Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh

IMG_20170402_104155.jpg

Published by Penguin, 13th July 2017, 345 pages, £7.99

3 stars

I spent the last week in Kenya. It was 1952, political unrest had taken a vicious turn and the young Queen Elizabeth is soon to be crowned. Eighteen year old Rachel returns to the country after spending six years in England during the wake of her mother’s death. Turning her back on this life, which included a stifling boarding school, cold nights at her grandparents and meager rationing, she looks towards her real home with a tentative, but relieved heart. Her father, who remained in Kenya, kept very little contact whilst she was away and she hopes to reunite with him and revive memories of her mother. However, on her arrival he remains distant and is living with an unlikable woman and her quiet son.

This was my first time reading Jennifer McVeigh’s work, recommended as being a fan of Dinah Jefferies. I think anyone who favours stories about young women negotiating life and love in an exotic setting would enjoy this.  The time I spent with this novel was a warm escape. It started off with a very calming pace, like sun rays settling onto my back. I saw Kenya through Rachel’s young and hopeful eyes, its endless landscape, dusty beauty and rural way of life. As Rachel struggles to reconnect with her father and rebuild her childhood memories, she runs into Michael, a former tutor and local. The intrigue and attraction between the characters was there, but I didn’t feel their romance was full-bodied enough. Michael started as a masculine and intellectual enigma, revealing very little until the end. Their relationship leaned more towards silent acceptance rather than a heady whirlwind.

The slow pace that begins the story almost stagnates in the middle, leaving me wondering if there would be any action. It eventually picks up and speeds towards a dizzying tumble of events. The title ‘Leopard At The Door’,  becomes more apparent towards the later half of the novel.  Danger in multiple forms slink around. The story becomes stabbed with graphic violence (too much for my taste) as the threat of Mau Mau rebels looms closer. Not only this, but the deteriorating relationships in the house and the sadistic nature of the British enforcement close in. The novel also comments on the chilling treatment of women and mental health under Imperial rule and its obsession for sweeping issues under the rug.

The novel ends perhaps too quickly and wraps up with a mixture of unresolved acceptance, sadness and the survival of hope.

Many thanks to Penguin for my review copy xx

Advertisements

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

oneofusislying

Published by Penguin, 1 June 2017, 368 pages, £5.99

4 stars

Penguin cleverly sent around press releases daring me NOT to like this book. They boldly claimed that there was not a single reader who disliked the book. So of course I had to accept the challenge, even though I knew it was a marketing bait. I knew that my weakness for high school murder mysteries (a la Pretty Little Liars) will guarantee a base interest. This novel has a bit of everything, intense sleuthing, teen drama and romance. Its attempts to handle darker elements like death and mental illness might be its one flaw.

This is one of the most exciting YA books I have read so far. Five different characters collide in one detention session, all with secrets. Like those who didn’t grow up in the American school system, I have a fondness for their (damaging) stereotypes: the brain, beauty queen, jock, drop-out and outcast. None of these students know why they had detention and at the end of it, Simon the outcast is dead. The rest of the group become suspects. With each day the police are increasingly determined to bring them down. And get this, Simon’s gossip blog continues to post, the topic being the famous four and their secrets. So who is determined to ruin their lives, some elusive stranger or one of them?

If I do say so myself, I had started to get an inkling of who the culprit was. But I do applaud the many twists and turns the plot leads you down. Despite their different worlds, the characters bond with motivating results. They shed their stereotype shells, help each other’s problems and embrace their real selves. There are transformations, society challenges and an additive unlikely romance. However, the story navigates shakily with the topic of depression. The illness was clumsily explained for the rage and revenge that fueled death. But I think the author means to highlight it as a condition partly caused by the school cliques and separations (ones that we in turn find so appealing) in which the main characters ultimately take apart.

Many thanks to Penguin for my review copy xxx

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

20170409_172901-2.jpg

Published by Mira Ink 2012, 395 pages, £3.49

4.5 stars

It’s been a Katie McGarry week and I never want it to end. Thankfully, there are about five more (plus a novella) in this Pushing the Limits series. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to start it. The drama, passion and fiery energy the author brings to her characters warms me from each page. Unlike the Thunder Road series, there are no biker gangs, but focuses on domestic drama, bereavement and mental illness.

Echo and Noah are from two ends of the social spectrum (McGarry is at her best with opposite attraction). Echo was once popular girl, dance team member and on track for an art scholarship. But after the death of her older brother and a traumatic episode involving her mother, she becomes withdrawn and distant from everyone, hiding her inner and outer scars. She is also repressed by her controlling father and his new wife, who was embarrassingly her childhood babysitter.

Noah is the labeled ‘dodgy’ boy who sits at the back of class and lunch, involved with violence, drugs and hook-ups. After the death of his parents and the painful separation from his younger brothers, he has been through the mill of abusive foster care. He is someone who has given up on trust, especially from authority figures, and fights tooth and nail to get his brothers back. Both Echo and Noah’s days are filled with anger and silence. When a guidance councilor brings them together, their initial impression of each other- impressions created by gossip and stereotyping, gradually sift away to make room for their consuming attraction.

