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Book Review – Kaleidoscope Hearts by Claire Contreras

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Book Review – Kaleidoscope Hearts by Claire Contreras

I have been in a reading/reviewing abyss. Sure I’ve read this and that, I’ve even read some pretty great books. But I haven’t read anything a quite a few weeks that has had me needing to review it…. Until now. Kaleidoscope Hearts has broken my book slump! Hurrah!

kaleidoscope hearts

He was my older brother’s best friend.
He was never supposed to be mine.
I thought we would get it out of our system and move on.

One of us did.
One of us left.

Now he’s back, looking at me like he wants to devour me. And all those feelings I’d turned into anger are brewing into something else, something that terrifies me.
He broke my heart last time.
This time he’ll obliterate it

This story devoured me. I was hoping for heart squeezing intensity and I got that and more. The last time I had such a major case of the FEELS over a book was when I read BATM by the super talented Penny Reid…. So for this book to take me to that place was beyond expectation.

The first boy I fell in love with used to regale me with stories about kings and queens and war and peace, and how he hoped to one day be somebody’s knight in shining armor. I lived vicariously through his late night adventures, watching the way he swung his hands animatedly as he told his stories, and loving the way his green eyes twinkled when I laughed at his jokes. He taught me what it feels like to be touched and thoroughly kissed. Later, he taught me the pain one feels at the loss of someone that you’ve grown attached to. The one thing he forgot to teach me was how to deal with the way my chest squeezed after he broke the ghost of what heart I had left. I’d always wondered if it had been a missed lesson. Now I wonder if maybe he’d been trying to figure it out for himself, or if he just never felt anything at all.

I loved LOVED LOOOOOVED these two main characters, Elle and Oliver. These two have possibly ruined me for this genre for a wee while… Elle has been through a lot, she’s suffered loss and heartbreak, she’s not all together whole. She is perfectly broken, endearing in all of the right ways. I commiserated with her, I was angry and sad with her, I felt her hope and her passion, I felt her happiness and above all I felt her reawakening. This is a female character worth investing in. No attention to detail was spared when the author sat down to write about Elle and her story and I really appreciate this, if you’re going to read about a character who has been through so much and has so much emotional cleaning out and organizing to do you want to be able to buy it…

Oliver was written in much the same careful way, whilst maintaining that mysteriousness that we all love to see in our leading men. This guy has joined my super selective book boyfriend list. How could he not? A paediatric doctor who I’m sure leaves drooling women in his wake while being his effortlessly cool self, no he’s not without his quirks and not so fabulous bits, but it wouldn’t be a novel if he was perfect would it!

Life is short, and brutal, and painful, and it takes loved ones away from us as quickly as it brings them into our lives, but it’s also beautiful.

I think a big part of why I felt I got such a well rounded complete picture of these two characters and their story is the clever use of flashback chapters… These little gems were carefully sprinkled throughout the story and the combination not only provided a complete timeline of their romance, but also their own personal stories of growth and discovery. Love doesn’t need to be completely co-dependant, there is a beauty to watching characters grow and change and come into themselves as adults before the strings of a relationship start to pull tight.

So as you can tell I completely and utterly fell in love with this book. I would definitely read this again, and probably again after that! This book was a very lucky random find on one of my endless Amazon browsing missions. Claire Contreras can expect me to be reading pretty much anything she puts out next and I intend to go through her prior releases while I’m at it. So get ready Claire… There’s a new fangirl around and she’s super grateful to you for ripping her out of her book slump!

Book Review – Life After Life By Kate Atkinson

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‘What if we had a chance to do it again and again,’ Teddy said, ‘until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?’

This book took me a little time to read. It couldn’t be rushed. It was one of those books that you would do yourself a total disservice if you tried to read quickly. It needed to be absorbed slowly, mulled over and really thought about. And I guarantee you it is TOTALLY well worth it. For a start, check out this bit of stunning writing:

An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A prawn peeled, a nut shelled. No breath. All the world comes down to this. One breath. Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearly of an ear. Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.

