Monday, 2 March 2020

SHELF LOVE: January Book Challenge



The last few months of 2019 were fairly busy ones for me and, I have to say, I did neglect reading. I just didn't have the time with assignments, exams and the festive season... However, I have set myself a target this year and will aim to read approximately 52 books this year (1 a week) so I will be posting my book reviews regularly again.

I've compiled a list of books I read between towards the end of last year for January's challenge as I did read some really good books that I wanted to share with you. If you want to see what I've been reading, keep scrolling...


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The Testaments - Margaret Atwood, 432 pages
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction

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Blurb:


More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

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Since first reading The Handmaid’s Tale at A Level, I have since watched the Channel 4 series which I have thoroughly enjoyed (although parts have been a little too gruesome). I would highly recommend either reading The Handmaid’s Tale or watching the series, or both, before reading The Testaments as it gives a strong background knowledge of Gilead and will enable you to get into the sequel more quickly.

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This book is everything I could have wanted and more as a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The book is divided into three accounts, or ‘testimonies’ as described: Aunt Lydia, one of the leaders of the teachings of Gilead and an enforcer of the laws ruling the Handmaids; Testimony 369A and Testimony 369B. I struggled at first as the three accounts appeared completely separate and I was unable to see how they were linked in anyway. However, reading on it all became much clearer.

I don’t want to say too much in terms of a review here because I think that anything I say could give too much away. All I will say is that the turn of events that unfold within the novel do not disappoint and have made me so excited for a potential new series of The Handmaid's Tale. I was constantly imagining the book as a series and trying to picture how it would be portrayed on the TV. I personally think, if made into a series, this will be more successful than the Handmaid’s Tale has been so far as the story is fast paced and exciting.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that loves The Handmaid’s Tale - you will not be disappointed! Atwood has written a strong sequel to her first dystopian fiction and it’s evident why she is an award winning author.

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Rating:

*****



The Prison Doctor - Dr Amanda Brown, 261 pages
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

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Blurb:


Violence. Drugs. Suicide. Welcome to the world of a Prison Doctor.

Dr Amanda Brown has treated inmates in the UK’s most infamous prisons – first in young offenders’ institutions, then at the notorious Wormwood Scrubs and finally at Europe’s largest women-only prison in Europe, Bronzefield.

From miraculous pregnancies to dirty protests, and from violent attacks on prisoners to heartbreaking acts of self-harm, she has witnessed it all.

In this eye-opening, inspirational memoir, Amanda reveals the stories, the patients and the cases that have shaped a career helping those most of us would rather forget.

Despite their crimes, she is still their doctor.

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I’m not usually one for a non-Fiction book... I find them quite long and drawn out and I struggle to get into them. I much prefer a fiction book and I’ll be honest, this is mainly what I opt for.

However, this book was definitely an exception. If you know me, you’ll know I’m fascinated with anything crime related (other than committing it myself - just to make that clear lol) - including Documentaries, crime films or series and also studying Criminology itself. I find it so interesting to try and understand what made people act the way they did when committing these crimes so when a fellow blogger recommended this book, I didn’t hesitate in ordering it.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I was hooked from the first couple of chapters onwards and stayed up until the early hours to finish this. I found the stories captivating; learning why people had ended up in prison and why they felt the way they did at certain times. From watching several documentaries and with a friend as an ex-prison officer, I had a brief insight into what it was like but reading prison life from a different perspective, from a doctor’s point of view, was really fascinating.

My only criticism of this book is that is isn’t long enough. I could have easily read another 100+ chapters of her stories and patients. It was extremely well written and kept me focused throughout. Some of the stories were heart breaking and it really does show how helpless some people feel, with prison being their only or best option.

I would definitely recommend this if you want a slightly different book to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would even go as far as saying that it is my favourite book I’ve read in the last few months!

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Rating:

*****


The Rumour - Lesley Kara, 320 pages
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Psychological

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Blurb:


When single mum Joanna hears a rumour at the school gates, she never intends to pass it on. But one casual comment leads to another and now there’s no going back . . .

Rumour has it that a notorious child killer is living under a new identity, in their sleepy little town of Flinstead-on-Sea.

Sally McGowan was just ten years old when she stabbed little Robbie Harris to death forty-eight years ago – no photos of her exist since her release as a young woman.

So who is the supposedly reformed killer who now lives among them? How dangerous can one rumour become? And how far will Joanna go to protect her loved ones from harm, when she realizes what it is she’s unleashed?

