Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review: The A to Z of You and Me – James Hannah

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
Publication date: 12 March 2015
Publisher: Doubleday
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780857522641
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary
Age group: Adult
Source: Curtis Brown Book Group
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository
My rating: 4.5 Stars

Ivo fell for her.
He fell for a girl he can’t get back.
Now he’s hoping for something.
While he waits he plays a game:

He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away.
He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.
But he doesn’t have long.
And he still has one thing left to do…

The A to Z of You and Me has been on my wish list ever since I first read about it in the publisher’s catalogue last year and it was, understandably, one of my most anticipated books of 2015. The synopsis doesn’t give away too much and, for some reason, I always thought it was a young adult novel – but with so many YA cancer stories out there,  finding out that Ivo is, in fact, an adult was definitely a pleasant surprise.

The A to Z of You and Me centres around Ivo, a forty-year old man slowly dying of kidney disease. Ivo is lying in bed, on his own, in his local hospice and is waiting for death. To keep his mind occupied and take his mind off his increasing pain, his nurse Sheila (lovely Sheila, possibly my favourite character in this book) comes up with a game. She challenges Ivo to name a body part for each letter of the alphabet and think about a story or a memory he associates with each of these words. It is through these memories that we get to know Ivo and who he really is. It is through these flashbacks that we first hear about his friends, his girlfriend – and only love – Mia, his illness and all those events that lead to the present day.

I loved the fact that the author didn’t want to create a perfect, flawless character. It’s clear that Ivo has made some wrong decisions in his life which might have lead to where he is now, but he’s not looking for sympathy. The book doesn’t try to be sentimental – and that’s what makes it different.

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Review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes – Anna McPartlin

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin
Publication date: 1 January 2015
Publisher: Black Swan
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780552773744
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository
My rating: 4 Stars

Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, life is coming to an end…

Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it. She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye.

But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she’s OK with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen.

Here is a truth that won’t be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life’s surprises and finding the joy in every moment.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes was my last read of 2014 and I couldn’t have found a better book to end the year with. I laughed, I cried, and it completely broke my heart at times – but it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read in a long time.

Anne McPartlin’s sixth novel tells the story of Rabbit, an Irish journalist and single mother to twelve-year-old Juliet, who is losing her fight against cancer. Through a series of flashback episodes we get to know Rabbit as a young girl and follow her journey throughout the years, from her early teens through adulthood. We get to know her family and friends, who have been with her every step of the way, and who are there in the hospice, holding her hand, when Rabbit’s journey comes to an end. We learn about her best friend, Marjorie, and her first – and only – love, Johnny Faye. We get a glimpse into the often chaotic, but always entertaining, days of the Hayes family and Rabbit’s relationship with her daughter.

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Review: Oh Yeah, Audrey! – Tucker Shaw

Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw

Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw
Publication date: 14 October, 2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781419712234
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Contemporary
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Won
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository
My rating: 2.5 Stars

It’s 5:30am on Fifth Avenue and sixteen-year-old Gemma Beesley is standing in front of Tiffany & Co. wearing the perfect black dress with her pastry and coffee held tightly in a brown paper bag — just like Holly Golightly. As the co-founder of a successful Tumblr blog — Oh Yeah Audrey! — devoted to all things Audrey Hepburn, Gemma has travelled from Pennsylvania to New York in order to meet up with her fellow bloggers and friends, Bryan and Trina, for the first time. She has meticulously planned out a 24-hour adventure for the trio in homage to Breakfast at Tiffany’s; however, her plans become quickly sidetracked when a glamorous boy sweeps in and offers her the type of New York experience she’s always dreamed of. Gemma soon learns who her true friends are and that, sometimes, “no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

I absolutely loved the idea behind this book. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is such an iconic film and I was intrigued by how the author would turn it into a contemporary novel for young readers. Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a fun and very quick read, even for a slow reader like me – but it wasn’t memorable enough for me.

My first and biggest problem was that I couldn’t connect with the characters. At all. I didn’t really like Gemma or her “friends”. The only person I liked was the girl who used to post mean comments on the Oh Yeah, Audrey Tumblr page – at least she wasn’t fake.

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Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Publication date: 16 January 2014
Publisher: Headline
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781472208200
Length: 273 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

Leonard Peacock is turning 18. And he wants to say goodbye.

Not to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing something tragic and horrific. Nor to his mum who’s moved out and left him to fend for himself. But to his four friends.

A Humprey Bogart-obsessed neighbour
A teenage violin virtuoso
A pastor’s daughter
A teacher

Most of the time Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not.

He wants to thank them and, and bid them farewell.

My thoughts

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been recommended to me by an increasing number of people in the past few months and after hearing so many great things about it, my expectations were very high. Since it left such a lasting impression on the book blogger community and all those people whose taste I absolutely trust, and since I generally like books dealing with suicide or mental illness, I decided to give it a go. Now, after reading the book, I can’t thank all these people enough for their constant nagging – because it was simply amazing.

I loved this book for so many different reasons, I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps the best place to start is the narration and our main character, Leonard. On the surface, Leonard is your average eighteen-year-old secondary school student with an average life. Okay, maybe the fact that his mother abandoned him and, as it turns out later on, doesn’t have the faintest idea about what he’s going through and how tough his childhood has been isn’t so average. On the contrary. But other than that, he seems like any other guy his age. Until he starts talking. Through Leonard’s story we learn that, in fact, he couldn’t be any more different from everyone else. I loved his unique voice and his way of storytelling. And while he’s just a young guy trying to get through his school years, his attitude and his way of thinking, his thoughts about adulthood couldn’t be more mature. His anger and his thoughts about not wanting to grow up – because adults just don’t seem to remember how to be happy – reminded me of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye (one of my favourite classics of all time) and I loved Leonard just as much as I loved him.

