Book Reviews: Literature & Fiction

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Until You're Mine by Samantha HayesBook Cover of Until You're Mine by Samantha Hayes

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: Claudia Morgan-Brown finally has it all. Pregnant with a much-wanted first baby of her own, she has a happily established family of two small step-sons and a loving husband with a great career. But she is also committed to her full-time job as a social worker, and her husband travels often. So when Claudia hires Zoe to help her around the house in anticipation of the baby's arrival, it seems like the answer to her prayers. But despite Zoe's glowing recommendations and instant rapport with the children, there's something about her that Claudia cannot trust. Moreover, there has been a series of violent attacks on pregnant women in the area, and Claudia becomes acutely aware of her vulnerability. With her husband out of town for work and her family far away, who will be there to protect her? And why does she feel unsettled about Zoe? Realizing appearances can be deceiving even in her seemingly perfect world, Claudia digs deeper into Zoe's blurry past and begins to wonder - how far would someone go to have a child of her own? Riveting from its very first pages, Until You're Mine is a multilayered masterwork of twisted, psychological suspense. Readers of Before I Go to Sleep and Turn of Mind will be enthralled by this multilayered novel, featuring a twisted plot that ends in a breathtaking and shocking finale.

The Reality: The genre du joir seems to be the unforeseen plot twist in a similar vein to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but while many have tried, few have been successful and Until You're Mine is alas, one of the unsuccessful ones, just. Samantha Hayes weaves three storylines into one crime drama. Claudia, the stepmother to two young boys, and finally pregnant with her own child. Her husband is a Naval Officer who is frequently away, not that they worry about money, as he inherited a large financial sum from his first wife. As Claudia nears the birth, she hires a live-in nanny, Zoe. Zoe immediately sets alarm bells ringing with her secrecy, she is competent, but nervous, as if she knows something. On the periphery is Detective Lorraine who is investigating two gruesome attacks on pregnant women, where the babies did not survive, but instead of focusing on those crimes, she is more focused on her husband who she discovers is having an affair and her daughters decision to marry young. So each of the characters alternate chapters. Each layer of their personal lives are peeled away and when the ending comes, it does not fit in with the story that has been built. I felt this was slightly disengaging, but it could just be my dislike when the narrative changes between first and third. However, other than the ending, the book was engrossing and fast paced. There were lots of twists and in the end it was scary how connected the three characters actually were.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne TylerBook Cover of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family - their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog - is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

The Reality: A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler's 20th book and the first one I have read. I have no idea why it has taken me this long to discover her. From the beginning I was captivated. The writing is beautiful, it makes you believe, taking you into the story. It isn't a book filled with danger, excitement, passion, instead it is a book of the ordinary, a family life. There is also realism and comedy in the story. You almost feel yourself smiling when Denny calls his mother with yet another scheme. Of course Denny is jealous of Stem, who was adopted. However, both Abby and Red have enough love for all, but with all families we see what we want to see. Abby is obsessed with family perfection and her desire to be admired by the neighbourhood, believing they are 'radiating clannishness and togetherness and just ... specialness'. She must be involved in her children's live at all times, wanting to be necessary to them. It is this need that jars with Denny who is the moody sort, Abby therefore drives him nuts. 'She just had to jostle him out of it. She wanted her loved ones to be happy!' Something she can't success with in Denny - he leaves home, unable to hold down jobs, he constantly moves and disappears from their lives, randomly re-entering it, to leave just as quickly. The other siblings also struggle with Abby's intrusive and suffocating nature (she is was a social worker). Abby is under no illusion about herself, she realises her faults, event speculating hat Denny may have been given the wrong mother.

