A better than expected look at the love of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must be upfront and declare myself absolutely obsessed with Hamilton the musical, from the first time I heard it I’ve been hooked and it’s helped both me (and my children) learn so much more about the history of the United States and the key figures in its establishment. Coming from the United Kingdom this is something we do not generally cover in our education system and it’s been great to learn through a medium so engaging as the music and lyrics of this wonderful show. Of course, one of my favourite relationships in the show is that of Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler and when I saw this book it immediately caught my attention.

Melissa de la Cruz has been known for writing Young Adult books for a while and previously has penned the novels that accompany the Disney Descendants franchise. For me this nearly put me off this book altogether as I wasn’t quite sure I wanted someone to take the Hamilton romance and simply translate it from stage to page and add a lot of Young Adult sugar coating on top. I didn’t want it to taint my enjoyment of the love story because it was being dumbed down for a younger audience.

You can imagine my surprise therefore when I found this novel to be written in a style that immediately pitches itself as both intelligent and informed. This is not simply someone who has seen the show and decided to further romanticise the story. Instead, there has been significant research into the Schuyler family and the relationships between Eliza and her two sisters Angelica and Peggy. There is not simply an exact copy of the chain of events portrayed in the musical but instead, this story of Alex and Eliza’s love takes us through several years where initially they didn’t find it easy to like one another and events surrounding the war threatened to see Eliza dislike Colonel Alexander Hamilton quite significantly.

In this story, we find that rather than being the meek and somewhat giddy character she can appear in the show Eliza was hugely involved in the war effort, proactive and greatly intelligent. Her two sisters are instead the more vivacious characters who found it easier to mingle in the society their station raised them to

The only disappointment I had with this book was that once we reached the Happy Ever After moment when Eliza marries Alexander the story comes to its close, now fans of the show will know that this was very much only the beginning of their story and that there is much still to tell. I had hoped a little glimpse into this and felt that I could have cheerfully kept reading for another 200 or so pages. I wanted to know about the raising of their family, their changing relationship and the challenges they faced as Alexander grew more involved in the establishment of the new United States of America.

This book was much much better than I had anticipated, I flew through it in only 2 days and I would recommend it to any fans of the musical. It’s not simply a cliched retelling but an intelligent and well-written novel which enhanced my understanding of a romance which took place against the backdrop of huge change and revolution.

A fulfilling conclusion to Ahdieh’s Arabian adventure in The Rose & The Dagger

The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath & The Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year I’ve tried hard to really focus on completing series when I’ve started them. I’ve so far managed to blitz through around 6 sets this year and I was keen to complete The Wrath & The Dawn duology by Renee Ahdieh as well. Having really enjoyed the first book I was really keen to see how they would continue the wonderful Arabian story in The Rose & The Dagger.

The second book picks up very quickly after the end of The Wrath & The Dawn with Khalid trying to rebuild his broken city of Rey and Shazi having been taken to safety by Tariq to a settlement in the desert where she has been reunited with her sister and father. Tariq is still working with his uncle and the head of the desert tribes to try and overthrow Shazi’s husband who is still greatly misunderstood for killing his brides each night after their weddings. Shazi has been the only one to survive and Tariq is disappointed that his true love has fallen in love with another.

I found the first 100 pages of this book a little slow to get going, the chapters would flit between Khalid and Shaharzad and we really miss them being together and the sparks that would fly when they were. The initial chapters though are forgotten once the action does get going. We have so much going on, lots of new characters and romances and relationships and some really jaw-dropping OMG moments that keep you glued. Once the action was underway I flew through the last chapters, scared to take my eyes off the page in case I missed anything. There is magic, betrayal, true love, grief and loss and it makes for a wonderful end to this duology.

Again the atmosphere of the world Ahdieh builds jumps off the page in spades. Whilst there are lots of unfamiliar words for the different clothes, weapons and cultural references to the Arabian world in which this book is set it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. Instead, it brings a really exotic flavour and a world in which I could spend all day.

