While my Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green

I read this book within a couple of days, I found that i was drawn in right from the beginning and Linda Green kept me turning the pages right up until the end.

During a game of hide and seek in the park with her daughter, Lisa closes her eyes and takes a phone call. When she then opens them again, ready to seek her daughter Ella from her hiding place, she can’t find her. Lisa soon goes from wondering what her husband will say when she took so long to find her daughter from her hiding place to suddenly realising that she isn’t anywhere within the park…

The search soon escalates from other people in the park to the police being involved and a national search.

Lisa’s family, we soon learn, are far from perfect. Lisa’s relationship with her oldest daughter Chloe seems strained although we don’t find out why until towards the end of the book. Her son struggles to understand how his little sister is missing and her husband worries that Lisa is pushing him away. The larger family around them- Ella’s grandparents and uncle struggle to deal with not knowing where she is and we soon get a real sense of family dynamics which is cleverly created.

When reading this book I was drawn in right away, I wanted to know what had happened to Ella but also about the other themes running through the book which I cannot got into much detail about otherwise it’ll spoil the book for others but there was enough going on to make this a really deep book.

There are some difficult moments, some challenging issues raised but they’re treated carefully, it’s never too deep or too heavy to make it uncomfortable to read and I think that’s a very clever skill to have.

I read this within a matter of days and really enjoyed doing so. I recommend it for anyone looking for a book that’s fast-paced but not too dark. Definitely a good one to read on holiday I think!

The Woman Who Upped and Left by Fiona Gibson

After reading quite a few intense books and going through a stressful few weeks myself I was ready to read something that was a little less “edge of the seat” and a little more “sit back and relax” and this book was just that. I enjoyed picking up this book and losing myself in the pretty chaotic world of Audrey and now I’ve finished it I’m going to be going straight over to Amazon to see what else of Fiona Gibson’s I can read.

The story is about Audrey who is mother to a teenage son Morgan who seems to spend his days wrapped around his girlfriend Jenna in their house. Audrey is a dinner lady and also a carer to Mrs B. She spends her days looking after other people, picking up her son’s girlfriend’s thongs from her bathroom floor and rushing off on last minute trips to various motorway service station hotels to spend the night with her boyfriend Stevie.

When Audrey wins a prize as Dinner Lady Of The Year she gets the chance to spend a week in a grand hotel learning French cookery skills from a ‘celebrity’ Michelin starred chef. This is so far removed from her every day life that it is the perfect break and Audrey begins to get more confidence and see what is important in her life.

I really liked the light hearted element to this book. There were some deep issues that went alongside it too which made it a really well formed book but the humour was brilliant. The awkward rope tying incident, a cake being described as ‘too cakey’, the son being incapable of operating a washing machine… there were lots of moments that were brilliantly funny and quite probably very true to life too for some people!

The characters were well formed, I really liked the relationship between Audrey and her son. How she was desperate for him to make something of his life and to find a job or go on a course rather than spend his days in bed or wrapped around his girlfriend. I liked that over time she began to realise that she barely ever complimented him on anything and instead was just focusing on what he wasn’t doing. Over the course of the book their relationship changed and it was still very realistic to the teenage son-mother relationship of real life. The conversations between them were often full of tension which felt very real.

Audrey I thought was great. Trying to help people all the time, she seemed to be stuck in a routine of just running around after others and was forgetting to do things for herself. I liked her scatty nature but also how caring she was, supporting her son and his girlfriend when they needed her.

Although whilst reading this book I was usually laughing along with the very naturally flowing humour I was also infuriated by Stevie and Morgan at times, the way they just expected Audrey to do whatever they wanted as the drop of a hat made me feel cross! I think that is a sign of a well written book- if it enables the reader to feel such strong emotions! It meant i was able to get into Audrey’s head and know just how frustrating it must have been as a mother to try to motivate your son but then risking more tensions within your relationship.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was just what I needed to read whilst having stressful days myself. It was perfect to pick up and lose myself in for a while and I can’t believe I’ve not read any other books from this author before, I will definitely be seeking them out now.

I would recommend this read to anyone looking for something that provides some escapism, humour and a read that will take you on a journey.

The Sisterhood by Emily Barr

The sisterhood Emily Barr.
I am a big reader and read a wide variety of books and don’t have a particular genre that I like, what I do like about a book is how much of a page turner it is and this book by Emily Barr certainly had me constantly turning the pages!

This book tells of two very different women; Helen and Liz.
Helen grew up in rural France living in a huge chataaeu with a bizarre relationship with her parents who were very withdrawn from her. She lives in a cottage within the chataeau’s grounds and spends her days wondering what to do with her life. She is extremely innocent, has never had a boyfriend, has never had a job and lacks friends.

Liz grew up in England, brought up by her father. Now in her late 30s, a school teacher, plenty of friends and a long-term boyfriend she couldn’t be more different to Helen.

