Category Archives: reviews

Review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

What is it to be educated? Is it to have spent every day of your life from the age of four until the age of twenty-one in a classroom? Is it the ability to read and write? How about being able to reflect deeply on your own personal experiences? 

Tara Westover was not educated in the way one might expect. She did not have school records. In fact, she didn’t have medical records. Tara Westover didn’t even have a birth certificate – officially, she didn’t exist. Tara grew up in Idaho with a father who didn’t trust in intervention.

From the moment she was born, Tara was to be taught to prepare for the End of Days. Her mother ‘home-schooled’ Tara and some of her siblings while their father proselytised about the dangers posed by doctors, teachers, government and law enforcement.

At the age of sixteen, Tara decided to educate herself. That decision took her to Harvard and then to Cambridge.

Having recently heard Tara talk at Forum Books about her experiences growing up a Mormon with an increasingly radical father and erratic brother, I was moved by the erudite way in which she spoke about her unusual childhood and her decision to make a change in her life.

Educated‘ is a beautifully written memoir. Westover’s prose is almost lyrical, featuring evocative descriptions of the rolling hills. Her gorgeous writing is juxtaposed with the terror I felt when reading about some of the things she had lived through. At times, the events were so out of my sphere of understanding, I had to check online that this was a memoir and not fiction! 

Throughout ‘Educated‘, there is a sense of not quite knowing what will happen next. At times, the tension was almost too much to bear. Westover masterfully allows the reader to tread the fine line she walked on a daily basis. There is also a feeling of sadness and grief that pervades this memoir. Ultimately, though, ‘Educated‘ is a hopeful book about the power of taking control and never giving up. 

Tara Westover is my hero.

Vic x

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Review: ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ by Vicky Newham

The headmistress of a culturally diverse school in Tower Hamlets (East London) is found brutally murdered in her office. Left behind is a calling card, stating the ancient Buddhist precept ‘I shall abstain from taking the ungiven’. What does it mean? 

Enter DI Maya Rahman, the freshest detective you will have ever read. Maya is a Muslim woman struggling with her own complex family issues while trying to catch a killer who seems determined to wreak revenge on the people responsible for maintaining a wall of silence around an event that rocked the community. 

Turn a Blind Eye‘ is a triumphant debut that left me desperate for more. The characters created by Newham, Maya in particular, were so well-rounded and complex that I’d happily spend a lot more time in their company. Newham’s portrayal of the multicultural area of Tower Hamlets is not only sensitively communicated but also informative. It was easy to empathise with many of the characters despite having differing viewpoints and experiences. 

This is a beautifully written, paced thriller that I found utterly addictive. ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ may be the first in the DI Maya Rahman series and I can guarantee this is a series that will run and run. 

Vic x

Review: ‘What Falls Between the Cracks’ by Rob Scragg

A severed hand is found in an abandoned flat. DNA tests identify that it belongs to someone who hasn’t been seen in over thirty years. Why aren’t the police aware of this person? Isn’t she on a list of missing people? No, because she hasn’t been reported missing.

Detective Jake Porter and his partner Nick Styles are called in to investigate this increasingly complex case. From the prologue, the reader is sucked in to this chilling mystery which goes to prove that you can’t always trust those closest to you.

The premise itself is really original but the unpicking of what happened and why is masterful. Robert Scragg weaves a complex plot with a large cast of characters, all of whom propel the narrative forward.

I really enjoyed the cultural references in this story, they helped to make the dialogue realistic and brought the characters to life. The banter between Porter and Styles demonstrates the gallows humour that is present in many challenging work environments.

OK, so you all know I love a twist. You know what’s better than a twist? Several! Just when I thought I had a grip on what was going on and who was responsible, the rug was whipped from under my feet and a new piece of the jigsaw was thrown into the mix (apologies for the mixed metaphors).

