#TuesdayBookBlog ‘My Life as a Rat’ by @JoyceCarolOates #BookReview

My Life as a Rat: A Novel by [Oates, Joyce Carol]

I’m a bit behind with my reviews. I’ll be catching up gradually. Today, I’m starting with the last book I’ve read, which is My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates.

I am ashamed to admit that although I have read some of her poems and posted about one of them here, I had never read any novels by this author. Then a few weeks ago, I read an interview with the author about her new novel, in the Guardian, and my interest was peaked, but when I read the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I was almost put off. I say almost, because I’m an avid reader, reviewer and writer, and I know how subjective most reviews are.

Some of the negative terms which appeared were, too long, repetitive, slow, disappointed, disorganised, violence, abuse, disturbing. That made me realise it would not be an easy book to read, but I decided I was up for the challenge.

I started reading the book on my Scribd subscription last Friday, and I couldn’t stop until I finished it on Sunday night. It’s hard to introduce other readers to such a brilliant book in a few hundred words, but I’m going to do my best.

Joyce Carol Oates

My Life as a Rat is a heart-rending novel which deals with topics such as, abuse, domestic violence, ignorance, racism and gender inequality.

It presents these topics honestly and brutally, so much so that some people may feel uncomfortable, or even disgusted. Well this isn’t a light romance, this is a raw and harrowing view of a segment of the population. Extrapolating Violet’s town, family and life to every woman in the world would be absurd, even though Violet is not the only girl who has lived or lives so close to so many ignorant and/or evil people.

In spite of everything Violet experiences, I find the novel hopeful because the reader is led to believe there is an implicit answer to the senseless violence, lack of love, gender inequality, racism and ignorance, and that’s Violet’s attitude to adversity: learn the lesson, get up and move on! That is to say she persevers, she tries to do the right thing, she actively searches for a better education, she wishes to accept her responsibility in events, forgive herself and others and repair whatever she can, and especially, she never loses the ability to keep reaching for her dreams.

Violet is a wonderful character who never gives up, she’s bigger than the events she overcomes, because she’s able to move on, keep loving and forgiving, and I think she stands a good chance of finding happiness, perhaps, one day…

A must read for anyone who wants to understand what’s wrong with our society and how we can find ways to heal and be reconciled.

*****

#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview ‘Tripping on a Halo’ by Alessandra Torre @ReadAlessandra ‏#Romance

I enjoy reading humorous romance with quirky heroines, in between suspenseful, heart-stopping thrillers and dramatic novels.

The last few books I’ve reviewed have been intense, but today I offer you, Tripping on a Halo, a different, fun, laugh out loud romance, you’ll love, by Alessandra Torre.

Tripping on a Halo by [Torre, Alessandra]

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It’s really hard to save a guy’s life when he keeps running from you…
You might be asking yourself why I’m waving an inflatable penis in the air and screaming at the top of my lungs. If I took time to explain, Declan Moss would get hit by a bus.

Let me back up. I didn’t ask for this. I was perfectly happy–and perfectly sane–before I was tasked with keeping Declan Moss alive. It was a thankless job until the moment that my panties dropped and his delicious smirk found his way in between my thighs.

Hello, toe-curling ecstasy. Goodbye, professional boundaries. And suddenly, there’s a new danger to avoid: the falling of my heart.

****

My Review

Tripping on a Halo is a unique romantic comedy, unlike any other you’ve read or are likely to read.

I loved all the characters in this novel. The main characters, Declan and Autumn were wonderful, and their friends and family, the secondary characters, were great too. Ansley, Roger, and Nate, brought the story to life.

The events are partly told from Declan’s point of view, but mostly from Autumn’s distorted perspective.

Autumn is a unique, quirky character, who’s impossible not to love. She’s stalking Declan because she’s convinced she’s destined to save his life. The reasoning which has led her to firmly believe this, is complex and disturbing, and it’s why you’ll fall in love with this endearing character.

The plot is unusual and the story is mostly hilarious, except for the last part which delves into the explanations and causes of her delusions. It has a satisfactory, although completely unexpected ending.

I’d recommend this feel-good romance especially to readers who enjoy a laugh out loud, heartwarming love story, with a meaningful subtext, and of course, a guaranteed happy ending!

