The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

Genre: Historical Fiction | Mystery

Pages: 416

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Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her

Many thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for letting me have an early copy of this book.

For me the story started out well. We are introduced to Andrew Garvie, taken through his childhood and adolescent experiences, and brought to the present day. So far so good. I was intrigued.

I think originally I did not read the full synopsis properly, because when it came to the Ewa Chaplin fairy tales I was extremely confused. I even thought that somehow there had been some kind of mix up in the formatting of the book. Then I realised they are part of the story, and at first I didn’t understand why we had to endure them. They creeped me out. I’m a dot of a lady myself, standing at 4 ft 11, and when I come across any adult that is noticeably shorter than me I immediately feel uncomfortable.

Some of Andrews life experiences also had me feeling uncomfortable; it seemed he was willing to do these things just to feel a bit of human affection. At times Andrew seemed desperate to please others.

As I ploughed through the book, the fairy tales began to make sense and had some kind of link to the actual story. The format of this book was very unconventional; I hadn’t come across anything like it before. It had the narrative of Andrew, followed by fairy tales which were stories within a story. And finally we had the letters written to Andrew from Bramber.

Although I found elements slightly creepy, the format of the book kept me interested, and I was intrigued about Bramber and why she was in some kind of institution.

I rated The Dollmaker 3 hearts. It is a book very different to anything I have read before, not from the storyline, but the actual layout. It was very cleverly done.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Genre: Fiction | Irish Literature | Contemporary

Pages: Audiobook

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Paula Spencer is a thirty-nine-year-old working-class woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless.

I listened to this on Audible. I would highly recommend this rather than reading a physical copy of the book, as the narrator just makes the whole thing. I’ve always been a huge lover of the Irish accent and this made some parts of the story telling hilarious.

The beginning of the story, which focused more on Paula growing up and meeting Charlo, I found both funny and endearing. And the story stayed this way for quite a while; Paula happily in love with Charlo, not knowing what a piece of shite he really is.

Towards the end, the story focuses on domestic violence, a very sensitive subject on which a lot of people have very different opinions. My personal opinion is: hit me once, or even raise your fist, and you’ll be gone, no matter how much it is going to hurt. No one deserves that kind of life.

So you can imagine whilst I am listening to the narrative of the beatings, the begging Charlo to stop, the trips to hospital, the whole time in my head I am screaming “just leave him!”. I know in reality it’s not that simple.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors was a great story to listen to. I listened to it due to it being recommended by J.K Rowling, so I knew it had to be good. However the end got quite repetitive for me, and I was willing for the story to come to an end. I was glad, though, that Paula (sort of) got a happy ending, and the scum that is Charlo got his comeuppance. It got 3 love hearts from me. Absolutely smashing narrative and powerful story, but the end dragged on a little too much for me.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Genre: Fiction | Historical | Mystery | Thriller

Pages: 281

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From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them — Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.
But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up – and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur.

I delved into this book without having the faintest idea of what it could be about. To me, the synopsis was a bit unclear, like anything could happen, and so in a way I was intrigued. I had absolutely no expectations.

The story is told from the point of view of Frances, a 39 year old lady who seems a bit of a recluse. I could see a lot of myself in Frances. A woman who has spent much of her life alone, doesn’t really know how to connect with people she’s just met, and seems to find any kind of social situation awkward. In contrast though, once she has opened up, it seems as though she becomes easily attached to others. This I can relate to as a person who does not have many friends. You kind of try to hold on to any sign of kindness or affection you can get. Frances is such an odd character, but I couldn’t help loving her.

The characters of Carla and Peter always made me feel a little suspicious and uneasy. Carla especially. Though she was made to sound like a beautiful, radiant woman, she had absolutely no soul and a strange obsession with death and drowning. Frances, maybe not so beautiful, had a heart of gold. Despite the way Carla treated her, she would always do anything to make her happy.

The Lynton house in which the trio were staying, although dilapidated, sounded beautiful. Particularly the surrounding gardens in the heat of summer. However, Part way through the book, the Lynton house went from being a place of tranquillity, to a place that gave me a sense of foreboding.

In places, this book was downright creepy. Especially when reading it in pitch black at night! It made me wonder, were these things really happening, or was it all in Frances’ head?

I love books that, when you get to a certain part,make your jaw drop. This book certainly did that to me when I realised just where the elderly Frances was telling her story from.

I hadn’t realised I’d read a book by Claire Fuller previously. I’ll be looking out for more of her work. I rated this book 4 hearts.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? By Agatha Christie

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

Genre: Mystery | Fiction | Crime | Classics

Pages: 361

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Bobby Jones discovers the crumpled body of a dying man who’s last words are Why didn’t they ask Evans? Haunted by these words, Bobby sets out to solve a mystery that brings him into mortal danger.

As I’ve mentioned before, Agatha Christie is one of my go-to authors when I want to read something ‘comforting’. For me this book isn’t up there with my favourite Christie novels. I feel that it started off quite slowly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the characters…At first Bobby and Dr Thomas came across as a little ‘uppity’. But I guess I just wanted to get straight into the investigating!

Once Bobby and his friend Frankie got into the nitty gritty of investigation, that’s when this book grabbed my attention and I seemed to fly through it. Still not one of my favourites though; I’m more of a Miss Marple kinda gal.