There is much, much more from where that came from. I found no matter what part of the story Kate Atkinson was telling, her writing was beyond beautiful. Even when discussing death, loss, pain or despair. She has a beautiful way with words.

The books follows main character Ursula and her numerous lives. What would it be like if every time you died you came back again? What would that do to the person? What would it mean for the people around that person? And of course, how would it alter the course of the world and even possibly history? The chapters flick back and forth and with each time she dies, the stories reincarnate with her. Each time her life story would slightly be altered, have a slightly different direction. Each time she would have a sense of déjà vu or a sense of foreboding for no good reason. From the readers point of view it’s beyond intriguing to watch Ursula make different decisions based on a feeling of fear, but not knowing it’s because in another life she or someone else had made a decision that ended badly for her or for people around her. That subconsciously she was trying to prevent events that she doesn’t even know will happen in her current life. Her alternate lives have her in various scenarios, sometimes taking multiple attempts at living to actually survive an event. Sometimes she would come back and avoid the first death or disaster only to fall to something that still ended her life in the same time or situation. Each time the story rewinds. Many times we start back at her birth, or start back at a certain chain of events.

Everything familiar somehow. ‘It’s called déjà vu,’ Sylvie said. ‘It’s a trick of the mind. The mind is a fathomless mystery.’ Ursula was sure that she could recall lying in the baby carriage beneath the tree. ‘No,’ Sylvie said, ‘no one can remember being so small,’ yet Ursula remembered the leaves, like great green hands, waving in the breeze and the silver hare that hung from the carriage hood, turning and twisting in front of her face.

The jumping back and forth slows down once she reaches adulthood; she seems to have fewer situations that bring her back to being born on a freezing snowy night in 1910. As the gaps widen between her life restarting, the stories really start to develop. World War 2 is starting to encroach on Britain and it is these stories, these potential lives lived by her that cram the most gripping detail in. Kate Atkinson really does take Ursula down every potential life that you could lead in wartime. She manages to layer so many layers into one character, see so many different scenes with in the same war and have so many different experiences. One such life I am so glad that she wrote about was when Ursula was in Berlin. She was trapped in Germany when the war accelerated, and more so, trapped within Hitler’s inner circle. I think that this life of Ursula in Germany was so important to the greater story, how else can you convey so many details through one character if she doesn’t experience them first hand.

At the Fuhrer’s approach the crowd’s excitement had grown to a rabid frenzy of Sieg Heil and Heil Hitler. ‘Am I the only one to be unmoved?’ Sylvie said. ‘What is it, do you suppose – mass hysteria of some kind?’ ‘I know,’ Ursula said, ‘It’s like the Emperor’s new clothes. We’re the only ones who can see the naked man.’ ‘He’s a clown,’ Sylvie said dismissively.

 The detail over chapters and chapters of the blitz in London and the people caught up in it makes you feel that you too are trapped in the midst of the swishes and booms of bombs, the dust caked in your lungs and the constant fear and weariness of being trapped in a city that is slowly being obliterated. The rawness of what people faced sometimes was hard to digest. I could compare it to the book The Cellist of Sarajvo By Steven Galloway. (Also WELL worth reading) You are constantly on edge. It’s unsettling. The facts laid out cold and bare, babies dying in bombings, people blown apart like crackers, the cold, no food, the smell and the sound of war and the fact that soon Ursula and other characters began to find a normalcy in the constant violence.

Death and decay were on her skin, in her hair, in her nostrils, her lungs, beneath her fingernails, all the time. They had become part of her.

So I’m over-emotional and trying to put down on paper words that just don’t seem poetic enough, descriptive enough to tell you about this novel. I don’t feel that my review can do this book justice, I honestly think that everyone will pull something different from it and I cannot recommend it enough. I personally found this book so incredibly thought provoking. It’s hard to wrap your head around the possibilities raised within the pages. So much of it replays in my mind, even after finishing it and I’ve been kept up at night thinking about its many aspects and layers. There was actually a certain paragraph that hit very close to home for me;

‘Hugh’s sixtieth birthday’, one more in a roll-call of family occasions. Later, when she understood that it was the last time they would all be together, she wished she had paid more attention.