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Review: Mutton – India Knight

Mutton by India Knight

Title: Mutton
Author: India Knight
Publication date: 1 August 2013
Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780241955048
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

Clara Hutt is forty-six years old, and in pretty good nick, considering. She has kick-ass underwear, a large and loving family, and a healthy sense of what matters in life. Until Gaby moves in.

Gaby’s an old school friend of Clara’s who has just returned from LA. She may be a yoga mogul who lives off kale, and speaks a made-up fantasy novel language, but Gaby’s no stranger to cosmetic surgery: she’s almost fifty, but looks thirty-six at most.

What with Gaby, and Clara’s son’s leggy girlfriend, Sky, wafting around the house in her stripy pants, Clara starts to wonder if a little Botox, a little filler, a nip and a tuck, would be so very wrong. Should she ignore the fear? Or is there another way to grow old gracefully – and how far is she prepared to go to find out?

My thoughts

Following one of Clara’s remarks from the book, namely that “bluntness is the best solution: there seems so little point in shilly-shallying about with announcements” let me get right to the point: Mutton was a huge disappointment. Being in my mid-twenties I might not be the book’s ideal target audience but that doesn’t alter the fact that the book is miles away from being hilarious (as it’s supposed to be) and if this really is an accurate portrayal of women in their forties (I highly doubt it) then it’s even more depressing than I thought.

I wasn’t familiar with Knight’s books before I picked Mutton up but I’ve always enjoyed books with a similar subject matter. I read Sue Townsend’s The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman when I was in my late teens (again, I was hardly the right target audience and yet…) and it’s been one of my favourite novels ever since. It had me crying with laughter, which was definitely not the case here.

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Review: Ostrich – Matt Greene

Ostrich by Matt Greene

Title: Ostrich
Author: Matt Greene
Publication date: 27 August 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780345545213
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: NetGalley
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either. Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):

It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery. It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2). It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents. It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)). It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.

And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.

My thoughts

Writing about people suffering from serious illnesses is a difficult thing to tackle but Matt Greene does a brilliant job in his debut novel. Ostrich tells the story of Alex, a young boy who has brain tumour and suffers from epilepsy which, despite the fact that he’s smart and seems to be among the best pupils at school, inevitably makes him feel like an outsider. Through the course of the book Alex undergoes brain surgery, falls in love (even if he doesn’t know this at the time), gets behind the wheels of his dad’s car for the first time, albeit illegally, analyses internet porn, tries to get to the bottom of his hamster’s odd behaviour and, with the help of his friend Chloe, devises a plan to find out what happened to his parents’ marriage. At first glance, it may seem like a simple story, a bitter-sweet saga of a young boy and everything he goes through in his early teens. It’s only when you read the last lines that you realize Ostrich is in fact a lot more complex than you have imagined.

I’ve always loved coming-of-age novels and this book was no exception. Although it took me a short while to get used to the language (Alex is very fond of science, grammar, and using lots of brackets, you see) and Alex’s narration, it was impossible not to be charmed by his personality and his witty remarks. And this is one of the reasons why I loved this book. With hindsight, it’s quite a sad story but without being sloppy or making you reach for your tissues every two seconds. In fact, Alex’s jokes (“I can swear in sixty-seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten up in sixty-four countries.” is one of my favourites) and all the hilarious things he and his friend Chloe are up to make for quite an entertaining read. I do love a tear-jerker, don’t get me wrong. But books which can address difficult subjects while bringing a bit of humour into the plot always feel a bit more special – and that’s how I felt about Ostrich as well. It’s not simply a story of a boy with a serious illness. It’s so, so much more than that.

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Review: Lost and Found – Tom Winter

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

Title: Lost and Found
Author: Tom Winter
Publication date: 21 February 2013
Publisher: Corsair (Constable & Robinson)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781472101594
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Author
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository
Rating: 4 / 5

In a nutshell

It started with a letter…

Carol is married to a man she doesn’t love and mother to a daughter she doesn’t understand. Crippled with guilt, she can’t shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.

Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turns up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

My thoughts

Lost and Found has been among my most anticipated books of 2013 and I knew I’d have to read it the minute I saw the synopsis. I seem to have a soft spot for bitter-sweet and touching stories and it definitely seemed like one. A few chapters in, however, I realized it is in fact a bit different from what I expected – but not in a bad way. Not at all. I actually found it really hard to put it down and, had it not been for me being ill at the time, I would have probably read it in one day.

The reason why I was taken by surprise, I suppose, is that I expected some sort of a love story or a story of a beautiful friendship. A tear-jerker, basically. I mean, it sounds like one, doesn’t it? And while it is a sweet and occasionally moving book, I would have never predicted how funny it actually is. As odd as it may sound, for me most of the humour came from the protagonist, Carol, who’s been trapped in an unhappy marriage for most of her life and her husband, Bob. Man, they’re a hilarious duo. Bob is one of those guys who don’t have the faintest idea about the fact that their marriage isn’t working or in fact, hasn’t been working for a long time. He lives in denial. On top of that, he acts like a big kid. Which, under normal circumstances, would really annoy me. And of course it’s a sad situation too, isn’t it? Living your life in a monotone way and with someone you shouldn’t have married in the first place. Yet, through Carol’s sarcastic thoughts and comments, somehow it all became entertaining.

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