Saturday, 8 July 2017

Checking in - and a few of my recent favourite things!

Hello there! It's been a while, hasn't it?! How is your summer going? I have to say that summer in Ireland this year is pretty much so far non-existent. I think we maybe had a whole three days of sunshine about a month ago and ever since then it's been pretty much non-stop gloom. It  turns out that dark clouds can have unexpected silver linings, though,  in that I've finally been catching up on some shows I've been meaning to check out for quite a while. Usually I ditch TV during the summer months (increasingly impossible to do because TOO MANY SHOWS!) but that's all changed in this summer of rain. 

So, here are some of my favourite things of the past while. You'll find a few TV shows here, along with some music, beauty bits and a pretty addictive podcast too.

Also, book reviews are a-coming.  I'll be sharing my thoughts on the new Jenny Han (all good things!) and I'll also do a round-up of  summer reads very soon. Promise!*


*****




I am an unapologetic David Lynch fangirl, so I'm not at all exaggerating when I say I pretty much lost my mind when this new series of Twin Peaks was first announced. After that initial excitement, I tried to temper my expectations just a bit. First of all, I didn't believe - until about I was half-way through the first episode, ha! - that this was actually happening. Secondly, I felt that there was a really good chance that this return to Twin Peaks could possibly be a total and utter disaster. Spoiler alert: It's not. The new series of Twin Peaks is pure, unadulterated Lynch, and it is glorious. It's everything I ever could have wanted and more. Go watch it.  But don't even try to watch it if you haven't first seen the original series and the prequel movie, Fire Walk With Me. 


*****



You know, I was really in two minds about even checking out Thirteen Reasons Why. I haven't read the book and that's because I've always been turned off by its premise: girl commits suicide and then makes everybody else live with the fact that they are to blame for her demise. Obviously there's more to the story - but this was my first impression of the book and it's why I never got around to reading it.

 Anyhow, this is the story of how I came to watch Thirteen Reasons Why: So, everybody on my Twitter feed has been positively raving about Riverdale all year long, but three episodes in, it wasn't really working for me.  Fearing that I had finally outgrown teen drama (no!!!) I decided to switch to Thirteen Reasons Why - and was hooked right from the start.  I really enjoyed this one. Great performances from the two leads. 

 In the end I stuck with Riverdale, because I will always love teen drama -  even if the acting in this one is sometimes so hammy as to offend my vegetarian sensibilities! 

*****




If you're a true-crime junkie, then you're probably listening to Up and Vanished already. If not, though, check it out. The first season is wrapping up soon, so you'll have quite a bit of catching up to do, but it's worth it. Up and Vanished is a real-time investigative podcast that strives to solve missing persons cases. The first season takes a closer look into the 2005 disappearance of high school teacher Tara Grinstead - with surprising and revelatory results. 




*****



Ever since its release a few years back Jo Malone's Wood Sage & Sea Salt has been my go to summer fragrance. Light, fresh and free-spirited, this is the scent of all the best bits of a summer spent by the shore. I love it!

I am a big fan of the make-up priming and refreshing properties of a facial spritz. Caudalie's cult classic Beauty Elixir remains a favourite that is hard to beat, but I tried out a sample of the Rejuvenating Facial Spritz from Bloom & Blossom a while back and liked it so much I purchased the full size. This one boasts collagen boosting properties, a citrusy scent and promises to improve skin tone, while chasing away wrinkles and dark shadows. Sounds good!

*****




I've been listening to this album non-stop for the past month! It's actually been around since 2013, so why it took me this long to discover Simple Pleasures by Still Corners, I do not know.  It is an album made for simple pleasures, this one. Think of it as the perfect accompaniment to a moonlight drive, a spontaneous road trip or a glass of wine beneath a setting sun. It's very chill. If you like pop of the dream or electro variety, then I'm pretty sure you'll like this!

*****








* Unless the sun makes and appearance - then all bets are off! 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord.


Product details:
Publisher:  Bloomsbury
Paperback, 380 pages.
Release date: June 1st 2017.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 From acclaimed author Emery Lord comes a vibrant, compelling story of love, loss, faith, and friendship.