How true is that, even in our everyday lives today. How often do we go about life, seeing people we love, family and friends and just check it off like a box on a to-do list. The finality of not being able to have these times back gets forgotten until someone is no longer here. This is what I think this book does so well, it explicitly points out how life is short, how life is unfair, how we have no way of predicting the future and how unlike Ursula, we can’t just go back and re-live it every time the black bat comes for us.

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Book Review – Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters

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This is the third book in a week I have read by A. Meredith Walters (I ended up zooming through the sequel to Find You in the Dark – I NEEDED to know what happened next! It was good.), so sorry about the lack of variety. But her books are just SO GOOD. Reclaiming the Sand was no exception. I ended up staying up until way past bedtime devouring this story. 

“He sees the beauty where others don’t. He hears love when others only hear pain. He gives me the strength to become the person I’ve been terrified to be. 
You will hate me.
You will love him.
I love him.
He has changed my world

Before reading Reclaiming the Sand my knowledge on Asperger syndrome was pretty limited. I knew aspergers was an autism spectrum disorder but wasn’t aware of the finer details. In fact, everything I knew about it, I had learned a few years ago from Shortland Street (a NZ medical drama). Hardly reliable info. So it’s fair to say that going into this book I had no character expectations.

The prologue captured me immediately. The writing was beautiful and I was instantly intrigued. This story is about Ellie and Flynn. Ellie McCallum has been brought up in the American foster system and life has been hard on her. Flynn Hendrick is a beautiful boy and an artist. He also has asperger’s. He finds it difficult to communicate with and understand others, he can’t read emotions or express his own clearly. But somehow these two beautiful (and in Ellie’s case, extremely flawed) characters find their teenage selves in an unlikely friendship. There are issues – of course. Ellie is a bully and Flynn is not exempt from her nasty tongue lashings. He is teased and taunted by Ellies’ friends and, sadly, Ellie herself. She’s embarrassed to be seen with him and hates the way he makes her feel. It’s way too confronting for her and she just isn’t equipped to deal with those type of emotions. After struggling with themselves and their friendship, a life changing event separates them and sends them on different journeys. They grow up and move on. But fate has other ideas and many years later their paths cross again. From there we follow them as they try to find themselves, their place in this world and their way to each other.

“I followed the man who had stolen my heart and stitched up my soul into the house of our shared childhood. Where I could remember the person I had almost been.”

This story broke my heart on more than one occasion. Particularly, as a mother, I found what both Ellie and Flynn went through hard to read. When you picture your own child in a situation like this it’s unbearable. Ellie’s self loathing was a hard pill to swallow and Flynn’s agony at the torment he faced daily was even harder. 

“Your mom didn’t want you. We don’t want you. No one will ever love you. Those are hard words for a child to hear. Especially one who had already been to hell.”

But it’s not all bleak. They are both strong, and there was good in this story too. We got to see Ellie and Flynn experience many things for the first time; acceptance, connection, and unconditional love. 

“He taught me that being Ellie McCallum was okay. Because she was flawed and troubled. But she was also smart and capable and worthy of love.”

There were so many levels of emotion going on while reading this book. A lot of people won’t understand Ellie and won’t be able to get on board with her character. How could she have treated him like this? Why does she do these things? It’s almost inconceivable. Almost. I didn’t find it impossible to forgive her like others might. Hard, yes, but not impossible. I loved Flynn with the fire of a thousand suns, he was loyal, forgiving and so strong. But I could understand how he would frustrate or upset someone easily – through absolutely no fault of his own.

“There was no coming back from Flynn Hendrick. Ever.”

It was intense and deep and brutally beautiful. It’s clear the the author researches the hell out of her characters and their various issues to make sure things are accurate. It’s a story that sticks with you and will give you a massive book hangover. I feel like I need a breather before jumping into my next book and I won’t forget this one anytime soon!

“We were separated by miles but had never been closer. People who shared a connection like ours were never far apart. We missed each other every second. Until the day came and we didn’t have to miss each other anymore.”