Book Review: Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun

Fan of the supernatural? Then read on. This is a great little short story you will love.

Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun tells the story of Veronica and Sebastian’s new and exciting relationship. After meeting on an online dating website and enjoying a first date at a spooky restaurant, they become intertwined for life. How? They are visited by ghosts from their past who bring with them a shocking secret.

This story spooked me out as I was reading it. The storyline was well written using simple language and easy to follow, but there was something about how Braun writes that gave me goosebumps. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was but I think it was how the setting was provided; it made me feel like I was right there also watching those ghosts. 

At just 38 pages long, one would expect there to be very little space for exploration. However, the story wasn’t rushed at all and the novella felt longer than it was. There was even enough time to add a twist in the middle, which I certainly didn’t see coming. In terms of character creation, we pretty much learn everything about Veronica and Sebastian at the start, but they are developed enough that they become attractive to the reader and we begin to have a sense of sympathy toward them.

It is hard to please readers with a short story and, for me, ‘the bigger the better’ is the case when it comes to the length of a book. But, this absolutely won me over. Braun has peaked my interest further in short stories but, even more so, in her work. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!

This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun

Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun

Book Review: The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin

I was contacted by the publisher of The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner to review this book. They thought I might like it as I live in Berlin and tweet a lot about mental health. I thought the same. What happened was that I actually ended up LOVING this book.

The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner begins with 80-year-old Alfred travelling from England to Berlin to meet his granddaughter for the first time. He has a family secret his must share in order to save her, and it must be told before he dies in 6 days time.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the main character, Alfred. I couldn’t help but love Alfred, in a granddaughter/grandfather type of way. He is first introduced as a wee boy and I warmed to him even then. I admired his sense of family and his morals. But he was also a character I felt slightly confused. *Spoiler Alert* Alfred spends some time enlisted as a Nazi soldier, not out of choice and it is certainly not a cause he believes in. Everything in life to this point told me is that people associated with Nazism should not be liked or forgiven. Yet I loved Alfred. A nice life complexity thrown in by the author, I think.

Although Alfred stood out to me, there were some other great characters in this book: Isobel, Julie, John, Alice. However, they never really came into their own when I would like to have known more about them. Nevertheless, they play their part well in the story, as catalysts of Alfred’s story.

The structure of the book was pretty unusual, but I liked it. Alfred’s story is told chronologically but by different narrators: himself, Julie and his granddaughter, Brynja. The narrators tied together very well and brought all periods of life together: Alfred’s past, his impending death and Brynja’s future.

Most of all, I loved how this book dealt with the notion of mental health. This book dealt with voice hearing, but, for me, it could have been removed and replaced by any mental health issue. What was important was that it showed any number of people could be dealing with the same illness, but how they handle it and how it affects them is completely different. It showed the reader how one solution does not suit all, and how important it is to help people believe they are not ‘crazy’, in want of a better word. I love Juliet Conlin for doing this.

This was probably the hardest book review I ever had to write. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I loved it way too much. I don’t think Joyful Antidotes can do the story justice. All I can recommend you to do is buy the book for you and all your friends.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin

Book Review: The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin

 

Book Review: Blank Space by Jennifer Young

If you know me in a non-internet sense, you will know that, since reading Gone Girl, I have been crying out for a book that would keep me guessing. Thank you, Jennifer Young, for providing that book to me. 

According to Goodreads, Blank Space is as follows:

“When Bronte O’Hara finds an injured man in her kitchen in the run-up to an international political summit in Edinburgh, a world she thought she’d left behind catches up with her. When the man makes his escape, the police seem less interested in finding out where he went and how he came to be there than they are in Bronte’s past – more specifically, her ex-boyfriend, Eden Mayhew. Eden’s an anarchist, up to his neck in any trouble around – and he’s missing. The police are keen to find him, certain that he’ll come back. Who can she trust – and what has Eden’s disappearance got to do with the handsome stranger?”

I’ve read Young before (Running Man) and enjoyed her work. While both books contain the romance she so wonderfully writes, this certainly leans more toward romantic suspense. And there was a lot of suspense. The story immediately opens with it: Just who is this handsome man lying unconscious on Bronte’s floor? We are made to believe one thing but the first twist comes less than 50 pages in, and they keep coming throughout this entire book, right until the very end. For me, each of these twists was as shocking as the last. Young took a well-loved mystery genre and made it her own.

There was some good character development in this book but it wasn’t the strongest point. For many characters, basically, what you saw was what you got from the start. But there is nothing wrong with this when an author creates characters which evoke feelings in you. I felt pity for Bronte, anger at Eden and developed a tiny crush on Marcus – that is when you know a book has got you hooked.

