contemporary fiction

All posts tagged contemporary fiction

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

Published April 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.

Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…

What did I think?:

I first came across the amazing Louise O’Neill with her debut novel, Only Ever Yours which won a host of acclaim and the YA book prize back in 2015. Just looking at the title, Asking For It, I knew this was going to be a raw, emotional read but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the feelings it would give me while I was reading it. The author approaches difficult topics, things we don’t necessarily talk about much (but SHOULD) with ease and panache and I finished this novel angry with the world but strangely quite empowered and wanting to do something to change it.

If you haven’t heard already, Asking For It is the story of eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan. Her life is pretty much perfect, she has a host of adoring friends, she is popular, beautiful and clever to boot and is the apple of her parents eye. A lot is expected of Emma, especially by her mother and it is interesting to note how the support network around her fails spectacularly after one night when her whole world falls apart. Emma is under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the event occurs and was so wasted that she has no recollection of it at all. Turning up a bit bruised and worse for wear on her doorstep might have just been another night partying a bit too hard? Until school the next day when her friends ignore her, mock her or just plain won’t meet her eye. For there are explicit photographs of Emma and what happened to her plastered all over social media and she has become the laughing stock of the school. Emma has had a bit of a reputation prior to the incident but she was obviously too drunk/high to give her consent… was she asking for it?

While reading this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue of consent and responsibility that the author has explored in such a visceral, honest way. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the amount of rape cases that actually end in a conviction i.e. very few and as a result, many women feel scared to come forward as they fear they won’t be believed. It is only widely known that the prosecution only need to get a whiff of “she had been drinking,” before the issue of consent becomes a very blurry one. This just makes me so angry. What right does anyone have to use alcohol as an excuse to not convict someone who has brutally invaded a private, personal space? In Asking For It, Louise O’Neill makes our emotions and attitudes whirl considerably more as Emma O’Donovan is not a likeable character in the slightest. She is rude, bitchy and a nasty piece of work and initially, she was so rotten I felt I couldn’t possibly feel sorry for her. Until the party. Until she becomes a wreck, a broken shell of herself, possibly ruined for life and intensely pitiable. Of course, no matter someone’s personality/past actions, absolutely no one deserves to be violated like that.

We have to start talking about this issue, we simply must try and lift the shame behind having this happen and treat victims the way they should be treated, as a human being with basic rights to their own body that no-one should take away unless they explicitly consent to it. This is why this book is so great – it makes you think, it makes you emotional, it makes you desperate to see change and it makes you worry about every single woman that this has happened to. Certainly nobody is EVER “Asking For It.” A huge thank you to Louise for writing such a strong, passionate story that really opened my eyes.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Published April 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

What did I think?:

First of all, the hugest of thank yous to the team at Hodder and Stoughton and Louise Swannell for kindly sending me a copy of He Said/She Said in return for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, I have nothing but gushing praise for this fantastic and thrilling novel! I have read one of Erin Kelly’s other books, The Poison Tree in my pre-blogging days and I remember thoroughly enjoying it but reading this, her most recent book, made me a devoted fan of her writing. Have you ever read a book that gripped you so entirely that you became really cross when you had to stop and do menial, everyday things? If this has been the case with you, dear reader, prepare yourself for not being able to do ANYTHING ELSE while reading He Said/She Said.

The story is about a couple called Laura and Kit, the latter of whom is a keen eclipse chaser and travels all around the world over a number of years to be present at each phenomenal event, weather permitting. When Kit and Laura first meet, she is aware of his eclipse obsession and begins to get in the spirit of things herself, watching her first eclipse with Kit at a festival devoted especially to the event in Cornwall, 1999. It is at this festival however, that both Laura and Kit witness something terrible. Laura is unlucky enough to witness the majority of the situation, Kit only sees the aftermath but it is something that haunts them well into their adult life together and in the present time, where Laura is pregnant. The couple have changed their names and are terribly careful to not leave any online presence – this means no photos, certainly no social media and Laura is suffering from crippling anxiety precipitated from the events that began all those years ago. However, why are they going to all this effort to hide themselves? What exactly happened in Cornwall in 1999 that has affected them so greatly?

