Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia.



Product details:
PublisherQuercus
Hardcover, 352 pages.

Release date: March 9th 2017.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. So when she's found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Local sheriff Del Goodman, a good friend of Hattie's dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers; it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives: Del's, Hattie's high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the real Hattie, and what happened that final year of school when she dreamed of leaving her small town behind . . .

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity, about the line between innocence and culpability, about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.


Hattie Hoffman knows it’s good to have a plan.  An aspiring actress, Hattie’s plan is to get the hell out of Pine Valley just as soon as she graduates high school. Hattie knows she’s better than a Pine Valley future. She knows she’s better than the girls who spend their whole lives hero worshipping beefy football players just to they can eventually marry those dumb jocks and settle into a lifetime of kids and Saturday nights spent watching mind-numbing Reality TV.  Hattie is not like those girls.  Hattie has her eyes on the prize and that prize is a future that entails a name-in-lights acting career in New York City. Hattie is determined to make it. This is a girl with her eyes so firmly set on the future that she’s already living her present like it’s her past. Too bad then for Hattie that life doesn’t always go to plan. Too bad for Hattie that her life ended just as it was about to begin.

Mindy Mejia’s ‘The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman,’ is a truly absorbing page-turner of small town murder, secrets and lies. The US title of this book is ‘Everything You Want Me to Be,’ and it’s a title that really fits the character of Hattie Hoffman to a tee. Complex and compelling, Hattie is a truly fascinating character who will keep you guessing as to her true self and motivations long after she’s taken her final breath.  Like Laura Palmer to the town of Twin Peaks, Hattie Hoffman is Pine Valley’s golden girl with a winning smile and a dark secret to boot.  A true actress, Hattie is determined to keep it all together, even when it looks like everything might fall apart. And so Hattie plays a part. She plays many parts. Hattie is a different someone to everyone she meets: brilliant student, perfect daughter, doting girlfriend, best friend – all the world’s a stage for Hattie, until the curtain falls.

So, who killed Hattie Hoffman?  Who butchered her pretty face so badly that Hattie had to be identified by dental records? That’s a mystery for Del Goodman to solve. As the local sheriff of many years, Del isn’t easily shocked, but it’s safe to say that he’s rocked by Hattie’s brutal murder. After all, Pine Valley isn’t the type of place where murders happen too often, and certainly not to girls like Hattie Hoffman, who was found dead on the opening night of her school play where she wowed the audience as Lady Macbeth.  One thing Del knows for sure is that Hattie’s murder was no random act of violence. The slash-marks on her face tell Del that Hattie’s murder was not only up close, it was also very personal.

I have a penchant for small-town tales where everyone has a story to tell and a secret hide, and The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, with its slowly unfolding mystery told from multiple-viewpoints –including Hattie’s in the months before her death- was pretty much a perfect read for me. A girl who turned heads and touched lives, it soon becomes clear that nobody: not teachers or parents, not boyfriends or friends, escaped Hattie’s many faces or her lies.  But which one of those lies got Hattie killed?  I guarantee you’ll have fun finding out!






 Title changes can be confusing! 
'The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman' is published in the US as 'Everything You Want Me to Be.' 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Mini Reviews: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel || Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman || The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney.



“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

Following her mother’s suicide, fifteen year old Lane Roanoke goes to live with her Grandparents and cousin, Allegra, on the family estate in rural Kansas.  Quickly bonding with her cousin, Lane enjoys a carefree summer of swimming, sunbathing and swoon, when she falls for local boy, Cooper. For Lane, who has grown up in the care of a mother who never showed her any affection at all, this new life of hers seems too good to be true. And it is.  The truth is that every Roanoke girl has a secret, and when Lane eventually stumbles upon the truth of who she is, she runs. She doesn’t look back. She leaves Allegra behind.

Ten years later, Allegra is missing and Lane, the last of the Roanoke girls, is back on the family estate, hoping to solve the mystery of her cousins’ disappearance. Did Allegra run? Or has yet another Roanoke girl gone to her death too soon?

An unsettling depiction of life in a road-to-nowhere rural town, Engel’s adult debut will appeal to readers who love the darkness that permeates the novels of Gillian Flynn. This one, though, lacks those killer twists that make Flynn’s novels so compelling. If you don’t guess the Roanoke secret before reading this book, then you won’t have too long a wait before finding out: the reveal comes early, and though it is disturbing, it is not at all unexpected. Meanwhile, the mystery of what happened to Allegra is, in the end, much less of a mystery than I was hoping for.
                                                                               

In short: dark and compelling, but lacks a knockout punch. 


Rating: 3.5/5.
Published March 7th 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Received for review. 

