Saturday, 20 August 2016

Book Review: Where She Belongs by Liz Doran



Roisin has had enough. After the recession hit Spain, her husband, Javier, has fallen into an abyss of depression and is threatening to drag her down with him. In order to save them both, she leaves Spain and does something she has always dreamt of doing. To live by the sea. She wants to gain control of her life, make a new start and finally follow her dreams. 

With a mixture of sadness and anticipation, she moves back to Ireland, rents a house by the sea, and has a fortuitous meeting with Maggie who runs a craft boutique. 
At first everything runs smoothly. Maggie offers her a job and people are more than kind. Too good to be true? The last thing on her mind is another man. But then she meets Tom, the irresistible Irish man. When Javier follows her and tries to woo her back, confusion sets in. After perfect beginnings, where she meets some of the helpful and colourful characters who live there, things begin to get complicated. The first cracks appear on the façade. Why is her old neighbour, Mrs. Walsh, being threatened? What is she afraid of? And why are people suspicious of Maggie, her new friend and boutique owner? 


Where She Belongs is a slow burner of a debut novel from author Liz Doran. Many of the best authors in the world hail from Ireland, where this book is set. It follows the ups and downs of Roisin, who (in a paradoxically shift of pace in the early chapters) has her life literally turned upside down an decides she has had enough of Spanish beau Javier.

Reading this from the male point of view may actually garner interest in this book. You see, I felt Javier had been hard done by. He’s not the model husband, and he does something that is practically unforgivable, but as this happens early on in the story, we haven’t learned enough to form a strong opinion as to whether he is the bad guy or not.

Clearly Roisin acts at first with her heart and then her head. The time lapse is not that long, and soon enough Roisin has decided to get out from the relative comfort of her life and start over again.

I applaud the author for taking this decision. It’s a woman’s story written for women, but that shouldn’t prevent male readers from reading Where She Belongs. It would have been an interesting angle to see Roisin stay post-the-event but that would have taken the story on a whole different direction.

The pace is steady. There’s a lot of information in the story that from the male perspective is less interesting but I can understand why it is in there, as the book would fall under women’s fiction.

"The author does not give us a cop out ending."

Roisin’s journey through Ireland is strongly depicted and if you have never been to the country, the author makes you fall in love with the place. Everyone knows that one person’s paradise is another’s idea of hell, and despite the brave new world Roisin chooses to go after, not everything falls into place. That would be too easy, and the author does not give us a cop out ending.

That said, whilst Roisin began to find herself and a new meaning to her life, it was only a matter of time before Javier popped up again. He’s not a one-dimensional psycho dumped husband like Patrick Bergin in Sleeping With the Enemy, and again, I was grateful for how the character was drawn.

Where She Belongs is an interesting debut novel that demands the readers’ attention. In some ways it is a very easy read, at other times, it is heart wrenching and touching.

A strong debut from Liz Doran.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Book Review: Dreams (New Beginnings, #3) by Michelle Lynn



Moving on is the hardest thing she’ll ever have to do. 

Taylor Scott sees the world differently than she did a year ago. She’s no longer the love-sick teenager, quick to smile and full of joy. Now she’s the broken college student just trying to get through the day without letting her feelings overwhelm her. It isn’t until she meets Josh that pieces of herself she’d lost start falling back into place and she can finally see that it’s okay to be happy again. 

Josh Walker is a professional athlete whose always avoided distractions. His career is just getting started and he works harder than anyone else. Hockey is his life. It’s the only thing that makes sense to him. When a new coach joins the team, it’s his daughter that threatens to complicate everything. He wants to help her. Needs to help her. But when he needs her to do the same, he finds out what she’s really made of. 

No one ever told him that the hardest part of his hockey career wouldn’t have to do with hockey at all.


"What greater punishment is life when you've lost everything that made it worth living?"

- Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

What an extraordinary series this has turned out to be. Having read, nay, consumed author Michelle Lynn's superlative dystopian series Dawn of Rebellion, I was expecting a light, breezy enjoyable romance from her New Beginnings series.

Readers will get that, but what readers won't be prepared for is the standard of writing, which was always good but has evolved onto a whole other level here.

Characters from the earlier books take a more prominent role here, but each story in this series has been remarkably different and well, this one is the best of the three.

Perhaps it is because of the ice hockey references. As an ex-player myself, it gave me a different angle with which to approach the story.

While I have enjoyed the myriad of characters introduced in this series, I wanted the female characters to grow a little, perhaps show that they didn't even need a man in their life to become whole again after previous hurtful experiences. Anyone, man or woman, can relate to that.

