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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

Tastes Like Fear (DI Marnie Rome #3) – Sarah Hilary

Published March 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Hilary won the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year with her debut, the 2014 Richard and Judy pick SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN. She followed up with NO OTHER DARKNESS, proclaimed as ‘riveting’ by Lisa Gardner and ‘truly mesmerising’ by David Mark. Now D.I. Marnie Rome returns in her third novel.

Home is where Harm lies…

The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.
A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.
To the one man who understands her.
Gives her shelter.
Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.
He’s the head of her new family.
He’s Harm.
And when Harm’s family is threatened, Marnie Rome is about to find out that everything tastes like fear…

What did I think?:

Sarah Hilary is hands down one of my favourite crime fiction authors writing today. I was lucky enough to do an interview with the lovely lady just after the release of her second book in the Marnie Rome series, No Other Darkness. If you fancy seeing what she had to say, please see my post HERE. I highly recommend both books in the series and from the first fantastic novel, Someone Else’s Skin, to this phenomenal third novel, Tastes Like Fear (which I have waited WAY too long to read!), she is an author that I will automatically buy, regardless of what she writes. A huge thank you to the lovely people at Headline for sending me a copy of Sarah’s third novel and apologies that I’m only getting round to reviewing it now.

In Tastes Like Fear, Marnie and her sidekick Noah Jake have a new, frightening case to manage and solve. A young girl walks out into the path of a car one night causing a horrific accident. In the aftermath, she disappears and cannot be found. The driver of the car that crashed into another as he swerved to avoid the girl gives an interesting witness statement. He is certain that the girl was half-clothed, dishevelled, clearly not on this planet, with marks all over her body (which later is discovered to be writing). After further findings, the case turns out to be much more complex than Marnie could have imagined. It involves a house filled with homeless young girls that have been specifically chosen to live in the house and be kept “safe.” Although the perpetrator’s idea of safety is very different from what you and I might envisage. Especially when one of the girls turns up dead. Marnie and her team must hurry to discover exactly what’s going on, why and by whom if they are going to save any more vulnerable girls.

Once again, Sarah Hilary has pulled me into the amazing, twisted world of Marnie Rome with a strong female lead that has demons of her own but fights desperately to ensure that no else should suffer. Again, it was wonderful to see her teaming up with Noah Jake, one of my favourite characters and it was also lovely to get an insight into his personal life with his partner, Dan and his troubled kid brother Sol. Of course, Marnie is also given a good chunk of time which is fantastic and I enjoyed her ongoing struggle with the person who is serving time for killing both of her parents. From certain things that happened throughout the novel, it’s certainly set up some tense proceedings for the next few books in the series I’m sure and I cannot wait to see how it all pans out! I can safely say that Marnie Rome is my favourite female detective of all time and Sarah Hilary’s plots and character development just keep going from strength to strength. The fourth book in the series, A Quieter Killing was released on the 9th March 2017 and I’m very excited to say that I’ve been approved to read it on NetGalley. (Thank you again Headline!) One thing is for sure, I won’t be waiting so long to read it this time!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Strange Girls And Ordinary Women – Morgan McCarthy

Published March 10, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

They say you know instinctively who to trust.

Alice is normal; she’d never do anything rash. But when she sees her husband one day with a younger girl, she knows at once that he’s having an affair. And it must be stopped.

Vic loves her friend Michael, more than he knows. He wants happiness, and thinks he’s found it with the magnetic Estella. But Vic feels sure she can’t be trusted – and she needs to make Michael see that too.

They don’t know Kaya; her life is tougher than they can imagine. But Kaya’s a survivor, and she’s determined to find a way out of her miserable world.

Three women, three lives that come crashing together in this dark, lyrical and utterly enthralling story of warped perceptions, female intuition and ‘the other woman’.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to Book Bridgr (the fantastic site which provides books to eager book bloggers like myself) and to Tinder Press for allowing me to read a copy of this intriguing novel in return for an honest review. I’ve never read anything by the author, Morgan McCarthy before and I’m always keen to try new authors especially those that capture my attention with an eye-catching title and a tag-line that states: “We all see what we want to see.”

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women is a story told in three separate parts from three very different and independent women, the style of which took a little while to get used to but once I got each character established in my head I really enjoyed reading about each one individually. We have Alice, a “normal” housewife who is married to Jasper but her world is about to change forever when suspecting him of having an affair, she follows him and sees him meeting a younger woman. Then there is Vic, British born but living in Madeira where she manages a hotel that was formerly owned by her parents. Vic has had quite an interesting life and flirted quite seriously with Catholicism when she was younger, led into it by her childhood friend Kate who then passed away. When Vic’s oldest and very good friend Michael moves back to the island, Vic is ecstatic but less so about his girlfriend Estella as she has strong suspicions that there is something not right about her. Finally, my favourite character of the book – Kaya who has had a tough childhood trying to look after her alcoholic mother, Louise. Attempting to sever some ties and reclaim control over her life, Kaya moves in with a friend and makes money by stripping in an exclusive club. This is merely a short-term measure however as Kaya has many plans and ambitions for her future, things that may come to fruition when one of her rich (and married) client takes a fancy to her.