*****





Like a lot of places, the town of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania is a town where nothing much ever happens – until it does.  The year is 1991, and Hannah Dexter is trying her very best to survive high school by not drawing attention to herself.    It doesn’t work. No matter how she tries to blend into the background, Hannah remains Nikki Drummond’s number one target.  Even fact that Nikki’s boyfriend Craig has just committed suicide doesn’t make this mean girl change her ways. Enter Lacey Champlain.

Confident and feisty, Kurt Cobain worshipping Lacey is everything that Hannah is not.  Hannah can’t figure out why someone like Lacey wants to be friends with someone like her, but she doesn’t question it. Truth is, Hannah is just happy to have a friend. Soon Hannah, now known as ‘Dex’ since Lacey decided that Hannah wasn’t really working as a name, is sneaking out, fooling around and rocking out to Nirvana. She’s also determined, with Lacey’s help, to get her revenge on Nikki Drummond.

Girls on Fire, the first adult offering from prolific YA author Robin Wasserman (The Book of Blood and Shadow, The Waking Dark), is a twisted and violent, yet ultimately underwhelming affair. Like Emma Cline in her novel The Girls, Wasserman’s prose here is often vividly purple in colour, while the storyline, though shocking in its final act, is repetitive and even mundane at times.
                                                                      
Read this if you like:  Pretty Little Dirty by Amanda Boyden; Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten; 90’s nostalgia.


Rating: 3/5
Published May 5th 2016 by Little, Brown.
Purchased.

*****




Who in their right mind would want to live in a house like this?

That’s the question I kept asking myself as I was reading The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney.  Though lured by a strong synopsis that promised a solid mystery, I knew I was in trouble with this book early on, simply because I didn’t buy the main premise of the story. Even bearing in mind the crazy cost of London rentals, I just don’t believe that anyone would want to live at cut-price One Folgate Street, no matter how futuristically ground-breaking its design might be. Why? Because to live here pretty much means signing your whole life, including all of your possessions, away. It also means signing a contract that contains more than two-hundred clauses (I’m not exaggerating), thanks to a landlord who is, to put it mildly, a complete control freak.

The landlord in question is Edward Monkford, the renowned architect who designed One Folgate Street, and now rents it out to a very select few tenants. Jane is one of these tenants, as was Emma, the ‘girl before’ of the title.  The Girl Before employs a dual timeline, and it soon becomes clear that both Jane and Emma’s time at One Folgate Street follows eerily similar patterns, including the fact that both women inexplicably start to fall for the utterly charmless Monkford. The catch? Monkford has a dark side. He also has a past. The other catch? Emma didn’t leave One Folgate Street alive – she left in a body bag.  Will Jane escape the clutches of One Folgate Street before it’s too late?  Will she say ‘screw it’ to all those clauses in her contract, and run? She really should.

An instant bestseller with a movie in the works, The Girl Before was also recently named ‘Thriller of the Month’ by The Sunday Times. Alas, this cliché-ridden thriller simply did not work for me. A miss.

Rating: 3/5.
Published January 26th 2017 by Quercus.
Received for review.

*****

Monday, 27 February 2017

Non-Bookish: A Few of my Favourite Things from February.



I like my TV shows weird. In fact, the weirder, the better. The Kettering Incident is weird. It is very, very, weird. It's creepy too. I'd describe it as Twin Peaks meets The X-Files, set in Tasmania. I've heard it described as the Tasmanian Twin Peaks, so I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to describe it as such. This is currently airing in the UK and Ireland on Sky Atlantic. I couldn't wait for episodes to air week to week, so went ahead and binge-watched on Sky Go. Forget Stranger Things (over-rated in my opinion) I''m all about The Kettering Incident.

One annoying thing you should know: A second season of The Kettering Incident has not been commissioned (as far as I know) and I can't find evidence that another season will actually happen. So, if you want all your questions about this show answered (and you will have questions!) maybe don't watch until you know a second season is happening for sure. Or do watch - just be prepared to figure things out for yourself.

*****





The new Deliciously Ella book is my favourite book of Ella's to date.

*****




Garnier micellar oil-infused cleansing water: I've always used the original (pink cap) Garnier micellar water, but last month I decided to go wild and give this one a try. I actually think the original water is better suited to my skin. This one, which contains argan oil,  is for dry and sensitive skin. There's no way in the world that I have dry skin: I just didn't read the description on the bottle before I bought it.  Duh. So, even though this is probably not the best fit for my skin, it smells divine, and that's why I love it. It also leaves a bit of a greasy residue, which is OK if you're using it as the first step in a double-cleanse (which is what I do), but otherwise probably not great. So, why did I put it my favourites? Oh yeah, it smells great.

