Sunday, 31 May 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Books 11-15

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I'm back again with my next instalment of book reviews. I'm way behind if I compare to how many books I'd read at this time last year but I'm still hopeful that I can meet my target of 60 books this year. Feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads to share reviews there too.

Here's what I've been reading lately:

11) My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell - 5/5 

Blurb: An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher.

"All he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster"

Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn't abuse. It was love. She's sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life - her great sexual awakening - as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Review: What a debut! I had high hopes for this book after seeing rave reviews and it didn't let me down.

Vanessa Wye was 15 years old when she first had sex with her English teacher Jacob Strane. In the present time, 32-year-old Vanessa is contacted by another past student who claims to have been sexually assaulted by Strane, and asks Vanessa to come forward too as she has heard about her story.

The story alternates between that time at school when Vanessa was 15 (right up to the age of around 21) and present time. It is a very uncomfortable read, rife with manipulation. It is difficult reading how Vanessa feels about the situation and how she believes that she held all the power; she and Strane were a love story. It wasn't rape when "she was so willing and knew what she was doing." Obviously, he was grooming her but she doesn't see it that way at all. The story explains how that situation has affected and determined her whole life. Well worth a read! 


12) The Switch by Beth O'Leary - 4/5 

Blurb: Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena's tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it's time they swapped places...

When overachiever Leena Cotton is order to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen's house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She'd like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn't offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen's romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another's shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn't as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect - and distractingly handsome - school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Review: This is a cutesy, feel-good read.

20-something Leena lives in London and is struggling following the death of her sister Carla. She is given a two-month paid break from work and visits her grandmother in the Yorkshire Dales. Eileen, her 79-year-old grandmother is also feeling the effects of her granddaughter Carla's death and the fact that her husband Wade ran off with a dance instructor.

Needing a bit of a change, they decided to swap lives. Leena will stay in the Yorkshire Dales for 8 weeks, taking on her grandmother's usual tasks of planning the village May Day fair and taking the minutes of the Neighbourhood Watch meetings. Eileen will take the opportunity to have that adventure in London that she was going to have before settling down to marry Wade, even setting up an online dating profile.

It's a lovely story and they both realise just what they are missing from their own lives. All of the characters are wonderful and have their own backstories. It touches a little on grief and domestic abuse too but all in all, it is a nice read with a few funny moments in there too.


13) Q by Christina Dalcher - 4/5 

Blurb: In this world, perfection is everything.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher as one of the state's new elite schools. Her daughters are exactly like her: beautiful, ambitious, and perfect. A good thing, since the recent mandate that's swept the country is all about perfection.

Now, everyone must undergo routine tests for their quotient, Q, and any children who don't measure up are placed into new government schools. Instead, teachers can focus on the gifted.

Elena tells herself it's not about eugenics, not really, but when one of her daughters scores lower than expected and is taken away, she intentionally fails her own test to go with her.

But what Elena discovers is far more terrifying than she ever imagined...

Review: This is a dystopian thriller that is uncomfortable to read.

Teacher Elena Fairchild is married to Malcolm, who works for the Department of Education, and is mother to two girls; Anne and Frederica "Freddie". Each person has a quotient "Q" number out of 10 and is routinely tested. If your number falls below 9, you are sent to a yellow government school, away from your family, so that the "regular" silver schools can focus only on gifted children and those who have a high Q number.

After a test, Elena and Malcolm's youngest daughter Freddie's results put her below the minimum of 9 and she is sent away to one of these government schools. Elena realises that this is all about eugenics and sets out to find out, and prove, what is really going on.

It is a really uncomfortable read and Dalcher writes brilliantly. I will be honest and say that it did take me a while to get into this one, probably because dystopian thrillers aren't the type of book I'd choose, but I'm so glad I stuck this one out. It's thought-provoking and a little scary.


14) Just My Luck by Adele Parks - 4/5 

Blurb: It's the stuff dreams are made of - a lottery win so big, it changes everything.

For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. Over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they've discussed the important stuff - the kids, marriages, jobs and houses - and they've laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.

But then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There's a rift in the group. Someone doesn't tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever.

Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it.

Review: Lexi and Jake have been friends with two other couples; Jennifer & Fred and Carla & Patrick, since their eldest children were born 15 years ago. Every week, they would take part in a lottery syndicate, doing the same numbers each week. The winning numbers finally come up but it is just after Jennifer, Fred, Carla and Patrick pull out of the syndicate, meaning that Lexi and Jake have won almost £18 million.

Obviously, the path doesn't run smooth for them after the win with the other couples claiming that they hadn't pulled out. The eldest children from each family are close friends too so we hear a lot from the perspective of Emily, Lexi and Jake's daughter. I found these chapters a bit hard to read. I know that she is a teenager but I felt like they were trying too hard to sound like a teenager and it didn't really work.

Running alongside the lottery fiasco, there is another story. Lexi works at the Citizen's Advice Bureau and ends up helping a homeless man called Toma Albu get his life back on track. She learns that his wife and son died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the landlord not carrying out the relevant checks. I wasn't sure how this story was relevant at the start but it all becomes clear once you get closer to the end of the book. It kept me guessing the whole way through and I really thought I had it sussed before the curveball at the end.


15) How To Play Dead by Jacqueline Ward - 4/5 

Blurb: She's watching over them. And he's watching her...

Ria Taylor is everything to everyone. Wife and mother, the centre of her family. And the manager of a refuge for women whose partners have driven them out of their own homes.

But one night, with her husband away, Ria receives a terrifyingly sinister message. Someone is watching her. Someone who seems to know everything about her. She knows what she should do - seek help, just like she tells her clients to. But Ria is the help. As events escalate, and terror takes hold, Ria must decide whether to run or hide...

Review: Ria Taylor works at SafeMe, a place that helps domestic abuse survivors (not victims!). She is married to Danny who is away for work and they have two children. A mobile phone is sent to Ria at work and she soon receives bizarre texts. Who is doing this to her and why?

Alongside Ria's story, we have the diary entries from a woman named Tanya who appears to be suffering from domestic abuse although she tries to justify it.

The two stories tie together and although I'd guessed what was going to happen early on, I felt that I couldn't put it down because I just had to see if I was right!

It is written so well with regards to the domestic abuse aspect and it's great to see that all the relevant helplines were included at the end.




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