Thursday 17 September 2020

From The Review Pile (102)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase Inside 10 Rillington Place!

Although I think I have quite a good knowledge of the most famous cases of true crime, it's always surprising (and unfortunate) how much more there is to learn. Whilst I've heard of Rillington Place and of John Christie, I know almost nothing of this horrifying case. I was sent Inside 10 Rillington Place for review last week and I am looking forward to learning more.

Inside 10 Rillington Place by Peter Thorley
Paperback, 304 pages

Published 6th August 2020 by Mirror Books

During the 1940s and 1950s John Christie, an English serial killer and necrophile from Halifax, murdered at least eight people - including his wife, Ethel - by strangling them in his flat at 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London.

Two further bodies were found wrapped in a tablecloth in the washhouse behind 10 Rillington Place - those of Beryl Evans and her baby daughter Geraldine. They were his lodgers.

In 1939 Beryl Thorley, then 19, married Timothy Evans. Baby Geraldine followed quickly and, determined to stand on their own two feet, the couple rented a room from John Christie and his wife Ethel, at 10 Rillington Place, not knowing how fatal this would prove.

Over the years this case has sparked huge controversy surrounding the question of who actually killed Beryl and Geraldine. Now, more than 50 years later, Peter Mylton-Thorley, Beryl's youngest brother, is ready to tell his story. With first-hand knowledge of the real horror of life inside 10 Rillington Place, it is time to set the record straight.

Peter has collected unseen evidence, never released crime scene photos and statements to the police. This is the shocking true story of the crimes and horror of life with John Christie, Timothy Evans and 10 Rillington Place.

Monday 14 September 2020

The Book of Two Ways

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
Paperback, 432 pages

To Be Published 20th October 2020 by Hodder & Stoughton

adult-fiction, arc-or-review, books-i-own, contemporary, currently-reading, death, historical, mythology, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Jodi Picoult's stunning new novel about life, death, and missed opportunities. Who would you be, if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are now? Dawn is a death doula, and spends her life helping people make the final transition peacefully. But when the plane she's on plummets, she finds herself thinking not of the perfect life she has, but the life she was forced to abandon fifteen years ago - when she left behind a career in Egyptology, and a man she loved. Against the odds, she survives, and the airline offers her a ticket to wherever she needs to get to - but the answer to that question suddenly seems uncertain. As the path of her life forks in two very different directions, Dawn must confront questions she's never truly asked: What does a well-lived life look like? What do we leave behind when we go? And do we make our choices, or do our choices make us? Two possible futures. One impossible choice.

The Book of Two Ways is Jodi Picoult's latest offering and possibly, in my opinion, her most cleverly written book to date. The Book of Two Ways is a coffin text, an Ancient Egyptian map of the underworld/afterlife made up of two routes - land and water, separated by a lake of fire, but both ending up at the same place. In this book, Jodi creates her own routes for her main character, death doula and former Egyptologist, Dawn Edelstein. 

Picoult has a real talent for really exploring subjects well with both knowledge and wisdom and her writing is often breathtakingly beautiful, something that I was repeatedly reminded of within this book. What really stood out for me in this book was the character development and the relationships that Picoult writes about. 

Dawn's discussions with her latest client, an elderly artist named Win, were a pleasure to read - sobering, heartfelt, sometimes amusing, always emotional. Dawn's discussions and explanations of death both with her client, her husband and the effect upon herself were very thought provoking and well written.
The main relationships explored in this book are the ones between Dawn, her husband Brian, a scientist whom she first met whilst visiting a hospice and her first true love, fellow Egyptologist, Wyatt. I think that Picoult did a fantastic job of exploring Dawn's emotional feelings and relationship between these two men. Whilst both characters were well written and I did feel a lot of compassion towards Brian, Picoult did such a fantastic job of creating Wyatt's character that I must admit, I fell a little bit in love with him too! The sections of the book that are set in Egypt  and exploring Dawn and Wyatt's relationship quickly became the highlight of the book for me.
In regards to relationships within the story, I particularly loved reading about Dawn's somewhat awkward but ever-loving relationship with her young daughter, Meret, a girl struggling through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Meret was such a realistic, troubled character who really grabbed my attention and I enjoyed seeing how her relationship with her mother and herself developed and changed throughout the book. 