I don’t want to go in to too much more detail but I really hope that has whetted your appetite and curiosity. It certainly did the job for me and I was hooked pretty much from the very first chapter. We hear from multiple perspectives, both Kit and Laura’s and across two time periods, the present (2015) and the past (1999). It’s a beautiful and effective way by the author of demonstrating a very slow, methodical reveal of what happened to Laura and Kit to have made them go to the extremes and terror they now live under. It’s also a fascinating character study and I loved the tricks that Erin Kelly used to make you convinced (or not so convinced as the case may have been!) about the personality of a particular individual. I also believe an audible gasp when finishing the novel has got to be a good sign, right? Yes, that happened. Now all I can do is beg you all to read this novel and discover the magic that the author weaves for yourself.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Close To Me – Amanda Reynolds

Published April 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Close To Me is a gripping debut psychological drama that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling The Husband’s Secret, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Linda Green’s While My Eyes Were Closed.

She can’t remember the last year. Her husband wants to keep it that way.

When Jo Harding falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in hospital with partial amnesia-she’s lost a whole year of memories. A lot can happen in a year. Was Jo having an affair? Lying to her family? Starting a new life?

She can’t remember what she did-or what happened the night she fell. But she’s beginning to realise she might not be as good a wife and mother as she thought.

What did I think?:

I got the opportunity to meet the lovely Amanda Reynolds in person at a Headline bloggers evening I went to recently where I also picked up a copy of her debut novel, Close To Me in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to Wildfire Publishers (an imprint of Headline) for a copy and to Amanda for the wonderful chat we had that evening. Now, if you like your psychological thrillers, Close To Me is a novel you definitely shouldn’t miss out on reading, it’s a fantastic and tense tale that had me gripped right until the end and I became terribly attached to the characters and their lives – the sign of a wonderful author.

The premise initially reminded me of the brilliant Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson i.e. a woman has an accident which results in her suffering amnesia and questioning whole periods of her life that she has missed. It wasn’t long before I realised that although there were slight similarities at the outset of the novel, Close To Me stands by itself quite independently and should not be compared or any potential twists anticipated. Our protagonist, Jo Harding has lost one year of her life after falling down the stairs at home but snatches of events keep coming back to her as she is recovering from her head injury. She begins to realise that certain things are being kept from her by her husband and her two grown up children, but why? What has happened in the past year that has been so terrible that her family are keeping secrets from her in this way? Also, if Jo manages to uncover what has happened in the past year, will that be a good thing or will she wish she had never remembered?

I loved the way this novel was structured. We only hear things from the perspective of Jo but she is such a fascinating character (and somewhat unreliable narrator due to her head injury) that I immediately warmed to her and was rooting for her to get to the bottom of what precipitated her fall down the stairs in the first place. The reader is transported between two time periods, Jo’s present situation and her fight to recover her memories and back to a year ago where one of her last memories is dropping her son off at university. As we, the reader find out things as Jo is finding them out herself it felt very intimate and exciting as a reading experience and I thoroughly enjoyed all the revealing moments, especially close to the end where I quite literally could not put the book down until I had found out EVERYTHING. This is a strong, very memorable psychological thriller and a brilliant debut for the genre. I wish Amanda Reynolds every success for the future and I’ll certainly be reading whatever she writes next.

Interested? Buy Close To Me from Amazon now as an e-book for the absolute bargain price of 99p!:

Paperback release is 27th July, 2017.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

Published April 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

What would YOU do if your child wasn’t yours?

Utterly compelling, Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks’s new contemporary novel The Stranger In My Home, is sure to move, grip and delight her fans, along with readers of Liane Moriarty, Jane Shemilt and Lisa Jewell.

Alison is lucky and she knows it. She has the life she always craved, including a happy home with Jeff and their brilliant, vivacious teenage daughter, Katherine – the absolute centre of Alison’s world. Then a knock at the door ends life as they know it. Fifteen years ago, someone else took Alison’s baby from the hospital. And now Alison is facing the unthinkable.

The daughter she brought home doesn’t belong to her.

When you have everything you dreamed of, there is everything to lose.

What did I think?:

I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Adele Parks at a recent blogger evening hosted by her publisher, Headline and managed to pick up a copy of her latest novel. Thank you so much to Headline for hosting the evening and for providing a copy of The Stranger In My Home in exchange for an honest review. Adele talked to Cleo (from Cleopatra Loves Books) and I about the brilliant new venture she was championing, Reading Ahead, part of The Reading Agency which encourages reluctant readers to pick up a book. A big part of that is asking high profile authors like Adele and others like Rowan Coleman, Jenny Colgan and Dreda Say Mitchell (to name a few) to write a “Quick Read,” which may make it easier for people to start reading by giving them the confidence they may lack. To find out more about this fantastic programme please go to their website HERE.

