about       archive       goodreads

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Giveaway - Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan

If you've been reading this blog for a while you might remember that almost a year ago I reviewed the gripping psychological thriller Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan. This novel has recently been published in paperback on 13th February, so for those of you who haven't got around to reading it yet it might be the perfect time to pick up a copy. You can go back and find out how much I enjoyed this one by clicking here to read my review.

You can see a video here of the author herself chatting about the book:

What's more, the lovely team at Orion have offered me one copy to give away to one of you lucky readers! Just complete the details in the Rafflecopter widget below before midnight GMT on Tuesday 4th March. I'll draw and notify the lucky winner before Friday 7th March.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 24 February 2014

The State We're In by Adele Parks

I recently discovered the Goodreads First Reads giveaway page, where publishers and authors offer advance copies of their books to give away to Goodreads members. I always get excited at the prospect of a competition and when I first found this page I went a bit mad, 'in it to win it', and entered myself for everything in sight. It was only after I had won three books in the first couple of weeks that I realised the First Reads giveaways aren't entirely at random and that they are weighted in favour of active users of the site.

When my winnings landed on the doorstep, I have to admit that I asked myself what exactly I had been thinking when I entered some of these giveaways. Do I really want to read my first Adele Parks novel? Isn't she a bit...chick litty and fluffy? It's all too easy as a book blogger to see 'free' books on offer on sites such as Goodreads and Netgalley and come over all glassy-eyed and grabby. I do try my best not to fall prey to these temptations and only to request novels that I am desperate to read, but on this occasion my resolve failed. I wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic to get stuck in.

Confession time over - what did I think of the book? Well actually, I was pleasantly surprised and found The State We're In to be far more substantial than I was expecting.

Jo is an incurable romantic who whole-heartedly believes in the idea of The One. Problem is, her biological clock is ticking faster every day and The One remains just an idea, a figment of her imagination. In a fit of passion (or madness) she books a ticket to fly to Chicago to sabotage her ex-fiancé's wedding. When she finds herself sitting next to a handsome stranger on the plane, she can't help confiding in him. But Dean has issues of his own to brood over. Could the pair end up helping each other out?

The book flits between the viewpoints of both Jo and Dean, as well as skipping between timelines across decades to look at their parents' stories and the way their very different upbringings have shaped their personalities. I found this to be really effective at adding substance to what could easily have been two generic and stereotypical characters. The flighty, dreamy woman with her head in the clouds, the brooding, handsome stranger. Luckily, Adele Parks avoids this pitfall and creates two engaging and likeable protagonists. I couldn't avoid becoming invested in their story.

The State We're In is a really easy read that had me hooked in from the first chapter - the pages basically turned themselves. It is very light compared to my usual reading choices, and there were places where I guessed the 'twists' that were coming a mile off, or where I felt events could be fleshed out a little more. But overall, it was enjoyable, and a perfect choice for times when I feel like reading something a little less serious. I would definitely look into Adele Parks' other work next time I'm in that mood.

One thing I will say is that I found this book to be very, very reminiscent of another romance novel that has been a massive bestseller in recent years, in its characters, style, and even aspects of the plot. I don't want to give much more away than that because the folks at Headline have urged us all to #keepthesecret with their online marketing campaign, but I'd be very interested in hearing from anybody else who has read The State We're In and knows what I mean!

All things considered, I'm not sure what this experience has taught me. Part of me feels like I should continue to try to be very particular about which books I read and especially about the titles I request for review. I am so grateful to publishers like Headline for taking part in the First Reads scheme, and it's not fair to them if greedy bloggers request lots of books that they have no interest in reading. On the other hand, I enjoyed The State We're In much more than I was expecting to, so maybe I should try to take more risks and read outside my own comfort zone more, to discover some more unexpected gems? What do you think?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Literary Blog Hop results are in!

The fun of the Literary Blog Hop is over again for another few months and that means it's time to draw the winners! Thank you so much to everybody who visited the blog last week and thank you to Judith at Leeswammes for organising events again. I hope you all discovered some new blogs and that some of you got lucky and won some goodies too.

So let's get down to business...

The winner of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is:

Beth from Too Fond blog

The winner of Gillespie & I by Jane Harris is:

My Heart Is Here

Congratulations to both the winners! I'll get in touch to confirm delivery addresses for your prizes. Hope you enjoy both of these amazing novels.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Despite the fact that crime and mystery fiction is by far my favourite genre to read, I have to admit that I am rarely 'wowed' by a crime novel. I love the experience of getting sucked in to the twists and turns of a mystery, and being kept guessing right until the last minute, but once these stories are over they rarely stay with me for a long time. There are certainly very few crime novels on my list of five star, all time favourite reads.

So last year when I noticed all my favourite bloggers presenting glowing, five star reviews for Belinda Bauer's latest offering, I took a mental note of the title and vowed I'd get to it at some point. But I was a little disbelieving. Surely it can't be that good, can it? Well, having finally taken the plunge after stumbling across a copy via Transworld on Netgalley, I can eat my words and confirm that yes, Rubbernecker is that good, and completely stands out from the crime fiction crowd.

Since Patrick Fort lost his father in a car accident as a child, he has been obsessed with the mystery of death. Patrick has Asperger's syndrome and this drives him to seek a full understanding of the world around him. Embarking on university studies in Anatomy doesn't help Patrick to determine what exactly happened to his Dad, but he soon begins to notice irregularities in the dissection room and ends up trying to get to the bottom of another mystery entirely. But this isn't easy when the only clue he has is an anonymous cadaver with an official death certificate that appears to be entirely above board.