What Falls Between the Cracks is an assured debut that introduces readers to new detectives that they’ll keep coming back to as the Porter and Styles series expands.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

For many people, including me, a stand-out read of 2017 was ‘Lost For Words‘ by Stephanie Butland so it was with excitable trepidation that I began reading ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘.

I needn’t have worried. Stephanie’s latest novel surpassed my expectations – I did not want to stop reading this heart-warming tale of Ailsa Rae, a young woman who, following a lifetime of illness, has to learn a new way of navigating her way through the world while struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Once again, Stephanie Butland has created inimitable characters that I’d happily be friends with. One of Butland’s skills is to make her characters rounded, creating light and shade in both the narrative and within the characters.

Ailsa, in particular, seems completely real to me. After suffering from a heart condition since birth, Ailsa finally undergoes a heart transplant and afterwards feels somewhat lost – her identity no longer revolves around being ill, but she’s not sure what it should revolved around. Despite her apparently hard exterior, it was lovely to peel back Ailsa’s layers and see a more vulnerable side to her. Stephanie Butland really seems to have a talent for creating seemingly tough characters with soft centres.

It was easy for me to fall into this story, I was totally invested in the characters – Seb was particularly appealing to me. The once-close relationship between Ailsa and her mum is portrayed sensitively and realistically as both mother and daughter struggle to come to terms with their new roles.

I felt that having a novel revolving around organ donation was a bold move and it absolutely works. The amount of research undertaken by Butland shows but it’s the human element of this story that makes it utterly compelling.

Although it’s an enjoyable read, ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘ has a very important message behind it – the incredible difference organ donation can make to someone when your organs are no longer of use to you.

Vic x

**Conviction Blog Tour** Extract and Review

Conviction_blog tour poster

 CHAPTER ONE

Morning
July 5, 1992
Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The little boy walked to the storefront church alone, with blood on his hands and face.

Dorothy Norris arrived early, as usual, to lift the gate and set out the worship programs she’d photocopied the night before. She found him standing on the sidewalk, eyes unfocused, feet bare.

She bent down. “Ontario, where are your parents?” He didn’t answer. It was already eighty degrees, but his teeth were chattering.

Dorothy used her key and ushered him inside, flipped the lights, and walked straight to the phone in the pastor’s tiny office. She dialed Ontario’s foster parents, but no one answered, so she called Pastor Green, and then she called her husband and told him to stay home with the girls until she knew what was going on.

Dorothy asked and asked and asked, but Ontario wouldn’t say a word.

Redmond Green’s wife, Barbara, answered the phone at his apartment. Red was in the bathroom scribbling last-minute sermon notes in a rare moment of solitude. Barbara sent fourteen-year-old Red Jr. to bang on the door and summon his father. Barbara hadn’t asked for details—Just go, she told her husband—and as he walked the eleven blocks between their apartment and the church, he worked himself up, convinced the metal gate had been defaced again. Since opening Glorious Gospel on Easter morning 1982, Pastor Green had been losing a battle with vandals. He called the police often, but they rarely came to take a report. He knew that most of the officers in the precinct thought his crusade silly, given the many miseries plaguing the neighborhood, but he wasn’t about to stop calling. In 1992, one year after the riots, Crown Heights was still a disaster. A battlefield and a garbage dump. It was getting hot again, and everyone seemed to hold their breath, waiting for the neighborhood to explode.

Pastor Green found the gate up when he arrived at Glorious Gospel. Dorothy Norris was inside with Malcolm and Sabrina Davises’ foster son, Ontario. The pastor’s first thought was that the boy had been attacked on his way to church. But Ontario was wearing sleep clothes, not church clothes.

“Something’s happened at the Davises’,” said Dorothy. “What?”

“He won’t say.”

“Ontario? Are you hurt?”

Ontario stared at the pastor. Past him, really. Through him. Pastor Green kneeled down and touched his arm. “He’s freezing cold,” he said, looking up.

“I think he’s in shock,” said Dorothy.

Ontario’s face was smeared with red. If the pastor had to guess, he would say that the boy had rubbed his eyes with his bloody hands.