When you first begin this book, you wonder how there could be a connection between three such different women but there is a definite link that once discovered will have you quickly thumbing through the pages to determine how it will all be resolved! Each woman has something about them that kept me wanting to read and those that seem predictable turn out to be quite the opposite in the end. I probably enjoyed Kaya’s story more than the other two women but they all managed to surprise me in some shape or form. The author also cleverly mixes in an open ending for the grand finale so the reader is left to make up their own mind about the direction some of the characters may have taken. Anyone who finds this particular style frustrating will probably not enjoy this but I personally found it quite refreshing and I enjoyed making up alternate futures for them all! For my first book from this particular author, it was a good solid read with some lovely prose and interesting ideas and I shall certainly be checking out more books in her back catalogue.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

Author Interview – Sarah Hilary on her new crime novel No Other Darkness (Marnie Rome #2)

Published July 7, 2015 by bibliobeth

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SARAH HILARY – A BIOGRAPHY

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. Her debut novel SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, featuring the tenacious Marnie Rome, was selected by Richard & Judy for their Book Club in Autumn 2014.

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Interview with Sarah Hilary

I’d like to welcome Sarah to bibliobeth today and thank her for her time in giving this interview!

1. How did it feel to have your debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club?

It was pretty amazing! For me, WHSmith is still the place I bought my summer specials and new pencil cases at the end of the holidays. The smell of the place hasn’t changed—reminds me of those Malory Towers books I bought with my pocket money when I was eight. Now my book’s in there and it’s just… Wow.

2. No Other Darkness is your second novel featuring the fabulous DI Marnie Rome. Do you have her entire past history mapped out already or may there still be surprises to come?

With Marnie, it’s all surprises. I write to be surprised, so I’m happy to let Marnie keep her secrets until she’s ready to share. As long as the reader sees a little more of her with each book, I think that’s a good principle—to hold back on the juicy stuff.

3. You touch on some quite difficult subjects in your books including domestic violence and child abduction. Do you find this process quite harrowing or do you manage to switch off in some way?

While I’m writing each book, I’m generally so bound up in the story that I don’t think about switching off. The story’s always in my head during this time and the characters are whispering to me, which is great because that’s what makes the books feel real and immediate. It’s only after I’ve finished a complete manuscript that I feel as if someone’s walloped the back of my head with a wet sandbag.

(bibliobeth: “Ouch!”)

4. Is it true that your books have been picked for a television series? If so, how involved will you be with this process and do you have a clear picture in your head of what your characters should look like?

Yes, the series has been optioned for television which is very exciting. The process is quite collaborative and I’ve met with the scriptwriter, who has some terrific ideas about bringing Marnie and co to the screen. I don’t have a very clear picture in my head while I’m writing, with one or two exceptions—for instance, I always saw Tim Woodward as Marnie’s boss, Welland. And I’d love Jason Watkins to play Douglas Cole from No Other Darkness. For Marnie, I’d want Natasha O’Keeffe, with Bill Milner to play her foster brother, Stephen. So, yes, I have spent some time dream-casting!

5. Are you working on anything at the moment and can you tell us anything about it?

I’ve just sent book three, TASTES LIKE FEAR, to my editor. It’s a very different kind of case for Marnie and Noah, dark and scary and super-twisty. And I’m about to start book four, which doesn’t have a title yet.

(bibliobeth: “I’m so excited!”)

And now for some quick fire questions!

E-book or real book?

Real book, with real book smell.

Series or stand-alone?

Love both, but an addictive series is my favourite thing.

Fiction or nonfiction?

I read both, love both.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?

Trawling, always trawling.

Bookmarking or dog-earing?

Bookmarks, all the way.

(bibliobeth: “My kind of reader!”)

 

Once again, a big thank you to Sarah and to Elizabeth Masters, Headline PR Manager for their efforts in making this interview possible. I can’t wait for book three!

No Other Darkness was published on April 23rd 2015 by Headline Books and is available from all good book retailers NOW. Sarah Hilary’s debut novel in the series, Someone Else’s Skin is also available and I highly recommend starting with this one.

No Other Darkness (DI Marnie Rome #2) – Sarah Hilary

Published July 6, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

From the Richard and Judy bestselling author Sarah Hilary. The phenomenal Marnie Rome returns in the outstanding follow up to the critically acclaimed SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN.

