At the beginning of lockdown I told myself I’d get back into reading. I’m ashamed to say that until a few weeks ago I hadn’t opened a book since last summer! I always adored reading when I was at school, but as I’ve got older, my spare time has dwindled and I’ve prioritised other hobbies. However, since being furloughed I’ve been making my way through my ‘To Read’ pile and it’s reminded me how much I adore my books. Therefore, I thought I’d start a new series on my blog where I post a handful of mini reviews of some of my recent reads.
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The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
London. 1850. On a crowded street, the dollmaker Iris Whittle meets the artist Louis Frost. Louis is a painter who yearns to have his work displayed in the Royal Academy, and he is desperate for Iris to be his model. Iris agrees, on the condition that he teaches her to paint.
Dreaming of freedom, Iris throws herself into a new life of art and love, unaware that she has caught the eye of a second man. Silas Reed is a curiosity collector, enchanted by the strange and beautiful. After seeing Iris at the site of the Great Exhibition he finds he cannot forget her.
As Iris’s world expands, Silas’s obsession grows. And it is only a matter of time before they meet again…
When I read the blurb of The Doll Factory I figured the book would be your typical love-triangle drama; slightly predictable and peppered with clichés. The first half was exactly what I’d expected and proved to be bit of a slow burner – I kept putting it down. However, the second half completely drew me in and kept me reading until 3am – it was as if the last 200 pages had been written by a different person! The story quickly switched from a conventional romance to a dark and twisted thriller.
The book is beautifully written and very well researched – I loved the author’s descriptions of Victorian London. The characters are carefully crafted although I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable (apart from maybe Albie, the mischievous street urchin). Even though I couldn’t put it down towards the end, the pacing really threw me off – the first half took forever to pick up and was flecked with unnecessary dialogue and side stories. When the climax finally came, everything happened so fast and the ending fell a bit flat, leaving me wanting more resolution.
There’s also several detailed accounts of animal cruelty which I hated and had to skip.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…
Chick-lit isn’t usually my cup of tea but since this received such glowing reviews I decided to give it a try. It’s a sweet and endearing story and I found myself smiling to myself several times whilst reading it. I really enjoyed the first few hundred pages, where Tiffy and Leon haven’t yet met and are communicating through post-it notes. Sadly, it seemed to lose its magic around halfway and I found myself rushing to finish it.
On reflection, I found the plot achingly predictable and the dialogue a little too cheesy in places. I did, however, adore Leon and Richie’s characters and I enjoyed the side story involving the war veteran. This was a pleasant enough read – perfect if you’re after something light and easy – but I wouldn’t reach for it again.
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce
Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…
Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.
Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.
I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.
But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….
I love a good thriller so I knew this would be right up my street. I was hooked instantly – I listened to it on Audible and finished it within 24 hours. I barley spoke to anyone for two days whilst I busied myself cleaning, cooking and sunbathing, all the while following Alison’s disastrous story.
The characters in Blood Orange are all incredibly flawed and well written. I constantly cringed at Alison’s self-destructive nature and poor life decisions, although I did find myself rooting for her towards the end. I predicted there would be some twists and turns but I didn’t expect the story to go where it did – I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about the ending (it’s received mixed reviews online) but it did leave me feeling satisfied.
The book is fast-paced for the most part – it lags slightly around 3/4 of the way through but soon picks up again for the finale. All in all, I really enjoyed this and for me it certainly lived up to the hype. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good crime novel and a bit of character loathing!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
What a magnificent book – definitely my favourite read so far this year. It took me a short while to get into it properly but within a few chapters I was captivated. Where the Crawdads Sing has a bit of everything – mystery, romance and historical fiction, all intertwined within a beautiful coming-of-age story.
The author’s writing is superb and I loved her rich descriptions of the North Carolina Marsh – nature is almost a character by itself. I was invested in Kya, our young protagonist, right from the beginning and my heart broke when her family left her to fend for herself. I really enjoyed following her survival story and her passion and fascination for the land she lived on was so endearing. I found myself tearing up several times whilst reading – I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry!
The time jumps are a little jarring to begin with but they soon become easier to follow. I actually preferred the chapters detailing Kya’s childhood rather than the murder mystery, which surprised me as I love a courtroom drama! I was ready to rate the book 5 stars until the ending came, which for me felt a little off. I know there are so many people who loved it but personally I found myself wanting more resolution.
On the whole I thought this was a glorious novel and I’d recommend it to anyone. Make sure you’ve eaten, however, as the constant descriptions of hearty Southern food will leave you salivating!
What books have you been reading lately? x