Her descriptions of the family home, made me feel like getting a jug of lemonade and sit in a rocking chair to watch the world go by. The house, is everything, and always has been and we are taken back to the house's early days when Abby's father-in-law (Junior) builds it. Their marriage is interesting, coming to a head in a subtle, agonising disagreement about the colour a swing is to be painted. Junior is a fanatic about taste. His wife wants the swing painted "Swedish blue", a homage to a swing of her youth. Junior tells her the colour is lower-class. It is interesting who wins the war and not just the battle. The house is passed down, along with the building company which gives the characters continuity. As Abby and Red age, Denny decides to come home and support them, but you just know there is an ulterior motive, even his siblings are way of him. I thought he was probably only doing it to get his hands on their assets. So the family home, all of a sudden is crowded as Stem, his wife Nora and their children have also moved in to help. In reality, it probably doesn't help, in fact it probably tips Abby over the edge as she tries to escape being monitored by her children. Somehow Tyler makes everything interesting.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Goat Mountain by David VannBook Cover of Goat Mountain by David Vann

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: In the fall of 1978, on a 640-acre family ranch on Goat Mountain in Northern California, an eleven-year-old boy joins his grandfather, his father, and his father’s best friend on the family’s annual deer hunt. Every fall they return to this dry, yellowed landscape dotted with oak, buck brush, and the occasional stand of pine trees. Goat Mountain is what this family owns and where they belong. It is where their history is kept, memories and stories that will be shared again by these men. And for the first time, the boy's story will be added if he can find a buck. Itching to shoot, he is ready. When the men arrive at the gate to their land, the father discovers a poacher and sights him through the scope of his gun. He offers his son a look-a simple act that will explode in tragedy, transforming these men and this family, forcing them to question themselves and everything they thought they knew. In prose devastating and beautiful in its precision, David Vann creates a haunting and provocative novel that explores our most primal urges and beliefs, the bonds of blood and religion that define and secure us, and the consequences of our actions - what we owe for what we've done.

The Reality: I am new to David Vann, but would put him in the same genre or category as Cormac McCarthy. In the beginning of this novel, we start out with a catastrophe and things deteriorate quickly. Every year a family return to their family land for some hunting. Only this time, when he observes a poacher, does the 11-year-old boy shoot and kill him. The boy has no remorse, treating the man as if he was an animal, who they all believe they have the right to kill for no reason. "Some part in me just wanted to kill," he reflects, "constantly and without end"). Instead of doing what most people would, call the police etc, the group attempt to deconstruct the incident while dealing with the body and their idea of humanity. So as you can imagine this is not a light-hearted beach read. It is dark, there is no joy, love, future in any of the choices that are made. They avoid the issue of a dead man hanging in their campsite, instead the boy is allowed to go out and kill his first buck - this too is not a celebration or initiation into manhood. Vann writes these chapters in all their gruesome details from the killing, mismembering and the family rituals that are entailed. It is surrealistic, yet realistic.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Soulprint by Megan MirandaBook Cover of Soulprint by Megan Miranda

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: With the science of soul-fingerprinting a reality, Alina Chase has spent her entire life imprisoned for the crimes her past-self committed. In an attempt to clear her name, Alina unintentionally trades one prison for another when she escapes, aided by a group of teens whose intentions and motivations are a mystery to her. As she gets to know one of the boys, sparks fly, and Alina believes she may finally be able to trust someone. But when she uncovers clues left behind from her past life that only she can decipher, secrets begin to unravel. Alina must figure out whether shes more than the soul she inherited, or if shes fated to repeat the past. This compelling story will leave readers wondering if this fictional world could become a reality.

The Reality: Interesting characters, that had history and provided an added depth to the storyline. However, it is the lead character Alina, that steps guides us through the new world. Initially living in a sheltered existence, where she is kept confined, she starts to challenge those around her and their reasons for following orders, that are flawed, based on things that may not happen. After all she is under arrest for crimes in a previous life. When she finally escapes the life she has been forced to live, she manages to fall in with an interesting group. Cameron seems to know everything about avoiding the law. Casey is protective to Alina and a hacker all governments and companies should have on staff. Then there is Dominick - there one minute, gone the next. This is where I start to have a few problems. There is a lot of backstory, but there aren't many answers and I don't think there is a sequel due. Following the clues left by June is suspenseful, but it isn't action packed, with some of the answers to the clues being very left base indeed. If June (Alina's previous incarnation) was able to hack the database that held everyone's soulprint and blackmail people, surely she would have left clues that are a tad more logical?