I had two feelings about The Book of Two Ways - like Dawn, our protagonist, I find death absolutely fascinating and reading about a death doula sounded really, really interesting - which it was and I feel that Picoult really did the subject justice. As a bit of a history nerd, I loved reading and learning about Egyptology as a child, which made me think that the parts of this book that are based in and around Egypt would be really intriguing - which it was, in parts, but unfortunately not always. I quickly became lost in the beautifully portrayed setting of sandy Egypt, imagining myself there in the tombs with the characters, but unfortunately, I found myself getting a little bored after some of the heavy information regarding Egyptian history and hieroglyphics. It is so clear that Picoult has, as always, done a huge amount of research for her story, which I respect enormously and obviously has helped the story, but at points I felt like I was reading unnecessary, textbook-style information. I do find the history of Ancient Egypt very interesting, but I felt completely overwhelmed at some points - it was just too much. Thankfully, the beautiful writing, setting and interesting relationships kept me gripped for the rest of the book.

I had two feelings about The Book of Two Ways - The largest part of me absolutely loved the writing, the story and the emotions, but another part of me also loathed the thought of having to read pages and pages of complex history and even quantum physics. For me, fiction books should be a form of escape. If I want to study a subject in detail, I will choose to read a non-fiction book. Unfortunately this is where the book fell short for me and the reason why I didn't give it a higher rating. I still highly recommend the story for the beautiful writing, the brilliantly thought-provoking exploration of the often-taboo subject of death,  the characters and relationships - they alone kept me gripped. I can't wait to see what Picoult brings us next!

Thursday 10 September 2020

From The Review Pile (101)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase A List of Cages!

Whilst I'm trying to focus more on adult fiction, this young adult book is certainly one that appeals to me. I particularly enjoy reading realistic fiction, especially ones that deal with complex and difficult issues such as mental health. This book is based on real life experience of the author which is bound to make this an interesting read. 

A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Paperback, 310 pages
Published 15th December 2017 by Little Brown

This "gripping and moving" story of two foster brothers sharply examines the impact of loss, grief, and abuse (Emma Donohgue, bestselling author of Room) -- and celebrates the power of friendship.

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he's got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn't easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can't complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian -- the foster brother he hasn't seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He's still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what's really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

Monday 7 September 2020

Death Row: The Final Minutes

Death Row: The Final Minutes by Michelle Lyons

Paperback, 304 pages

Published 3rd May 2018 by Blink Publishing

crime-thriller-mystery, death, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020, series-or-companions, title-appeal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:


First as a reporter and then as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Michelle was a frequent visitor to Huntsville's Walls Unit, where she recorded and relayed the final moments of death row inmates' lives before they were put to death by the state.

Michelle was in the death chamber as some of the United States' most notorious criminals, including serial killers, child murderers and rapists, spoke their last words on earth, while a cocktail of lethal drugs surged through their veins.

Michelle supported the death penalty, before misgivings began to set in as the executions mounted. During her time in the prison system, and together with her dear friend and colleague, Larry Fitzgerald, she came to know and like some of the condemned men and women she saw die. She began to query the arbitrary nature of the death penalty and ask the question: do executions make victims of all of us?

An incredibly powerful and unique look at the complex story of capital punishment, as told by those whose lives have been shaped by it, Death Row: The Final Minutes is an important take on crime and punishment at a fascinating point in America's political history.

This was one of those books that I picked up as soon as I saw it - the title told me that this was something that I would find extremely interesting. Despite this, I also have to admit that I was slightly doubtful that it would give me a fresh, new insight into what is a deeply emotive, complex and controversial subject. Thankfully, this book and author surprised me with the openness and honesty they held. 

Death Row: The Final Minutes is a book about both the final minutes of several Death Row inmates and also the story of the author, Michelle Lyons  and her late colleague Larry Fitzgerald. 
I think that you will either love or hate Michelle which could be problematic for readers, but I like to think that if I knew her in 'real life', we'd be friends. Lyons was incessantly passionate about her job - at points quite fiercely so as seen in her retorts to anybody who disagreed with her or the death penalty. I can understand and admire her passion but I don't think that the two opposing views on the death penalty were addressed as much as they could have been and sometimes it felt that she was so stuck in her own way of thinking that she couldn't consider  opposing thoughts. Michelle continuously tells us that the majority of executions that she watched didn't affect her, but it soon becomes clear that, unsurprisingly, they did. I admire Lyons refreshing honesty in this book and her recognition that her stoic front didn't completely reflect what was really going on inside her head.

