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Archive for the ‘Sphere’ Category

A Boy Made of Blocks

Author: Keith Stuart
Published: 1 September 2016
Reviewed: 13 August 2016
5 out of 5 stars
Copy supplied by Little, Brown Book Group UK / Sphere in return for an honest review

Description:

Discover a unique, funny and moving debut that will make you laugh, cry and smile.
Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.
Meet eight-year-old Sam

Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.
But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .
Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?
Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, A Boy Made of Blocks is an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism.

My Thoughts & Review:

A Boy Made of Blocks is one of those rare books that changes how a reader thinks, it makes you pause and re evaluate things you once took for granted and makes you appreciate the things you do have.

From the very beginning of the novel Alex is a character that many readers will struggle to connect with.  His attempts to rebuild his life after the breakdown of his marriage are awkward, showing incredible insensitivity, impatience and a complete lack of understanding.  Making the decision to try a trial separation from his marriage to Jody he moves in with a friend, his temporary break from the toils of parenting are welcomed.  However, there is no break for the long suffering Jody, she still has to parent Sam, their eight year old autistic son.  
It’s at this point that I will freely admit to not having much knowledge of Autism and related spectrum disorders.  Having never encountered this disorder I did some research whilst reading this book and I can understand some of Alex’s struggles.  

Narration by Alex opens this character up for a lot of criticism, but also lets the reader see what it can be like to struggle to adjust to something so huge.  There is no comprehensive parenting manual handed out when exiting the maternity hospital, and as a parent I know that sometimes “winging it” is the only thing you can do.  So when parents are faced with a life changing diagnosis of their young child this must make things 100% more confusing, more difficult, and more challenging.   

As the story unfolds, the reader begins to empathise with Alex, understands his troubles and realises there’s a deep rooted issue that needs to be addressed.  I sympathised with Jody, she is the main carer for Sam having given up her job previously.  Alex feels that Jody has no time for him, and in a way he is right, Jody spends her day navigating the labyrinth of triggers with Sam whilst trying to keep a home for Alex to return to at the end of the working day and she is exhausted – physically and mentally drained.  It’s no wonder therefore that their relationship falters, they are both struggling and both need the others support.

Sam is a wonderfully rich character, the author’s writing really gives the reader a feel for how Sam struggles with everyday life.  How noises or changes to routine can upset him to the point of meltdown, and the fallout from it all is traumatic for both Sam and his parents.  His struggles with school and the interactions highlighted an issue faced by many parents in this situation and the need for more specialist schools equipped to help and support.      

The turning point for the family is the discovery of Minecraft, a computer game that Sam discovers after Jody was given an old xbox for him to play with.  The effect it has on Sam is beautiful, Alex’s reaction when he watches Sam playing it was a joy to read.  Seeing that light bulb moment for Alex when he realises that his son has connected with the game, captivated by it.  Minecraft appearers a very structured game, things have purpose and a place which means that Sam can relate to this.  But through playing the game he and Alex begin to bond, a connection between them forms.  

There is a very poignant aspect to this novel, but it’s also humorous and insightful at the same time.  Keith Stuart has written a story that evokes emotion and laughter whilst educating his audience, the fact that he has written it from personal experience adds an authenticity.

Utterly brilliant, tear jerking, funny and true to life are just some of the things I can say about this book, but it’s really one you need to read for yourself to decide.  Just make sure you have tissues near by….

You can buy a copy of A Boy Made of Blocks here.  

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Burned and Broken

Author: Mark Hardie
Published:23 June 2016
Reviewed: 30 July 2016 
4 out of 5 Stars
Copy supplied by Little, Brown Book Group / Sphere in return for an honest review
Description:

An enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found burned to death in his car on the Southend sea front.

A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery that surrounds their colleague’s death, they’re under intense pressure to crack the case without damaging the force’s reputation. 

When a dramatic turn of events casts a whole new light on both cases, the way forward is far from clear. Were the victims connected in some way? And just how much should Pearson and Russell reveal to their bosses as they begin to unearth some dark secrets that the force would rather keep buried?

