Keep you close by Karen Cleveland

Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland, paperback, 400 pages, £7.99, Waterstones

This novel is about work/life balance and what happens when they intertwine. Steph works for the internal investigations department in the FBI whilst her son is finishing his studies before heading off to college/university. However it takes just one knock at the door to flip everyone’s life upside down.

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Background

During the novel there are several flashbacks of Steph’s life before the FBI. Although this information is vital to know, I found that this distracted my attention from the original plot I was trying to follow. This could have been resolved by using chapters to represent the past and present of Steph’s life. The constant change of flashbacks within chapters began to hinder the pace of the novel and ultimately my interest.

Characterisation

Cleveland can create some fantastics characters, especially in her first novel Need to KnowHowever the characters in Keep You Close needed more personality. I didn’t like a few of the main characters, particularly Steph as I felt like she had too many flaws. My favourite character was her son, however I felt like his background and personality was overlooked. This could however emphasise what Steph see and believes. Therefore questioning the readers own judgment of Steph’s son.

Prequel or sequel?

My biggest issue with Keep You Close is how it has tarnished my memory of Cleveland’s first novel. I loved Need to Know and was over the moon to find out that previous characters were in this book too. However I was crestfallen once I had read the epilogue. For this reason I would strongly advise reading this book first and then Need to Know. Otherwise, don’t read the epilogue as it made me as a reader lose hope and feel a defeatist.

If you love twists and turns regardless of characterisation then you may find this book a real head turner. You can purchase Keep You Close here.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The Switch By Beth O’Leary, Hardback, 323 pages, £12.99, Waterstones

Beth O’Leary’s The Switch was released on 16th April and has had a whirlwind of reviews since. The Switch is based around two female characters, Leena and Eileen. After they both go through a difficult time, they decide to switch houses for a change of scenery and to reconnect with themselves. The novel itself is split over London and the Yorkshire Dales which gives the reader a sense of urban and country life. Although this is slightly different from her previous novel, The Flatshare, there are many good qualities that run through both of her books.

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Characterisation

One element that the reader really can acknowledge with The Switch is the fullness of O’Leary’s characters. There are so many characters used, each with their own distinct personality, that it is easy for the reader to relate these characters to people they may know. I’m pretty sure every reader will have lived next to the grumpy man next door or know of a friend who is gorgeous, but has a list down to her arm of qualities a man must have. The amount of depth that O’Leary goes into with her characters is admirable, especially as every single character is so distinctive. It is clearly evident that her characterisation within The Switch is what captivates the audience and propels them through the story.

Family

The concept of family and a sense of belonging is a recurring theme that allows the reader to join Leena and Eileen’s family along the way. At times you may find yourself comparing their family to your own, as you may have shared those many bumps along the road yourself. The family unit in The Switch interprets some areas that may be perceived as unconventional and representing them as the new modern family unit. The support and union can still be seen but feels as if it has almost had a fresh lick of paint to make it seem more realistic.

Reflection

Reflection is also a significant element to the book as so many decisions are left open at the beginning of the novel. It is up to you as a reader to pick up the pieces of this family and to reconnect the dots again. By doing this however, you will begin to reflect on your own life and consider what it is that you want yourself. Admittedly, this book was read during lockdown and time for reflection seems much easier to acquire. However The Switch does make the reader question their own choices and what they define as important to them.

Overall I found this novel an uplifting read in a different way to The Flatshare. Admittedly I found the humour a lot stronger in The Flatshare, however I was looking for a laugh and I found it. The Switch on the other hand is still humorous, but has a more family focused approach. I found Eileen in this novel particularly amusing, especially through the contrast of livelihood and personalities.  I would argue that I felt like I received more closure towards the end of The Switch in comparison to O’Leary’s previous novel, as I felt that the ending was more uplifting and felt like the novel had a strong sense of purpose.

As cliché as this sounds, The Switch isn’t normally a novel I would go for but as I enjoyed The Flatshare so much, I had to give this a read. Since reading both of O’Leary’s books I feel like I have found a new author that I wouldn’t have even encountered, if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone a little. For that, Beth O’Leary, I thank you. I strongly encourage any other readers to step outside your comfort zone and do the same. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!

If anyone would like to purchase the book, I have included a link at the top of my page. Although I managed to buy this in Tesco (the closest I could get to a bookshop), I would strongly recommend purchasing the book at Waterstones through the link above. The link will locate you to a signed copy of this book. At the moment it’s the same price as a regular hardback version of The Switch (if I’d known about this, I would have totally bought this book first!).

Happy Reading!

How does reading benefit a writer?

How does reading benefit a writer?

