Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

girl in the red coat

Now here’s a book that took me by surprise.  This is an unusual take on the whole ‘missing child’ mini-genre that is so popular these days.  It took a little while to get into, but once I was gripped I did not want to put this book down.

Kate Hamer uses the dual narrative with great success here – two contrasting voices both so well characterised.  The young girl comes as across as very true and realistic; a determined and unique young girl, full of innocent hope.  In stark contrast, her mother is desperately struggling to hold herself together, and keep the hope of finding her daughter alive.  At times the writing is so vividly descriptive, Hamer puts you right in the scene – the festival scene particularly resonates here.  And at times the writing is so poignantly touching and heartbreaking it will bring tears to your eyes.

Intelligently written, this is an unusual story about an unusual girl and although it was not quite the tensely gripping psychological thriller I was expecting, it was intriguing and captivating nonetheless.  4 stars.




Review: How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

how to breathe

One of my aims this year is to read more short story collections, and this was the first one I chose.  Julie Orringer’s debut  collection is fully set in the real world, and the focus is on childhood, friendship and family dynamics.  Several of the stories deal with loss and dying and evoke an almost ethereal atmosphere, though some of them are just downright crazy! (I’m looking at you, Pilgrims …).  They are touching stories about the difficult times in life.  There is quite a focus on the competitiveness of female friendship, particularly during the teenage years, and although this may be difficult to read at times, I thought it was portrayed quite realistically and sensitively – teenage girls can be bitchy and competitive as they grow and find out who they are going to mature into, and this is something Orringer does not shy away from.

My favourite story was The Isabel Fish which tells of a girl who survived an accident in which her brother’s girlfriend died.  The sibling dynamics were portrayed in a very interesting way, and I thought this was the most touching of all the stories.

Orringer certainly has a talent for evoking a sense of place and atmosphere.  Her first novel, The Invisible Bridge, was published in 2011 and is one I will certainly check out in the future.  As for this short story collection, I really enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars.




Review: Forensics by Val McDermid


This book had been on my radar for some time, but it was bumped up the list while we were watching Making a Murderer on Netflix.  I am fascinated by all things crime related, and if I could live my life again I would definitely pursue a career in forensics of some kind, probably forensic psychology.

Although I’m a fan of crime fiction, I’ve actually never read a novel by Val McDermid, which does seem a bit weird and something I will remedy soon!  However, I’d heard good things about this non-fiction title and decided to jump in.  I was not disappointed.

McDermid’s writing style is conversational and informative without being lecture-y.  The science is interspersed with fascinating examples of real crimes, crime scenes, autopsies and criminals, but my absolute favourite thing about this book (apart from the blowflies dotted randomly throughout the pages!) is that most of the examples she uses are from UK crimes, many of which were familiar to me and all the more intriguing for it.  As you would expect, some bits are gruesome, and some of it is downright scary, but it is such fun to read and will arm with lots of interesting facts to gross out your dinner party guests!  I highly recommend this if you have even a passing interest in true crime.  4 stars.





Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

mice and men

This was a first time read for me – I’d never read any Steinbeck before, but he is on my list of authors to read in 2016.  Of Mice and Men was not on my school reading list and I have never had the urge to pick it up before.  My daughter studied it for her English Lit GCSE, and she kind of spoiled the ending for me (I knew the what, but not the how – and I don’t blame her, I bugged her til she told me!).  So going into this, I knew very little, and it really took me by surprise.

I loved the atmosphere in this book – the scene setting is incredibly vivid.  A heartbreaking story with overarching themes of friendship, hope and dreams, Steinbeck deals with subjects that are just as relevant now as they were in the Great Depression era – racism, sexism, prejudice.  It is a short, quick and depressing read that really packs a punch and leaves you gasping.  If you haven’t read this classic, I urge you to pick it up it is very accessible, readable and a great place to start.  Steinbeck is definitely now on my ‘read more of’ list!  4 stars.






Review: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

endless numbered days

I had no idea what to expect from this novel, and I must admit to being drawn in by the very pretty cover.  It looked eery and creepy, and a blurb on the back proclaimed it to be “chilling”, so into my shopping trolley it went!  While I don’t think it completely lived up to the blurb, I definitely found it intriguing and enthralling.

Claire Fuller’s writing is beautiful.  I was lulled into a sense of bewitched comfort and I didn’t truly realise what was actually happening until the end.  She deals with traumatic and difficult subjects with sensitivity and poise, and develops a false sense of security – or perhaps it was only me who beguiled this way!  I really was quite oblivious to the horrors of the story until the end and I was left feeling quite horrified that I hadn’t cottoned on!  I’m not sure if this was Fuller’s aim, but to me this shows skilful and practised writing, and a wonderful talent in weaving a story.

The book is filled with quirky characters who come alive on the pages.  The countryside is described beautifully, but not so minutely that you lose interest.  The story is elegantly crafted and the darkness creeps up on you without you noticing.  I was immersed in this book and read it in two sitting (it would’ve been one sitting, but for the irritation of having to work!).  I can’t wait for her second book!  4 stars.


Review: Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov

book review: gamily by chintz aitmatov

I came across this book while researching for my global reading challenge.  Chingiz Aitmatov was born in 1928 in Kyrgyzstan and his literary works have been translated into more than 100 languages.  He died in 2008.

Jamilia is a very short book at less than 100 pages, and I really don’t want to give anything of the plot away, so this will be a succinct review!  This book is a masterfully written but simple love story.  The atmosphere evoked within these few pages is stunningly vibrant and the characters are warmly and beautifully crafted.  Thoroughly engrossing, if you can get your hands on a copy of this, DO IT! And also … cover love! 4 stars.