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#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview ‘The Cactus’ by Sarah Haywood @SarahxHaywood

The Cactus is another book I discovered thanks to my favourite reviewer, Linda Hill, who reviewed it on Linda’s Book Bag in January.

I love reading humorous, feel good novels and romance, to balance the intensity of the thrillers and dramatic novels I usually read, so after reading Linda’s review, I was sure I’d love The Cactus. The unique and quirky main character, Susan Green, reminded me of Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, one of my favourite novels of 2018, which I reviewed here.

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People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself.

Age 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. And things can only get worse … at least in Susan’s eyes.

****

My Review

The Cactus is a wonderful and uplifting novel with an unlikely, quirky and lovable heroine, Susan Green, who is coping with her mother’s death, litigation regarding the will, as well as serious personal issues (I don’t want to include spoilers). In spite of her world imploding, she’ll find her silver lining in the most unlikely places and situations.

It’s a novel about family secrets and domestic strife, and how honesty and goodness can overcome the most negative situations. I read it in an afternoon – evening (finished in the early hours), because I just couldn’t put it down. Fortunately, it was another blissfully lazy, winter Sunday, ideal for cosy reading by the fireplace.

Susan, who tells her story in the first person, is a fascinating woman, who captivates the reader with her honesty and humour, from page one. The rest of the secondary characters who interact with Susan are also believable and engaging, and the plot is clever. It’s set mostly in London and Birmingham, so it has a very English feel to it.

I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy well written, feel good novels with unique characters. It will make you laugh, cringe and cry, right up to the heart-warming ending. A delight to read!

And it’s a real gift at its present, very low price, of well under the cost of a coffee for the kindle version, which I read, and a few more pounds/dollars/euros for the paperback, which I’m getting for my bookshelf, because I know I’ll be rereading it.

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#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris @Audible

I’d heard about this novel when it first came out, but it was after recently listening to an interview by Richard Armitage, who is the narrator on Audible, that I decided to purchase it with my monthly credit, and I’m so glad I did. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is more than a book, it’s an emotional experience.

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In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

 

****

My Review

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one of the most emotional love stories I’ve ever read. It’s about Lale and Gita, both from Bratislava, who meet and fall in love in a concentration camp in Poland.

It’s the story of Lale’s resourcefulness, strength, tenacity, goodness and love for Gita, during the three years they spent in the camp, and how he found her again when they lost touch after leaving Auschwitz.

It’s also about the horrors of war, the cruelty humans are capable of, and the need to take risks and compromise in order to survive.

The struggle for survival in extreme situations is complex and unimaginable for those who have never experienced it. The emotional and psychological cost of that survival is just as unimaginably distressing, and also comes across in the narrative. 

Yet the end of the novel, the epilogue and their son’s testimony, makes it ultimately an uplifting novel, because there is more gratitude and faith in the future than bitterness or desire for vengeance about the past.

In the end it’s not a novel about war or evil, it’s about the power of love.

Did I tell you I listened to the audio version brilliantly read by Richard Armitage?

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#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview ‘The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom’ by Beth Miller @drbethmiller @Bookouture‏

I found The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom, quite by chance, browsing new releases on Amazon. I was especially looking for humorous and uplifting titles. Having read too many thrillers recently, I needed a break, and I found a heartbreakingly beautiful novel, which stole my heart.

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Eliza Bloom has a list of rules: long, blue skirt on Thursdays, dinner with mother on Fridays, and never give your heart away to the wrong person. Nothing is out of place in her ordered life…

Then she met someone who she was never supposed to speak to. And he introduced her to a whole world of new lists:
New foods to try – oysters and sushi
Great movies to watch – Bambi and Some Like It Hot
Things I love about Eliza Bloom

Eliza left everything she knew behind for him, but sometimes love just isn’t enough. Especially when he opens a hidden shoebox and starts asking a lot of questions about her past life. As the walls Eliza carefully constructed threaten to come crashing down, will she find a way to keep hold of everyone she loves, and maybe, just maybe, bring the two sides of her heart together at last?

****

My Review

The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom is a wonderful novel about love, marriage, complex family dynamics, intercultural marriages, friendship, and last but not least, parents coping with adolescent children!