Overall, this was a well-written story with a great flow. I was really sucked in by what was happening and felt drawn to the book whenever I had a spare minute. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Blank Space by Jennifer Young

Book Review: Blank Space by Jennifer Young

Book Review: To Die To Live by Jason Hershey

Admittedly, I am not a big fan of short stories, neither am I of YA fiction. However, sometimes there are books which come along that break through this wall, and To Die To Live by Jason Hershey was certainly one.

To Die To Live tells the story of Thelonious “Theo” Mitchell who is adopted by his aunt and uncle following the loss of his mother. Having started a new school, he forms a strong friendship with the class “troublemaker”. When another tragedy strikes Theo, it leaves him pondering his life path and the meaning of it all.

This book deals with a lot of themes: friendship, loss, grief, embracing life. And, like many similar stories, it is sprinkled with inspiration and motivation. Sounds like thousands of other books out there, you might say? But this book is different; it is special. 

Hershey has a wonderful way of writing which really puts you right in the head of a teenage boy. As I read every word, I became Theo and his feelings bubbled up inside me. The writing was very sombre, I would say, and simple, but that just added to the emotion I felt. It was a short story so not every detail was described but I liked this. Often, what you imagine is worse than the reality. What was not said by Hershey was imagined by me. Whether that was intentional or not, it added to the desired effect.

Hershey dealt with the theme of teenage grief wonderfully and I think this was the strongest part of the book. As mentioned above, not everything was explained. Again, this may have been a writing tactic but it was also a tactic of truth. Not everything in life can be explained, especially grief, and even more so, teenage grief.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this story but, for sure, it was a whole lot more than I though. The perfect length to cover during a short commute, I certainly recommend picking up a copy and reminding yourself life is there to be lived.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: To Die To Live by Jason Hershey

Book Review: To Die To Live by Jason Hershey

Book Review: Strip Naked and Re-dress with Happiness: How to survive and thrive through personal challenge by Maria Hocking

 

Strip Naked and Re-dress with Happiness: How to survive and thrive through personal challenge by Maria Hocking is the latest in my self-help readings. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily define it as a self-help book. The Goodreads blurb describes it as a handbook, but I would consider it more of a memoir.

The theme of the book is “getting naked” and it stems from the author’s personal experiences, starting from a diagnosis of alopecia and how she “redressed” herself and changed her life. Each chapter is based almost like a chapter of Hocking’s life where she describes what has happened her, how she felt and how she dealt with it. The personal side of the chapter is followed by what she calls “Changing Room Tips”, which are tools and techniques for the reader to better understand themselves and make changes.

Upon starting this book, I was rather excited. I felt that the advice was coming from a different point of view and I immediately got a sense of confidence in the way that Hocking writes. However, I was not a major fan of the “Changing Room Tips” and these let the book down for me. Maybe it is because I have read too many similar books in the past, but I felt that they had nothing new to offer. In fact, some I have heard repeated so often by others they felt a bit cheesy for me. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Hocking’s personal story. It did for me what the tips couldn’t: made me want to be as strong as this woman.

There were two aspects of this book which reached out to me and which I feel will stick around for a while. One is the statement “what you believe about yourself may not be true.” This is something I am guilty of but hadn’t realised before. Since reading that one sentence, I haven’t changed my entire mindset (yet), but I feel I am approaching things with more of a ‘can-do’ attitude. However, the biggest turning point in the book for me was when Hocking stopped trying to fit in. While I did agree with her advice until this point, it was only when she fully accepted herself that I thought, “now you have it, girl”. This was my biggest inspiration and what I will concentrate on most.

Not saying that I wouldn’t recommend this book, it just wouldn’t be my first choice in terms of self-help. I truly think I would have enjoyed it more if Hocking simply told her story. Saying that, there are still some good points to be taken from it so pick up a copy if you think this is your kind of thing.

I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

Strip Naked and Re-dress with Happiness: How to survive and thrive through personal challenge by Maria Hocking

Strip Naked and Re-dress with Happiness: How to survive and thrive through personal challenge by Maria Hocking

Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

I’m a late-comer to Stephen King and I’ve only started to collect his books recently, which is great because there are LOADS to get through. But how hard are they to find second-hand?! I guess nobody wants to leave them go.

Anyway, this is a review of King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I mentioned the whole second-hand thing above firstly, as a rant, and secondly because this is the only King book so far I have found at a flea market. The excitement led me to blindly buying it not knowing what it was about. For those of you who are also in the dark, it tells the story of 9-year-old Trisha McFarland as she strays from the path during a hike through the woods with her mother and brother. A huge fan of Tom Gordon, the Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, she visualizes him with her as she tries to survive the dangerous  thing which is tracking her.