I couldn’t recommend this book, or the duology as a whole any higher. It’s been a really fun journey and because these books have quite a different setting I have a feeling they will linger with me for some time to come.

Liane Moriarty’s book is a wonderful mystery about friendship

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

HBO are about to launch a brand new, star-studded miniseries later in February based on this book by Liane Moriarty. Starring such big Hollywood names as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley it is clear that the budget for its adaptation to the small screen hasn’t been insignificant. For a show to attract such a myriad of stars as it has there must be something significantly strong in the book for it to have found such attention.

The last book I read by Moriarty was some years ago now and was The Husband’s Secret, I remember it as being an okay read but it didn’t blow me away and so this book has been on my e-reader pretty much since it’s release and it was only my incessant need not to let the series begin without my having read the content upon which it is based that pushed it to the top of my list.

Based in a small, highly affluent seaside suburb in Melbourne, Australia it follows the lives of three women. Madeline is a mother of 3, happily married to her second husband she is preparing for her youngest daughter beginning to start Kindergarten. Making the whole transition worse is the fact her ex-husband’s child with his new wife is going to be in the same class and there’s just nothing Madeline hates more than the hippy-dippy lifestyle of the woman was replaced with. Also, we have wealthy and beautiful Celeste, mother of twins and wife of a successful businessman is also preparing to send her boys to school however it’s clear that behind the veneer of Celeste’s perfect life is a secret that she keeps from everyone around her.

Finally, we have Jane, a young single mother who has just moved to the area and has to transition her little boy into the school along with mothers and children she doesn’t know. On the first day of school, Ziggy is accused of bullying another child and she finds herself ostracised by the other mums and judgements made about her parenting. Jane though hides a secret also about the father she has never told Ziggy about and it scares her that perhaps the things her little boy is accused of could be true.

From the very outset of the book, we are aware that there has been a murder committed at a trivia night held to raise funds for the school. The book is written through the moths and weeks leading up to the crime and each chapter has interspersed snippets from police interviews with different members of the school community after the crime. From these, we are given tantalising glimpses of what happens but never the full picture as each person has their own perceptions of the evening’s events based on whom they have aligned themselves with in the bullying furore.

The book really pulls you on through the chapters, the mixture of chapters being told from each different lead characters perspectives means we get to share each of their stories and their friendship from each angle. The characters are well written and maybe because I know who is going to be playing each role in the series I could really see them clearly in my mind and you can see the actresses chosen really bringing their role to the screen perfectly. The police interview snippets are a really clever writing tool because it lets us see that no two people ever view the same situation in the same way and that what we observe from afar is not always the truth behind people’s actions. We also learn that bullying and cliques and name calling are something that we don’t leave behind in the school playground, even as adults people use these to give themselves power and status and the parallels between the adult’s worlds and those of their children is profound.

I did manage to guess one of the big reveals at the end of the book from around half way however it didn’t spoil the ending as I couldn’t have foreseen the murder itself and the way in which it took place. The book really did keep you guessing about that right up until the moment itself as there were various ways it could have played out. The fallout from the crime was handled very well and brought together characters that we hadn’t anticipated would find affinity with one another and taught us that absolutely everyone has secrets they don’t wish to share in life and sometimes it’s the things we don’t share that are the most powerful things about us.

I am now literally on the edge of my seat waiting for the television adaptation, I have a feeling it’s going to be a huge hit for HBO and for people who have not read the book they will fall in love with it as there is glamour and friendship and enough backstabbing to bring the screen to life. I know that now I will be watching with a clear indicator of what the ending will be but I still cannot wait to relive Madeline, Celeste and Jane’s journeys on screen.

 

Perhaps the best thriller ending I’ve ever read

Between You and Me by Lisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Hall is a new author who has released for her first novel, Between You and Me, a tale of domestic violence and the shattering impact it can have on relationships and the ripple effect of that to all family members. The thing about this book though is I would honestly advise you to steer clear of reading lots of review on it before you pick up the book because there is a really big plot twist at the end of the book and I honestly can say I didn’t see it coming and I’m glad I didn’t so I am going to write a very careful but hopefully helpful review without giving too much away.