We’ve all asked and heard the advice, haven’t we? How do I improve writing? Read more. The pure broadness of this answer really doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not saying it’s not correct but it’s not exactly useful either. This post will delve into this question with a little more focus on what type of reading to consider and how we will be able to use our reading to our writing advantage.

 

What do you like to write?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself. You might like to write a specific genre, ie. thriller, romance etc, or you may prefer to write for a particular audience. Are you writing for a male, female audience for example? Or do you perhaps like to write for a younger audience? Whatever your answer is to this question, this is the type of reading that will help you. If you would like to write romantic YA novel, then that is the genre you know you need to read more. By doing this, you will soon begin to acknowledge what you find gripping and therefore what your readers will find gripping. You might even discover a technique that you really despise and know definitely what NOT to do in your own work. 

 

Whether you like or dislike the book – learn from it.

Just because you did not enjoy reading a certain book, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from it. I once read a book that was given to me as a gift. At first I thought I would enjoy it but the author kept going off track to explain the characters backgrounds. It was really annoying but I persevered and realised afterwards that my books need to be more concise and fast paced. Quick task: Have a look through your books on your bookshelf and consider what you didn’t like about them. Was it plot, the way the characters were presented to you, or was it unrealistic? Once you have done this, consider what would have made it a better read. Whatever you think the improvements should be, take that advice and include it within your own writing. Remember you have been a reader here and have been disappointed with the outcome – only you as a reader can put that right by doing so in your own writing.

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Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Learn from your heroes.

If you have a favourite author you jump to when you pick up a new book, consider what you like about them. You might like the author because of how they grab your attention within the first few paragraphs, or you may find their dialogue really engaging. Here is were you can learn from them. If you struggle with dialogue for example, pick a scene that your author has created the demonstrates a great conversation. Now begin to analyse what makes their writing so engaging. Is it the word choice, the action that is placed in-between the conversation or perhaps it just seems effortless? Keep this scene in front of you and then have a go at mimicking this style in a scene of your own writing. You may find that this really helps you with your dialogue, you may even think that it doesn’t sound like you – and that’s okay. That just shows that you already know your own writing style.

 

Write a book review

Writing a book review can really help you understand the main themes of a book and help you consider how these can impact your own work. Sometimes when writing it can be easy to get lost in the genre you’re writing. However if you read a book in the genre you are wanting to write, you will be able to acknowledge any underlying themes that occur in this genre. Writing a review also helps you analyse plot, pacing and characterisation in greater detail. Sometimes the author can even write in such a way that the characters take over and drive the rest of the plot forward. However it is only with writing a book review that all of the authors hard labour of writing the book can be acknowledged.

By doing all of the above, the concept of ‘read more’ seems more solidified to me. Ultimately you can interpret the answer to the original question whichever you like. However I stand by that the concept of reading more was to be subjective to a writer’s own interpretation to their chosen genre. Feel free to have a go at my suggestions and let me know if they work for you. 

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, paperback, 391 pages, Waterstones £5.99.

I initially picked this book up out of Tesco’s (currently 2 for £8) as I wanted a funny, happy and uplifting read and I feel that I got just that with this book.

The Flatshare is about two people who decide to share a flat at different times and days of the week. Leon is a nurse that works nightshifts and Tiffy works in publishing craft books. The novel itself reflects the point of view of both Tiffy and Leon in simultaneous chapters. Along with the character’s points of view, comes along various themes to be discovered.

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Friendship – A really strong element to this book is friendship. Although there are two main friends to the main character, the book also shows the importance of friendship in the workplace and how they can also impact our mental state and our enjoyment at work. This is reflected through both Tiffy’s work colleague Rachel and Leon’s patients Holly and Mr.Prior. All of the characters add something extra to each friendship and helps the reader relate to the characters and their experiences.

Love and Gaslighting – Gaslighting is a strong theme in this book, however (pardon the pun) it gradually comes to light for the reader, so that it doesn’t take away from the characters or plot itself. You could argue that this only enriches the characters experience.

Humour – One element that is consistent throughout this novel is humour. Part of this book’s charm is that it is so relatable to many readers that it will have you laughing both at the characters and yourself. Describing someones eyes as being as ‘brown as Lindt chocolate,’ I thought was personally genius. It strikes me as one of those novels where everything you want to say but daren’t, is said. 

After reading The Flatshare I felt it had an uplifting plot that left me with a smile on my face and a few aching stomach muscles. Once I had finished reading it, I looked up Beth O’Leary’s inspiration for the novel. After discovering that O’Leary wanted her book to be ‘a book you reach for when you need a hug,’ I could not believe how well the feeling I had experienced, matched her description.

