Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin

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At fifteen, Diana Dodworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound.

To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

inspired-quill.com

I want to start by thanking Anne Goodwin for asking me to review Sugar and Snails. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that provoked the words ‘I can’t actually believe that just happened’; ‘I did NOT see that coming’; ‘Orange is the New Black can WAIT! I HAVE to read the next chapter’ exit my mouth. For these reasons and some others, it’s one of the books that I have been most excited about reviewing since starting out on my little reviewing sideline. Its one of those books that I want to talk and talk about but because of my religious beliefs (Thou Shalt Not Provide Spoilers) its the one book that I can’t talk about at all! Because much like the classic Bruce Willis thriller The Sixth Sense, once you know the twist, you’ll never see it the same again. But I’ll give it a go…

Sugar and Snails follows Diana, a middle aged, moderately successful psychology lecturer. Despite her good education and a position at one of the top universities in the country, her head is firmly stuck in the sand, but is at serious risk of being dislodged through the efforts of an ever helpful friend and a prospective love interest.  The story is told through Diana’s voice. I’m not often a fan of books with a single voice, but I can’t imagine Diana’s story being told any other way. She narrates her life in the first person, with a graceful poise that transcends the upheaval that she has encountered on her journey. Goodwin delicately navigates through Diana’s memories and emotions with a nimble dexterity, gently guiding the reader as we plunge into Diana’s psyche with a tenderness that was never afforded our heroine. That is until we discover Diana’s secret around half way through when it feels as though we’ve sidestepped into a raging torrent of ice; not because of what the secret is, but because of Goodwin’s sudden shift from softly subtle to pointedly direct.

It is around this point that I realised how perfectly this book is written. With one sentence, Goodwin forced me to simultaneously question all preceding events while doubting my expectations for the remainder of the book. It felt like being frozen in a tangled crossroads of possibilities; a deer caught in the headlights moment, if you will, which is how I imagine Diana must have felt more than once throughout her life.

Anne Goodwin

The Author, Anne Goodwin

annegoodwin.weebly.com

Sugar and Snails is the  classic example of why one should absolutely never begin writing a book review before the reading of said book is finished. When reviewing, I always make a few mental notes as I read, thinking about what I’ll say about the book, themes I’ve picked up on etc. Inevitably, very few of my Sugar and Snails notes have proved useful due to the surprising turn of events circa 56% in (thank you Kindle with your ever precise page counting techniques), but there is one such note that I think is still valid. It is this: The book’s main focus is a decision made by a 15 year old, and the consequential lifestyle and doctorate research led by Diana about the ability of adolescents to make meaningful decisions. In real life, adolescents are made to make some of the most important decisions of their lives, especially with regards to their education and future careers. They also think that they are the only ones having to make these decisions and that nothing will ever be simple again and the world will probably end next Wednesday. I’m sure we can all agree that for the most part, these are all very correct and reasonable observations for teenagers to make. I therefore think it would be very useful to have this book available in all high schools. Either in the library or as part of a lesson taught by an open minded teacher who is not easily embarrassed. Because despite some controversial topics, or maybe because of said controversy, and while not everyone faces Diana’s dilemma, we could all be better rounded people for learning about said dilemma in order to support those who do have such a decision to make.

Sugar and Snails deserves to be pushed to the front of the queue in all book club reading lists. The depth of the characters and the intricate problems that they face will provide so many discussion points. Now that I know the twist, I am excited to reread Sugar and Snails and to pick up on the many muted clues sprinkled throughout the text.  So please, for me, read this book. If you can’t do it for me (rude) do it for you. Just go now. Buy it. Read it. Then come talk to me about it. Because it is absurdly brilliant.

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Truth: The Oleah Chronicles by Michelle Johnson

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What would you do if everything you thought
to be true in your life was a lie?
Sixteen-year-old Angel Seriki must face overwhelming truths about her family when she meets Zander Black, a new student to her high school who is smart, charming and devastatingly beautiful. The revelations he uncovers to her about her family’s past changes everything, and as her relationship and feelings for Zander deepen, so do the risks involved. She must now accept her fate and face the true reality of who and what she is. Even if that means giving up everything, including being human.
 oleahchronicles.com

 

Truth is the first in a series of books by Michelle Johnson, an imaginative young writer with a penchant for mythical creatures and all things creative.

In Truth, Johnson has created a very interesting cast of characters, made even more so by introducing some of them in one world, before ripping them away and depositing them unceremoniously in another. This displacement is for good reason; if an evil queen threatened you and the entire population of your home planet, you’d probably jump ship too. No? Then you clearly have never crossed paths with Satan’s little sister before.