I would target this book towards the younger YA genre, as it is interesting, but as it lacks the hardcore science fiction wanted these days by the older YA group, it doesn't fit in there as you have to accept the concept of souls, if you don't this book isn't for you. However, if you are interested in a different concept on reincarnation try it.

Read the reviews for previous Megan Miranada books: Fracture and Vengeance.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Winner's Crime by Marie RutkowskiBook Cover of The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkowski

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love. The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria's crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For unknown to Arin - Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret. As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country's freedom, he can't fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

The Reality: Yep I did it again - read book two, without reading book one. I am now realising I need to review the books before I read them. Apparently this book takes up exactly where the previous book finished. That said, I don't think I missed too much of the story line as the author managed to ensure there was enough information to be able to read this as a stand alone novel. Although I gather it is part of a trilogy, so I would recommend reading them in order.

The Winner's Crime draws us into the world of Valerian politics, and what a world it is, there are so many shady characters and underhandedness going on, you would be mistaken it was politics in Australia. There were so many entwined stories, that had you flipping the pages back and forth to try and garner any additional slivers of information you could. For some, this may be daunting, however, for others it keeps you engaged. Arin is the lead character and has the annoying habit of charging into any situation, ignoring any advice from those with cooler heads around him. As such he tends to be needy in my view, instead of becoming the hero of the tale. Whereas the other main character, Kestrel, seems unable to make a decision, if it was me I would join forces with Prince Verex and get over Arin. I know that Arin and Kestrel have been involved in their past, and there is meant to be some fire ready to ignite now, but I didn't get that feeling, it is a shame as they could both unite and save their people. Of course for that, all the "good" characters will need to navigate imminent betrayals broken hears, insecurity, guilty and more lies than a political conference. It is also difficult to understand the relationship between the emperor and Kestrel - I presume there is a back story that came from book one, but I am unsure how he has become so unbelievably cruel to the Herrani. Still I suppose you need to ensure the masses are petrified of you when you are a dictator.

If you are looking for a book with a happy ending, this isn't it, however there is another book to come out in the series, so it may happen yet.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Sunlit Night by Rebecca DinersteinBook Cover of The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended--Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried "at the top of the world." They have come to learn how to be alone. But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.

The Reality: I am not sure why, but for some reason I thought this book might be in the same style as The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. It contains contains characters from New York, Russia and Norway through various storylines of immigration, relocation, death and love. I think it is loosely based on Rebecca Dinersteins own experiences in an artistic community in Norway.

I was engrossed in the story of Yasha and his father, they move to America to avoid a crumbling Russia, and wait the arrive of Yasha's mother, who never arrives. It seems as if his father is unable to move on, although they make a life of themselves. Unfortunately when the storylines moves to Norway it becomes surreal and I struggled to understand the obvious (well not to be) literary meanings or deeper meanderings the author was trying to take me on. I was frustrated with the storyline involving Frances and her equally annoying family. What does it matter who your sister marries and if your parents are separating. I would just leave them to it, which is I suppose what she did in taking up an internship in Norway, however, I would have given up the skipping part until they had worked out their own issues. Anyway, Frances is in Norway and soon Yasha arrives. He decides to make good on one of his father's wishes, choosing to bury him at the 'top of the world' which is how he and Frances come to meet. Dinerstein puts Yasha and Frances together, but it is stilted, awkward and unrealistic. It would have been better to focus on the underlying tensions of Yasha's mothers return and some of the other characters. On a plus point, the location setting was beautiful and having been to countries nearby, it touched the mark on this point.

This book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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A God in Ruins by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: In Life After Life Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy - would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father - as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

The Reality: I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and loved Life After Life, so eagerly anticipated the release of A God In Ruins. We came to know Teddy, as the much-loved younger brother of Ursula who managed to survive the second world war having spent the final two years as a POW in Germany after his plane has been shot down. The basis of A God in Ruins is Teddy's war and its legacy, and as such it is not a stand alone novel or a sequel, but more a companion piece. Written in a similar style, A God in Ruins moves between the present and the past between Teddy's, the early days of his marriage to the girl next door, Nancy, and finally his grandchildren's childhood (Sunny and Bertie). This allows information to be revealed as needed, so the mysteries are kept hidden. For example, Viola seems to hate her father, Teddy, punishing him relentlessly. It isn't until the end we find out the secret that Viola and Teddy carry and it is one that was misconstrued by one party and unknown by the other. Not that it in any way makes up for the despicable character that is Viola. Even as Teddy is on his death bed, she is only thinking of a way to profit from his war memories. "She wished she had asked [Teddy] about his war when he was still compos mentis. She might have been able to use his memories as the basis of a novel. One that everyone would respect. People always took war novels seriously."