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Emotionally-charged and unforgettable, Emery Lord’s storytelling shines with the promise of new love and true friendship, even in the face of life’s biggest challenges.


 Ever since Emery Lord arrived on the YA scene with Open Road Summer, her impossible-to-resist 2014 debut, she has been an auto-buy author for me. Why then, when I read the synopsis of her latest book, The Names They Gave Us, did I question whether or not I should read this book? Two words, people: cancer and religion. It’s not that I ‘can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’ issue-driven contemporary fiction, it’s just that I prefer not to. If given a choice I will opt for YA contemporary fiction with cute crushes, first kisses and summers full of swoon every single time.  That said, I have read and loved Lord’s When We Collided, which deals with the topic of mental illness and so, despite my reservations, I said I’d give this one a whirl. Spoiler alert: I didn’t love it.


Lucy Hansson is introduced to us as a responsible, capable seventeen-year-old whose life is going just fine. Swim team captain Lucy has a close relationship with her parents, a long-term boyfriend, and a summer job lined up at her pastor father’s Bible camp. So far, so good, but then things start to go wrong. First, Lucy’s mother’s cancer returns, and then, in a total dick move, her boyfriend Lukas decides to hit ‘pause’ on their relationship. Cast your mind back to The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. Remember ‘brain camp’ Jason? Lukas is just like him – but with added God. Note: Just to give you an indication of how important religion is to these kids, Lukas consults his pastor before ‘pausing’ his relationship with Lucy. Religion is important to Lucy too, and in light of her mother’s recent diagnosis, she begins to question her faith. Lucy has always played by the rules of religion, so why then would the God that she worships, the God that she trusts, do this to her? Why would he do this to her mother?

As someone who doesn’t practise religion, but was raised with it, I understood Lucy’s crisis of faith and her questioning of everything she once believed to be gospel. That said, I think Lord could have pushed Lucy’s crisis of faith and identity a little more than she did.  After all, instead of her usual Bible camp, Lucy, at her mother’s request, spends the summer counselling at ‘Daybreak,’ a camp for troubled kids. It’s the perfect place for a little rebellion – or even just a little fun.   Trouble is, Lucy is really not the rebellious type.  She’s not really the fun type either.   This is a girl who doesn’t break the rules, not even with her cute co-counsellor, Henry. Their fledgling romance is totally suitable for general audiences, which is a bummer, because I know it had total swoon potential.  That’s the thing about this book, though: The Names They Gave Us, just like its protagonist, is so eager to please that it plays it super-safe, so as not to offend.  And that just didn’t work for me. Sometimes, you have got to let your personality shine through, you know?  Otherwise things can get a little bland.

So, I guess it’s safe to say that this book was not a great match for me. That happens. It happens all the time. I will read Emery Lord’s next book. I am a fan. And, to that end, I really don’t want to end this review on a negative note.  OK, so I have to say that I also didn’t like the ending of this one – I found it all a bit far-fetched and rushed and I’m not really sure what was going on there – BUT. There’s a BUT. While I was initially cautious about reading a book containing the double whammy of both cancer and religion,  Emery Lord deals with these themes with insight, understanding and a real deftness of touch, that makes for a reading experience that is never overwhelming or overbearing, when it could have been exactly that.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

New Books on my Radar!

Oh, hello there! It's been a while, hasn't it?  The reason for my unscheduled blog break is a pretty boring one, really: while I have been reading, I haven't been reading any books that I can review RIGHT NOW, and so I don't have any reviews to post. Patience, patience, reviews will come all in good time... I'm holding my review for Emery Lord's The Names They Gave Us until a little bit closer to (UK) publication date and the next book on my TBR is Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), so I should have a review of that one very soon. 

In the meantime, here are a selection of new and upcoming releases that have piqued my interest of late.  Added any must-read books to your wish list of late? Let me know in comments!


*****



The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase || Release date: August 2017


An evocative novel in the vein of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier, in which the thrill of first love clashes with the bonds of sisterhood, and all will be tested by the dark secret at the heart of Applecote Manor.

Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets. 

When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever. 

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor. 