Things change though, Liz’s world comes crashing down as her boyfriend announces he is leaving her- for another man. A result of which means that Liz gets very drunk, ends up sleeping with someone who is far from ‘ideal’ and then a few weeks later realises she is pregnant.

Helen’s life is also about to be turned upside down as she rummages through her parents bedroom and finds, hidden in the back of the wardrobe, a box. Inside this box is a photograph of her mother holding a new born baby and it is clear to Helen that this baby isn’t her. On the back of the photograph is the name ‘Elizabeth Greene’. Realising that her mother has a secret Helen decides she wants to work out what exactly this secret is and who is this baby?

Instead of confronting her parents Helen sets out to track down the lost baby and decides that if she can find her and bring her to her mother then at last she will have achieved something in her life.
And so Helen, niave and very innocent, sets off to find this long-lost sister ignoring that there may be some clues that her own mother could give her or that uncovering the past may cause problems.

As Helen tries to carry out her mission Liz’s world falls apart even more as this French stranger turns up in her life and begins to obsess over her.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story as it will ruin it for you but I can safetly say that it is extremely compelling and ever so slightly sinister too.

I felt as though I knew both characters very well. I could really relate to both of them and would question what I would do if I was in their situation. I wouldn’t consider myself to be anything like them so it just shows that the way that Barr writes this story is really very clever as I was drawn in by both of them. I would get frustrated and concerned with Liz and also excited and determined like Helen.

This story is written in a way which makes you not want to put the book down at all. At the end of each chapter I couldn’t help but keep going and I never was able to guess what was going to happen next. I couldn’t have predicted the ending and I definitely would get lost in this book every time I picked it up.

I haven’t read anything this compelling before. It has a bit of a dark side to it but only in a subtle way which made it even more interesting as at first glance I thought it may be another ‘chick lit’ read but it is far from that!

I can’t recommend this book enough, it’s the best book I have read this year so far! Definitely recommend it!

After The Party by Lisa Jewell

lisa jewell2

I just finished reading this book earlier and thought I should review it now whilst it’s still fresh in my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it has left a lasting impression upon me. It is written in such a careful, delicate way that it draws you in and makes you want to read more to find out what happens.

I first stumbled across Lisa Jewell when a friend of mine lent me her book The Truth About Melody Browne. I really loved the book and so recently decided to look up some more of her work to see what else she had written. After having really enjoyed the first book I was worried that this wouldn’t live up to my expectations but I am pleased to say that it did.

The story

The story tells of Ralph and Jem. They met eleven years ago, fell in love, lived together, had a family together and been through various life events. When we first meet the pair Ralph has vanished. He hasn’t picked his children up and he appears to have just disappeared into thin air. Lisa Jewell then tells the story of their relationship and all of the events over the last eleven years which lead up to Ralph going away.

After the birth of their second child, Ralph suddenly announces one day that he is going to go to America to meet up with an old friend. Jem is stunned and infuriated. Why should he just be able to have a week away from the sleepless nights, the difficult disciplining of a three year old? Why should he think it okay to just walk out and leave her to deal with it all? What would he say if she suddenly announced that? But Jem lets him go and keeps her resentment to herself. Whilst Ralph is away things happen to both him and Jem.

Ralph finds a strange peace with his friend’s girlfriend Rosey who teaches him things about himself he wasn’t aware of. He wants to return home to Jem to be a better person, to try harder and to make more of an effort to be a better father and partner. Jem, however, realises that she quite enjoys playing a single mother for the week, she meets a new friend, a single father who makes her question her life and wonder if there is something more for her out there.

Upon Ralph’s return he is all confident about their relationship and acts in the way he believes he should but Jem just finds it bizarre and cannot understand it especially as she has been questioning her life. Jewell takes us on a journey, she goes through the emotions they are both feeling, talks about the events that occur to the couple as they both struggle to save their relationship and wonder where it all went wrong. When did the carefree, in love couple go? At what point did things change? Was it when they had children? Was it when Ralph went away? Will they be able to save themselves?

The characters

The characters are fantastically formed. You get to know them so well that you feel as though they are real life friends.Jem I could relate to very well. She is trying her best to be a good mother and also start working too despite her baby still being very young. Jewell tells of her struggles with patience as she tries to please everyone and the way she describes her is so very fitting that I am sure many mothers with young children can relate to her… from the middle of the night breastfeeding to trying to persuade her daughter to clear up her cereal bowl which she has thrown on the floor in a tantrum. As Jem begins to question her life I too began to question it and wonder what would be best for her. I felt as though I was really seeing things through her eyes, it was amazing how well she was created.

Ralph came across as a struggling character, one who really wanted to do better and was struggling coming to terms with situations. He did seem quite like a pathetic man at first, how he ducked out of responsibilities but then he began to grow on me as I saw how much he tried to make things better and how he tried to make sense of it all. It was great how I felt like I could relate to both of the main characters.