As with her other novels, Atkinson has done her research, bringing us enough fact with the fiction to jog your memories and provide you with a connection to the characters. Some of those memories are heartbreaking, as war is. Teddy later recalls a Jewish friend of Nancy's sister who joins the Special Operations Executive: "There was a suggestion that Hannie was still alive when she was shovelled into the ovens at Auschwitz.'". After the war Teddy and Nancy finally settle down, he decided not to re-enter the banking industry, instead taking a job as a columnist for his local newspaper. This seems to suit the quiet and gentle Teddy. Now back to Viola, I thought she had a pretty good childhood, but becomes a new age hippy who subsequently seems to abandon her own two children, leaving them to be raised by Teddy, who provides them stability. Eventually they all age and Teddy lives his life quietly, reflecting on all that he has loved and lost, he isn't a complicated character, simply a decent man. It was sad to see him being pushed relentlessly to a retirement home, when he still had so much to give to the community. However, his grandchildren did love him, but based on their upbringing didn't know how to verbalise their feelings until it was too late. This was a great read and nicely finished off the story of the Todd family.

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The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonBook Cover of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Read by Tracy in 2015

The Blurb: Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

"There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed."

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin. But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Reality: Nella arrives in Amsterdam, under the guise of an arranged marriage, one she soon realises is not based on a love match. Instead of coming to her at night, her husband, Johannes, gives Nella a cabinet house as a wedding gift and encourages her to fill it with miniature furniture at his expense. Life in Amsterdam is not only difficult in her new household, but the city itself is under the control of the Calvinist burgomasters, who seem to have sucked all the fun out of living, making it a difficult place to shine when you are an outspoken and determined feminist. As she attempts to overcome her loneliness, Nella commissions a miniaturist to work on filling her cabinet, but soon finds things taking a strange twist. Bella never meets the miniaturist, however, the items she receives are impossibly detailed related to figures and animals in the household.

The issue for me were the gaps in the story: Nella could move around the city without a chaperone, surely this wasn't done at that time? As the wife of a high profile merchant, she would have entertained more and been able to grow her own social group? Her relationship with Johannes was superficial - yes it was an arranged marriage, but even to keep an air of respectability, they would have had to interact. I think they barely spent more than a few minutes in each others company, and yet towards the end of the novel she is lamenting the loss of their thrilling conversations? The book has a lot of promise, the characters could have been so interesting from the staff to the extended family. However, even the main character of Marin, Johannes' sister, comes across as spiteful. She could have been seen as a trailblazer - she was unmarried, business-minded and had gained the respect of others in their social group. As the story unfolds, we are involved in violence, prison and a public trial, but again, the lack of personal connection, made it difficult to think of the characters as anything other than puppets and pawns in Burton's own commentary.

The inspiration for this book is based on a cabinet house that is on display at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum which was once owned by Petronella Oortman, a Dutchwoman married to Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt. Now on display at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

Jessie Burton has a website.

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The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev SahotaBook Cover of The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends as a heartbreaking look at the lengths people will go to to start a new life.

The Blurb: The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the choatic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call. Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, Sunjeev Sahota's generous, unforgettable novel is - as with Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance - a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

The Reality: This is the first novel I have read by Sunjeev Sahota and what a brilliant introduction to this author it has been. I have since ordered his debut novel Ours Are the Streets. Labelled as a political novel, I was originally a little bit jaded by the concept of a novel telling me how I should think and feel about this topic. However, you soon learn that Sahota, who earned a place on the 2013 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, knows how to blur the boundaries.