Now I have a confession to make. I’ve never read an Adele Parks novel before! I have no excuse, don’t ask me why or judge me but I’m extremely glad I remedied that and picked up her latest. Her writing is deliciously darker than I was expecting full of twists and turns, family drama, betrayal and secrets. Our main character is Alison and the focus for the main part is on her relationship with her husband and teenage daughter Katherine, the latter of whom seems to be the most perfect adolescent any parent could wish for. She never gets in trouble, she is kind and considerate, her grades are good, she excels at everything she turns her hand to and her relationship with both her parents is rock solid.

Well as you’ve guessed from the synopsis, unfortunately things don’t stay this perfect for long. Alison’s world is shattered when one day a stranger turns up on her doorstep and insinuates that she may have brought the wrong daughter home from the hospital i.e. their babies were somehow switched. To top it all off, there is worse news to come for the entire family, something that devastates them all and could have a huge impact on their lives, especially Katherine’s. Alison is determined not to treat Katherine any different. After all, she has been her parent for the last fifteen years and Katherine her child. However, she knows that something this huge cannot be ignored, particularly when her biological child has been living with another family all these years and appears to be everything Katherine is not.

That’s all I really want to say about the plot as I’m very fearful of spoiling it. One thing I must say is do not take this story on face value alone. It is much deeper and murkier than you would think and the places that Adele Parks takes the characters may be quite different to what you would anticipate! This was definitely the case for me. I was shocked and surprised in equal measure but throughout it all felt so invested in the characters and the story-line. Nothing is what it seems, no-one is perfect, mistakes are made and secrets are unearthed. This is an exciting, well paced read that I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m so glad to be saying that this will not be the last I read of Adele Parks.

Would I recommend it?: 

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

Published April 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, apologies that it’s taken me so long to write up my thoughts on this thought-provoking and emotionally raw novel! I have to say, I loved the way Small Great Things was marketed in the initial stages. It was sent to me without a title, author, cover image or even blurb on the back. All we were asked to do as reviewers was #readwithoutprejudice. Sorry the image is a little small but you can hopefully see that it’s purely just a black and white cover with very little information about what the story might be about. This was a really new and fascinating way to read a novel and I was excited to see if I could guess the author based on the content.

Did I guess it? Funnily enough, I did! I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult for a while, in fact one of my favourite books of all time is My Sister’s Keeper which my sister Chrissi Reads and I re-read fairly recently for our Banned Books series. Saying that, I haven’t read one of Jodi’s books for a little while but it was comforting to realise once I had finished that she hasn’t lost her touch with approaching controversial topics and family dramas in an open, honest and often nail-biting way. In Small Great Things, we are thrust into the world of Ruth Jefferson, a black labour and delivery nurse who is shocked to her core when some white supremacist parents explicitly request that she should not be permitted to touch their newborn child. When the child in question becomes gravely ill and requires resuscitation, Ruth hesitates briefly and this leads to her being blamed for the child’s death which goes to court in a dramatic showdown between Ruth, her white lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and the child’s mother and father who strangely enough have appointed a black lawyer for themselves to prosecute Ruth.

The story is told from multiple perspectives (one of my favourite devices used by an author) and we hear not only from Ruth herself but from her lawyer Kennedy and interestingly, from the white supremacist father, Turk where we get a fascinating insight into his past, revealing how he came to hold the extreme views that he does at the time of his son’s death. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jodi Picoult book without a courtroom drama and she is one of the few authors excepting John Grisham who writes this part of the narrative  in such a compelling way, making it impossible to put the book down.

As I mentioned before, the author courts controversial topics with ease, grace and dogged determination and I always enjoy finding out the topic she will be getting her teeth into next. Without a doubt, Jodi Picoult is like a dog with a bone when she talks about racism through the eyes of her black character, Ruth and I was slightly concerned that writing as a white woman, Ruth’s voice might not feel particularly authentic but I had absolutely no further concerns once I started to read from her perspective. All the characters, even those minor ones that we rarely see were drawn perfectly and were incredibly believable, especially the villain of the piece, Turk whose back story was particularly intriguing. At times, I have to admit it may have come across a bit “Racism For Beginners,” but despite that I still think it’s a book that needs to be read and such a prominent issue both now and in our past.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

That Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson

Published March 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Where are you coming from with that accent of yours?’ he asks.
‘Nowhere,’ I reply. ‘I’m from nowhere.’
‘Everyone’s from somewhere,’ he says.
‘Not me,’ I reply silently.

