The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

GENRE: YA CONTEMPORARY | PAGES: 320

My rating: ★★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO TRUST WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN TRUST YOURSELF?

I look at my hands. One of them says ‘FLORA, BE BRAVE.’

This book swept me up in a wave of intrigue and compassion. Flora Banks is one of the best female characters I’ve read in a while—a powerhouse of inner strength. She just doesn’t remember who she is and what she’s capable of.

I loved Flora’s voice and felt an immediate connection with her from page one. The narrative is chilling—crafted with an alternating pace and clarity depending on Flora’s state of mind. At times it is fluent, teeming with such life that Flora’s spirit and tenacity radiate off the page. Other times, it is purposefully convoluted, repetitive—like actually stepping into the sweeping confusion of a seventeen-year-old amnesiac’s mind.

The repetition does not detract from the story; quite the opposite, in fact. It enhances it in that every subtle word change becomes a clue in the puzzle of Flora’s world. Because that’s what it is: an enigma that propels you from chapter to chapter, neither knowing nor trusting the words even as the story unfurls before you.

Flora’s unique personality, the Cornish and Arctic settings, the story as a whole—they are all refreshingly original and compelling. Add to that the cleverly crafted unreliable narrator and you have yourself an absolute must-read.

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  the one memory of flora banks

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

SMOKE IN THE ROOM BY EMILY MAGUIRE

Genre: CONTEMPORARY | Pages: 289

My rating: ★★★

Adam is lost in grief for his dead wife. Graeme is lost to despair for a world that can’t be fixed. And Katie is lost to depression. That’s a lot of hopelessness in one tiny Australian flat. Nevertheless, that despair is what made Smoke in the Room a compelling read.

I read Emily Maguire’s earlier novel,Taming the Beast, and fell in love with the gritty style of prose and her flawed central characters.

This one… it’s a good read. There’s a lot of truth in it and the characters, after a grotesque amount of binge drinking, gratuitous sex, and eating out of the trash, eventually (mostly) stumble their way into the light.

Katie, the main character, is as flawed as Taming the Beast’s protagonist. She’s a spirited young woman with an insightful (though bleak) view of the world but it took too long to see her fragility. Of course, she is troubled; it’s plain to see, but the initial lack of warmth in Katie’s character meant that I’d read over a third of the book before even liking her.

That said, after the slightly cold (but ridiculously intriguing) start, Katie’s vulnerability is slashed wide open. THIS I could connect with, relate to, and understand. I MARVELLED at the word-perfect emotion behind these characters as each of them faced their demons. The depiction of mental illness is so accurate it bites, and the blissful illusion of suicide is perfectly portrayed.

The book is gritty and edgy; the theme is dark and quite unforgiving. But once the wounds of these characters crack open, it is impossible to pause their story.

‘…depressed people are the ones with the realistic view of the world. It’s the rest of you that have filters. Soft filters that make everything seem nicer and easier than it really is. Maybe that’s all depression really is: life without a filter.’

 


smoke in the room book cover

 

The searing new novel from the internationally-acclaimed author of Taming the Beast, The Gospel According to Luke and Princesses & Pornstars. Summer, Sydney, and holed up in a tiny flat off Broadway are idealistic American Adam, weary activist Graeme, and wild, misunderstood Katie. Each is searching for answers to life’s biggest questions – why are we here; what is love; what constitutes betrayal – and thrust together, over an intense two-week period, they begin to form answers. In doing so, they must first confront their darkest demons, both within and without… Provocative, honest, brimming with sexual tension and crackling with intelligence, Emily Maguire’s sensational new novel cements her place as one of Australia’s hottest young talents.

 

GIRL ON A TRAIN BY A. J. WAINES

GENRE: SUSPENSE | PAGES: 435

My rating: ★★★★

Usually, if I say I bought a book by mistake, it’s because I’m telling my husband the not-so-believable tale of how my card liberated itself from my purse and threw itself at the mercy of the checkout at Waterstones. In this case, with Girl on a Train, it’s not a fib. I really did buy it by mistake. I’m THAT stupid. I thought it was the OTHER book about—get this—another girl on another train. Damn public transport.