Towards the end, this book kind of messed with my mind. The characters I came across who I found that I liked, turned out to be nasty pieces of work. The characters who came across as creepy and suspicious were totally innocent bystanders in the whole thing. And when it came down to the ultimate question of “why didn’t they ask Evans?”, the answer was so simple. To me it suddenly seemed totally unnecessary to have all of the other characters involved, and to be flitting from Wales to England and back. But then, if none of that had happened, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we? 🤔

I rated this book 3 hearts due to the slow start and at first intolerable characters. However, this is Christie’s work, and I will forever be a fan ❤️

Her Best Friend’s Secret by Anna Mansell

Her Best Friend’s Secret by Anna Mansell

Genre: Literary Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Pages: 384

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She deserves the truth. But it will ruin her life. What would you do?
Emily was meant to be the girl who escaped their small Cornish town. She was going to be the success story. But it didn’t work out the way she’d dreamed it would. And now she’s back home. With a secret that’s even bigger than her failure.

Emily thinks she can just hide away. But then she runs in to Lolly, her one-time best friend from school, who spontaneously suggests a small reunion with their once close-knit group of friends. Jess and Amanda still live nearby, though none of the four women have spoken in years now.

But after so much time, everyone’s lives have changed. Nothing is as easy as it was in their schooldays. And everyone’s got secrets. One of which is big enough to ruin not just the fragile friendships, but one woman’s whole life…

A big thank you to Bookouture and Net Galley for allowing me to have an advanced readers copy of this book.
This book is about a group of four women, all in their 40’s, who reunite after 20 years. Some of the characters are a little apprehensive about this, others excited. The thing is, this reunion could either make or break one of their friends lives. I’ll let you read the story to find out why!

The story is told from the point of view of Emily, Amanda, Lolly and Jess. I loved reading about each of their own personal lives, background history, and personal opinions on the whole “big secret”, although after getting so far through the book I realised that there are a couple of other little secrets too. Each character has their own flaws and wrongdoings, however you can’t help but love them. Reading about the way they feel towards one another despite their misgivings is so touching and heart warming. It makes you wish you had a group of friends like these!

To me this book felt like a ‘coming of age’ story.. Or perhaps a ‘coming of middle age”, since these women are already grown up. Despite the drama within the book, it was a nice, light read, and I am going to miss each and every one of these characters.

I rate this book 3 hearts, and would definitely recommend to other female readers. It makes you realise that even in the world of books, women are still having drama and experiencing day to day problems. Totally relatable.

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu

Genre: Young Adult | Science Fiction | Fantasy

Pages: 353

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When a game called Warcross takes the world by storm, one girl hacks her way into its dangerous depths. For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. When Emika hacks into the game illegally, she’s convinced she’ll be arrested, and is shocked when she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem…and he wants Emika for the job.

“It is hard to describe loss to someone who has never experienced it, impossible to explain all the ways it changes you. But for those who have, not a single word is needed.”

“Everyone has a different way of escaping the dark stillness of their mind.”

“Every locked door has a key. Every problem has a solution.”

– Marie Lu

I read Warcross as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019, for the prompt “a LitRPG book”. Until this point I had never heard of such a thing, and after some research as to what sort of books qualify as LitRPG, I realised that this is a prompt I would not be looking forward to. I decided to get this book done and dusted pretty quickly.

I am a heavy gamer myself, but to read about a characters adventures within an online computer game just does not appeal to me. The only thing that kept me going with Warcross was the characters. Apart from Hideo, who appeared to have no personality at all, each and every character interested me. There was so much diversity represented; disability, lgbtq+, the rich, the poor.

The book wasn’t completely terrible, but the whole science fiction and fantasy genre usually does not appeal to me. I like things to be kept realistic so that there may be a possibility of actually relating to characters situations. However this is what I love about the Popsugar Challenge. It drives me to read books I would ordinarily give a wide berth

I give the book 2 hearts, one for the loveable characters and another for the concept of the book. It is amazing to imagine a game like Warcross existing, however it just wouldn’t be for me. I’m glad I gave this book a try though, every book deserves a chance.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Genre: Young Adult | Fiction Classic | Dystopian

Pages: 224

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It is the future. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No one in the community wants for anything. Everything needed is provided. And at twelve years old, each member of the community has their profession carefully chosen for them by the Committee of Elders.
Twelve-year old Jonas has never thought there was anything wrong with his world. But from the moment he is selected as the Receiver of Memory, Jonas discovers that their community is not as perfect as it seems.

“The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without colour, pain or past.” – Lois Lowry.

“It’s just that… without the memories it’s all meaningless.” – Lois Lowry.

I found the concept of the book absolutely amazing. To be living such a sheltered life that there is not even music, colour, real emotions or memories. And what is so wrong about the idea of that, that it was banned and removed from certain libraries and schools?! Never likely kids are the way they are today. I feel that by not allowing this book to be read is creating the sheltered life in which it revolves around. Rant over.

This was an easy to read book, quite short in length, which I really enjoyed. Like I say above, I found the whole storyline to be fascinating. I felt especially for The Giver, Jonas and Gabriel. The rest of the characters were very much robotic, living under the strict rules of Sameness.

A part of the story which got to me the most was the notion of “The Release”. I already had an idea what this was about, but also thought that maybe anyone who was “released” went on to “Elsewhere”. The community in which Jonas lived painted such a pretty picture of when people were “released”; they made it sound like something that should be looked forward to. Although I also had my doubts about what really happened, when Jonas’s father injected that poor twin baby, putting him down as if he were an animal, I still felt disgusted. I could totally understand Jonas’s anger and why he needed to get out. Deep down I also did not want anything to happen to Gabriel. Although he wasn’t a huge part of the storyline, that little guy tugged at my heart strings, and when it came to light that he too would also be “released”, I was rooting for Jonas to get him out of that horrible community.

Overall I give the book 4 hearts. It was nicely written, and I would recommend anyone from the age of 12+ to give it a go. It definitely does not deserve to be a banned book; if people think that this book is in any way disturbing, they have certainly led such a sheltered life themselves!