I normally read thrillers but I wanted a change to something that was a bit more upbeat. Thinking I needed a laugh in lockdown, I gave this a try. I therefore would not say that you don’t need to read Chick Lit, in order to give this book a read. If you want to laugh, have some fun and let your hair down (if you have any!), then this is it!

You can buy this book at most supermarkets (as is her other book, The Switch, which I’ll be reviewing also) or via Waterstones, as mentioned above.

Happy Reading and stay safe!

The Bear and the Nightingale

‘The snow fell thrice, deep and solid, after midwinter, and after the last snowfall came a great blue frost, when men felt their breath stop in their nostrils and weak things grew apt to die in the night.’

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The Bear and the Nightingale By Katherine Arden invites its readers to be entranced by Russian fairytales and traditional folklore. The Bear and the Nightingale is about a young girl called Vasilisa and her journey to adulthood. Vasilisa however is bound for greatness, something in which her stepmother, Anna wants for her own daughter. Once Vasilisa’s father remarries, incidents begin to occur that threatens her village and her home. It is best described as a coming of age novel that is encased in fairy tales.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-15-43-27The language that Arden has used is descriptive when it needs to be and lyrical, throughout. The lyrical prose blends itself well to the voice of Vasilisa as it expresses a sense of naivety and purity. The description in the novel appears very similar to that of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. Both texts describe with their senses and it was rather refreshing to read about the winter-king in the peak of summer. Arden’s language also demonstrates her extensive research into Russian fairytales and traditional folklore. It is for this reason that this piece could be described as authentic. Each page oozes droplets of Russian culture whilst allowing the reader to breeze through the novel.

The plot itself mirrors the structure of sheet music. Every scene, discussion and description is needed to carry the reader deep into the novel. Arden’s novel is fluid and grips the reader from the very start. The Bear and the Nightingale is a great book to read for escapism and provides its readers with a warm log fire to cosy up to, even in the summer!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and have found it an honour in reading it as a proof copy. I believe that this book is for anyone and can be read whatever the time of year. I would urge anyone to buy or pre-order this book  here as I feel that your money would definitely not be wasted. A great read and a great gift to give.

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, 2010, paperback, ISBN: 0399155341, £7.99.

I was a little hesitant at reading this book as I thought the subject matter may have been a difficult read. However The Help discusses how black maids are trusted within a household with some form of lightness. The Help is about a woman called Miss Skeeter, who wishes to give black maids a voice. All of the main characters are strong women that have potential to be strong within society. Stockett’s novel is well written and also touches upon community as well as a controversial subject, from an angle that makes it easy to discuss. I laughed and cried with this book and felt like no matter what part I put the book down on, I would always be excited to read it again. For this reason I believe it to be a timeless piece and in my eyes, a classic.
Stockett’s writing style is extremely fluent and oozes her characters personalities. The writing also highlights the character’s voices: without making it difficult to read, this  adds a sense of authenticity. The character’s stride past the author in this book and put their mark on what the reader sees. The descriptions of Jackson, Mississippi add to the originality of this book as the location sometimes can feel like a character in itself. At times I felt as if I could almost feel the warm Mississippi air on my face.

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So quick summary– If anyone is looking for a quality read with strong main characters and is interested in American history or post-colonialism, then this type of book would be a great read. Lighter than post-colonialism, it is a fun read that seems guaranteed to be enjoyed. The book follows Minny and Aibileen on their journey of living as the Help within a white household. Miss Skeeter longs for her old maid Constantine and sees the help differently than her other friends do. The Help follows Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter on their relationship with each other and their freedom. A journey not to be missed.

Bookmarks

After recently signing up to Penguin Random House’s online community, Bookmarks, I cannot help but urge all lovers of literature to take a peek!

Originally launched in 2013, http://www.my-bookmarks.co.uk has recently had a relaunch last summer, inviting their much-loved followers on Twitter and Facebook. I must admit I had never heard of the website before I had seen it on Facebook, however I really wish I had!

Bookmarks is an online community that help Penguin Random House with their research on books. Members are asked about advertising, poster adjustments and books in general. The best part however is that the members are able to get their hands on the latest news in the literary world, entered into prize draws and have a chance of getting free books! The online community is also another reason to sign up. Readers express their interests and are given book recommendations by others. So far all of the recommendations I have been given are brilliant. Everyone is friendly and happy to listen to your thoughts. Penguin Random House have definitely got that community feel to a T. If you truly love books as much as you think you do then this site is definitely a must. I’ve provided the website below just in case. Happy reading!

www.my-bookmarks.co.uk