Truth is essentially a vamped up story about coming of age. We watch Angel grow from a regular teenager into a fierce heroine as she survives persistent vampires, homicidal demons, earthquakes, an unwanted 17th birthday party and worst of all, high school boys.  Despite all the other-worldly characters, and planet hopping, Truth is a very down to earth book. The characters are believable, which is made apparent in the closing chapters: when Angel is forced to give up her whole world, literally, the reader can’t help but feel her agony, particularly at the loss of her friend who she will do anything for. It is this deep friendship that spurs our reluctant heroine on to save the world, rather than the throngs of Oleahs bowing before her on her home planet.

The story kept my attention from page 1. I enjoyed the relationships depicted and the believable tensions and ensuing arguments that arose throughout. Johnson has got the balance between sci-fi, fantasy and the plausible spot on by dealing with everyday issues in a supernatural reality.

I look forward to the next installment!

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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 The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

http://erinmorgenstern.com/

Erin Morgenstern is a talented writer lady living in Manhattan where she is currently working on her next masterpiece. Her debut novel needs no introduction, I’m sure, but tough you’re getting one anyway.

The Night Circus is, as it says on the tin about a circus. That only happens at night. It follows said circus on its global adventures, whose multiple stages provide lavish entertainment. The stage (s) has more than one purpose. Of course it entertains, but it also plays host to an intense competition with a sprinkling of peril and a dash of amour.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. But I will say this if you don’t mind. I wanted to hate this book. I really did. With all my heart and soul. I don’t know why exactly; its immense popularity, overnight success or the fact that the author has achieved that which I never will – that’s right people, she’s a NaNoWriMo winner. I am highly distrustful and/ or envious of anyone who can write a novel the month before Christmas. When does she shop please?!

Anyway, I wanted to hate it, but its no use. It’s far too charming, the characters too adorable and the story too intriguing. The more I attempted to rip it to shreds and the harder I pulled downwards, the higher it flung me in all sorts of directions like a somersaulting acrobat a la Cirque des Reves.  It has everything; fairy tale love, adventure, a duel to the end, a circus, magic, train journeys, red scarves, dresses that repel rainwater (can someone get the scientists working on that one).  I love this book.

If you haven’t already read it, as I suspect many of you have, go read it now.

The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris

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When Alice Farrell is drawn to a Grantchester churchyard and reads a strange inscription on Rosemary Virginia Ashley’s gravestone, she feels oddly disturbed.

And when her former boyfriend Joe returns to Cambridge with his new girlfriend Ginny, Alice is repelled by the ethereal, lavender-eyed beauty – and certain of her evil.

Then Alice finds an old diary in Ginny’s room and reads the story of Daniel Holmes, who lived in Cambridge forty years earlier, and fell under the fatal spell of Rosemary Ashley. As the two stories intertwine, Alice’s suspicions about Ginny increase – until past meets present in a terrifying climax…

joanne-harris.co.uk

I’ve had a few long car journeys to contend with at work recently, so I thought I’d give audio books a chance.  Here’s my review of the very first audio book that I ever listened to – The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris, which consequently, is the very first book that Joanne Harris ever wrote.

The story begins a little ambiguously with several intriguing characters, sharing a town but divided by time, with their ordinary lives and ordinary dilemmas. It quickly becomes clear however that they are anything but ordinary as they each come to terms with their role in the vampire story in which they are embroiled. Some utilise keen detective skills, some attempt to run while others use the full force of denial to move through the drama.

The most interesting characters for me were Alice and Daniel. Both are the voice of reason in their respective time zones. They got the most airtime and maybe this is why they felt like the most rounded characters. Joe and Ginny on the other hand were very two dimensional, despite their pivotal roles in the story.

I’m going to go all feminist on you now ….

Ginny is a vampire. Say what you want about those bloodsuckers, but having done at least 8 hours of research into the nature of vampires (Twilight) I can confirm that vampires are strong, cunning and their lightning speed makes Usain Bolt seem positively sluggish. In other words, no one messes with Ginny. She would NOT be in my top three people to run into in a dark alley of an evening.

It says a lot about our society, does it not, that supernatural Ginny with knowledge and age that belies her iridescent appearance must act like a vulnerable, needy, pathetic excuse of a human, desperately seeking the protection of a male human in order to fit into our world. Just sayin’.