Two young boys.
Trapped underground in a bunker.
Unable to understand why they are there.
Desperate for someone to find them.
Slowly realising that no-one will…

Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…

What did I think?:

I became a fan of Sarah Hilary’s after her amazing debut novel Someone Else’s Skin which was a Richard and Judy book club choice and a fantastic read which left me in no doubt that this was a series and an author that I was definitely going to follow. Sarah’s second novel featuring Detective Inspector Marnie Rome came out in April and I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy from Headline publishers and Book Bridgr in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to them! Well, I was hooked from the very beginning with an instantly intriguing and disturbing prologue featuring two young boys trapped in an underground bunker with no hope or means of escape. Five years later the bodies are found and DI Marnie Rome’s team must try to discover who the boys are and why on earth they came to such a horrific end.

I’m finding it difficult to review this book without giving away any spoilers as, like her debut, there are multiple layers to this story and in the end it turns out to be a hell of a lot more then just a “child abduction,” which is instantly suspected as the main motive for the killing. The author delves into some difficult and controversial areas and her main character Marnie is so determined to figure out the puzzle behind the two boys in the bunker that she risks endangering herself in the process. We also learn a lot more about Marnie’s wonderful sidekick, DS Noah Jake in relation to his childhood and more specifically, his relationship with his brother. The case has affected the team so deeply that they all begin to re-evaluate their ties with their loved ones and I really enjoyed learning more about both Marnie and Noah, two characters that have such an interesting back story and I just know more secrets are going to pop out as the author continues the series!

Once again, the ending was pure magic and such a roller-coaster ride of tension that I was certain I was going to leave finger indents on the book where I was gripping it so tightly. Sarah Hilary has a talent for turning up the pressure notch by notch, very slowly to a point where it almost becomes unbearable (this is all in a good way, of course!). This has the effect of making you feel on the edge of your seat at all times and putting the book down is practically impossible. The dramatic plot, tension and brilliant, relatable and readable characters all combine to make Sarah Hilary one of the best new voices in crime fiction currently writing today. She is also one of the authors that makes me rub my hands together in glee when anticipating a new book from them and I highly recommend starting with Someone Else’s Skin if you haven’t read this author before. All I want to know now is when is the third book coming out again?

Come back tomorrow for my interview with the lady herself when I ask the question we all want to know… does she dog-ear her books?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Lemon Grove – Helen Walsh

Published June 10, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

As recommended on BBC Radio 2 Book Club, a tense, sensuous and piercingly insightful story of sexual obsession.

Each summer, Jenn and her husband Greg return to Deia, on Mallorca’s dramatic west coast. This year the arrival of Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her new boyfriend Nathan threatens to upset their equilibrium. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan’s youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. What follows is a highly-charged liaison that puts lives and relationships in jeopardy. For Jenn, after this summer, nothing can ever be the same.

What did I think?:

This novel was getting a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and Twitter last year billed as “the hottest summer read,” and I was so intrigued by all the hype surrounding it that I had to succumb. Even though I read it a while again now I’m still not very sure what I think about it. The main character is forty-something Jenn, married to Greg and at the beginning of the story, they are about to enjoy their annual holiday in Mallorca where they rent a villa. This year is going to be slightly different however as Greg’s fifteen year old daughter, Emma is about to join them with her seventeen year old boyfriend Nathan.

Although Jenn and Greg have been happily married for a while now, there are tensions simmering beneath the surface. First, there is Jenn’s step-daughter Emma who is at a difficult and trying age making Jenn feel like she is constantly walking on egg shells around her. Unfortunately, quite a few of their rows or “mis-understandings” have led to Greg siding with his daughter and Jenn feeling quite alone on the outside. To be honest, Emma is a complete brat and knows how to use her tears to her advantage, often using her father as a weapon against her step-mother. Jenn is not completely without fault and tries her hardest to build a positive relationship with Emma but all too often she finds herself a loser in a battle she wasn’t aware she was fighting. Greg himself has recently become more aloof with Jenn, hiding himself away and taking secretive phone calls. Jenn is just hoping that this holiday will bring them closer together again as a couple and is slightly miffed that Emma and her boyfriend will be crashing her plans to re-ignite the spark in their marriage.

So then Nathan arrives. They don’t exactly get off to the best start when they arrive to find Jenn sun-bathing topless. It’s all completely un-intentional but of course Emma believes that this is part of a huge plot to humiliate her. At the start both Jenn and Greg are worried as confident Nathan quite obviously has had quite a bit of ahem… experience and they are concerned that he might be rail-roading Emma into having sex before she is ready for it. Then things get extremely tense as Jenn and Nathan are instantly attracted to one another and cannot deny the heat and sexual tension between themselves. Jenn is confused and frustrated and tries everything in her power to not be attracted to Nathan (it’s her step-daughters boyfriend for crying out loud!) however fails miserably. The rest of the novel presents a page-turning nightmare as the attraction between the two hits boiling point, a situation that can only cause anguish for all parties involved.

