Monday 30 March 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Books 6-10

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I'm back with my next round up of book reviews. I have tons of Netgalley eARC's to get through so I am focusing on those before I make a start on my huge paperback TBR pile! Give me an add on Goodreads if you want to share reviews there.

Here's what I've been reading lately.

6) Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - 5/5 

Blurb: A luminous, life-affirming novel about a 12-year-old who is the sole survivor of a deadly plane crash.

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles. There are 191 passengers aboard: among them, a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet; a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured soldier returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across the country with their adolescent sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor.

'Dear Edward' depicts Edward's life in the crash's aftermath as he struggles to make sense of the meaning of his survival, the strangeness of his sudden fame, and find his place in the world without his family. In his new home with his aunt and uncle, the only solace comes from his friendship with the girl next door, Shay. Together, Edward and Shay make a starling discovery: hidden in his uncle's garage are sacks of letters from the relatives of the other passengers, addressed to Edward.

As Edward comes of age against the backdrop of sudden tragedy, he must confront some of life's most profound questions: how do we make the most of the time we are given? And what does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Review: Wow. This is an absolutely beautiful bildungsroman and I'm not even ashamed to admit that it made me cry.

Eddie and his family are on a plane from New York to Los Angeles. The plane crashes and Eddie is the only survivor. He moves in with his aunt Lacey (his mother's sister) and uncle John, while missing his mother, his father but especially his older brother Jordan. The story alternates between the stories of all the people who were on the plane and Edward's life (he decides to go by Edward after the crash) as he's trying to come to terms with what happened.

We learn that Edward becomes friends with Shay, his next door neighbour, he attends school with her, he visits a therapist called Dr Mike, and he helps his principal look after his ferns all while trying to find his place in the world after such a tragedy. His relationship with Shay is wonderful and it's such a moving story about grief and how to cope with his feelings and what he should do for the best.

The family members of people who died in the plane write to him, hence the title of the book, and he decides that he needs to live for them. Even though I knew the outcome of the plane crashing, the writing is exceptional and my eyes were filled with tears at the last letter.

7) All About Us by Tom Ellen - 4/5 

Blurb: One moment in time can change your life forever...

Ben's always loved the month of December, but with his marriage to Daphne on the rocks, this year it's missing its usual magic. So when his old flame Alice gets back in touch, Ben can't help but wonder: did he make the right choice all those years ago?

Yet everything changes one night when a twinkly-eyed stranger sells Ben a mysterious watch, the hands frozen at one minute to midnight. Opening his eyes the next morning, Ben is astonished to find that he has been catapulted back to 5th December 2005: the day he first kissed Daphne, leaving Alice behind.

Now Ben must make the biggest decision of his life, all over again. But this time around, will he finally find the courage to follow his heart?

Review: This is a cute little book.

Ben has been with Daphne for years but in 2020, he feels like not all is perfect between them anymore. He arranges to meet up for drinks with a girl he was friendly with in his uni days on 29th December, five days away.

He goes for Christmas Eve drinks with his friend Harv, ready to tell him how he's feeling but as they don't usually talk about the serious stuff in life, he chickens out. This is where the story takes a sort of Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' turn.

A man in the pub gives Ben a broken watch, with the hands stuck just before midnight. Ben then goes travels through time to the same date in the past, present and future, to show him things that he hadn't realised in the past and to see what his present and future held.

I honestly thought that it might be a little cheesy but it wasn't at all. It is written seamlessly and I didn't guess the ending at all. An enjoyable read! 

8) The Night You Left by Emma Curtis - 5/5 

Blurb: When Grace's fiancé vanishes without a trace the night after proposing, her life is turned upside down. But has Nick walked out on her, or is he in danger?

As Grace desperately searches for answers, it soon becomes clear that Nick wasn't the uncomplicated man she thought she knew. And when she uncovers a hidden tragedy from his childhood, she realises an awful truth: that you can run from your past - but your secrets always catch up with you...

Review: This book is fantastic and I couldn't put it down!

Grace and Nick have been together for seven years. On the night he proposes, he disappears. Grace is sure that something has happened to him and sets out to find answers.

The story flits between the present time and back in 2000 when Nick would have been 16 years old. His family along with two others are holidaying together and a tragedy happens. The two stories tie together really well and kept me guessing right 'til the end.

9) The Stranger In Our Bed by Samantha Lee Howe - 4/5 

Blurb: I ended my marriage for a man who didn't exist...

I have everything money can buy. I'm a good wife, but sometimes I feel trapped. And when I start an affair with a stranger called Ewan, my life changes in ways I can't begin to understand.

Because Ewan breaks apart my marriage piece by piece and then he just disappears. He uses a fake name and leaves no trace behind: it's like he doesn't even exist.

Someone did this to me and now they're waiting for me to unravel, watching my every move. I can't trust anyone, not even myself - not even the people I love.

Review: This was an interesting one!

Charlotte is married to CEO Tom and wants for nothing, but she has to put up with Tom's overbearing mother Isadora. She loves Tom and is a great wife. She meets Ewan and they begin a secret affair. Charlotte prepares to leave Tom then suddenly, Ewan disappears without a trace and cannot be found. It's like he never existed.

