Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Alice and the Fly – James Rice

Contemporary Fiction 3*'s
Contemporary Fiction

Meet Greg, a teenage boy with a phobia of spiders or THEM as he refers to them, a social outcast, or the psycho as his classmates call him who has a kindly English teacher who suggests that he keeps a journal. The story told in that journal is a sad one as it documents days where he has no meaningful contact with anyone, including his family. At times the journal refers to events in the past, Greg has an ideal place, Finner’s Island somewhere that contains happier memories for him, but from excerpts from police interviews it becomes apparent that something happened on Finner’s Island way back in the past when Greg was a small boy.

This isn’t a bad book but nor does it deliver on the promise of the author of love and hope because I didn’t get either of these elements. The love aspect is Greg’s fixation with a girl, Alice. Now Alice barely seems to notice him for the majority of the story but despite that Greg details her father’s actions, he works with him at a butchers, spends nights in her garden feeding her dog Scraps and goes on bus journeys just to see her. Alice, like Greg appears to have some issues including family ones so I completely bought into the fact he was obsessed with her but love, no this wasn’t a love story. That brings us onto hope, this book made me feel sad, a family whose life was taken over by mental illness, a young boy who has no real hopes and dreams and from his journal we can assume that he is on strong medication. His father absents himself with work and women and his mother distracts herself with social climbing and decorating and his younger sister Sarah dances her way away from the misery in the house.

The writing is captivating to begin with, I wanted to know more about Greg and we get a sense of how he manages his phobia, school life and his part-time job courtesy of his parent’s wealthy friends all of which was excellently portrayed. The journal is broken up with some excerpts from the police interviews with his peers, family and teachers, and these gave a different view of this boy who was consumed with his own thoughts. I’m not a big fan of monologues and the format chosen didn’t give the writer any other possibility, I’m sure that this in part added to the feeling of claustrophobia of Greg’s world and for the reader to become immersed in it, but if I’m honest all the description and disjointed thoughts began to get too much for me and I just wanted some of the adults around him to get him some help. The only form of therapy he had was the chats with his teacher! Surely someone who had been diagnosed with a mental illness and was being medicated would have slightly more medical support?

In the last section of the book the writer picked up the pace, the journal style works so much better when there are actions to describe rather than just thoughts and I was keen to know, and understand, what happened!

I’m sure that this will be a popular read, there are lots of good points and the writer is clearly talented and has used his experiences as the ‘weird kid’ to write some affecting prose which would make an excellent choice for a book club read.

I’d like to thank the publishers Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read a proof copy of this book which was published on 15 January 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Another Night, Another Day – Sarah Rayner

Contemporary Fiction 3*'s
Contemporary Fiction

Sarah Rayner’s novel, One Moment, One Morning chief protagonist was Karen whose husband died suddenly on a train one morning. I was drawn into this story and sympathised greatly with Karen in her loss so I was thrilled to find out that Karen was one of the main characters in Another Night, Another Day.

In this book, also set in Brighton, she is attending Moreland’s Psychiatric Clinic and we are introduced to a wider cast of characters who are all at the clinic for mental health issues. Alongside Karen we follow Michael and Abby’s stories as they are all treated at the clinic.

This is a sympathetically written book which opens with two therapists at Moreland’s discussing the death of the patient. From then on each chapter focusses on each of the character’s lives, starting with their lives prior to entering the clinic. We see Michael struggling financially whilst hiding the details from his family, Karen trying to support her mother with her father’s illness and Abby who is overwhelmed with the imminent separation from her husband and who faces daily disapproval from others when out with her son, Callum, who is autistic.

The most interesting section of the book for me was the part set in the clinic where the reader gets an insight into the techniques used by the therapists to help the patients. At this point we are introduced to more of the patients, notably, Lilli a TV star, Colin and Rita with the interaction between the patients uplifting what could have been quite a depressing read.

Although I think many people are much more sympathetic than in previous times, to those suffering from mental health issues, this still needs improving and if a book like this can give others an insight into the different ways these illnesses affect sufferers then that can only be a good thing. I think the author managed to stay just about on the right side of the line between informing and preaching about the issues and the state of the NHS, although anyone who has a family member entering a NHS unit would be concerned reading the contrast between the cosy atmosphere in Moreland’s and the far more dangerous one in the NHS hospital.

This isn’t a plot or character driven book, it is more of a fictional accounts of problems that are suffered by many along with the wider families and because of this the pace is quite sedate despite the amount of issues covered. Despite that it is a very readable book which had me rooting for each and every one of the characters.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review ahead of the publication date of 17 July 2014.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The House We Grew Up In – Lisa Jewell

Perfect Storytelling 5 *
Women’s Fiction

I switched on my kindle with eager anticipation to read the latest offering from Lisa Jewell; there is a very special feeling when you just know from reading the very first words that what lies ahead is 400 pages of pure enjoyment.

The book tells the story of the Bird family who lived in a beautiful house in a Cotswold village. The family comprised a mother Lorelei, a father Colin and four children; two girls followed by twin boys, and on Easter Sunday they had an Easter Egg Hunt in the garden. In 1981 the eldest daughter Megan is 10 and along with her cousins celebrates one such idyllic day but as the reader already knows that in April 2011 Megan has turned up at the beautiful house with her eldest daughter who declares `This is the worst house I have ever seen’

The reader finds out what happened in the intervening years with flashbacks to Easter’s between 1981 and 2011, as well as being privy to Lorelei’s emails to her friend which started in November 2010. In short a great deal happens to change everyone; there are many issues covered including bereavement, mental illness, suicide, adultery as well as the big one, relationships. All are sensitively handled, cleverly illustrating the different ways the characters deal with events both at the time and how they feel about them years later. All these events meant that the book was a real page turner where I found myself wondering what else could happen to the lovely family I first read about.

I think the reason why I love Lisa Jewell’s books so much is her characters, always real and just like real people my opinion and allegiance can change as you find out more about them. This has to be my favourite of all time, something I believe I stated after reading her last book, Before I Met You! I would suggest this to anyone who loves a good story. This is the type of story which leaves you bereft that it is finished

Other Books by Lisa Jewell
Before I Met You (19 Jul 2012)
The Making of Us (12 May 2011)
After the Party (15 Dec 2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (15 Dec 2010)
31 Dream Street (3 Apr 2008)
Vince and Joy: The Love Story of a Lifetime (4 Aug 2005)
A Friend of the Family (4 Aug 2005)
One-hit Wonder (25 Apr 2003)
Thirtynothing (7 Sep 2000)
Ralph’s Party (6 May 1999)

The Making of Us

Before I Met You