Their romance is so fierce, but the wounds from their problems are so raw, McGarry creates an exiting struggle of wanting and never wanting to be the characters. The plot is driven by the mystery of Echo’s memory, as she fails to remember the detail of her trauma. Echo’s mother suffers from bipolar disorder and she fears that she will also loose control and be accused of ‘craziness’. The story deals with the lack of understanding mental illnesses and how it is dealt with. As Echo’s memory comes back in fearful shards, she tries to loosen her father’s safety grips, while Noah does battle with society to reclaim his brothers. Everybody’s limits are tested as the characters challenge those that restrict them as well as pushing their inner scars to extremes. Long at times, the novel was an addictive whirlwind of fatal build-ups and made me look forward to my train journey after a trying day at work.

xxx

Long Way Home by Katie McGarry (Thunder Road #3) – and Red At Night (novella)

IMG_20170317_164030

Published by HQ, Feb 2017, 448 pages, £3.99

4.5 stars

Ever since Walk the EdgeI now seek Katie McGarry for addictive reads and fierce teen romances. This is the third book (hopefully not the last) in her Thunder Road series- think small town America, decaying diners and rival biker gangs. It’s necessary to read the earlier books as many events and characters are continued into this installment.

We follow the journey of Violet and Chevy, integral characters since the first book. They were childhood friends turned sweethearts, turned tense exes. After the death of her father, who was a member of ‘The Terror’ biker gang, Violet has had enough of the club who had been her home and family. Despite their vow to protect her, she wants nothing to do with them, their rules and way of life. The only problem is Chevy, her first love. He is devoted to the club, they mean family to him. A place where he belongs. And to prevent him from choosing between her and The Terror, Violet breaks it off with him, severing both their hearts.

The book opens with a chance meeting on an open road, which quickly turns into chaos when they are kidnapped by rival gang ‘The Riot’ and a plunged into a dangerous war between the two clubs. Mysteries of the past, secrets and betrayal spill out like heavy streams. Violet and Chevy try to navigate between these troubles whilst trying to control the flood of their own feelings for each other, which the author conveys so powerfully.

Violet and Chevy were not initially my favourite characters in the series, but McGarry encouraged my deep attachment to them. Her writing is punchy, honest and to the point. When a couple is confused about each other, it usually becomes tiring. This didn’t happen here. Passion pulsated out of each character’s thoughts and dialogue whether they were arguing or otherwise… Their relationship was continuous building, rather than a back-and-forth game.

This is the most dramatic book of the series, with a measured dose of danger and violence. The book also covers the sexist foundations of the club, which Violet challenges fiercely. Despite the club’s best intentions, Violet opens their eyes to double standards and unequal treatment. It is suggested that with her influence, Razor, Oz and Chevy are encouraged to become the new generation of the club, with a new set of rules. I think more could have been explored in this area as it transformed the book from a simple trouble-rescue plot to one about progression and change.

I need more Thunder Road books xxx

 

20170320_142112-2-2

Published by MIRA INK 2014, 83 pages, FREE

5 stars

As a free novella this is an amazing read. It had all the depth of a full length novel. Stella and Jonah are from different worlds. Stella is poor and has no choices in life than to drop out of school and take on a full-time job. Jonah is popular and college bound. He was part of a group of bullies who would torment her since she was young. Sometimes he laughed, sometimes he didn’t- still classified him as a bully. When a sudden accident and loss consumes him, he finds Stella as the only person who can help him. The two are drawn together with consequences and uplifting moments.

This novella is for charity and showcases The Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, which provides under-privileged children their own shoes of choice. It’s an inspiring cause that proves that something most people take for granted makes a huge difference to a child’s life and their future.

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot

boysisback

Published by William Morrow, October 2016, 400 pages, £4.49

3 stars

Meg Cabot is my ultimate hero. She has a gift for creating vibrant characters in insanely hilarious scenarios within the stroke of a few sentences. Her romances are deep-felt and effortless. Her plots are fast-paced and addictive. The Boy is Back incorporates most of these qualities, but unfortunately falls short of being Cabot’s best work.

Cabot takes us to her favourite setting, small town Bloomville Indiana, where there is homely but close-knit chaos. The main characters are the boy who left and the girl who stayed. Reed Stewart is a pro golf star who turned his back on his past, including the parents that pushed him away and the girlfriend he let down. Becky Flowers is a successful business woman who worked hard to take over her father’s moving company. Her life revolves around organisation and control, especially when trying to forget a high school heart-break. When Reed’s parents run into financial trouble and alarming elderly episodes, he is pressured by his siblings to return for support. His reappearance triggers a rupture in the small community, who have already been buzzing about the Stewarts’ problems.

It’s a satisfying ‘confront the past’ story. There is all round fun with the siblings, their kids and citizens causing drama during an emotional period. As Reed tries to reconcile with his parents, old feelings for Becky get unlocked. Despite her control, Becky falls again for the boy who left and secrets are revealed.