Sal and Charlie seem from the outside to have a very happy marriage, they have a young daughter Maggie and Charlie is climbing the ladder at work as a lawyer aiming to make partner. Having met at university and married young the couple have fallen into the routine where Sal is happy to help Charlie climb the career ladder by staying home and caring for Maggie full time whilst putting the career they loved as a teacher on hold.

The thing about the marriage though is that Sal is terrified of Charlie, lives in fear of how Charlie will react to every little thing that happens in their marriage. There have been incidents since they met which have been escalating where Charlie controls everything Sal does and if Sal doesn’t do precisely as told will be rewarded with a slap, a punch, things being thrown or broken or things withheld. It is a volatile relationship and one in which Sal lives in fear. Charlie is living with the shadow of a traumatic childhood raised in a house where a violent stepfather ruled the house. This has led to a cycle that has now passed onto Charlie’s own marriage.

The book leads us through a period where Charlie is trying to close a major deal at work and stress is building, as a consequence events at home become magnified and Charlie becomes more difficult to live with than ever, taking it out on Sal and reacting in violence. Sal knows that it’s time to escape but doesn’t know where to start and is too scared to take help, even from friend and neighbour Laura who seems to know what’s going on.

The writing in this book was amazing. I honestly have to say that the way it was written was so very clever as to not give even the slightest indication of the twist that this book’s final few chapters. I normally am really sharp and can spot twists before they come but this time when it happened I was really stunned. I had to go back and read a few chapters before. I was flicking back thinking “How did I miss that?” and it really challenged me as a reader.

It is a book that will make you stop and question how the author was able to do what she does with the plot so effectively and what is it about us as readers that

readers that allows us to make that possible and for us to be so blindsided by it. I would honestly say it’s one of the books that has surprised me the most. I wish I’d read it a few days earlier when I answered a question about the most surprising plot twist in the 30 Day Reading Challenge as there are few books that have surprised me as much as this one did.

I would highly recommend this book, if you love a good thriller and you liked Into The Darkest Corner or Gone Girl then this would be great for you.

A missing person thriller from Emily Barr, did she keep her story on track or did it go off the rails?

The Sleeper by Emily Barr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emily Barr is an author I used to read very regularly several years ago but after finding a lull in her story lines I had taken a break for a while and it was only when I saw The Sleeper advertised that I felt I wanted to try one again. The cover and the story outline on the jacket grabbed my attention and drew me in.

This is the story of Lara and her husband Sam, they have relocated from London to Cornwall in a bid to slow life down and start a family but after IVF has failed and their savings have run out Lara finds that actually she isn’t fulfilled by her marriage and she craves escape from her quiet domestic life in Cornwall and agrees to take a job in London, to which she will travel each Monday by sleeper train and return each Friday by the same method. Her husband Sam doesn’t want her to go, preferring to have her close by but Lara persuades him and she begins a 6-month contract in the city.

Some months later she finds herself loving life away from her husband, she likes the challenges of her job, the big city life and most of all she has found herself a lover Guy, a fellow traveller on the weekly sleeper train. She is suddenly making plans to leave her husband and begin a new life with Guy, just as soon as they both tell their respective spouses. Before they have the chance, however, Guy’s body is found on board the sleeper train and Lara has vanished and everyone is left with no other conclusion than she must be responsible for his death. The only person who seems to think Lara isn’t responsible is her quiet, introverted neighbour Iris who has only met Lara a few times but has reason to suspect her friend was hiding secrets in her past that may explain her disappearance.

This book was a really difficult one to immerse myself in initially and that is because I didn’t particularly like Lara at the outset. She is portrayed, I found, as a selfish individual. She has a loving and attentive husband who is providing her with a wonderful lifestyle and yet she doesn’t seem happy, she is chasing escape from him and intends on doing so whether or not he wants her to. Once she begins her commute to London she almost finds him an inconvenience that she has to deal with each weekend, putting on a front and pretending to be happy. She has fractured relationships with almost everyone in her life and family and at times I found her personal skills to be somewhat lacking. She seems devoid of emotion and I didn’t enjoy the first section of the book because I just couldn’t gel with her at all. From the point where she if offered the job in London to the point she disappears the book is told firmly from her perspective and this meant there was no escaping her.