This is unlike anything I've read before. The protagonist and the premise are both completely unique, and Bauer has somehow managed to take some really dark subject matter and make it great fun to read about. The story flits between several different points of view and each one has a really distinct and engaging voice - Patrick himself, a coma patient on a hospital ward, a lazy and selfish nurse. You get absolutely sucked into the twists and turns of the plot and I stayed up far too late at night to reach the end.

I know it's a bit nerdy given my job but I can't help being drawn to novels with hospital or medical school settings. It is clear that Belinda Bauer has spent time in the dissection room herself and that she must have the keenest powers of observation to convey its unique atmosphere so accurately. The days of disrespectful pranks are long gone, but the utterly surreal atmosphere does breed a certain brand of black humour. Stories of Patrick and his team placing bets on the cause of death or trying to identify strange objects found in the digestive tract brought back recollections of my own anatomy lessons...I did consider sharing some anecdotes here but have refrained for fear that they might make some of my readers vomit. The very squeamish amongst you might want to take care when reading Rubbernecker because some of the scenes might be a little too gruesome for those with a delicate disposition - saying that, it is mostly quite clinical and there's no gratuitous gore or violence so I think most people would have no trouble.

Rubbernecker has drawn many comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and I feel I must address this because I found this a great deal more enjoyable to read. Where I saw Mark Haddon's book as almost a character study of a boy with Asperger's syndrome (don't get me wrong, I think it's a good read), Belinda Bauer has written a great mystery story where the protagonist just happens to have Asperger's syndrome. Patrick's character is engaging and sensitively drawn, but his diagnosis is never used as a plot device in itself.

This is such a unique mystery story and I had so much fun reading it. I really can't recommend it enough. I believe it came out in paperback on 2nd Jan so if this review has piqued your interest you might like to treat yourself!

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Feb 8th-12th

February is here and that means it's time for another round of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop! This is an event organised by Judith over at Leeswammes' Blog and it takes place three times a year. Judith noticed that there seem to be awful lot of blog hops and giveaways around for romance and YA novels, but not so much for more literary choices:

"If you’re giving away a book, it should have some literary merit. It does not have to be the most difficult classic ever, but please no romance, urban fiction or YA. Quality thrillers, poetry and non-fiction are fine, as are contemporary fiction, literary fiction and any other genres not in the categories above"
This time around I am offering a choice of two of my favourite big books that I read in 2013. Entrants have an opportunity to win Gillespie & I by Jane Harris, or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. You can enter for a chance to win both if you like! I absolutely adored both of these books and have been recommending them far and wide.

The giveaway is open to any country that The Book Depository ships to. The rules for entry are as follows:

1. Comment on this post telling me which of the books you'd like to win - you can enter for both if you like. Commenting alone gives you one entry.
2. For an extra entry, follow me on Twitter @marieemonaghan and mention your Twitter handle in your comment.
3. For an extra entry, follow me on Goodreads and let me know your Goodreads ID in your comment.
4. Please remember to leave some way for me to contact you if you win - an e-mail address or Twitter ID.
5. The giveaway will remain open until the end of the day on 12th Feb. I will draw and inform the winners at some point on 15th Feb.
Best of luck with the hop - and don't forget to check the links below and see what books everyone else has up for offer, too!
  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska's Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird's Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia's Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader's Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy's Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog

Monday, 3 February 2014

Shift by Hugh Howey

This has been sitting on the top of my 'to review' list for far too long. I've been putting it off, because it's always difficult to review subsequent books in a series without spoiling the first one, don't you think? I absolutely adored reading Wool last year - in fact it was definitely in my top five books of 2013, and I still find myself recommending it to others all the time - so the last thing I want to do is ruin the experience for anybody who hasn't finished that one yet! Let me do my best...

Wool introduced us to Howey's subterranean dystopia, where the Earth's atmosphere has become incompatible with life, and humans have been driven underground. In Shift the reader is taken right back to the beginning of the story and given the answers to all the niggling questions we are sure to have asked ourselves. How did these vast silos get there in the first place? What kind of terrible disaster happened to the world outside? And who are the faceless leaders who have been calling all the shots? The book flits around between different timelines and different silos, which can be difficult to follow at first, but works well to maintain pace throughout.

I often find the second installment of any trilogy to be something of a disappointment. They can be essential for adding intricacy to the narrative, or character-building to ensure the reader is fully invested in the series, but I can't think of many examples where the second book shines as an outstanding novel in its own right. I think this is why Shift dragged a little for me. It answers a lot of questions, providing welcome context to the events described in Wool. The plot development is sound and I finished the book quite satisfied with the conclusions that were drawn, but it doesn't have that magical 'page-turning' quality that I was looking for.

One of Wool's major strengths in my eyes was the huge cast of genuinely likeable characters. Even minor players were very vividly realised and easy to care about. By sharp contrast, then, I found the opposite to be true in this sequel. All the personalities in Shift are either dull-as-dishwater (the bland protagonist Donald, Mission) or predictable stereotypes (for example military man Senator Thurman and his seductive flame-haired daughter Anna). I realised at the end of the book that I'd got through the whole thing without ever even having developed my own mental image of what Donald looks like! I know everyone is different in this regard, but that is very unusual for me as I usually always visualise a novel in my mind's eye. He just didn't capture the imagination at all.

Wool was always going to be a tough act to follow, and I'm sorry to say that Shift didn't quite meet my expectations. But there are enough teasing unanswered questions for me to remain hopeful that Howey is merely setting the scene for a fantastic finale to the trilogy, with the return of some of my favourite people from the first book. I have Dust loaded on my e-reader and ready to go but I'm not sure when I will take the plunge and read it. I'm reluctant for my time in Howey's world to come to an end!

Many thanks go to Random House who offered a copy for review via Netgalley.