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I read this book in one sitting and it took me around 3.5 hours to read - I just couldn’t put it down. The first few chapters I found quite slow as there were a lot of new characters introduced and reintroduced but once I got my head round this, and the story properly began, I was hooked. I wanted to know whether the rumour was true and I was continually guessing which character the killer was, if any.

This book was full of twists and was a rollercoaster towards finding out the truth. I was so surprised when I learnt the identity of the killer and continued to be surprised until the very last line of the book.

Very good read and would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves a fast paced thriller.

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Rating:

****



The Ice Beneath Her - Camilla Grebe, 369 pages
Genre: Crime, Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Fiction

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Blurb:


A young woman is found beheaded in an infamous business tycoon's marble-lined hallway.

The businessman, scandal-ridden CEO of the retail chain Clothes & More, is missing without a trace.

But who is the dead woman? And who is the brutal killer who wielded the machete?

Rewind two months earlier to meet Emma Bohman, a sales assistant for Clothes & More, whose life is turned upside down by a chance encounter with Jesper Orre. Insisting that their love affair is kept secret, he shakes Emma's world a second time when he suddenly leaves her with no explanation.

As frightening things begin to happen to Emma, she suspects Jesper is responsible. But why does he want to hurt her? And how far would he go to silence his secret lover?

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This book started out quite slow and I struggled to get into it. There were quite wordy descriptions including names of the Swedish roads/towns that I had to read several times to pronounce properly and I didn’t entirely see the need for. However, I wanted to give it a chance as I had only read a couple of chapters at this point. I hate - okay, maybe too strong a word - strongly dislike starting a book and not finishing it unless it’s mind-numbingly dull so my curiosity got the better of me and I continued reading.

As it progressed, I found that I really enjoyed the main characters in this book. The chapters were split between three characters: Peter, a troubled detective with a failed marriage, commitment issues and an overall dissatisfaction of his life; Emma, a young employee of a large incorporation with an exciting but secretive relationship; and Hanne, a retired detective with early on-set dementia, called in to assist with a murder investigation. Grebe described the characters in a way that made them feel almost familiar to the reader and unravelled more about each as the novel progressed. It also provided some cliff-hanger style moments that left you wanting to know more about that individual’s situation at the time, as each character’s chapter would begin a fresh, discussing their personal events.

Towards the end of the book, it became quite clear to me what had happened so I wouldn’t say that the twist entirely shocked me. I thought it was very cleverly written and until the final few chapters, it was at all not evident to me. I surprised myself at how much I got into this book - I enjoyed the ‘police investigation’ style narrative mixed with the personal thoughts and experiences of each character, both past and present.

I would definitely recommend reading this book. It’s the perfect book to read on holiday or on an evening when you’re tucked up in bed.

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Rating:

***



Still Alice - Lisa Genova, 340 pages
Genre: Fiction

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Blurb:


Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics, with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow forgetful and disoriented, she dismisses it for as long as she can until a tragic diagnosis changes her life - and her relationship with her family and the world around her - for ever.

Unable to care for herself, Alice struggles to find meaning and purpose as her concept of self gradually slips away. But Alice is a remarkable woman, and her family learn more about her and each other in their quest to hold on to the Alice they know. Her memory hanging by a frayed thread, she is living in the moment, living for each day. But she is still Alice.

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This book was selected for November’s Book Club read and, I’ll be completely honest, I put off reading it until the very last minute. Alzheimer’s is an illness very close to my heart and I think, for that reason, it is not a subject I like to think about for prolonged periods of time. It is, in my eyes, one of the worst illnesses a person could get as they lose their sense of identity, awareness, dignity and a lot of the time themselves entirely.

Still Alice was an extremely well-written and clear insight into an individual with early onset dementia; from pre-diagnosis to the stage where the disease sadly takes over. Genova focused on the small details that might mean a lot to someone, for example Alice’s need to write detailed to-do lists and reminders in her BlackBerry each day, as well as her families struggle to understand the need for this at times.

I found this book extremely sad to read and the writing style adopted by Genova made it very clear just how quickly the Alzheimer’s had taken control of Alice’s daily functioning and memory. The ending of each chapter post diagnosis was a list of questions for Alice to answer and it was evident as the book progressed, that the answers to these questions were not as readily available anymore.

I wouldn’t recommend this book if you are looking for a heartwarming, uplifting, cheery read. Although the final few chapters were nice, it still massively highlighted the overwhelming nature of the condition and the impact it had on each individual close to Alice (including herself). However, it is a strong account of an Alzheimer’s diagnosee and their journey.

PS. This definitely did make me cry.

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Rating:

****

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Thank you for reading. If you've read any of the above, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

To read my previous Book Challenges, click below:


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