The first half of the book is written in novella-length sections, focusing on the four main characters who have found their way to Sheffield. I am not always a fan of this style of writing, as I feel that there is always one story that shines, but Sahota, captured my imagination - each storyline was enticing and you became emotionally connected to the characters. Shahota has not written a novel that I expected, yes he talks about the caste system, and we are drawn into the stories of Tarlochan (Tochi), a chamaar, the middle class Avtar and Randeep, who have entered England illegally, and devout British Sikh, Narinder. They are all trapped by their responsibilities, finding the reality of their situation bleak. Tochi, Avtar and Randeep have been forced to travel to England in search of work to support their families, whereas Narinder, instead finds it increasingly difficult to accept her family's notions of honour and tries to make amends for a tragic incident in her past. At the heart of the story is how they all face their own bigotry, from the smallest injustices that wear people down and also the acts of grace that they can barely believe possible.

The second half of the book takes a more personal approach as the relationships between the characters becomes increasingly tangled. They are all on the edge on existence, their situations would all be perfect tabloid fodder highlighting illegal workers, scam marriages and student visa abuse. However, they are more than the headlines, none of them have any choice in their future paths. It puts a face to the immigration process and the subsequent exploitation of those that fall foul of the rules. The book was unflinching in its portrayal of those that took advantage of the illegal workers, who are the ones we need to challenge as they become increasingly wealthy. It was also direct in its criticism to those families in India that live on the earnings of their children who have been smuggled into the UK. Tochi, Avtar and Randeep must fight for everything including jobs, money and food, whilst struggling with language. There is nothing about their transition from India to the UK that is easy, even Narinder who has been brought up in a good family, must follow the rules of her father and brother - not able to work or leave the house without permission, an undoubtedly stricter life than the one she would have had if she had been brought up in India. This was a brilliant novel - I couldn't put it down.

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Go Set A Watchman by Harper LeeBook Cover of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends if you have been living under a rock and never read To Kill a Mockingbird

The Blurb: From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humour and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

The Reality: Go Set A Watchman has been the most highly anticipated novel of the decade. There are a lot of questions regarding the work: was she pushed to published it, did she even want to publish it, is it a sequel - if it is a sequel, it certainly assumes familiarity with the cast of characters. Go Set a Watchman has very big shoes to fill and although, I am sure, it should be read as a single work, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do so. After all both Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird deal with the same characters, separated by 20 years. Then there is Atticus Finch, he is probably one of my all-time favourite literary characters. Accomplishing the impossible when he won the acquittal for a coloured boy on a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution was a white girl. However, I think that when To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, the world had become uncomfortably aware of the civil right movement, which prompted the book to sell in excess of 30 million copies and inspired an all time classic movie, probably one of the few that stayed true to the original publication. Luckily for us, the original publisher asked Lee to focus on Scout's childhood, opening a secret door in her imagination. Harper Lee found her voice. A new novel, entitled "Atticus Finch", was born, and would become To Kill a Mockingbird.

In Go Set a Watchman we join Jean Louise French, who has moved on from her life as "Scout" and if the internet is to be believed, has morphed into a character similar to Ms Lee when she was that age. Jean Louise has been living in New York where she can be her own person, but on her annual holiday returns to Maycomb, Alabama. So based on the knowledge that Atticus is the all round good guy - we now delve into Go Set a Watchman to find he is now depicted as a racist and paranoid about the civil rights movement. Jean Louise has high hopes at changing the world, but ultimately realises that more things can be achieved if she works with, and not against, those who represent the town via the Citizen's Council. Towards the end, we feel Jean Louise's frustration with small town attitudes and watch as she becomes increasingly disillusioned with those around her. Her life in New York has opened her eyes to the world, but each time she returns to Alabama, the changes are amplified and her independence is threatened. She realises that her view of a non-segregated world is different from others of her generation. Her friend Claudine was shocked that "in a drugstore one day I looked around and there was a Negro woman eating her dinner right next to me". Atticus is still practising law. She considers marriage to her childhood friend, Henry "Hank" Clinton, who comes from white trash. Jem has met the same demise as their mother. Her Aunt has moved in with Atticus to help with his severe arthritis, but Jean Louise and her are at odds. She feels the most attached to her Uncle Jack, but he is unclear on what the changes in the community may bring. Jean Louise fills the story with flashbacks from Calpurnia to Dill, as she tries to draw a parallel between her childhood and adulthood. She has always had her father on a pedestal, revered him for his integrity, humour and patience. This radically changes as she watches them from the same courthouse balcony where young Scout had watched her father defend a wrongly accused black man, Jean Louise now watches both Atticus and Henry sit beside a guest speaker who spews horrible, racist rhetoric. Both Henry and Atticus seemingly sit in tacit assent.