My own stupidity aside, I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is great; full of suspense and mystery, with intriguing characters in the form of Anna and Elly, and a whodunit that masked itself until the very end. Yet, it is the imagery in this book which stands out by a mile. I’m not usually the biggest fan of description, but it was done so well here. It tackled perfectly the tricky matter of relaying painstakingly precise detail with as few words as possible, and the result is a vivid, image-ridden experience, plonking me directly into the growing obsession and heartache of the main character, Anna, and her connection to Elly.

My only gripe is that the pacing was the tiniest fraction too slow for my liking, with perhaps one or two metaphors too many, a distraction from the otherwise engaging story. Then again, that might just be my own impatience.

Overall, a great read, and a happy ‘mistake’.
 

 girl on a train book cover

Everything points to suicide – but I saw her face… Headstrong Journalist, Anna Rothman, knows what suicide looks like – her own husband killed himself five years earlier. When Elly Swift, an agitated passenger beside her on a train, leaves a locket in Anna’s bag before jumping onto the tracks, Anna starts asking awkward questions. But everything points to suicide and the police close the case.

Anna, however, believes Elly’s fears for Toby, her young nephew, missing since being snatched from St Stephen’s church six months ago, fail to explain the true reason behind Elly’s distress. Through a series of hidden messages Elly left behind, Anna embarks on a dangerous crusade to track down Toby and find Elly’s killer.

But nothing is as it seems and Anna opens a can of worms that throws into question even her own husband’s suicide – before the threads of the mystery converge in an astonishing conclusion.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

GENRE: Contemporary, YA | PAGES: 246

My rating: ★★★★

The End of Everything is beautiful and disturbing all in the same breath! I loved this book. The writing was amazing – it reminded me a bit of Sylvia Plath’s style. There were some sentences I had to re-read just to fully absorb and appreciate the poetry within the prose.

The protagonist’s voice was strong, mature, and surprisingly insightful for a fourteen year old – yet without being too advanced so as to make it unbelievable. The author did a fantastic job of capturing this middle ground.

The story line was amazing – suspenseful and full of intensity throughout.

I can’t fault it in any way.

Simply brilliant!

 

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  The End of Everything

 

A close-knit street, the clink of glass on glass, summer heat. Two girls on the brink of adolescence, throwing cartwheels on the grass. Two girls who tell each other everything. Until one shimmering afternoon, one of them disappears. Lizzie is left with her dread and her loss, and with a fear that won’t let her be. Had Evie tried to give her a hint of what was coming, a clue that she failed to follow? Caught between her imaginary guilt, her sense of betrayal, her own powerful need, and the needs of the adults around her, Lizzie’s voice is as unforgettable as her story is arresting.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 476

My rating: ★★

Mixed feelings about this one. What Alice Forgot was an enjoyable read but there were parts of it that didn’t seem well blended enough into the story. Does that even make sense?

First of, I have to admit: I just didn’t like Alice. She was just… someone I couldn’t bring myself to care about. 

Her sister Elisabeth was different. I enjoyed reading Elisabeth’s pieces so much more. She was real and believable.

As the story progressed I learnt to tolerate Alice. She kind of grew on me. And I liked where she was taking her life after being jolted back into it with no directions or user manual. Somewhere along the way I wanted to slap her again but maybe it had more to do with the memory loss than it did to do with Alice on the whole. Who knows?

Not the best read but entertaining enough. My lacklustre review sums it up without me having to babble on and on, so I’ll give this an average 2.5 / 3 stars and leave it at that.

 

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  What Alice Forgot

 

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Room by Emma Donoghue

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 321

My rating: ★★★★★

Room is… good… By good, I mean not just good but lunch-skipping, sleep-depriving, don’t-f***ing-disturb-me good. In fact, good doesn’t cover it. Great doesn’t do it justice either. There isn’t a word for how I feel about it.