Easily known I’m a relative newbie to King, as I expected The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon to be a horror story. And I guess being lost in the woods does equate in a way as horror but, more so, this was a story of survival. As you might imagine, the story focuses 90% of the time on Trisha, her thoughts and what she is going through. When I realised this, it made me wary of continuing as I usually don’t like books which focus on one person who is alone. I yearned for the inclusion of more people coming up to halfway through the book but, after that, I was completely enthralled and couldn’t care less.

Although I said this book wasn’t a horror, it didn’t stop King giving me the tingles he usually does. The entire book was a ball of anticipation for me and I just needed to know what was following Trisha in the woods. Now, trying not to provide any spoilers, I have to say that the disclosure of this knowledge was a bit of a disappointment to me, but, overall, it didn’t take too much away from my enjoyment of the story.

Above anything else, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon showed me just what a great writer Stephen King is. The imagination put into this book was fantastic and I really felt that the mind of a 9-year-old girl was truly captured. There were some parts where Trisha was quite mature and the adult brain behind her character was apparent, but her childish side was impressively displayed, particularly through her idolisation of Tom Gordon and her friend, Pepsi.

Was this the best King book I have read? Even with a small collection, the answer is no. ‘Salem’s Lot is still number one for me. Would I recommend this to others? Of course! A short, imaginative page-tuner, you can’t really go wrong with it.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Book Review: When Your Child is Gay: What You Need to Know by Wesley C. Davidson and Dr. Jonathan Tobkes

For a while, I didn’t really know how to start this post, then decided to just tell you the reason why I choose to review it: I still think there is too much homophobia in this world and if there is any small way I can help promote acceptance, I will do it.

When Your Child is Gay: What You Need to Know is written by Wesley C. Davidson, a popular blogger on gay rights issues, and Dr Jonathan Tobkes, a New York City-based psychiatrist. It is a collection of case studies, interviews and doctoral advice with the aim to help families navigate better when a child comes out as gay.

I should let you know here that I am not gay and I haven’t had the experience of a close family member or friend coming out as gay, so I can’t vouch for any advice in this book personally. I don’t want to offend anybody by reviewing this book but I would like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The part which appealed to me most in this book was the inclusion of personal stories. There were some pretty heartfelt stories, either because of fully accepting and loving parents, or because of my sympathy for the storyteller who had to experience cruel rejection. There was also some good advice provided through the stories as many of them came from a parent rather than the child themselves.

I also felt the “doctor section” of the book was very well done. Each chapter of the book recalled stories of parents and children who went through various stages of emotion: anger, denial, acceptance, etc. We hear real life stories, as a reader, and are then provided with a medical opinion as to why the parents were feeling like this. It was a good insight into the human brain, and the advice given in this section was valuable.

However, I feel that the most beneficial aspect of this book was that it was written by someone who has been through this, someone who wasn’t afraid to admit that, although they are very supportive, also went through stages of disbelief. This made for a non-patronising tone to the book.

Personally, I found this book an interesting read from the psychology point of view. However, I think there is so much more to be taken from it if you are in the position of having a gay child. Check this out if you are, or recommend it to someone you know; I think they will thank you for it.

This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

When Your Child is Gay: What You Need to Know by Wesley C. Davidson and Dr. Jonathan Tobkes

When Your Child is Gay: What You Need to Know by Wesley C. Davidson and Dr. Jonathan Tobkes

 

Book Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Do you know what brings a lot of satisfaction in life? A book you weren’t sure about turning out to be frickin’ amazing!

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch tells the story of Peter Grant, a probationary constable who winds up as a Detective Constable and trainee wizard. Now, if the blurb of the actual book had mentioned the term “wizard”, I would have been excited right from the start. But the only thing that initially intrigued me about this book was a review which claimed Peter Grant is Harry Potter had he grown up and joined the Metropolitan Police (side note: you could argue that he did with the Ministry of Magic. Right?). 

Despite early scepticism, I was hooked on Rivers of London just one chapter in. This story is very original and not like any I had read before. Yes, I did make a slight comparison to Harry Potter but slight is the key word here. There was magic, yes, but the theme lay more with the supernatural than anything else (Grant realises he has a “gift” when he takes a witness statement from a dead man). 

If you are not a fan of magic, then don’t click off this review just yet. For sure, this is a book directed toward a more mature age and includes sexual references and murder descriptions you wouldn’t necessarily read your 10-year-old at bedtime. Also, it is extremely witty and full of the dry British humour you just have to love. This goes well with the more serious aspects of the book. It shows just how good a writer is when they can successfully combine the paranormal with Dante references and still include laugh out loud moments. 