It is in this aspect that the author scores highest for me. This is a real rollercoaster of a book. It plays with your emotions a lot. Some of the characters, like Taylor and Josh, were wonderfully drawn but infuriatingly flawed in parts (not in their creation, but in their behaviours) yet it makes it all the more believable as a romance.

"What an extraordinary series this has turned out to be."

The ice hockey references are well written in the story. The team players act in a beliveable manner (as does Coach Scott) and it made me think did I act like that in respect of other women when I was consumed by the sport.

I also liked the character play between Josh and Zak, the latter playing the role of saying the things that needed to be said. Again, great characterisation from the author.

Without giving too much away, but feeling I do have to mention this, one of the characters is suffering from a condition called ventricular tachycardia. I did not experience this as a hockey player, but through some poor choices, at the age of 35, I was hit hard with this condition. I am older now and it is more manageable, but wow....this book really spoke to me.

Anyway, whilst Dreams is possibly a book you could read as a standalone, it is a far better experience to familiarise yourself with the characters first as they appear in the earlier books.

A heart string puller of the highest order, this is simply yet another wonderful book from the pen of Michelle Lynn.

Book Review: Crafting With Lacey by Lacey Lane



Want to create crafts but need ideas and a plan? Do you have ten thumbs? Let Lacey guide you to crafting success. Learn how to make candle holders, jewellery, childrens' play things, storage solutions, decorations for your house and much more. Simple, beautiful, and practical crafts are just one click away.


I honestly haven't made or crafted anything since leaving school. DIY at home doesn't count because those are jobs that need to be done, rather than those that are fun to do. I won a school competition for creating a Freddy Krueger glove with real knives no less. But author Lacey Lane brings her fun side out and this book is stuffed full of craft ideas that will keep you literally busy for years.

"Get off the internet, shut your phone down, and create something awesome."

People who love to make things will be instantly drawn to the amazing cover, but jump in and see a book that is full of detail and tells you explicitly how to make all kinds of things. I will attempt some, but I admit I am poor at these kinds of things!

Overall, a value for money book that brings the fun back. So get off the internet, shut your phone down, and create something awesome There is something for everyone here.

Book Review: My Life As A Banker by Brenda Mohammed



Fascinating, Intriguing, Inspiring, Positive, Heartwarming, and Motivational Memoir.
My Life as a Banker - A Life worth Living" is a banker's memoir, in which the author describes changes in the banking system, and changes in the bank's attitude to its employees throughout her working years, in a Trinidad bank with ties in the United Kingdom. 
It is the story of a pioneering female in a man's world. 
The book also reveals personal details about the author's life.
It is a Memoir worth reading.


For those of us who are not in the banking industry, and for me, especially living in a country where the capital is the financial hub of the country (perhaps the world) you might think a story called My Life As A Banker would be too dry to enjoy. 

Author Brenda Mohammed has written quite a few books across different genres. This book is a relatively quick read but readers can be taken along her life's journey as they turn the pages.

I found myself more interested in the 'Life Worth Living' elements of the book. I congratulate her hard work which allowed her to work in the banking industry and get promoted. But I was more interested in the personal side of things, for example how she met her husband (that's an excellent segment of the book) and also attaining her strict father's support for the marriage.

"An interesting and very readable memoir from one of the more creative authors out there."

The author's approach to writing this memoir is direct and therefore one imagines this is how she would speak in real life. But the tale is told with such verve and energy, it is an enjoyable book that people will find much to like.

The real life stories contained within are things we can all relate to. Things such as ending up in a great city like Toronto, but being sick at the time and told 'you shouldn't go out then'. But this is not the author's approach to life. If you have read her Travel Memoir With Pictures, you will understand what an accomplished traveller this lady is.

There's some surprisingly gory scenes in the book, tempered by some poignant sadness around certain family members, as well as the central theme of how the author made her living in the banking sector.

It's an interesting and very readable memoir from one of the more creative authors out there.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Book Review: The Sirens of Falkeld by Julie Tuovi

The Sirens of Falkeld


Kade Finley, of the Scottish Isles, was raised on legends of the sea. His Gaffer, Toran Finley said, that beneath Muireall’s wind-swept cliffs, deep under the waves, there lived a legend as old as the Highlands themselves. Of Manannán Mac Lir, the sea god, and his beautiful sea maidens, the maighdean mhara, who swam the tides, luring sailors to their deaths.

But they’re not just legend. 

Kade saw one on his ninth birthday. On that day, a fierce storm swallowed half the island, and his da, Aidan Finley, was never seen again. 

It’s been nine years since Da disappeared, and Gaffer is dying. 