It is excellently written from page one, the opening sentence:

‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe…’

I was instantly drawn to the story this five-year-old was about to tell.

There were several times I paused to wonder how a child of his age could know so much yet so little; and then there was a moment before starting to read when I wondered whether a story from a child’s viewpoint would just be bad news: patronising at worst, sappy and sentimental at best. But man, am I ever glad I read it anyway. I stand – no, I sit, exhausted from the journey that is Room – corrected.

It wasn’t patronising, or sappy or sentimental. It was just plain overwhelming and quite simply, the whole damn thing just worked. And as for this sharp, intelligent boy… I realised that those bits I questioned, were merely moments I hadn’t quite placed myself in, as a child… an innocent, clean-slated, unbiased child. How could I? Therefore who the hell was I to damn well question what he felt or how and why or how much he knew or understood? I just let it be.

Within minutes of starting I was hooked on the story, captured by this child and his energy for the life he lived, in Room.

As the story progresses you learn more about his Ma, her own story, her own trauma and battles against what is; yet as many stories as I’ve read of others in her situation, I have never come across anything quite so unique as this. And it is because of Jack.

He is a born storyteller, taking us all along at a gallop.

Somehow this original pint-sized protagonist is ten times more powerful as he is than if he were a bellowing giant on a mountaintop.

If you haven’t read this yet, please DO. If only to meet Jack. Once you do, you will not forget him or his tale in a hurry. 

 

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Room

 

Jack is five, and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside… Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

GENRE: Contemporary, Dark, YA | PAGES: 212

My rating: ★★★★

Such a Pretty Girl is such an unpretty story.

Want a book with a horrid topic? Filled with terror? Despair? Betrayal? Stand aside Horror authors and make room for a different kind of fear. The kind that chills and fascinates; moreover the kind that for some, occurs in everyday life.

Did I say fascinate? Yes, I suppose I did. We have to admit to the fascination or why else would we want to read about it? It’s a weird thing when I can soar through books like this yet take months reading genuine classics. It’s not something I’d readily admit to for fear that my interest in this topic will be taken the wrong way.

Somehow though, authors of books like this make me realise that there must be others just like me. Like I said, why else would we read stories like this one and moreover why else would anyone write them?

The answer is the tale. In every victim’s sad and tragic story there is a fighter waiting to stand their ground; a predator dodging bad karma. This story delivers that in Meredith’s clear voice. Her struggle, her ways of coping–it is all very real–and her triumph in the end, though bittersweet for having to endure the pain before that, is nonetheless a victory.

For all the intrigue and fascination and background psychology that this story–and others like it–may hold, I think I might just be a sucker for a good (read: happy) ending as much as anyone else.

 

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Such a Pretty Girl

 

They promised Meredith nine years of safety, but only gave her three.
Her father was supposed to be locked up until Meredith turned eighteen. She thought she had time to grow up, get out, and start a new life. But Meredith is only fifteen, and today her father is coming home from prison. Today her time has run out.

The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

GENRE: Contemporary, Suspense | PAGES: 313

My rating: ★★★★

The story of The Murderer’s Daughters begins with Lulu. At ten years old she is the eldest daughter. At ten years old she witnesses the death of her mother and the near-death of her five-year-old sister Merry – both her father’s doing.

What struck me (aside from the obvious) is the author’s clever way of writing, so that the sisters are seen to be ageing. It was as real as knowing them personally; snapshots into their lives as they were thrown into upheaval, their childhood and their family snatched from them in a single afternoon.

I couldn’t help but swallow this book whole – it wasn’t a pretty story and it isn’t a pretty subject given that this happens in the real world. Yet there was such strength in these girls’ characters (in opposing ways) that made me want to journey with them. I read this every chance I got and it lingered long after I put it down. The Murderer’s Daughters is the type of thought-provoking book that makes you wonder what you truly believe and what you perceive as ‘the right thing’. It is another of many amazing books that demonstrates how vast the grey area between right and wrong is – and a book that can open your eyes just a little wider is one which, to me, is worth every word.