Rich with the heat and angst of love both young and old, The Wildling Sisters is a gorgeous and breathtaking journey into the bonds that unite a family and the darkest secrets of the human heart."


*****



The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal || Release date: May 2017


'Francesa Segal is precise and funny, and The Awkward Age is brimming with keen observations of the highest order--the clever, the sore, and the sublime.' Emma Straub

In a Victorian terraced house, in north-west London, two families unite in imperfect harmony. After five years of widowhood, Julia is deeply, unexpectedly in love. If only her beloved daughter, Gwen, didn’t hate James so much. At the very least, she could be civil to his son, Nathan. Bringing together two households was never going to be easy, but Gwen’s struggle for independence, and the teenagers’ unexpected actions, will threaten Julia’s new happiness.

The Awkward Age is about the blended family; about starting over and the attempt to build something beautiful amid the mess and complexity of what came before. It is a story about standing by the ones we love, even while they hurt us. We would do anything to make our children happy, wouldn’t we?


*****



Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells || Release date: June 2017


From the international bestselling author of The Bones of You comes a haunting and heartbreaking new psychological thriller about the distorted nature of reality, the unreliability of memory, and the enduring power of a mother's love.

A blighted memory. A child who seems never to have existed. A watcher in the shadows. 

When they find Evie Sherman, battered and left for dead in a maize field, the young woman has no recollection of who she is. After three days in a hospital bed, the fog in her head begins to lift, and she remembers two names: her own, and that of her three-year-old daughter, Angel. Evie is convinced that Angel is in grave danger. But the police can find no evidence of the girl's existence. 

It's clear that Evie is having some kind of mental breakdown--or is it? Even in the depths of her amnesiac darkness, Evie knows her daughter's voice, her chameleon eyes, every precious hair on her head. So how can she be losing her mind? 
As Evie's grasp on reality slips away, she finds herself haunted by the same three-word warning, which she hears over and over: Trust no one. But whom is she being warned against? The police? The doctors and nurses? Or the mysterious figure who's been watching her, who knows all her secrets, has a hidden agenda--and perhaps their own twisted version of reality. 


*****


The One by John Marrs || Release date: May 2017


How far would you go to find THE ONE?

One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others...

A psychological thriller with a difference, this is a truly unique novel which is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

*****



There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
Release date: September 2017


Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.
 


*****



The Becoming of Noah Shaw by Michelle Hodkin 
Release date: November 2017


In the first book of the Shaw Confessions, the companion series to the New York Times bestselling Mara Dyer novels, old skeletons are laid bare and new promises prove deadly. This is what happens after happily ever after.

Everyone thinks seventeen-year-old Noah Shaw has the world on a string.

They’re wrong.

Mara Dyer is the only one he trusts with his secrets and his future.

He shouldn’t.

And both are scared that uncovering the truth about themselves will force them apart.

They’re right.
 

*****

Monday, 10 April 2017

Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.


Product details:
Publisher:  Hodder Paperbacks
Paperback, 400 pages.
Release date: April 6th 2017.
Rating: 4½  out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people--ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter--depart Martha's Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs--the painter--and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members--including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot--the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations--all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.


A literary thriller with huge commercial appeal, Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall is a master class mystery of secrets and suspense that plays alongside a social commentary that is timely, clever and knowing. 

What does it mean to be a hero?

In this day and age of celebrity worship and fame that often disappears just as quickly as it is attained, Scott Burroughs really isn’t sure. All forty-something Scott knows is that he’s messed up his life more than most, and he’s certainly no hero. But that’s what the news outlets are calling him – at least for now. Scott, along with JJ, the four-year-old boy whose life he saved as he swam to shore, are the only survivors of a plane crash that killed a media mogul, a Wall Street power player and their respective families. What was Scott, a down-on-his-luck artist doing on a flight full of such prosperous business people?  That’s the question the news networks are starting to ask, as it becomes clear the crash was no accident, and a feeding frenzy ensues.

Hero becomes villain in the turn of a news reel and the blink of an eye. 