Desperate to save him, Kade decides to capture a maighdean mhara, of whom the stories say will grant one wish if caught. But Admiral Gilbert Owen, commander of the island’s WWII naval base, complicates things. In his quest for power, the Admiral has enraged the maidens, making it dangerous to be human in maighdean mhara infested waters.


When an author creates something out of pure fiction, it has to be written with authority. The characters have to be believable. Most of all, any preconceptions one might have had about the story have to be discarded right from the outset.

The Sirens of Falkeld is the debut novel of Julie Tuovi, but you wouldn't know it from the writing. Here is a story that has rather incredible world building. The author really has a talent for describing literally everything in the book. The titular Sirens, of course, are nothing like the Disney mermaids. It's a risk to describe them as Miss Tuovi has done in her story, but the payoff is wonderful because the main Siren, Cora, is no airhead waif. She's actually something to be respected, and yes - something to be feared.

The style of the book is interesting given its shifting perspective, chapter to chapter. Our hero, Kade, is threatened with death more times than seems fair by the shifty, arrogant and pompous Admiral near the start of the story. Kade's perspective is quite formulaic so we can relate to him easily. Initially, he is not an overly complex character. But as the story advanced and he interacts with Cora, we get a glimpse of the man in this youngish-boy. 

Cora seems too advanced, too wily, too clever and yes - too dangerous for Kade to interact with her.
But inbetween these wonderful character developments, we really are swept along by the author's engrossing story. Not once did I think 'this is a fluffy story about mermaids.' 

"It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end."

However, I did find the book a challenging read at times. The first third of the book takes a little while to find its 'sea legs', but once it does, it rewards readers with action, danger, romance and thrills. 

This could be said of many a debut author's story, so it is no slight on the author, who has created an incredibly detailed and believable world. I like the authentic use of the Scottish language, it's well done and never grates. 

One thing I really loved and rounded off the book just perfectly was the author's notes. I know, some of you will skip that part but I urge you to read it. The author is honest in her influences for her story, which I could see early on in the book. Thankfully The Sirens of Falkeld grows into its own very deep rewarding story.

It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Book Review: Coping Mechanisms by Tracy Black



Coping Mechanisms demonstrates how adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can cope with stresses that occur in their everyday lives. Adult survivors can find life to be a bit more difficult, and feelings of isolation, fear, loneliness or being frozen in time are not uncommon. The casual or innocent things which trigger flashbacks bring back painful and unwanted memories. A simple sound or a smell can trigger the brain and transport you to 'that time or 'that' place. A number of survivors have contributed by writing about their personal experiences and how they cope. They bravely share their stories and explain how motivational exercises and self-help have made their lives manageable. Coping Mechanisms examines the practical ways of coping and explains how you can implement them. Don't allow the demons from your past to haunt your future.


                    "In the future, when a woman's crying like that - she isn't having any fun."

Louise (Susan Sarandon), to a would-be rapist from Thelma and Louise (1991)

In the difficult world we often find ourselves in, the pull of fiction, to read something of fantasy, or something uplifting seems to be far more attractive than to read the subject matter in this book. Child sexual abuse is no laughing matter, and so any words I choose in writing this review has to be done correctly. This is not an easy task, but I think it's important people know my viewpoint, then, whether you are the kind of person who reads reviews and makes a judgement on a book, rather than read the book first and make your own judgement - then I had better get this right.

Over the years, what has been considered 'normal' in society has shifted. Perhaps it always has. But I believe 'normal' is whatever you are exposed to. For example, if you lived in a rural area, it would be normal to see the odd car pass by. But take that same person and put them in a built up area of a busy town or city, this person would see swathes of cars and people. To them, it would not be normal. It would not be what they were used to.

It wouldn't feel right, and they would want to scurry back home to the open fields.

This is a normal, healthy and completely understandable reaction.

In the UK in the 1960s it was still a criminal offence to be homosexual. Now in the recent years the UK Goverment passed the Same Sex Marriage Act.

For some of us, this won't be normal. For others, it won't be normal but they can accept it because it doesn't affect them. (I am neither for or against it, I am married to a woman and what others do have no bearing on our lives).

So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book.

For the offenders in Coping Mechanisms, clearly their 'normal' differed from most people. They believed they had the right to perform sexual acts on others without their permission. They believed it was okay to force themselves as adults, onto children. They believed that because they were in a position of authority, that it was okay, it was their 'normal' to force themselves onto others.

I've read some of Tracy Black's other books on this subject and I have to say that this is perhaps the most revealing one. I could feel her sense of anger and betrayal when she tells us (in an early passage) that her search for books on this subject left her 'an emotional and mental wreck'.