 

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Lulu and Merry’s childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu’s tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He’s always hungered for the love of the girl’s self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly. Lulu’s mother warned her to never let him in, but when he shows up, he’s impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past ten-year-old Lulu, who obeys her father’s instructions to open the door, then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help and discovers upon her return that he’s murdered her mother, stabbed her sister, and tried to kill himself. For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. Though one spends her life pretending he’s dead, while the other feels compelled to help him, both fear that someday their imprisoned father’s attempts to win parole may meet success.

A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French

GENRE: Contemporary, Humour | PAGES: 352

My rating: ★★★

A Tiny Bit Marvellous is a light and lovely read. Funny at minimum, hilarious at best! And surprisingly touching in places.

I found the differences in style of diary entry for each character quite refreshing if a little confusing to begin with. The characters themselves were reasonably believable though Oscar was hard to wrap my head around and Dora annoyed me as most real girls her age annoy me also! Mo was the favourite of the three for me; fairly rounded and the most relatable of them all. She underwent the most development in the book as well, pleasingly – since the others I found to be a bit lacking in that sense.

That said, not every novel HAS to be a journey or some great lesson in life. For what it is, this first fiction novel of Ms French was delightfully easy to get through, much the same as a delicious girly night in with pizza and ice cream.

 

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A Tiny Bit Marvellous

 

This is a poignant novel by Dawn French which is told through the eyes of a mother and her two teenage children. Each chapter is narrated by a different voice, telling the story of a modern family, all living in their own separate bubbles, lurching towards meltdown.

One Day by David Nicholls

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance | PAGES: 435

My rating: ★★★★

The ‘missing what’s there in front of you’ tale has been told maybe a thousand times but this one has such authenticity that the story became original in itself.

Dex and Emma are believable, realistic, and their 20-year relationship is honest and normal. When they finally get together it is beautiful but real. No movie fireworks, no daring last-minute dash across the city; it is the type of transition that ‘normal folk’ like us can relate to.

It is this quality throughout the book and the original layout in the way Dex and Emma’s story is told that makes it a treasure.

I cannot wait to watch the movie and can only hope it lives up to the four-hundred-odd pages of marvellous prose. 

 

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  One Day

 

It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance, YA | PAGES: 319

My rating: ★★★

My rating of Beautiful Disaster stands at 2.5 stars. Maybe I’m a little too scatterbrained to give a fair review right now or maybe I’d been anticipating this story for too long that my review is way too harsh… I’m unsure.

What I do know is that whilst I felt a little let down by the book in several places I cannot deny my urge for the relationship between Abby and Travis to work.

Their bond teetered dangerously on the edge of co-dependency and abusive behaviour but as the story progressed it became easier to see that these two troubled people were better off together than apart and that in itself was beautiful.

 

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Beautiful Disaster

 

The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance from the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University’s Walking One-Night Stand. Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby needs—and wants—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the ultimate college campus charmer. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his appeal, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’s apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

GENRE: Contemporary, YA | PAGES: 232

My rating: ★★★★

This was one of those books that was both sad and uplifting. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a coming of age story with difference and depth. *full review to come*

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day…or wondering who did the heart breaking and wondering why.”

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance, YA | PAGES: 432

My rating: ★★★★★

My god, Forbidden is amazing. Even with the very, very sensitive topic of incest and child neglect, the story as a whole was immensely touching and so intense I felt the urge to pause between chapters–yet couldn’t!

From page one, the characters came to life for me. It was impossible not to sympathise with their situation; it was as if their very lives were unfolding in front of me, and by the time Maya and Lochan actually took their relationship to the next dangerous level I was already (incredibly) accepting it. I would go as far as admitting that I wanted them to succeed in their plans for a future together.