Before the Fall is a different type of thriller: a commentary on a vulture-like news media where everything and everyone is fair game and sensationalism trumps truth every time.  Hawley writes like a dream and his clever turn of phrase deems this book a cut above many others in its genre.  For me, though, it is Hawley’s characters who steal the show. Before the Fall is an extremely character driven novel; an ensemble movie in literary form that delves into the lives of characters both main and fringe to such an extent that by the time you finish reading you’ll feel as though each and every character deserves his or her very own spin-off novel. From Scott, the second-chance-at-life artist, to Layla Mueller, a billionaire heiress who offers Scott shelter from the ensuing media storm, each of Hawley’s characters is so richly drawn and multi-dimensional as to be completely compelling.

 So, what exactly did happen on the doomed flight that left Martha’s Vineyard one foggy night only to crash into the sea a mere sixteen minutes later?  Well, you’ll have to read this book to find out, of course. I highly recommend that you do read this one. As for me, I am eagerly awaiting the already-in-the-works movie. If any book was made for the big screen, this is it.

A real treat!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia.



Product details:
PublisherQuercus
Hardcover, 352 pages.

Release date: March 9th 2017.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. So when she's found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Local sheriff Del Goodman, a good friend of Hattie's dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers; it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives: Del's, Hattie's high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the real Hattie, and what happened that final year of school when she dreamed of leaving her small town behind . . .

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity, about the line between innocence and culpability, about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.


Hattie Hoffman knows it’s good to have a plan.  An aspiring actress, Hattie’s plan is to get the hell out of Pine Valley just as soon as she graduates high school. Hattie knows she’s better than a Pine Valley future. She knows she’s better than the girls who spend their whole lives hero worshipping beefy football players just to they can eventually marry those dumb jocks and settle into a lifetime of kids and Saturday nights spent watching mind-numbing Reality TV.  Hattie is not like those girls.  Hattie has her eyes on the prize and that prize is a future that entails a name-in-lights acting career in New York City. Hattie is determined to make it. This is a girl with her eyes so firmly set on the future that she’s already living her present like it’s her past. Too bad then for Hattie that life doesn’t always go to plan. Too bad for Hattie that her life ended just as it was about to begin.

Mindy Mejia’s ‘The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman,’ is a truly absorbing page-turner of small town murder, secrets and lies. The US title of this book is ‘Everything You Want Me to Be,’ and it’s a title that really fits the character of Hattie Hoffman to a tee. Complex and compelling, Hattie is a truly fascinating character who will keep you guessing as to her true self and motivations long after she’s taken her final breath.  Like Laura Palmer to the town of Twin Peaks, Hattie Hoffman is Pine Valley’s golden girl with a winning smile and a dark secret to boot.  A true actress, Hattie is determined to keep it all together, even when it looks like everything might fall apart. And so Hattie plays a part. She plays many parts. Hattie is a different someone to everyone she meets: brilliant student, perfect daughter, doting girlfriend, best friend – all the world’s a stage for Hattie, until the curtain falls.

So, who killed Hattie Hoffman?  Who butchered her pretty face so badly that Hattie had to be identified by dental records? That’s a mystery for Del Goodman to solve. As the local sheriff of many years, Del isn’t easily shocked, but it’s safe to say that he’s rocked by Hattie’s brutal murder. After all, Pine Valley isn’t the type of place where murders happen too often, and certainly not to girls like Hattie Hoffman, who was found dead on the opening night of her school play where she wowed the audience as Lady Macbeth.  One thing Del knows for sure is that Hattie’s murder was no random act of violence. The slash-marks on her face tell Del that Hattie’s murder was not only up close, it was also very personal.

I have a penchant for small-town tales where everyone has a story to tell and a secret hide, and The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, with its slowly unfolding mystery told from multiple-viewpoints –including Hattie’s in the months before her death- was pretty much a perfect read for me. A girl who turned heads and touched lives, it soon becomes clear that nobody: not teachers or parents, not boyfriends or friends, escaped Hattie’s many faces or her lies.  But which one of those lies got Hattie killed?  I guarantee you’ll have fun finding out!






 Title changes can be confusing! 
'The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman' is published in the US as 'Everything You Want Me to Be.' 
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