I know that Joanne Harris has mixed feelings about her debut novel. Not because we’re bezzies (except we did meet one time and I have a photo to prove it) but because I read it on her internet site on the web.  I too have mixed feelings about it. Mostly, I wish I had read it in book form rather than listened to it in broken car journeys. I’m not sure that I would have assigned the voices I heard as read by the narrators to the characters. The story itself is quite slow paced, but I did very much enjoy ‘reading’ Daniel’s diary in and among Alice’s journey.

If you love Joanne Harris, give it a go. I believe it is currently in print. Alternatively, why not give audiobooks a try? I downloaded my copy on iTunes.

Enjoy!

‘The List’ by Joanna Bolouri

the list

Hello and welcome! Come on in, make yourselves at home here at Tales from a Bruce Eye View. Grab a brew and a biscuit, take a look around. Thank you for joining me on this, the third day of the Blog Tour celebrating Joanna Bolouri’s delightfully risqué debut novel, The List.  Bolouri has honed her comedic writing talents over the years by working with the likes of stand up comics, comedy scriptwriters and actors in the UK after doing rather well in a BBC comedy script competition. She has certainly utilized her funny stick in The List (not a euphemism) which is filled with frolicsome hilarity along with the odd innuendo and/ or blatant description of some lurid sexual act.

Here’s what the back page has to say about The List:

Phoebe Henderson may be single, but she sure doesn’t feel fabulous. It’s been a year since she found her boyfriend in bed with another woman, and multiple cases of wine and extensive relationship analysis with best friend Lucy have done nothing to help. Faced with a new year but no new love, Phoebe concocts a different sort of resolution.
The List.
Ten things she’s always wanted to do in bed but has never had the chance (or the courage!) to try. A bucket list for between the sheets. One year of pleasure, no strings attached.
Simple, right?
Factor in meddlesome colleagues, friends with benefits, getting frisky al fresco and maybe, possibly, true love and Phoebe’s got her work cut out.

As you’ve probably gathered, not one to bring to the hypothetical book club you share with your grandmama of a Sunday eve. No, no. 98.2% of the pages of this book are absolutely dripping with sex. Not in a cringe worthy I-don’t know-where-to-look way. It’s not so graphic that it burns your eyeballs but still a tad too much to enter into any discussion about with a more senior member of one’s family.

But then again, its only sex. We’ve all did it. Not as much as Phoebes but still, its nice to read a book that’s so open about sex, which can be a bit of a taboo subject to write about.  (Can it? Or is that just my prude of a brain talking? I think it is a bit…) Phoebe’s attitude towards sex is quite healthy with regards to her mental health more than anything. She has highlighted an area in her life that she wants to improve and tackles it one greased up bullet point at a time. Why not! If its safe and everyone’s happy, there’s nothing wrong with that.

A good point about this book is that it highlights some side effects of having sexy sex that may be uncomfortable to seek advice about in real life. I won’t go into it here but you can read the book for the deets. Never again will you have to wipe your Google history in haste at the sound of footsteps close by.

I found Phoebe to be a very likeable character. She is very funny, strong and independent and tackles her problems very much head on. As it were. Ahem. Some of her friends/ conquests/ ex’s on the other hand were a little two dimensional. The book is written in the style of a diary, so the story is understandably very much centred on Phoebe and her view of things. Oliver is the only exception to this. I felt like Bolouri communicated his character really well with his cheeky quips and his Irish charm. (FYI reading a book in which the two main characters are either Glaswegian or Irish in my Lancashire/ West Yorkshire brain was NOT easy. I do always try to hear the characters in their designated accents, but I’ll be honest it just turned into a bit of a Gaelic mush and a two day migraine, so I gave up.)

The metamorphosis of Phoebe and Oliver’s relationship from beginning to end is enchanting, if a little predictable in a happy ending kind of way. Its like a very sweet, lube laced fairy tale. Again, it tackles some very important relationship issues and the effect that sex can have on a friendship.

I imagine this book is a little more accessible to people in the Glasgow area where the book is set. Bolouri leads us around the city as we follow her characters to the next adventure. There are lots of local shout outs that I’m sure would please the Glaswegians among you.

All in all, The List is a funny, funny book that made me laugh out loud over two times. Many thank yous to Joanna Bolouri for writing and to Emma Louise and Quercus Books for organising this Blog Tour and for sending me a shiny new book to read.

Happy reading everyone!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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I seem to be on a bit of a roll with feminist inspired novels recently. I was introduced to my latest read, Only Ever Yours by this article from the author of said novel, Louise O’Neill.