Okay, so this book should come with a warning – it’s incredibly hot. The sexual scenes are quite graphic and might be a bit uncomfortable for some readers with a sensitive disposition. I’m not easily shocked but one scene in particular sticks in my mind and I actually had to close my book on the tube in case anyone was reading over my shoulder! This book was also really interesting as none of the characters are particularly likeable but in fact that only serves to make it feel quite authentic as they come across as more human. The author has a real talent for suspense and I found myself glued to each page as the story unfolded. It was almost like reading about a train wreck that you know is going to happen and yet you can’t take your eyes off it. At times I felt like the naughty outsider looking into these peoples lives and it was quite a voyeuristic experience. The book is relatively short, under 300 pages, and is told over the space of one week where the author manages to cram a lot into a small space of time although personally it never felt particularly rushed. What didn’t I like? I can’t really put my finger on it – perhaps it’s the ending which left me a bit frustrated. For fans of tense and steamy reads it’s a definite winner and I would quite like to read some more of Helen Walsh’s work.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) – Deborah Harkness

Published April 9, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

What did I think?:

A Discovery Of Witches has been on my biblio-radar for a few years now so when I discovered that Book Bridgr and the publishers at Headline were giving away copies of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review to celebrate the third book in the series being released I was quick to hit that “request” button. I’ve got to admit that I was quite surprised by this novel as for some reason I thought it was marketed at a younger audience so I was impressed by the maturity both of the plot and of the writing. Our main character is a young woman called Diana Bishop who has excelled in her academic life by becoming a professor of the history of science and keeps herself physically fit by rowing and running on a daily basis. The most intriguing thing about our character however is that she is the daughter of two very powerful witches who were both murdered when she was seven years old. Oh yes, in the world that Deborah Harkness paints, there are four living species – witches, vampires, daemons and humans that, so far, seem to have co-existed relatively peacefully. Due to her parents violent end and because she feels no good can ever come of magic, Diana has suppressed her own “witchy” powers by refusing to acknowledge they even exist.

This is all set to change rather dramatically when Diana comes across an ancient manuscript that appears to be locked at the Bodleian library in Oxford. Entitled Ashmole 782, Diana is surprised to find that she is able to access the spells within and is briefly mesmerised by its contents before she swiftly closes the book and returns it to the stacks, feeling she is opening a huge can of worms. And she is. For now every single supernatural entity in Oxford now appears to be extremely interested in Diana and she begins to feel quite afraid, wondering just what it is that she has unwittingly begun. One of the interested parties is a Matthew Clairmont who is a biochemist, geneticist, wine-drinking, yoga-loving centuries-old vampire. After tiring of his courting technique (which involves following her and watching her sleep) Diana agrees to team up with Matthew to try and solve the mystery of the ancient book and just why it has the other supernaturals all hot and bothered. As Diana and Matthew become closer and fall in love, they realise that their mission is fraught with dangers that they had never anticipated and may even be their un-doing. Apart from vampire/witch relationships being slightly frowned upon in the magical circles they must encounter another enemy that could threaten everything they have. Is there anyone they can trust? Also, how will Diana cope when she begins to encounter powers within herself that she never realised she had?

Confession time. I definitely pre-judged this book. Hey, Twilight had just come out and the world was going a bit vampire crazy so I made an assumption that turned out to be very wrong. If you’re a fan of Twilight or a big YA lover this book is probably not going to be right for you. The pace at the beginning of the novel is very slow as the author sets the scene and explores her characters and to be honest, not much of note really takes place. As the action heats up (around the middle of the book) the plot becomes a bit more intriguing and we learn a lot more about the magical creatures that inhabit this strange little world. It took me a while to warm to Diana as a character, although I loved that the author made her intelligent and independent from the start, perfectly happy in her own skin and her own company (big hurrah!). What did annoy me was that as soon as she fell in love with Matthew she seemed to pander slightly to his control freakish nature allowing herself to become the damsel in distress rather than the super-heroine I was hoping for. There are quite a lot of negative reviews of this novel on GoodReads and I can see the point of some of the criticisms i.e. the length of the novel and the large portions where not much seemed to happen. Personally speaking, I thought it was well written, loved the scientific and historical notes and enjoyed a strong (for the most part) female lead and a riveting ending. It did seem that it got a lot more thrilling in the last third of the book which is why I am fairly eager to read the second novel in the trilogy – Shadow Of Night, just to see where on earth the author is going to take the story next!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0