Moving into the second section of the book we move to Iris as the narrator as she takes on the mystery of who murdered Guy, the man Lara was sleeping with and the potential explanation for where Lara has gone. Iris is a more sympathetic character but again we immediately realise things aren’t quite right. She also has a partner with whom she lives and things are clearly not well in their relationship either, she has had a lottery windfall and yet she is hiding it from her boyfriend and making plans to leave, perhaps without telling him. Her fascination with Lara and her life is unusual if not only in the fact that they had only met a handful of times and yet so convinced is she that her friend is innocent she travels to London and starts digging up Lara’s past in order to prove it. Iris is much easier to have sympathy with as a character and in this section of the book we realise the reasons for her strange relationship and find ourselves understanding her lifestyle and the need to perhaps break away from the home in which she lives.

This book really was a bit of a mixed bag, there were great points where I’d be pulled in by the narrative and the mystery and I’d be right on board, desperate to find out what was going to happen and then there were those moments I’d be scratching my head and thinking why the author had possibly thought this plot twist was a good idea. There is so much going on by the end of the book that the eventual conclusion is a bit underwhelming. It’s all so sordid and strange and inappropriate. In fact, it leaves the whole book feeling like a bit of a muddle. We had all these stories early on in the book that seem to be cast aside in favour of a new direction that we never fully go back and address some of the plot created at the start. We never pay more than a backwards glance to Lara’s poor husband nor the wife of the man killed on the train. It seems a bit of an investment on the author’s behalf to create them at all if only to ignore them later.

I wanted to love it, I wanted to say that I had rediscovered a wonderful author but instead I found that what had stopped me reading her novels was still the same issue I had with them now. In pursuit of a twisted, word wide mystery Emily Barr is still taking her plot lines a few steps too far, in their complexity she is losing the readers empathy for her heroines who are often self centered and not particularly endearing. I think it may be another while before I read her books.

 

Will Lisa Hall’s second novel be as outstanding as the first

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Hall blew me away last year with her debut novel ‘Between Me and You’, it was quite simply one of those books that never leaves you because it made you question your preconceived judgements and caused you to stop and ask yourself how you could have missed that twist the whole way through the book. I literally couldn’t wait to read Tell Me No Lies and I had huge expectations of it because of my enjoyment of Lisa’s first novel.

This book begins with Steph and her husband Mark moving into their new home in London with their little boy Henry. We are aware that there are issues with their marriage and that the move constitutes a new start for them all. Steph is pregnant with their second child and it quickly becomes apparent that she was unwell with severe post-natal depression after the birth of Henry and is worried that the same problems may occur this time around. Mark is a television producer who works away from home for much of the time and so Steph finds herself settling into their new home and neighbourhood almost entirely alone and she soon begins receiving strange gifts left on the porch of their new home which begin to remind her of incidents in her past. She’s scared and unsettled and with no one to turn to.

Steph begins to make friends with Laurence, the attractive and enigmatic man across the street and also with Lila her next door neighbour. Both become Steph’s people to lean on when Mark isn’t at home and their friendships grow quickly and soon she is relying on them more and more. The strange things are still happening and now as well as gifts left on her doorstep she finds things going missing and a sensation that someone has been in her home. She confides in Lila more and more and begins to accept more and more help from the neighbour next door whilst she withdraws from Laurence after she finds her attraction to him growing. Steph finds herself becoming more and more paranoid, confused and suspicious of people. Event from her past are resurfacing and suddenly the psychiatrist she’s been seeing is making her feel crazy as he dismises her fears.

This book was a little of a slow starter but when I got into it I found the chapters slipping away as I became more and more pulled into the strange things that were happening to Steph and as I tried to find out who was responsible. I was fairly sure that all the coincidences could be easily explained and to be honest I do not think that Lisa Hall was trying to create a mystery where we couldn’t guess from fairly early on who was responsible. Instead the focus was on the increasing instability that was created in the psyche of Steph as the incidents became more severe and as people began to question her sanity and truthfulness.