You might think she is overreacting. But if you've never been a victim of sexual abuse, especially when you were a child, you cannot underplay just how angry she was feeling.

"So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book."

That is not to say Coping Mechanisms is a depressing read. It's a thoroughly engrossing work that gives you Tracy's view, a leading psychotherapist's view, followed by the views of individuals who have contributed to this remarkable volume.

Who is this book for? Well, if you want to read a well written book with articulate prose and some never to be forgotten passages, read Coping Mechanisms. It is the very definition of a hard-hitting book, so newcomers to the author may find it a very uncomfortable read. The author doesn’t have to apologise for that and the reader in question should have the maturity to handle the contents.

The author takes us through a number of myths and busts them up for us. Quite right, sexual abuse is not something you ‘get over’….but you do learn to cope. That’s why this book is THE essential read for survivors of sexual abuse.

The section on triggers is particularly powerful. But there is something in the book that pretty much any reader can appreciate, even if they have not experienced such horrors. I also like the individual stories were kept in their raw, original state. I liked some writing style far less than others, but the fact is, it was kept raw and real - it's a far better book for it!

It may not be pretty, it will be far from easy, and survivors see many black clouds amongst the blue skies.

But there is a hope out there of a better life and it’s not trite or unrealistic to say that.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Film Review: A Hologram for the King (2016)

Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury

I've been watching Tom Hanks in the cinema since 1988's Big, and it's fair to say he is one of the most dependable actors in the business. His films haven't always reached the heights of Forrest Gump or The Green Mile, but his presence has often lifted an average movie and made it great.

A Hologram for the King follows 2015's Bridge of Spies (yet to be reviewed by me but I will) along with another stellar performance in Captain Phillips

The film opens up with a bizarre sequence with Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) seeing his house, car and marriage literally going up in smoke, before some very quick editing cuts place him on a plane en route to Saudi Arabia.

Why is an American businessman going to the Kingdom? Given how difficult it is to get into the country in the first place (you have to be sponsored to enter the country - I know, because I was in Bahrain in 2000 and was told in no uncertain terms that crossing the border was a no-no). 

Well, Alan is on the Last Big Deal (TM) of a lifetime. He'd previously been in charge of a huge number of people and had to lay them off when Chinese imports undercut them in price. If he doesn't get this deal closed, and thus provide a Hologram for the King, his professional as well as his personal life will be broken, and he may never recover from it.

As well as a broken marriage and hastily run through divorce, Alan is paying for his daughter's college education, and the closing of the deal becomes more important. So we have a set up, a back story, a reason for why Alan is doing what he is doing.

The film switches between comedy and drama, but it's not easy done or easy to watch as a film lover. There's too many cliches thrown in such as Culture Shock (TM). What? Saudi Arabia doesn't have decent wi-fi in an area where an IT company is setting up a presentation?

Alan meets his team, who have been stuck in a tent in the middle of the desert somewhere. They don't have wi-fi for their particular needs. It's a weak signal at best, and no, they don't have food either. In another scene and appearance of Culture Shock (TM), Alan is unable to get the secretary to be helpful. She abruptly informs him that his contact will not be meeting him, so the things his team needs cannot be provided that day. She does it with a smile at least, but it's too typical of many supposed cultural shocks that foreigners are not used to, because of course it works differently in the home country.

Okay, I could understand the difficulties of a foreign company setting up shop in a place like Saudi Arabia. 
There would be teething problems. But what does his team actually do when Hanks is not on screen?

Meanwhile, in his hotel he is unable to procure any beer. Fair enough, that's the country's rule. However, his contact, when he eventually meets him, is able to to provide a cool beer. What message are we being sent here? The same message about the World Cup 2022 in Qatar? That rules and traditions can be bent or discarded altogether where money is involved?

Even though the film had a bizarre, disjointed start, I thought it would settle down. It doesn't. And even when you think something is going to happen, such as the meeting of Chicago and ELO loving local taxi driver Yousef (played earnestly by Alexander Black) and he forewarns Alan that his car is under threat of being wired. When Alan merely thinks that means it will be stolen, he is told 'No, wired means someone has attached a bomb to the car.'

I didn't know whether to laugh at that line, or be scared for our main character. And that's the film's biggest problem - it never draws you in. You feel very much like a hologram, actually. I felt completely hollowed at this point, because nothing of note was happening.

The farce - albeit a moderately acceptable one, of the King maybe arriving today, next week, but 'hopefully not months' wears thin quickly. I started to believe that the King actually was toying with his American 'friends' and planned to go off to Yemen or something. At least then they could pack up and go home, which at this point I wanted to.