The other characters that were in the book were well formed too.

Opinion

This novel is not packed with action but it is packed with emotion and information. I felt as though I had gone on a journey with this book, that as well as going on the journey with Jem and Ralph I also experienced a bit of a change in myself. It did make me think about my own relationship, how having children has also changed myself and my husband and whether that is a good or bad thing or whether it doesn’t even matter at all. I could relate so well to their situation that it was compelling.

I think it is a beautiful skill for an author to have to create characters that you can relate to and this certainly is the case. I really did feel as though I knew them inside and out by the end and was slightly moved by it all.

There were some points in this book that made me smile with knowing, other parts made me laugh, others made me feel frustrated, sad, concerned… it was a rollercoaster book which reflects the lives of the characters and the fact that these emotions came out with me and not just the characters really make me think that this book is cleverly written.

There are lots of twists and turns in this book and it is very believable. It is the kind of book you read and you think that could be me. That could be a friend I know. It wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t by having a dramatic story line or a huge amount of drama, instead it was written in a believable way in a pace which was extremely well fitting for the story.

I never second guessed what was going to happen. There were times when I thought I knew what was about to happen but then it never did and so it was really intriguing. I wondered how it would end and genuinely didn’t know what the outcome would be, I stayed up late reading on as I wanted to know what happened and now I have finished it I feel a little sad that it’s over!

I really enjoyed this book. If you like something with well formed characters and lots of emotion then you will love this.

The Exclusives by Rebecca Thornton

This is a book that made me think about my own school years and the intensity of friendships during those times and how they can still play on my mind so many years on. This is a clever book to conjure up these thoughts within myself that’s for sure. I enjoyed reading it, I found the style of it- writing both in the present and then going back to the past- worked really well enabling me to get a good insight into the main characters which then had be really drawn in.

Josephine has just been awarded head girl at her prestigious boarding school. She’s on track to win the scholarship for a guaranteed place for Oxford and all she can really think about is ensuring that she achieves that but there’s more to Josephine than hard work. She is struggling with her mother’s illness and worries that she too could develop it- paranoid schizophrenia and this paranoia alone is enough to make her question if it is indeed developing. Her father has a powerful position working for the Prime Minister so she is under pressure to ensure his reputation remains in tact… thank goodness she has a best friend who she can rely on…

Freya and Josephine are like sisters, they do everything together and their families are equally as supportive of them both but something happens one night and it causes their friendship to spiral out of control which leaves both girls vulnerable and making some really poor choices that results in them both being completely out of their depths.

The problems that arose due to this time still affects them both many years later during their adult years.

What was brilliant about this book is that there was a sense of mystery which hung throughout as we didn’t know what had happened between the friends to cause such a rift. This mystery wasn’t so big that it meant we couldn’t understand the story but it was gradually hinted at and bits of clues given which makes you think about why it was so dramatic. I think it was just the right level of intrigue to keep you wanting to keep reading without it feeling like an important part of the story was missing.

What this book did was make me think about what it’s like as a teenager under pressure and how to everyone else it may look like you’re acing everything and heading straight to Oxford but that actually, underneath it all, there can be some very big struggles going on which people don’t realise and this book captures that really well. It also captures the insecurities of the teenage years, how much you really rely upon your friends and that when a friendship starts to become strained it can really affect everything as feelings of jealousy, mistrust, sadness and anxiety arise which as a teenager can be very overwhelming and this book really describes that well.

The characters within this book are drawn up well. Freya and Josephine are the two main characters and I really did get a proper sense of them. At moments in the book the paranoia of Josephine was really powerful as i began to question Freya’s motives too. I wanted to bang their heads together and get them to start talking to each other and sort it out… but of course teenagers are too proud to do that! The best relationship within this novel is that of Josephine and her father. I found it very touching. It wasn’t a close one but it was a steady one, when things went wrong her father was there and supportive throughout it all and I thought it was very tender.

I enjoyed reading this book because I wanted to know what was happening so I kept turning those pages but also because it made me think about my own teenage years and how influential friendships can be upon your whole futures.

This is Rebecca Thornton’s debut novel and I’m looking forward to her writing book two as I’d love to know what else she has up her sleeve.

A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray.

I have just finished reading this book and what a beautifully written novel it is. It is full of emotion, humour, insight and beautifully crafted characters that you can’t help falling in love with.

This story is about the Bradley family. They are devout Mormons with Ian, the father, being a bishop who is relied upon heavily by members of the church. His wife Claire helps keep the house running as smoothly as possible with their four children- Zippy, Al, Jacob and Issy. Right at the beginning of this book, before the tragedy occurs, it is clear that Claire is struggling to accept that her husband’s job requires him often putting others first. She is battling with feelings of resentment as Ian will visit church members who are in need rather than be there for Jacob’s birthday party.