“Is this his blood?”

Dorothy lowered her voice. “I don’t think so. But I don’t know.”

“Have you called the precinct?” asked Pastor Green. “Yes,” said Dorothy.

The pastor turned back to the boy.

“Ontario. Can I make sure you’re not hurt?” He took the boy’s right hand, turned it over, looked up and down his arm. He repeated the inspection on the boy’s left arm. “Is it all right if I lift your shirt?” Ontario was still. “I just want to see if there are any scratches or cuts. . . . Good. Looks good. Ontario? Will you turn around for me? Just to check your back.” As he turned, Pastor Green put his fingers on the boy’s neck, and then his skull. “Good. Looks like you’re okay.”

He put his hand on his knee to straighten up, and as he did, Ontario vomited. Right on the pastor’s Sunday wingtips. The boy’s eyes widened and filled with tears.

“Oh, honey,” said Dorothy, leaning down. “It’s okay.”

“It’s all right, son,” said Pastor Green. “Nothing a little water won’t fix up.”

Dorothy walked Ontario to the bathroom to wash out his mouth.

A voice came from the front door.

“NYPD.”

***

Review: ‘Conviction’
by Julia Dahl

Rebekah Roberts, a journalist at one of New York’s sleaziest tabloids, has ambitions beyond the New York Tribune. When she gets her hands on a letter from a convicted murderer who claims he is innocent, Rebekah sees not only a compelling story but an opportunity to expose the true murderer. 

Twenty-two years earlier, just after riots between the black and Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Deshawn Perkins was convicted of the brutal murder of his adoptive family. It’s not only time that has passed that hampers Rebekah’s investigation, everyone involved wants to forget the violence that occurred and even Saul Katz – a former NYPD and Rebekah’s source – can’t help her with this investigation. 

As you’ve probably already gathered, Julia Dahl drops the reader straight into the action and doesn’t let up until the final page. The story unfolds through a number of viewpoints and switches between the time of the murder and Rebekah’s investigation. 

One thing I really appreciated about ‘Conviction‘ was the fact that that I learnt about the Hasidic community and their traditions. I really felt that this was a unique aspect of this story and it really added something to the narrative. 

I felt that the character of Rebekah was believable and it was really easy to empathise with her.

Julia Dahl’s writing ramps up the tension, evoking the cloying heat of New York City in a heatwave perfectly. 

Conviction‘ is an utterly compelling page-turner of a book. Miss it at your peril. 

Vic x

Review: ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’ by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am‘ is a memoir told through near-death experiences. 

Maggie O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, she frames every incident with emotional sophistication. The drama inherent in every chapter is balanced with O’Farrell’s exacting attention to detail. I have cried numerous times while listening to this audiobook as well as marvelling at the insightful and intelligent storytelling. 

Separating each chapter with the part of the body that was responsible for her almost-demise, O’Farrell bucks the trend of the chronological autobiography. This is possibly one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. In the dictionary, beside the word ‘resilient’, there should be a picture of Maggie O’Farrell.

From the first chapter, I was absolutely enthralled. Even when I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about it.

As someone who rarely revisits books, this is the biggest compliment I can give: I will read ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ again.

Vic x

Review: ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ by Ali Land

Teenager Annie reports her mother to the police in order to put an end to her hideous crimes. Annie may have a new name – Milly – and new family but she is still haunted by memories of the past. As she is prepared for the upcoming trial by a team of experts, Milly has to not only deal with her feelings about the things she witnessed when living with her mother but she has all the other trials of being an adolescent girl to contend with. 

I bought ‘Good Me Bad Me‘ on impulse and I’m delighted I did. Reading it in the last days of 2017, this fascinating novel sneaked in as one of my top reads of last year. I devoured this book within a couple of days thanks to its compelling characters and intriguing story. 

There will be some people who find the subject matter too difficult to read but I found ‘Good Me Bad Me‘ impossible to put down. 

Vic x