The ending made my heart ache. It was the ultimate sacrifice to both their family unit and to each other.

The only recommending sentence I need to utter is this: if you like good books, read Forbidden–you won’t be disappointed. 

 

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Forbidden

 

She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But… they are brother and sister. Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 371

My rating: ★★★★

Despite being an international bestseller, Nikki Gemmell’s The Bride Stripped Bare has received more than its fair share of negativity. There are gripes about the fact that she initially published the book under Anonymous and a lot of people found her candid sex scenes a little too much.

I disagree. For starters, the synopsis should forewarn any sex-shy reader of what they’re about to embark upon, and far from shocking, I found that her open style of writing had a certain grace within it. There is a definite beauty to be had in witnessing the kind of self-discovery that the main character made. She uncovered parts of herself that had been lingering within her all her life, that she had repressed, and she was no less than courageous to permit herself to act on those inner urges.

In a world that is now all about equality, there is still a strange tendency or expectation for women to acquiesce to a certain extent and this holds true in regards to sexual partnership. While there are some of us who are comfortable with our strong sexuality, the majority of women find themselves quietly submissive when it comes to expressing what they want or need.

The author here, with the protection of anonymity, was able to give a raw account of what her character was all about. This is not to say that she summed up the urges or fantasies of every woman but it took nerve to put her own out there for all to see.

I love the style of the book – this was the first novel I’ve ever read in second-person format and I think it added to the vivid atmosphere that Gemmell creates. Overall, a fantastic read.

 

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  The Bride Stripped Bare

 

A woman disappears, leaving behind an incendiary diary chronicling a journey of sexual awakening. To all who knew her, she was the good wife: happy, devoted, content. But the diary reveals a secret self, one who’s discovered that her new marriage contains mysteries of its own. She has discovered a forgotten Elizabethan manuscript that dares to speak of what women truly desire, and inspired by its revelations, she tastes for the first time the intoxicating power of knowing what she wants and how to get it. The question is: How long can she sustain a perilous double life?

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance | PAGES: 192

My rating: ★★★

It took a very long time to get through Written on the Body, and even now that I’ve finished it, I still can’t be sure whether I really enjoyed it or not.

There’s no denying that there is quality in Winterson’s prose; it is poetic and unashamedly focused on emotion but there were moments when it felt a little overdone – I found myself overlooking the clever style and syntax and merely groaning and thinking: ‘get to the point, already.’

The other flaw, for me, was the lack of gender specifics; no matter how much I wanted to wrap myself up in the tale, my mind kept wandering off, following dropped clues to the character’s sex. If anything, it was an annoying and unnecessary distraction.

Overall, I’m rating this at a three, for writing skill and a story compelling enough to keep me going until the end.

If you’re into poetry, love letters and the like, or you’re enthralled about passion in general, this is for you – Winterson perfectly portrays that all-consuming, two-become-one kind of love in what can only be said to be the worship of another body, another being. It is quite beautiful to witness.

If however, on the other hand, you’re the type that cannot particularly stand to beat about the bush, I suggest you roll your eyes now, take my word for it and move on to the next book.

 

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 Written on the Body

 

The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman. “At once a love story and a philosophical meditation.”–New York Times Book Review.

Entangled by Cat Clarke

GENRE: Contemporary, Dark, Romance, YA | PAGES: 372

My rating: ★★★

Entangled started out as what seemed like a hostage situation then slowly morphed into the internal examination of troubled Grace. The story, in her voice, tells of her journey to the point of suicide and gave a glimpse into how she finally found and made peace with herself in the end.

Grace’s voice is strong throughout, as is her character, and though her behaviour is often infuriating, it is not without cause. Her self-loathing comes through clearly, in a very real kind of light and her breakthrough at the end, though obviously very bittersweet by this point, is achingly victorious.