Then the unthinkable happens and Issy dies very suddenly which leaves the family in shock and trying to make sense of it all in their own ways whilst trying to rely upon their faith to see them through.

Throughout the first few months of the grieving process we follow the family through the chapters in this book. There are lots of age ranges within this book from the youngest family member Jacob who’s struggling to accept that Issy isn’t coming back- at church they are always talking about miracles and resurrections so why can’t the same happen with Issy? Then there’s Ian, the head of the family, who finds himself having to take over a lot of Claire’s responsibilities as she takes to bed (Issy’s bed) as the grief is too much for her to bare but Ian doesn’t want people to know how much she is struggling, what if they find out and take his position away from him? Zippy is 16 and questioning her religion, her faith wavers, she’s experimenting with boys, she wants to go to parties, she’s at that awkward stage in her life which is made even more complicated with her religion wavering and with losing her sister. Al, worries that he is the cause of his mother’s inability to get out of bed, he begins to get into fights, he’s confused, he’s angry and he finds it hard to express it.

What I found most impressive about this book is just how different the family members are in their ages and personalities yet Carys Bray has created them brilliantly, really enabling us to see through the eyes of such diverse characters. I think this is a really clever skill to have. There wasn’t one character that I thought was lacking, they were all really well formed and I did get the sense of the family as a whole.

I think it is difficult to write about grief without the book being too heavy and being nothing but misery but there is a lot more to this story and it’s definitely crafted well so you don’t feel like it’s too heavy. Yes there are moments that are upsetting and made me think about what it’s like to lose someone, what happens after death and so forth but there were also lots of really tender moments, amusing narrative and a real sense of warmth as the family tried to still function despite everything.

I found the book really interesting, the element of religion within the family and how different members of the family questioned their faith after Issy’s death,it was fascinating to learn of some of the teachings of the Mormon church and think about how it fits into society today, how challenging it must be for teenagers especially to conform at times when society has so many pressures.

The best part of the book for me was the way that Claire was portrayed. Often when you read books about losing a child, the mother tends to put on a brave face and somehow carry on and within a few weeks has moved on hugely but Claire’s grief felt very real. Her inability to cope, to not want to get out of bed or even care about communicating with her children was exactly what despair and loss feels like. I could definitely relate to how she was unable to see a reason to eat, get up, make an effort and how nobody in her family could persuade her otherwise. This is what complete despair is like and I felt very moved by how Ian was still desperately in love with her and wanting to be there for her, not rushing her to get on with life.

I think this is a wonderful book, it’s a very difficult subject matter which may be too much for some but I found that it offers brilliant insight into a family and how it functions despite a huge loss and it’s amazing how well this is created despite the family members varying so much in age. What an exceptional skill to have as an author.

This is the first story of Carys Bray’s that I have read but I am definitely going to be reading more and do highly recommend this.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

I bought this book after hearing good things about it. It has been likened to One Day and Sliding Doors… both of which I love so thought it sounded like an ideal read. I really enjoyed reading it, it’s written in a way which makes you read carefully and take in the information and leaves you thinking about how moments can change the path of your life forever and what role fate has within our worlds.

The story is about Eva and Jim and tells about their lives together… however, there are three different versions. Their paths first cross during their university days but depending which scenario you read their lives take very different turns yet they are still linked together with various moments of their lives being interwoven- family birthdays and so forth.

This is a very cleverly written story and whilst reading it I often wondered how Laura Barnett achieved it… she must have had so many notes around about which story was which… or did she write each version all in one and then just break them down with the other parts…

The way you read it is that one scenario is devoted to a chapter and then the next chapter is a different one… it doesn’t necessarily go 1,2,3 then 1,2,3 so you do have to pay attention to the numbers at the top of each chapter.

It is complicated, there is a lot to take in with different children in each scenario, different jobs, friendships and so much going on that it can be confusing but actually what it made me do was pause and think back to what had happened before so that I knew which scenario I was reading and what it had continued on from. I didn’t find this a negative, it was quite refreshing to read a book in this way as it meant it gave me more time to think about the actual stories although it did mean on days when i felt too tired to read this wasn’t a book i could easily pick up as you do need to be fully awake!

I really liked the concept of the book, it made me think about the ways our lives evolve and how sometimes at first you think one scenario is the best but then further down the road you realise it’s not. Sometimes it’s best to let life take it’s course and not worry if things didn’t pan out how you hoped as who knows what is around the corner and why certain things didn’t happen. It certainly made me think about not worrying about some negative times I’m having myself, maybe there is a reason…

This is a very cleverly written book with some very well developed characters. I can see why there have been some mixed reviews as it was a little confusing at times but overall I thought it was brilliantly crafted and with such great ideas it is a book which leaves you thinking about it after you have finished reading.