The writing style is wonderful. Eliza’s first person point of view, draws the reader in as we follow Eliza,’s life from her strict, childhood and upbringing, her arranged marriage, romance and elopement with an ‘unsuitable’ Londoner, pregnancy, and married life up to her 40th birthday, when she’s coping with her own teenage daughter’s rebellious nature.

The novel has two parallel timelines, 2000-2001 and 2016. This dual timeframe works well as a narrative device, creating suspense by gradually unfolding the plot, which is basically the story of Eliza’s marriage to Alex and the numerous challenges they face, told piece by piece, until we finally get the whole, heartbreaking picture.

The characterisation is perfect, both their families and friends jumped out of the pages and came to life as real people. Leah, the teenage daughter is brilliantly and vividly portrayed, and the family dynamics which developed throughout the novel was believable, sometimes humorous and others touching.

Eliza and Alex’s relationship is challenging due to their very diverse cultural and family backgrounds. Eliza is more complex, because she is torn between two worlds, and sometimes, understandably, can’t seem to decide where she wants to be. Alex is patient, loving and considerate, but it’s not always enough, and he has his own limits and hang-ups to deal with, too. Leah, like every teenager, is a constant source of stress in their relationship until she, selfishly, albeit unwittingly, manages to push her parents and the whole family to the very limit.

I’m so glad I found this uplifting novel, which I read in one wonderful sitting (fortunately I was able to read it over a long, lazy Sunday).

I can’t imagine anyone not loving this novel. It’s realistic, inspiring, poignant and heartwarming.

And it’s a real gift at its present, very low price, of well under the cost of a coffee.

Go on, indulge!

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#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ by C J Tudor @cjtudor #Audible

I recently finished reading ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ a chilling thriller by C J Tudor, which was recommended by Linda Hill, book reviewer extraordinaire. Visit Linda’s blog for fabulous book reviews, author interviews and lots of other bookish posts!

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One night, Annie went missing.

Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst.

And then, after 48 hours, she came back.

But she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say what had happened to her.

Something happened to my sister. I can’t explain what.

I just know that when she came back, she wasn’t the same.

She wasn’t my Annie.

I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.

****

My Review

The Taking of Annie Thorne is a brilliant thriller and a compelling read. I started it on Friday evening and finished it on Saturday after lunch.

It’s difficult to write a review without giving anything away. There are plenty of twists and turns, and a few red herrings, too! Most characters are not who they seem to be.

The beginning is intriguing as the story unfolds. The events are mostly told from Joe Thorne’s first person point of view, in the present tense, with some flashbacks to his childhood and his sister’s disappearance.

Joe is a flawed, but likeable character. I’m not sure why, because he’s done some unlikable things! I appreciate his fierce honesty as he grapples with his psychological issues and moral dilemmas. He knows he’s the main actor in a tragedy, yet in spite of the hopelessness of his situation, he’s struggling to make amends, help others and be a better person. He’s also a genuinely good teacher, concerned with his students’ wellbeing.

Joe does a lot of lying, however, he’s honest with himself and consequently the reader. Unfortunately, Joe doesn’t know all the truth himself, so he occasionally misleads us, especially at the beginning.

Joe and the reader will gradually discover what happened to his sister, who wrote the anonymous email asking him to return, and who is responsible for what has happened to other children in Arnhill.

The atmosphere is chilling and sinister, with some scary scenes, which aren’t too gory, except for the creepy beetles, which I can’t stand.

The last third, where the whole plot is resolved, is fast paced, surprising and satisfactory. Although there are some supernatural elements in the story, the storyline and ending are believably wrapped up.

I’d recommend this novel especially for readers who enjoy engaging and bloodcurdling thrillers.

By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Armitage’s reading on Audible.

Amazon Author Page with book links

 

 

 

#MondayBlogs What Makes a Great Novel? #Amreading #Amwriting #Amreviewing

If a formula existed for a great novel, everyone would benefit. Authors would write perfect novels and readers would never be disappointed.

So, what makes a great novel? My answer is connection and intimacy.

Writers need to connect with their readers and readers are on the lookout for authors whose stories invade their hearts and minds (intimacy) and become meaningful (connection).

A reader’s response to a novel is personal, intellectual, intimate and complex.

Novels speak to the readers’ minds, that hidden, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, darkest, sometimes unpredictable, elusive part of our brains that surprises each one of us, more times than we’d care to admit.