 

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  Entangled

 

The same questions whirl round and round in my head: What does he want from me? How could I have let this happen? AM I GOING TO DIE? 17-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with table, pens and paper – and no clue how she got there. As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she’s tried to forget. There’s falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there’s something missing. As hard as she’s trying to remember, is there something she just can’t see? Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here? A story of dangerous secrets, intense friendships and electrifying attraction.

Chasing Destiny by Eric Jerome Dickey

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance | PAGES: 480

My rating: ★★★★

I couldn’t put Chasing Destiny down, even if I’d wanted to. I’ve read two other books by Dickey; one was brilliant and the other I couldn’t finish. Chasing Destiny falls into the former category.

Dickey has such a way with words. The action moves at a cracking pace and the scenes are always full of dialogue, whether internal or direct, and it’s real and natural. He uses a style and dialect that adds grit and drama. His characters, whether you love to hate them or you just plain love them, they’re interesting; they’re people you’d want to talk to or eavesdrop on or whatever the case may be. Ultimately, you can’t wait to learn their story.

Destiny, the title character, is the severely troubled, fifteen-year-old daughter of a couple going through a really ugly divorce. Keith, her father, is in love with the main character, Billie. Billie is pregnant. As the ‘other woman’, Billie has everything ‘that’ title could possibly bring with it including several mad attacks on her life. When Billie and Destiny finally collide, Billie is left with the truth: family first.

As twisted as this family is, Dickey splendidly portrays the bond of blood and the lengths to which we would all go, to protect the ones we love.

 

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  Chasing Destiny

 

Billie is as notorious for her beauty as she is for the hot yellow Ducati motorcycle she rides down L.A.’s meanest streets. Tough and talented, she does things her way. Until an unplanned pregnancy spins her life out of control. Her problem: Her lover Keith’s divorce decree has been revoked, forcing him to choose between Billie and his dangerously manipulative wife, Carmen, along with their troubled and deceptive daughter, Destiny, a fifteen-year-old dancing on the edge of womanhood. Horrific things happen when Keith’s daughter disappears in the company of low friends in dark places. And in chasing Destiny, Billie, Keith, and Carmen find their lives inextricably linked by a dangerous and seductive pursuit-at any speed, at any cost.

Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance | PAGES: 293

My rating: ★★★

In true guilty-pleasure fashion, I hide my face as I quietly admit to having enjoyed this book. Sweet Valley Confidential reads like classic Pascal with a random swear word thrown in here and there in an attempt to qualify it as adult fiction. The writing was often wanting in places and I found myself yearning for grittier prose and more satisfying action but nevertheless, the story as a whole drew me in like a good piece of gossip.

It was often predictable, save one (rather juicy) surprise – no spoilers – but I enjoyed the adult elements of the girls and the flip-switch personality in Elizabeth.

On prose alone I’d have been tempted to dish out a single measly star; but add in the fact that I have a sizable stack of Sweet Valley fan years behind me, and also the fact that we FINALLY see character development in the Wakefield sisters, I’m gonna go ahead and rate this a three!

 

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  Sweet Valley Confidential

 

It’s been ten years since the Wakefield twins graduated from Sweet Valley High, and a lot has happened. For a start, Elizabeth and Jessica have had a falling out of epic proportions, after Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, and this time it looks like Elizabeth will never be able to forgive her. Suddenly Sweet Valley isn’t big enough for the two of them, so Elizabeth has fled to New York to immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a serious reporter, leaving a guilt-stricken Jessica contemplating the unthinkable: life without her sister. Despite the distance between them, the sisters are never far from each other’s thoughts. Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can’t forget her twin’s duplicity. Uncharacteristically, she decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the ‘good’ twin, the one getting her headstrong sister out of trouble, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables…

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

GENRE: Contemporary, YA | PAGES: 250

My rating: ★★★★

I read The Virgin Suicides from cover to cover in a matter of hours. The tale was grippingly told several years after the book’s incident, through the voice of a group of neighbouring, then teen-aged boys. Their somewhat disturbing obsession with a group of sisters on their street helped them discover pieces of the mystery surrounding the girls’ eventual deaths.