Only Ever Yours is a dark tale of a dystopian world in which “eves” are designed in order to satisfy the reproductive and sexual needs of the “inheritants”.

Its vaguely the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale with a heavy dollop of the bitchiness of Mean Girls.  If you haven’t experienced these classics, picture an oppressive patriarchal society.  Women’s rights are limited to the maintenance of their looks and/ or wombs, while an expiration date with a disturbing finality hangs over them.

O’Neill really captures the voice of the insecure teenager, trapped in an image obsessed world.  Where the winner never gets there by being a nice or considerate person.  Selfishness and vanity prevails.  Any hint of intelligence or doubt will render you useless in this world and get you thrown on the pyre. Literally.  Because girls are meant to be seen, never heard.  And not all girls. Just the perfect ones.  All the rest will be hidden.  Sounds familiar, no?

We see the entire story unfold through one eve’s perspective.  I don’t usually enjoy novels with a sole narrator.  I like to hear other characters’ voices and see the story from different angles.  However, I don’t think this novel would have worked any other way.  Through Frieda’s solitary voice, O’Neill channels the isolation and uncertainty that all of the eves must have felt.

Only Ever Yours has been billed as a YA novel. Again, not something that would usually attract me to a story.  But I’m so glad I read it.  The only reasons I can think of for it being a YA novel is that the protagonist is a teenage girl, and it is an easy read.  But otherwise, the themes are very relevant no matter what age/gender you are.  The implications presented in this book are very dark and scarier still, not all that unfamiliar.

As well as the whole production of eves as men-pleasin’ objects, Only Ever Yours explores friendship and rivalry.  I think most of us can testify to the fact that teenage friendships can be toxic, particularly within a group of girls.  It might be well into your twenties before you can shake off a venomous friendship.  The eves however do not have this luxury.  Just as with their bodies, the eves have no say in their social standing. This includes being victims of degradation and humility from all angles.

On the whole, I like this book.  But I did want a bit more from it.  Maybe to see a little more of the world that O’Neill had created outside of Frieda’s confined parameters.  I’d really like to see a sequel based on the life of an inheritant, just to get another perspective on the story.  Because, like all good feminist writing, Only Ever Yours highlights the pressure put on men, as well as women, to perform in a certain way in society.

Only Every Yours is available in real life bookshops as well as online for your electronical reading device.

Let me know what you think!

“The New Mrs D” by Heather Hill

I’ve been following the very chuckle worthy Heather Hill for a while now.  Not in a real life stalker way, you understand.  Just on the internet.  That sounds worse.  I just read her tweets and her blogs. Nothing weird.  I first came across this funny lady last year and have been enjoying her posts every since.  So, when I discovered that she was publishing her debut novel, I jumped at the chance to have a sneaky pre-published peek to review for her.

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The New Mrs D, or Binnie, is a happy go lucky kind of gal who finally finds herself, despite growing up with a narcissistic mother and living with a porn-obsessed husband.  She waits until the second day of her honeymoon to discover all of this, and then sends her new hubby packing, but that’s Binnie!

Ms Hill whisks off to the Greek Islands for a colourful adventure.  She plonks us right in the middle of the beautiful scenery, taking us on a sensory journey where we soak up the hot sun, drink in the fragrant wine, bask in the explosion of a fish and cradle our temples as Binnie flings her flip flop at us, from a speeding scooter.  I said colourful adventure, not safe adventure.

During Binnie’s antics, we come to learn more about our heroine and the struggles she has faced in her past that have led her to where she is now.  Binnie seems to be magnetically drawn to the outrageous, which makes for some lovely slapstick moments.  Despite spending her honeymoon sans new husband, she certainly isn’t lonely or bored.  She makes lifelong friends and dares herself to do something that terrifies her every day.

Amongst the frivolities, there is a deeper message within this book.  It is somewhat of a survivor’s story. We see this in the friends that Binnie makes.  All of them have their own story and their own survival including broken hearts, cancer, widowhood, betrayal.  In comparison, Binnie is worried that people will find her story ludicrous and embarrassing.  Because of this, she talks herself in and out of forgiving her errant husband for his dalliances with his internet fantasies, mainly because she is worried what people will think of her.  No woman should be made to feel that way, not least by her husband!

Ms Hill celebrates the strong, funny woman.  Binnie is certainly both those things.  Read this book and you will:

  1. Consider what it is to be a strong, independent lady
  2. Learn that it is never too late
  3. Understand that you should enjoy being you, because, in the words of Binnie, “there will never be another you”.

You can buy Heather Hill’s debut novel here.

Enjoy!