Readers want to be immersed in a story, transported and moved. They want to feel what the characters feel, understand their predicaments as if they were working with the author.

Writers want readers to be active participants in the narrative, reliving their character’s experiences and reinterpreting their stories. As Stephen King has said, “All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies…’

Readers enjoy finding themselves in the story, with the characters. That’s the moment all writers and readers crave; the moment the reader becomes actively, emotionally and intellectually involved in the story.

A colloquial expression might be that the novel gets under their skin, but where it really gets is inside their minds; that’s what makes a great novel.

So, how do writers find their way into the minds of people they don’t even know?

The answer is as simple as it is complex: writing about universal themes, feelings and events which are (and have always been) common to all of us.

That’s one of the reasons why Shakespeare will never be outdated.

Image result for shakespeare universal themes

Great novels don’t have to be about extraordinary people or wondrous events. Great novels are about feelings we have all experienced or witnessed, such as love, anger, jealousy, greed, happiness, optimism, depression, and universal events such as falling in love, parenting, sibling rivalry, sickness, death, earning a living, quarrelling, making friends, travelling, etc.

Great novels make readers feel something beyond themselves and the scope of their ordinary lives.

Great novels reach their minds, taking them on an unknown journey of self-discovery. Readers become part of the story, because they are involved with the characters and events, and when they finish reading, they are not the same person they were when they started reading, because they have changed their minds about something, or thought about something that had never occurred to them before, or felt something they hadn’t felt before or for a long time.

The challenge for both readers and writers is that one particular author will rarely be able to reach every reader’s mind, because of course all minds are different and no two readers will react in the same way to a novel, or even to different episodes and characters in a novel.

The good news is, there are so many types and genres of novels to be read and so many ways of reading, paperback, kindle and other e-books, and audio books, that it’s hard not to find something for everyone.

How to find a book that’s perfect for you?

It’s hard to get it wrong if you follow these three steps:

  • Read the blurb (writer and editor’s information and views).
  • Read a few varied reviews (diverse readers’ opinions).
  • Read the look inside pages (read the first chapters and decide whether to continue reading or not).

If you do so, it’s unlikely you’ll choose a book you won’t enjoy.

And when you finish, don’t forget to post a review, because it will help the author and other readers, too.

Are you looking for a great book? Here are some of the great books I’ve recently read:

Us

Us by David Nicholls. Themes: love, marriage, parenting, and contemporary life, from the perspective of a middle-aged Englishman. Poignant and humorous.

Eleanor Oliphant by Gale Honeyman. Themes: abuse, loneliness, serendipity, from the point of view of a young woman. Poignant, humorous, Feel good.

our house

Our House by Louise Candlish. Themes: marriage, infidelity, crime, parenting, told from two points of view, husband and wife of two young children. Family drama.

The Guest Room: A Novel by [Bohjalian, Chris]

The Guest Room Chris Bohjalion. Themes: marriage, infidelity, corruption, sex trafficking, narrated by an American husband and father and a Russian prostitute who is an illegal immigrant in the USA.

Missing You by [Coben, Harlan]

Don’t Let go by Harlan Coben. Themes: love, corruption, crime. A suspenseful thriller. This is his latest novel, but all of them are fabulous. Missing You is one of my favourites.

The Good Girl by Maria Rubrica. Themes, crime, kidnapping, family, love. A dark family drama, told from the point of view of the kidnapped daughter, before and after the event.

The Sister: A psychological thriller with a brilliant twist you won't see coming by [Jensen, Louise]

The Sister, by Louise Jensen is a suspenseful psychological thriller I enjoyed, but all her novels are great reads.

It Ends with Us: A Novel by [Hoover, Colleen]

It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover is a heartbreaking family drama about abusive relationships told in the first person by a young woman living in Boston.

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorback is a unique and moving novel about survival, loneliness and serendipity, told from the point of view of a lawyer who attempts to help a homeless young woman on a freezing night.

Check out all my reviews on Amazon

But don’t take my word for it, what’s meaningful for me may be boring for you.

Follow the three steps (blurb, reviews, look inside) and find those great books you’re longing to read!

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What do you think makes a great book?

Would you like to tell me about a great book you’ve recently read?