Steph is a really likeable lead character, she is open and friendly, she’s trying her best to settle in a new place and is trying to raise her child almost single handedly. You want to root for her, you want people to take her seriously because you are seeing things from her perspective and so you know she’s being geniune and this isn’t just something in her head.

Where I struggled more was the character of her husband Mark who from my perspective wasn’t the most supportive spouse. He is revealed at the start of the book as having recently been adulterous in the marriage and so explains the reason for why the family have moved home and despite promising his wife a new start he’s soon off for work again to the far reaches of the world leaving his pregnant and fragile wife behind. He is literally missing for much of the book, leaving Steph to pick up all the slack and when she does confide in him about what’s happening he is suspicious of her and intead of supporting her refers her back to her therapist. He literally refuses to believe his wife and whilst there is no conrete proof that doesn’t mean that he didn’t drive me crazy. He should have surely when things reached the extremes at the end of the book have been questioning whether perhap all the very extreme things could be linked to more than just his wife’s potential psychosis.

My only other real gripe with the book was I literally finished the last chapter and turned the page expecting more and there was literally nothing…….I mean it was so unlikely a place to end I just couldn’t imagine there wasn’t another chapter or two. It had pulled me in so much that I wanted a resolution, I wanted more. I wanted justice and instead it leaves us screaming at the utter emptiness. I was worried, I am still thinking about the way that everything is left in the air. I couldn’t fathom how we could have come to the end with 2 people knowing exactly what was happening and yet still the other side won. This shouldn’t happen surely?

There was never going to be any following ‘Between You and Me’ for sheer shock and awe endings, that book was one of the few I’ve ever read which made that happen and maybe people who were wishing the author would achieve the same again had set their expectations unrealistically. I found this to be a very well written novel, it’s characters were indelibly human and therefore open to flaws and acts of deception and extreme dishonesty and cruelty. I also find it a little bit of a compliment that I got to the end and was still craving more, sometimes with novels you get to the end and are counting chapters because sometimes it’s all being dragged out just a little too long whereas here I could have easily read several more.

I would recommend this novel, however if you have read Between You And Me just prepare yourself that the format and ending is not as earth shattering.

One of the world’s best selling thrillers ever – does it live up to the hype?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book exploded into the bestsellers chart a few years ago and not long after it’s release I delved in and read this having heard that the movie rights had immediately been snapped up and that everyone was raving about what a sensational thriller this was.  When a book receives such endorsements it’s almost unbearable not to check out whether the hype is deserved.

This is the story of Nick & Amy, a young married city couple who have moved back to Nick’s small hometown in order to help care for his ill mother. One day, however, Amy disappears and suddenly every aspect of their marriage is under the microscope. The problem is though that Nick’s view of his marriage seems to be out of synch with what the police are finding out about Amy. Suddenly Nick is suspect number 1.

I loved the first half of this book, the way the chapters flit between Amy & Nick, exploring their marriage from two view points and this was intriguing. It built the suspense and a picture which promised a strong book. About half way through though it flipped on its head and went a little crazy. I won’t go into any specifics because it would ruin for those who haven’t read it yet but suffice to say it made the ending less than I was expecting.

Personally, I didn’t find the ending credible, it left me frustrated and the character unresolved. I found myself struggling to like Amy, she came across as spoiled and immature and not fully invested in her own marriage.  She isn’t the kind of person I would see myself getting along with and so I couldn’t find sympathy for her and that is not to say I sided with Nick but I just could not fathom that intelligent detectives and family around her couldn’t see below the surface to the story lurking beneath.

The movie has been a smash hit and a few years down the line we are now seeing a swathe of thrillers each one longing to live up to the success that this book achieved.  It seems so many thrillers today are benchmarked against this one and whilst I understand it was a sensation at the time I find it hasn’t ever been my favourite book within this genre.