Clemency Smittson was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic life change and move to Brighton, where she was born. Clem has no idea that while there she’ll meet someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents.

As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay…

An emotional story about love, identity and the meaning of family, That Girl From Nowehere is the new novel from the bestselling author of The Ice Cream Girls, The Woman He Loved Before and My Best Friend’s Girl.

What did I think?:

I was first introduced to the marvellous author that is Dorothy Koomson by my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads who reads her work religiously as soon as it comes out. I started with My Best Friend’s Girl and haven’t stopped since then. Her story-telling is so beautiful and she chooses to focus on a number of issues that I like to read about, like the dynamics of different relationships, family secrets, betrayal and racism. That Girl From Nowhere is another corker of a story with a number of subplots going on underneath the main thread and has cemented Dorothy Koomson as one of my must read authors.

The protagonist in this novel is a young woman called Clemency Smittson (Smitty to her loved ones). Clem knew she was adopted from a young age and was raised by a white family, knowing nothing about her birth family except that she was handed over in a box decorated with butterflies. Throughout her childhood, although it was happy enough, she felt that she didn’t belong and a number of events lead her to be in quite a sad situation when we meet her. Her adopted father, whom she had a strong, loving relationship with has passed away and she has also ended a long-term relationship with Seth and moved back to Brighton, where she was born, to open up a jewellery store. The items that Clem makes for her clients are truly special. She re-vitalises old and worn pieces of jewellery into something that closely represents where her customer is at the current point of his/her life. A chance meeting with a stranger leads her to find one more information about her birth family and pushes her into finally making a connection with them. However, every family has secrets and Clem uncovers certain things which forces her to confront many events in her past and present. both in her adoptive family and her birth family which may make her then wish that she had never pulled at that thread in the first place.

Once again, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. It’s incredibly convoluted and intricate and simply made for discovering yourself. There’s a host of fantastic characters to enjoy and I loved the way the author explored the different relationships – between parents, siblings, lovers, friends, it’s all here and all completely delightful. I don’t think I’ve read too many books about adoption and it was interesting to read a story where this is one of the issues and we hear from both sides of the coin so as to speak. I also loved the casual racism that the author chose to focus on and it certainly made me think about how prevalent it still is sadly, in today’s “modern” society. If you’re new to Dorothy Koomson, it’s not my favourite of her books (I have so much love for The Ice Cream Girls and Rose Petal Beach) but it’s a solid four stars and a brilliant reading experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

 

This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Published March 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely Caitlin Raynor from Headline publishers for sending me a copy of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the synopsis and saw that it focused on the experience of a family with a transgender child, I knew I instantly had to read it. It’s also been quite a controversial topic in the news recently when the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made some comments about trans women. Personally, I’m loving that more books are getting written and more people are speaking about individuals who are born in the wrong body. It’s an issue that may divide people depending on your viewpoint but is something that definitely needs to be addressed in an open and honest way.

This book did exactly that. I fell instantly in love with the family – Rosie and Penn, the parents who give birth to a succession of male children, the last of which, Claude is quite obviously not your stereotypical male from a very young age. He is sensitive and perceptive, always wants to hear about the princess in the fairy stories his father tells the children every night and doesn’t see what is so terrible about wearing a dress and playing dolls with other girls. When Claude finally decides that he wants to be a girl and goes by the name Poppy, his four brothers and parents are incredibly supportive. They accept Poppy for the way she has always been and love her just the same. However, living in a town where everybody thinks you have five sons, not four sons and a daughter can be difficult especially with the more ignorant of the community and the family soon run into trouble. This leads to them going to drastic lengths to protect Poppy and the rest of their children and may eventually lead to further problems for them all in the future.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. It was a touching, heart-warming story where the author drew such wonderful characters that they really get under your skin and stay there for the duration of the novel. The family we read about could be any of our own, they have the same dynamics, problems at school, normal difficulties in adolescence, etc. The only difference is, this family has a child that is so deliciously cuddle-worthy and instantly loveable, he just happens to have been born in a male body while his mind is clearly female. Of course, this causes a lot of tension in the family when outsiders who don’t understand or are themselves uncomfortable with the situation cause Poppy almost irreparable damage. Yet there is such love in this novel, especially between the family members that really gave me the warm fuzzies and made this story one to treasure, read again and certainly educate other people with.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0