The story centres on the sad breakdown of the Lisbon family after one of five sisters tries and then succeeds, to end her life one summer in the ’70’s. The remaining four girls become progressively isolated within their home, often coming outdoors only in the dead of night, prisoners in their own house at the hands of their (understandably) overprotective parents. Their only contact with the outside world is through a ham radio, conversation via record-playing on the telephone and strange light messages to the boys, including a final message that alerts the boys to their planned ‘escape’.

The style in which it was written was as though a report was being delivered. It was open, ‘chatty’ even, full of the character of the narrators, even though we had no clear image of what they looked like or even which of them were telling the story. Their fascination with the Lisbon sisters translated so that I, too, became fascinated. Throughout, I was given the impression that these girls might be saved, purely because the narrator once believed as much.

Although this never was to be, the ending was not disappointing or dissatisfying. Sad though it was, it was inevitable that these girls, who were already dead inside–for whatever reason–would meet their premature end.

 

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The Virgin Suicides

 

The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides’s classic debut novel. The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 355

My rating: ★★★★

From the first sentence to the last I was gripped. The Other Hand is told in two strong voices – that of Nigerian Little Bee and English Sarah. The way their lives and worlds came together, clashing but never merging despite all efforts, was both beautiful and disturbing to witness.
 

 

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From the author of the international bestseller Incendiary comes a haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers—one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.

My Name is Memory  by Ann Brashares

GENRE: Contemporary, Fantasy, Romance | PAGES: 336

My rating: ★★★

My Name is Memory is a book about reincarnation. I love books with this theme.

Overall, the plotline was pretty original and Daniel’s character was so complex and interesting to get to know. With each chapter of his life that interest multiplied and his search for Sophia grew ever more compelling.

If there is one downfall it would, for me, have to be the anti-climactic ending–I was left feeling as though there was a page missing… a shame really since the rest of the book was so good.

“Love demands everything, they say, but my love demands only this: that no matter what happens or how long it takes, you`ll keep faith in me, you`ll remember who we are, and you`ll never feel despair.”

My Name is Memory

 

‘You have been with me from the very first life. You are my first memory every time, the single thread in all of my lives.’

Book Review: Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire

GENRE: Dark, Romance | PAGES: 336

My rating: ★★★★

Taming the Beast is raw and unashamed. I practically ate this book in one sitting.

Sarah and Daniel begin their affair and it is Daniel’s own twisted sexual preferences that start to shape Sarah into who she is about to become. He has such power and influence over her, both in the authoritative sense and in the sense of the idealistic, intelligent lover.

When Daniel leaves, Sarah’s life becomes a series of empty one night stands in a subconscious search for something she can never find and when he returns to her and resumes his behaviour, she is grateful where she shouldn’t be.

Whilst this book dealt with the taboo issues of teacher/student relationships and had more than its fair share of strong and abusive language and BDSM scenes, it was more than justified. Only through Emily Maguire’s gritty, violent prose could we see just how tortured a single soul can become when conditioned from the impressionable age of fourteen to accept abuse, any abuse, as love.

 

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Taming the Beast

 

At the tender age of fourteen, Sarah Clark is seduced by her thirty-eight-year-old English teacher, Daniel Carr, and becomes entangled in an illegal, erotic, passionate, and dangerous affair—a vicious meeting of minds and bodies that ends badly. Devastated by grief and longing, Sarah embarks upon a series of meaningless self-abasing sexual encounters, hoping to reclaim the intensity of that first relationship. Then, seven years later, Carr unexpectedly returns and Sarah is drawn again into a destructive coupling. Now that she is no longer an innocent young girl, is she strong enough to finally tame the beast within her? A modern Lolita, Taming the Beast is an emotionally unflinching and alluring tale that introduces a powerful new writer.