The remainder of the story is spent watching Jean Louise attempt to understand how this change in attitude could have occurred. She needs to look at herself and understand if she repressed a racism that had always been there, or did her family change over the years? At one point in this rumination, she decides she must be to blame. "My aunt is a hostile stranger, Hank is insane and Atticus - something's wrong with me, it's something about me." However, the shock at finding out Atticus's new friends and affiliations and his supposed fall from grace is just too much for me. So after finishing the book, which took me a while, I found it difficult to align the two novels. The language, attitudes and perceptions have aged focusing on cliches, some of them are cliches only because, in the half century since Lee's generation introduced them they've become cliches. However, if I had read the books the other way round, my response may have been different. Then again, would Go Set a Watchman have been published?

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The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsBook Cover of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends as psychological thriller.

The Blurb: A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She's even started to feel like she knows them. "Jess and Jason," she calls them. Their life, as she sees it, is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

The Reality: This is not a new storyline - there has been several books recently that have focused on an amnesia thriller i.e. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. However, I am sure at some point in a lot of our lives we have gone out and had a few too many with the details the next day a little bit hazy. Multiply that feeling by a million and you may be Rachel, the protagonist in The Girl on the Train. Rachel keeps having flashbacks but is unable to put them in sequence or make sense of what she is seeing. Rachel, once had everything, but now finds herself in a spiral of alcoholism - lying about her job and stalking her ex-husband, Tom and her ex-home. She is unable to accept that her Tom has remarried and that he and Anna have a son. Having the life that she always thought would be hers. Her daily commute takes her past her old home, but she starts to fixate on the new neighbours, Jess and Jason (their imaginary names). She makes up a story about their lives and when Jess (who is really called Megan) goes missing, she finds herself involved in the police investigation, muddying the waters for others involved. It is hard to feel any sympathy of Rachel - yes go on a binge drink, but then pull yourself together and get on with your life. Most people do!

The storyline is interesting as you go into little plot twists that throw you off the scent of what is happening - I was surprised at the ending, in a good way.

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Second Life by S J WatsonBook Cover of Second Life by S J Watson

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends as an interesting look at the murky work of internet porn.

The Blurb: The sensational new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep.

She loves her husband. She's obsessed by a stranger.

She's a devoted mother. She's prepared to lose everything.

She knows what she's doing. She's out of control.

She's innocent. She's guilty as sin.

She's living two lives. She might lose both . . .

The Reality: Julia Plummer is deeply troubled. She leads a comfortable life based in north London. She is married to Hugh, a surgeon, and has a son, Connor. Hugh and Julia had adopted Connor when he was a toddler from her sister, Kate. Julia doesn't work, but has developed a small business taking family photographs. All in all, things are good. Until Kate decides she wants Connor back. This issue is soon dealt with by the Kate's death, however, it turns out to be a catalyst for Julia to spiral out of control as she tries to piece together Kate's life. Julia finds out that Kate meet men online for sex, so she enters that world with disastrous consequences. This is the second book by S J Watson, following on from Before I Go To Sleep which was also turned into a movie. Both of these books have a simple plot line which is developed thoroughly into a complex sinister novel. As the story progresses, Watson has the uncanny ability to peel away the layers of Julia's past - alcoholism and addition from her youth which she put behind her after her marriage to the ever responsible Hugh. In all intents and purposes living two lives. It is the second life though that unravels out of her control. Julia knows that she has hit rock bottom, but seems intent to try and go even further, seemingly unable to stop. She can't as she has a fundamental desire to be noticed - "As I open [the message] I get the strangest feeling. A plunging, a descent. A door has been nudged open. Something is coming."