This novel is written entirely through social media messages, emails, diary entries and letters. This creates a light read and upbeat pace, with each chapter being an energetic change. However, much of the depth to develop the romance and character growth is lost. The reader only experiences things on the surface and are prevented from being entirely involved. The Boy.. is the ideal read to unwind and amuse yourself, but nothing too deep.

BLOG TOUR: Before The Rains by Dinah Jefferies

20170127_172026-2

Published by Penguin UK, 23rd February 2017, 416 pages, £7.99 

3 stars

I am an avid follower of Dinah Jefferies, thanks to The Tea Planter’s Wife and even more so after the beautiful The Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Before the Rains is another installment about a plucky young woman overcoming personal struggles during the tumultuous period of her exotic setting and, of course, getting swept by a complicated romance.

Its 1930, Rajputana, India,  Eliza Fraser is a young widow and aspiring photojournalist with the first big job of what she had been told was an impossible career. She is sent on behalf of the English Government to an Indian princely state to capture images of the royal family, the first ever English woman to enter its impenetrable palace walls. Having lived in India as a young girl, she has a soulful connection to the country which only blossoms when she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome and distant brother. Eliza enters the palace carrying her unresolved problems related to her father’s death in India, consuming guilt over her husband’s death and the alcoholic mother she left in England. Meeting Jay, who begins by being attractively disagreeable, helps her uncover mysteries of her past but throws her into a buffer position, having to navigate between England’s controlling grip and the might of Indian monarchy.

I wasn’t absorbed in this story as much as I was with Silk Merchant, the premise was not as heart-poundingly gripping for me. There is no question that the author delivers another vivid time portal, a VR version of prose. She captivates the reader’s senses with stunningly rich descriptions that read smoothly rather than in dense clumps. For about a week, I was in 1930s India, walking the shadowy halls of the palace with Eliza and smelling cardamon or riding into the dusty landscapes with Jay.

Yet the main structure of the plot was predictable but not in a comforting and satisfying way. The way events unfolded were far-fetched and felt more like the author connecting loose dots to summon meaning about fate and destiny. Some of the other characters felt like soap-opera stereotypes- the evil royal advisor, the long lost sibling. The relationship between Eliza and Jay had its sweeping and heady moments, but its whole appeal was of a forbidden romance guarded by race and ancient laws, hardly something memorable and absorbing.

Many thanks to Penguin for my review copy, eagery awaiting another Dinah Jefferies world xxx

 

20170126_084317-2

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval
A gem

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 31st Jan 2017, 416 pages, £6.99

4.5 stars

Remember it’s only a game

I was very impressed with this absolute star of a debut. It’s juicy, mind-twiddling plot made me feel like I had entered one of my dreams. This is a story about Scarlett and Tella, two oppressed young sisters living in fear of their abusive father.  Ever since she was a child, Scarlett had wanted to join the spectacular show called ‘Caraval’. This is a once in a year mystery game where the audience take part, gathering clues and interacting with actors to solve it. This game is so popular that participants have to be invited to play by the elusive game-maker ‘Legend’, who is surrounded by a smog of rumours and scandals. The show also has a reputation of danger and excess when players become too involved and forget that it is all fake. There is also a connection with ‘Legend’ and Scarlett’s family and a secret involving the mother that left them-another reason why Scarlett longs to be closer to Caraval.

Scarlett’s long awaited invitation finally arrives, at a time when her father’s tyranny is on full steam. With the help of a dashing but strange sailor Tella befriended, they both manage to escape. But as soon as they arrive at ‘Caraval’, Tella goes missing. Scarlett soon discovers that her sister is the mystery of this season’s game, with Scarlett desperately wading through an unreal world to find her. As she becomes more involved in the game, she too believes in its reality. She begins to piece together links to her family history and fears for her sister’s life. As stabs of danger begin to threaten her, I also started to take the game seriously.

Julian, the mysterious sailor, is not only heroic, charming and kind. He is unpredictable, untrustworthy, which means he is undoubtedly exciting. He has an intensity and sensitiveness that irrevocably attracts Scarlett, despite her base instincts. He alone stays by her side throughout the game and becomes a pillar of support through the madness. However, the more Scarlett opens her heart to him, the stranger his character becomes and the more involved he is with the game.

The setting of ‘Caraval’ felt like a recurring sub-conscious about being lost or trying to find something that’s always out of reach. The author was spot on with the irrational trickling of time- sometimes speedy, sometimes painful, like walking through honey. Tella was always frustratingly in the distance but never fully seen. Events unfolded like a slow moving kaleidoscope with strange characters popping up and then melting away. This is by no means a chaotic sequence of plot. The author controls and contains the game enough to lure the reader with keyholes of revelation. But just when Scarlett gets close to unmasking a clue, it changes. It keeps morphing right to the ending sentence, just when we think the game is over, a new one has begun.

Can. not. wait. for. sequel.

Many thanks to Hodder for my review copy!

xxx