My Thoughts & Review:

The book opens with the horrific scene of DI Sean Carragher burning to death  in his car.  The discovery of his unrecognisable body in the burnt out vehicle sparks an investigation by DS Frank Pearson and the Essex Police Major Investigation Team.  As far as openings go, this is a pretty powerful one, it immediately grabs the reader’s attention.

The narrative jumps back four days, the author recounts the events leading up to the investigation of DI Carragher’s death.  During these four days the reader is introduced to Donna Freeman, a sixteen year old in her first year out of care.  Donna is convinced that her friend Alicia has been murdered and continuously tries to get someone to listen to her that it was not an accident.  We also discover that DI Carragher was being investigated by Professional Standards for suspected corruption, witness intimidation and assault to name but a few, and that there are no shortage of suspects connected with his death.

In amongst the sprawling investigation, DS Frank Pearson has his own troubles, in poor health and undergoing tests for suspected pancreatic cancer and estranged from his wife.  DC Catherine (Cat) Russell finds the reach of the Professional Standards investigation into her former partner (DI Carragher) is coming too close to home, falling under suspicion by association, she desperately wants to protect Sean Carragher, but remaining loyal will mean telling lies for him.  
The death of one of their own sees the Police throwing resources at this case to solve it quickly, but that also means there are many pair of eyes watching the investigation, ones that will not approve of the discoveries made by Pearson and Russell.  

This is a very cleverly written thriller, with layer upon layer of detail. The use of different perspectives for narration gives the reader a good insight into the Police investigation as well as the life of Donna in care.  
The novel is split into three distinct parts, and this is a very effective technique for setting out the story, indeed this would also make this an idea book to transfer to screen. 
Well paced plot, with brilliant little details added for that extra something special.  The characters are well crafted, realistic and credible.  The location used is a welcome change from the normal big cities, so thank you Mr Hardie, you’ve broken away from the “norm” and given the reader what we’ve been screaming out for.   

A very impressive début novel and one I would have no hesitation to recommend.

You can buy a copy of Burned and Broken here.

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We’ll Always Have Paris

Author: Sue Watson
Published: 28 July 2016
Reviewed: 26 July 2016
4.5 Stars out of 5

Copy supplied by Little, Brown Book Group and Sphere in return for an honest review

Description:



My Thoughts & Review:

This book certainly didn’t start as I thought it might, Rosie Draper, nearing 65 loses her husband Mike to cancer……initially, I wondered what I was letting myself in for, but somehow, Sue Watson manages to turn this tragic event into something that draws the reader in slowly.  
Rosie, feeling that she has had her happiness, is ready to move on in her grief and settle for living out her days peacefully with the memories of her husband.  Never in her wildest dreams does she imagine a chance meeting with her first boyfriend.  

The romance aspect to the book was really well written, heartfelt and uplifting to read.  Reading how Rosie coped with the loss of her husband and struggling to get back to a place mentally where she could go on was very carefully written.  Care and consideration was shown by the author to this sensitive aspect of the book and for that I am grateful.  All to often authors brush over this and never really attempt to put into words how events such as this can impact on the characters left behind.  
Rosie is a lovely character, she teaches us so much – never to give up hope, never to give up on love but most importantly hindsight is something we have to learn from. 
All of her characters are realistic and most people will be able to identify with them, I loved the way they all seemed to open up and develop as realisations dawned upon them.  
Sue Watson writes a wonderful book, with a strong female lead character, some romance but most of all, she gives the reader pause for thought.  This book was exceptionally good at making me reflect on things and inspiring hope for what lies ahead.  More than I bargained for when I first read the description of the book, but I am so glad that I did read this one.  

I would definitely recommend this book, it’s the sort of heart warming story that cannot fail to capture the attention of readers, and their hearts in places too. This was the first book written by Sue Watson that I have read, but it definitely won’t be the only one, having thoroughly enjoyed this, I will be searching Amazon later for more of her books to enjoy!  

You can buy a copy of We’ll Always Have Paris  here.

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