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream: Provides deep hydration for stressed skin. My skin gets deeply stressed at times. This stress is most usually caused by those terrible twins, winter weather and central heating. This works.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc PCA 1% Blemish Formula:  This is from The Ordinary Range of skincare, which offers high-end products at affordable prices. I've picked up a few pieces from the brand, so may do a full review soon, you know, if I ever get back into writing beauty reviews. (That kinda fell by the wayside, didn't it!) Anyway, so far this has been doing a good job of my blemishes disappear fast -or at least faster than they usually do. And it cost around €6. Worth trying out!

*****



New Music Obsession

Alexandra Savior



*****

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Gathering Dust: The Books That Got Left On The Shelf.





 So here's a little story. 

You might have seen my recent review of The White Princess by Philippa Gregory? I purchased that book around about three years ago now, but for one reason of the other hadn't gotten around to reading it until last week. Admittedly, I was prompted to read it on hearing that the TV adaptation of The White Princess would be hitting screens very soon. Anyway, on finishing the book, which I enjoyed very much, I decided to continue with the series. Goodreads told me that The Constant Princess was the next book up, so I made a mental note to pick up a copy sometime soon. Later, it occurred to me that the cover of The Constant Princess looked familiar and after a a little rummage through my very stacked shelves, I discovered that I was actually in possession of a copy of the book.

It's true. I have so many books that I totally forgot that I, in actual fact, already own a copy of this book.

I'm telling you all this, because on finding my long-forgotten copy of The Constant Princess (I figure I've had it for around about a decade!) I decided to have a look through my shelves and dust off the other books that I bought years ago, but somehow never got around to reading. It soon occurred to me that I have stacks of unread books.  Just some of these books are pictured above. I have lots more. Stacks and stacks of books that once upon a time I considered must-reads and yet, to this day, I have never read any of them.

Why do I do this? And how do I stop? 


Here's a quick run through of the books pictured above, why I wanted to read them, how long I've had them, and also why I've never gotten around to reading them. I figure if I talk about it for long enough, I might actually shame myself into reading all the books I've left gathering dust on my shelves.


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: OK, so first up, Code Name Verity. This is actually a review book that I never got around to reading (tut tut!) In my defence, I rarely request or accept physical review copies, so chances are this was sent to me unsolicited. Still. It totally sounds like something I'd like if I ever got around to reading it. I've had this one since its release in 2012, and I also have a copy of the second book in this series, Rose Under Fire, which I obviously also haven't read. The reason: when it comes to historical fiction, I am very much a mood reader. It's not really an excuse, but it's probably why I set this one aside and then never got around to picking it up again.

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly: This was Erin Kelly's debut novel and I was so super excited to read it that I rushed out and bought a copy way back in 2009.  I'm really not sure why I never got around to reading this one. Did I have something else going on at the time? I'd hazard a guess that I was deep in a Gossip Girl binge-watch, but I really don't know.  What I do know is that I probably won't ever read this book.  I have a confession to make: I always read the book before checking out the movie or TV adaptation, but in the instance of The Poison Tree, I broke my own rule by watching the TV adaptation a few years back. Since it's a psychological thriller and I already know all the twists, I fear I've kinda ruined for myself what would probably have been an enjoyable reading experience. Boo.

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory: I reckon I've had this for around a decade, maybe a bit less. I probably bought it after reading The Other Boleyn Girl and then, like so many books before and after it, it just fell by the wayside. Thankfully, The White Princess has re-invigorated my interest in all things Tudor, so I plan on getting to this one soon. Yay!

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver: When I first started blogging (way back in 2010!) Before I Fall was the book everyone was talking about. I didn't read it, though. I still haven't. I can't actually remember how I came to be in possession of this. I either won it in a giveaway or a kind blogger friend sent it to me (I'm thinking Tammy or Simay but I am really not sure. My bad). Anyway, I started reading this last year, and my bookmark tells me that I got as far as page 135, before giving up. Hmm. I seem to remember that I wasn't really feeling the book, but at the same time, I went though a major reading slump last year, so maybe I'll get back to it at some point.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons: This book has been on my shelf for the longest time; so long that I can't even remember how long I've had it. I really, really, really want to read this, but my copy has the tiniest text. It's so small I'd need a magnifying glass to read it! Seriously.  I don't know why the book was printed this way.  I'm planning on picking up the e-book of this at some point. Not only does the book have teeny tiny text, it also weighs a ton.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: I think I picked this one up at a second-hand store. Either that or Bookmooch. Remember Bookmooch? Is it still around? Anyway, I've heard all good things about this book and it won The Booker Prize, so I should really read it sometime soon. Looking through it now though, I see that this book also has really small text, though not as tiny as ridiculously small text in The Bronze Horseman. 