What really kept me engrossed was the ease that Julia joined the internet and quickly found herself embroiled in an illicit affair. "Anyone can find a decent picture of themselves, anyone can present themselves in the best light. Isn't that what we're all trying to do, on some level? Show our best face to the world, leave the darkness within? The screen of the internet just makes it easier." The book was gripping and the ending was surprising - I had certainly thought there was more at hand and had overthought the whole scenario.

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At the Water's Edge by Sara GruenBook Cover of At the Waters Edge by Sara Gruen

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends as an historic love story.

The Blurb: In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey. After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year's Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis's father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son's inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie's horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father's favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father's name and return to his father's good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie's social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

The Reality: I am sure we all love a good monster hunt - I still believe it can't all be a hoax. In At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen takes us back to World War II and the arrival of three young socialites from Philadelphia in a tiny village in Scotland. What a shock they get, although not as much as the residents. There are no servants; instead they find themselves in a very closed community unwilling to accept them. As the story progresses we learn that Ellis is desperate to return to his father's good graces. His father had a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster discredited. Along on the journey is his wife Maddie, and his best friend Hank. However, it isn't the story of Ellis we follow, it is the story of Maddie. Maddie is more down to earth but finds herself caught between the locals and the life she has married into.

As the Loch Ness Monster fails to materialise, Maddie and Ellis find themselves in a doomed relationship and suddenly Maddie and the locals are in danger from Ellis's horrific violent temper and vindictive nature. I can see At the Water's Edge being made into a great movie, hopefully better than Water for Elephants. The plot has everything - danger, romance, and mystery with plenty of twists and turns thrown in. Although the main plot highlights the divide between the wealthy and the residents of war-torn Scotland. Ellis and Hank have no concept of reality and just how difficult survival is for the Scots. No matter what they see or hear, they refuse to believe that they need to live differently, in fact when they first decided to go to Scotland, I am sure they had no awareness of the impact of the war closer to the front line. "My life consisted of waking at noon, meeting up with Hank and Ellis, and then bouncing from eye-opener to pick-me-up to cocktail to nightcap, and staying out all night at dances or parties before starting all over again the next day." Both Hank and Ellis had managed to avoid the draft pick by some dubious medical certificate siting his colorblindness. Maddie does empathise though and finds herself increasingly drawn into the lives of the villagers, which provides a layer of depth to the story.

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One Fine Day by Teresa F. MorganBook Cover of One Fine Day by Teresa F. Morgan class=

Read by Tracy in 2015

Tracy recommends as a refreshing love story.

The Blurb: Steve Mason returns from Hollywood after 15 years to catch up with his sister, Ruby. He's miserable because the woman he was planning on marrying has dumped him. He's now worried that with his A-list celebrity status he won't find a woman who genuinely loves him. Ruby devises a plan to disguise Steve, so that he is unrecognisable as the famous Hollywood actor, in a hope to help him find true love. It worked for Clark Kent, right? As Steve searches for his not-so-perfect woman and has a taste of normality, his relationship develops with his sister. But will he find the right woman before he has to head back to his real life in Hollywood?

The Reality: One Fine Day makes you appreciate that being famous comes with a lot of drawbacks. Not that they are all bad (think money), but the fact that you cannot go anywhere without paparazzi following you anywhere, can surely not provide a realistic life. Steve Mason has it all: fame, money, his choice of movies and until recently a beautiful equally famous girlfriend. However, as things sour, his agent thinks it would be a good idea to escape the limelight and visit his sister, Ruby. Steve and Ruby lead completely different lives, Ruby manages a small boutique hotel in Bristol (UK). After Steve explains his plight - he has three months to find the love of his life, Ruby suggests he changes his identify and works for her in the hotel trade. That way he can lead a life that will let him interact with the ordinary people! Unfortunately, Ruby is being stalked by her ex-boyfriend who turns out to be a journalist and not a good one. So it isn't long before Steve's secret is uncovered. However, this book is a romantic comedy, so it provides plenty of opportunity for laughs. I really enjoyed this book and read it in a day.

Teresa F. Morgan is a Goodreads Author and well as having her own Website.

This book was provided by NetGalley.

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