In terms of the book’s characters, there are none who were completely unlikable. But for me, the star of the show was the leading character, Peter Grant. It is Grant who brings most of the wit to the story. He is the character you root for and the one whose personality connects most with us ordinary folk. He is also a personification of London. His constant references and mentions of little details such as tube stops and street names really made the city come to life. The best thing, though, was that he was a modern character: a young black male. You don’t see many of those in books. Of course, this led to some racial references throughout the story. However, they weren’t too heavy and were relayed more in a casual, tell it like it is kinda way.

Finally, my day was made when I found out that this book is in fact of a series. Rejoice the book gods! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next instalment. In the meantime, I wholly recommend you jump on the bandwagon with Rivers of London.

Book Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots by Gloria Oren

Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots by Gloria Oren is a memoir of her adoption, from how she came to be adopted to her search for her birth mother, right through to the first meeting with her biological family. It is a story of loss, survival, determination and persistence, and, thankfully, one with a happy ending. I had never before read such a story as this so, combined with my general nosiness, I knew it was one I had to pick up. 

The main thing I liked about Bonded at Birth was how beautifully written it was. The language was simple yet descriptive, and not packed with too much information. It brought some wonderful images to mind, particularly the recalled time of a childhood trip to Coney Island. The visuals which I imagined made me feel like I was really stepping into Gloria’s shoes.

The hardships which Gloria endured, as well as the hundreds of emotions she felt, were related very well. Adoption is not a process I have ever had experience in but I felt a tug in my heart when Gloria’s search hit a dead-end and had an elated feeling each time she was connected with a family member. However, what stood out to me the most was the apparent love she had for her adopted parents and I enjoyed how she told of her special bond with them. Yes, it might be easy to write about such things when you have experienced them yourself, but I really think Gloria’s talent in writing is what successfully transferred these feelings to the reader. What really struck a chord was the chapter which told of her adopted father’s death. I was saddened but equally amazed how many years later Gloria could recall this time as if she were still a child.

As a side note, I found that this book personally brought to me more than an adoptee’s tale. Gloria was raised in a Jewish household and throughout the book, she mentions a number of Jewish traditions which I didn’t know about, but found very interesting. I also found I learned some tidbits about Israel as she told of her time there. Yes, this information doesn’t have much to do with the main story, but it was something that pulled me in a bit more.

Unfortunately, there was one small negative to this book: in my opinion, there was not enough of the book spent on her search. For me, over half of the book was spent by Gloria speaking about her childhood. I do think it was necessary to have that information in order to build a rounded story, however, I do think it was a bit much and took away from the point of the book, her search. 

Overall, I would recommend Bonded at Birth, not only to adult adoptees who no doubt would benefit from reading this, but anyone who enjoys a heartwarming story. Should Gloria Oren ever decide to expand more on her life, she can count me in as a reader.

I was sent a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee's Search for Her Roots by Gloria Oren

Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots by Gloria Oren

Book Review: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

I wanted to start this blog posy by stating, “I don’t always read for fun”, but who am I kidding? Reading is always fun! Seriously though, I do like to expand my knowledge and reading is the best way for me to do so.

As a content marketing professional, it was evident that someday I would pick up a copy of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner. English is a tough language and there have been times I have questioned myself as to whether my grammar and punctuation was correct. As the bestselling grammar book out there, I knew this wouldn’t steer me wrong.

Woe Is I covers everything from pronouns to the possessive to a new chapter on the internet. Admittedly, I was already aware of 80% of what was told in this book, but those who think there is nothing new to learn from it are wrong. What I, and others to whom I have offered the information to, found particularly useful was the chapter “Words on the Endangered List”, whose name speaks for itself. Also an eye-opener was the long list of words provided which we often use incorrectly in today’s language. Those new to the digital world will find the section on email writing useful.

Considering the majority of this book contained rules and tips I had already learned in school, it would be understandable to think that this would have been a boring read for me: it wasn’t. O’Conner writes with a certain wit that actually keeps you interested, no matter how mundane the topic is. Also, there is nothing complicated about this book. Like the title says, it is written in plain English, making it ideal for non-native speakers learning English for the first time or simply improving their skills.

Overall, I have found this book very useful. Not only did it allow me to sharpen my grammar and punctuation, it helped my fall in love with the English language again. Pick up this book for a lengthy list of the dos and don’ts of grammar, and help alleviate the common mistakes almost everyone makes.

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Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English