couldn’t put it down.

I really liked that Sheinmel didn’t make Maisie a ‘perfect’ girl, she is angry and sad and occasionally kind of a brat, and that felt very realistic. I also liked that it didn’t have a shiny, ‘Hollywood’ ending, where everything is okay and back to normal again.

Overall, I thought it was honest and truthful and I can’t wait to read more by the author.

5/5

The Widow by Fiona Barton

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

I wanted more from this book.

It has a really interesing premise and the central story is set up well but I just wanted more.

It could have been darker and more dramatic and more engaged with the characters.

Instead, it fell slightly flat and I’m not sure I’d read anything else from Barton.

2/5

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

What if you weren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions…

I loved this.

I am a huge fan of Ness and just like everything else that he has written, his version of Young Adult has a quirky and original slant to it.

It took a couple of chapters for me to settle into the slightly off beat style but once I was in the rhythm, I couldn’t put it down.

It’s a coming of age story like no other.

5/5

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So, those are the books that I ripped through during my holiday, what have you read this summer?

I’ll leave you with this snap of us on the beach…sigh, take me back!!!

VJ x

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