The book gives us great insight into Death Row and its workings, using both transcripts of voice notes and diary entries from Lyons as reference points. These are the true highlight points of the book - getting to learn what it is really like in the death chamber - how the prisoners, executioners and observers all react in their own, unique ways.  We get to learn about both the build-up to execution and the details of the execution itself. For me, whilst reading about the prisoners last words were moving and often profound I found the most interesting and harrowing part hearing about the observers, or often lack of, in the chamber - particularly the mothers of both the victims and the perpetrators. 

It was of course very interesting to read about the last words and requests of the Death Row inmates and it's something that I think most people will find very emotive and thought provoking. You can easily go online and find prisoners last words and their last meal requests, but nonetheless I thought there was a good, genuine, selection shared in this book. I really enjoyed reading about Michelle and Larry's interactions with the prisoners but I wish there was more of this interaction included - though perhaps i'm just greedy for more information! 

Overall this was an interesting read and I think it will appeal to anybody who is interested in true crime, criminology or forensic psychology. Death Row: The Final Minutes offers an honest and unique view on execution and how it affects those who have to witness it. 

Thursday 3 September 2020

From The Review Pile (100)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase Normal People!
I have been reading quite a lot of 'heavy' books recently, mostly non-fiction, and so have decided to purposely choose a fiction book this week. I have heard fantastic things about the TV adaptation of Normal People and noticed that the book has won a lot of awards, so I'm eager to both read and watch Normal People at some point. Quite honestly, it's one of those books where I'm not entirely sure what to expect from the blurb, but from what I've heard, it must be good, right? Have you read or watched Normal People? What did you think?

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Paperback, 273 pages

Published 2nd May 2019 by Faber and Faber

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person's life - a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us - blazingly - about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney's second novel breathes fiction with new life.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

The Nothing Man

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Paperback, 304 pages

Published 20th August 2020 by Corvus

adult-fiction, arc-or-review, books-i-own, contemporary, crime-thriller-mystery, death, en-route, rape, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

I was the girl who survived the Nothing Man.
Now I am the woman who is going to catch him...

You've just read the opening pages of The Nothing Man, the true crime memoir Eve Black has written about her obsessive search for the man who killed her family nearly two decades ago.

Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is reading it too, and with each turn of the page his rage grows. Because Jim was - is - the Nothing Man.

The more Jim reads, the more he realizes how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won't give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first...

I didn't really know what to expect when I was offered The Nothing Man for review - the description was vague, but intriguing. I am so glad I decided to read this book as it is both different and captivating, a book that is guaranteed to get almost anybody gripped.

The story starts by introducing us to The Nothing Man - a man called Jim Doyle who works as a supermarket security man, when he shockingly discovers that a book has been written about him. The book consists of alternating chapters, some consisting of Eve Black's novel and the rest from Jim's perspective, showing his reaction to the instantly popular publication.

The Nothing Man is a book inside a book. The book is written by Eve Black, a woman who was a witness to her sister and her parent's demise at the hands of The Nothing Man, a serial killer who prowled Ireland over twenty years ago, leaving a trail of devastation but absolutely no trace of his identity - hence his name. Eve is the only person to have witnessed and survived one of this man's crimes and makes it her mission to discover who this man is.

As some of you may know, I have had a deep interest in the Golden State Killer recently, since watching his trial and reading the late Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone In The Dark. In fact, that's the book that I read directly before this one, and I could see a lot of similarities with this story and the real life case. After contacting the author and reading the acknowledgements of this book, I discovered that Ryan Howard based this book on McNamara's. Whilst I understand that it's important to do research and to make the story realistic, the only reason I didn't rate this book higher was because it often felt like a carbon copy of the actions of the killer in I'll Be Gone In The Dark. However, if you haven't read McNamara's book or know about the Golden State Killer case in detail, I doubt that this will concern you at all. The author of this book did well to portray McNamara's message that once you discover who killer is, he really is nothing.

I really enjoyed this book from the very start. Both Eve and Jim were very well developed, interesting characters. The story was super compelling, the format only making it more so. I enjoyed the short chapters as they kept my attention and made it so easy just to tell myself 'just one more chapter' - this book is the definition of a 'page-turner'. This is a very well written,  well paced, engrossing read that will have you riveted until the very end. Highly recommended for anyone interested in thrillers, fictional or true crime reads.