(It was at that point that my OH, Katie, provided the highlight of the evening by mishandling her popcorn (because we know how tricky that can be) and spilling it everywhere. We were in Gold Class at the cinema which means that only a handful of seats are there compared to a much larger auditorium. I like the free popcorn and reclining electric seats too. But if I did an eye-roll in the darkness, Katie didn't see it. But I did chuckle.)

Maybe I was missing something, but a few seats up from Katie, another viewer seemed to be having the time of his life, and was laughing at most of the scenes.

That would be fine but A Hologram for the King never makes its case to us, so we are as much in the dark as to the type of story they are trying to present. This is a big disappointment, to put it mildly.

The other company crew that are based there seem like caricatures too. Hanne, a lady of Danish origins, is there purely to get Alan into bed. This plays into another Overplayed European Cliche (TM) that Danish women are 'easy' and will throw themselves at any man. The film never makes it clear if Hanne hasn't had sex in a long time or not. She takes Alan to a Europop Drugs Party (TM) and though she probably could have any man she wanted...I'm guessing she picks Alan for the sole reason that she hasn't. Yet.

She whispers to him 'Let's make a mistake.' Cue more eye-rolling from me. Attention single boys - if you want an easy lay, go to Denmark. Or find the nearest Danish girl you can. It's that easy.

I really started to hate the film at this point. There is simply no reason for a man in Alan's fragile state - emotional financial, personal and professional - to simply fool around with this woman. She throws herself at him for no reason at all.

Other things like this are littered throughout the movie.

Yousef picks up a cousin and he takes a turn in the road leading to Mecca, a place in which non-Muslims are not allowed. Even when the car drives through a packed street with police and other Saudi locals, they never catch on that there is a white male in the car. Not that Alan bothers to cover his head and face. The argument over taking the road to Mecca, because according to Yousef, he always drives that way.

Maybe the Saudi force really are that stupid. But I don't think so. Here's an American movie giving two fingers to another culture that politically, it allies itself with, but culturally (and on a basic respect level) it is wide of the mark.

Yousef even casually points out the place where executions happen, to which Alan exclaims "In Public?". I mean, come on....don't insult the viewer. People who know anything about Saudi Arabia is that it is one of those countries that carry out public executions. I don't even know if half the material that ended up in this film is in David Eggers 2012 book of the same name. Apparently Tom Hanks read the book and tweeted to the author about it. Is that how films get made today?

Nothing happens! The drive -  through, to and beyond Mecca should have had some kind of payoff...I don't know...Alan is captured by the Saudi forces and stoned to death. Yousef's car actually blows up. His cousin starts talking in English. I don't know....just give us something....anything!

The Next Big Joke (TM) is played on another of Yousef's cousins when Alan tells him he is working freelance with the CIA, which he is not, but that doesn't matter. It would have been better plot-wise, perhaps, but this film lacks one.

By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks' career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.

Yousef curtly tells Alan that 'it's like telling someone in the airport that you have a bomb'. True. Not funny. Not appropriate at all.

Then there's the scene with the wolf. I think 'Aha! Something is going to happen'....then it doesn't.

The third act sees Alan falling for his doctor, played by Indian-English actress Sarita Choudhury. Earlier in the film she helps him with the lump on his back, which could be cancerous, so that have to deal with it. Again, this should have elicited an emotional response from me, but frankly, we don't care about Alan. The character is weak, and Tom Hanks does not look comfortable in the skin of this person, who is at hollow and soulless as the Hologram in the title.

Choudhury plays up to yet another cliche of Scowling Foreign Woman (TM). She's professional and a good doctor. But the ropey romance scenes - dragged from the corpse of Hanks other calamity of the 2000s, You've Got Mail, do not work. Again, there is no reason for the good doctor to fall for Hanks' character.

The email sequences are badly handled, and are even more toe-curlingly awful than anything You've Got Mail had got to offer (and that film had nothing to offer).

Maybe it's me. And readers of this who loved the film may think I should just go back to watching The Hunger Games and Star Wars.

Maybe I will. At least then I will be entertained.

A Hologram for the King tries to be an intellectual comedy drama, but it fails on practically every level.

Should you see it? Only if you are a Tom Hanks completest and / or a fan of Egger's novels. And stop with the redundant imagery please. When Hanks says that the lump on his back is like spiders trying to break out, I thought, no....I know what was in that lump... a plot!!

Sadly the director decided to discard it, just like Hanks does with his own sickening self surgery.

By far the worst movie of Tom Hanks career, it joins You've Got Mail and Bonfire of the Vanities as his 'never to be watched again' trilogy.

In summary: You've Got Meh. Watch it and expect nothing, then you might just be entertained.

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