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick: I actually have two copies of this book. The copy pictured is one I ordered on import from the US when the book first released over there in 2012.  You'd think I'd have read it after going to such trouble, not to mention expense. Then I have an ARC from when the book released in the UK last year. I also have a copy of What I Thought Was True by the same author. Haven't read that either. I need to add these books to my Summer reading list. I've heard amazing things!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: I know exactly when I bought this book. I bought it on the week of its release back in 2010. For a few years running I used to joke with my blogger friend Vicki that any day now we'd get around to reading this 670 page book. I'm not sure if Vicki ever got around to reading it, but I know I didn't. I also have a copy of Morton's The Forgotten Garden that's been gathering dust on my shelves for even longer than this one. Ooops. I remember liking Morton's The House at Riverton, so maybe I should actually read this. Any day now, I swear.



There you go. Just some of the books that have been left to gather dust on my shelves. Do you have any books that you rushed out to buy but then just didn't get around to reading for whatever reason? Tell me: why do we do this?

Tell me about the books that have been gathering dust on your shelf for the longest time.  

Which of my 'left on the shelf' books do you recommend I read first?  Let me know in comments!


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.


Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
Paperback, 549 pages.
Release date: February 27th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Series: The Cousins' War #5.
Reviews of Other Books in Series: The White Queen, The Red Queen.
Source: Purchased.

 The haunting story of the mother of the Tudors, Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII. Beautiful eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville - the White Queen - the young princess Elizabeth faces a conflict of loyalties between the red rose and the white. Forced into marriage with Henry VII, she must reconcile her slowly growing love for him with her loyalty to the House of York, and choose between her mother's rebellion and her husband's tyranny. Then she has to meet the Pretender, whose claim denies the House of Tudor itself.



 Think you have the mother-in-law from hell? Think again…

When Elizabeth of York marries King Henry VII, following the defeat of her uncle Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, she not only inherits the title of Queen, she also inherits Henry’s mother, the deeply religious yet unnervingly ruthless Margaret Beaufort, who will do just about anything to keep her only son on the throne. Right from the start, it is made clear to Elizabeth that her marriage is necessary evil, a political alliance forged in order to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and bring to an end, once and for all, the bloody battles that have characterised The Cousins War.  Of course, in the Fifteenth Century, such an arranged marriage was not unusual. Rather, it was the norm. But for Elizabeth, marriage to Henry is difficult on a number of counts. First off, she saw her parents, King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, marry for love. Then, there is the fact that, as depicted here by Philippa Gregory, she is deeply in love with her uncle, Richard III, whom she had been expecting to marry when he returned victorious from the Battle of Bosworth. But, as we know from history, battles don’t always go to plan. Instead, as this book opens, Richard is dead, and Elizabeth is expected to marry the man who took -some might say stole- his crown.

Wow, what a time Elizabeth of York lived in. Unlike her grandmother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and her mother Elizabeth Woodville before her, Elizabeth of York is not to full of mischief, plotting and scheming. Rather, she keeps her head down and her mouth shut. And who can blame her? She lives in a court where her every word, her every move, is reported back to Margaret Beaufort, who is just biding her time until she can disgrace her daughter-in-law as a traitor. Though Henry has the crown, he can never rest easy in his rule. The people of England see the crown as ill-gotten, and Henry as a usurper. Many are still loyal to the house of York, and are just waiting for the day when a York heir rallies troops and rises against the king. To this end, Elizabeth lives in a court that is increasingly suspicious and untrustworthy of those around them. Henry is especially suspicious of Elizabeth’s mother, the wily Elizabeth Woodville, and is fearful that she may have an ace up her sleeve: a rightful York heir in the shape of her son, Richard, who went missing from the Tower of London, years before.

Henry deals with many of these supposed York heirs over the course of his rule, boys who come from far and wide to stake a claim on the throne. The most famous of these is Perkin Warbeck, who is depicted here as the rightful York heir, Richard of Shrewsbury.  In his good looks, his brilliant smile and his easy charm, Elizabeth recognises her brother at once, though she can never identify him. To do so would be to deny her own children, Arthur and Henry, the heirs to the Tudor crown.

I’m so glad I finally got around to reading The White Princess in anticipation of its TV adaptation. For some reason it always takes me an age to get around to reading historical fiction, but when I do, I mostly enjoy it. I guess some historical fiction can be a bit of a slog, but not this series.   Philippa Gregory writes with such verve that though I always devour her novels quite greedily, I am always still hungry for more. And that can only be a good thing. 

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