She ends up back with Tom and they go on to have a baby but she still can't stop thinking about what could have happened to Ewan. She doesn't know who to trust and secrets and lies are revealed.

It's a dark, twisty book that makes you think.

10) The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney - 2/5 

Blurb: Abbie wakes in a hospital bed with no memory of how she got there. The man by her side explains that he's her husband. He's a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley's most innovative startups. He tells Abbie she's a gifted artist, a doting mother to their young son, and the perfect wife.

Five years ago, she suffered a terrible accident. Her return from the abyss is a miracle of science, a breakthrough in artificial intelligence that has taken him half a decade to achieve.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband's motives - and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to her half a decade ago?

Review: My rating might seem a bit harsh but as the parent of an autistic child, I just could not get on board with this book at all which is a shame because I loved 'Believe Me'.

Tim Scott owns a large tech company in Silicon Valley. We learn that his wife Abbie is dead (presumably, no body found) and five years on, he has built his own "cobot" (companion robot) of her by making her look exactly like Abbie and downloading all of her memories and thoughts.

Abbie and Tim have a ten year old son called Danny who has Heller's syndrome (children's degenerative syndrome) but it is mostly described in the book as autism. This is where my problem with this book lies.

I understand that the author has an autistic son and a lot of this story has personal influences. Delaney talks a lot about ABA, which the autistic community class as an abusive form of therapy to control autistic children's behaviours and stims to make them behave as neurotypicals.

I don't agree with statements such as "The mother of a child with autism knows her feelings for him will never be reciprocated. Her child will never say 'I love you'..." He goes on to say that they will never bring a girlfriend home or have children. Wrong and infuriating. There are a lot of comparisons between an autistic brain and the programming of the brains of the robots that our main character Tim Scott was building, insinuating that there aren't that many differences between them.

The main storyline between Tim and his "cobot" version of Abbie is great. She acts and feels like a real person but discovers that Tim hasn't given her all of her memories and she wants to find out what really happened to Abbie.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Schleich Horse Club Mobile Vet Van & Horse Club Girls - Review

[AD/Gifted products - We received these items free of charge for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

I absolutely love Schleich products and we have been lucky enough to review some of their jungle animals and dinosaurs with C in the past. E was very excited to get her very own first Schleich products from the extensive Horse Club range.

We, very kindly, were sent the Schleich Horse Club Mobile Vet Van and two Horse Club Girls to have a play with.

The Mobile Vet Van is a fantastic set with tons of creative play value. The van itself is simple to put together, taking me less than ten minutes, and E enjoyed helping me pop the stickers on to make it look pretty. 
Once the top and side of the van are opened up, you have the main veterinary area. The set comes with 15 accessories such as a table and laptop and x-ray machine, you even get a ramp to help get the horses up to the van to be checked. Everything every good vet would need! It can all be closed up and kept enclosed so you won't lose anything. A few of the pieces are quite small so wouldn't be suitable for children under 3. The target age for these toys are around 5-12 years.
As well as the actual van and accessories, you get a Hanoverian foal figure and vet with movable arms which is great as you can use your imagination to have the vet work with the foal, handle medical equipment or hold onto the included reins. E loved the addition of sticky plasters and a printed notepad to jot down the foals ailments.
The Schleich Mobile Vet Van retails at £30.00 and is available from Argos.

Schleich have a huge range of Horse Club products which can all be played with together. In addition to the Vet Van, we received two Horse Club Girls (and their horses). There are four girls in the range; Hannah, Sofia, Lisa and Sarah. We got Sofia with her horse Blossom and Sarah with her horse Mystery.
Each Horse Club Girl has her own personality and relationship with her horse. Sofia and her beautiful Andalusian mare Blossom are a dream team with Sofia's blonde hair matching Blossom's fair mane. Sarah loves to go on long rides and gallop across wide fields on the back of her Arabian mare Mystery.

The attention to detail on these figures are fantastic - they are so realistic and lifelike. You can tell that so much thought has been put into the design of them and the quality of the entire Schleich range are brilliant. They are the type of toy that will withstand the test of time and be played with for years.

The saddles and bridles can be removed and the girls slot on easily, having their feet resting on the stirrups and the reins in their hands. 

The Horse Club Girls retail at £15.00 each and can also be purchased from Argos.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Celebrating #BritishScienceWeek with Learning Resources

[AD/Gifted products - We received these items free of charge for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

It is British Science Week from the 6th-12th of March and it is one national week that I am always eager to support. We have always been into science as a family and both C and E are fascinated by all things science, from why things look and behave the way they do to how things are made.

Learning Resources have a great range of Science themed toys that are perfect for getting young children excited about the world of science. Both C and E were thrilled to kindly be sent the GeoSafari Jr My First Microscope and GeoSafari Jr My First Telescope to try out. These are available in both pink or blue colourways. C is happy with any colour and even at the age where he can be influenced by society and what others think, he loves pink as much as any other colour. E, on the other hand, is stereotypically girly so was thrilled to see pink and purple science-based toys.

GeoSafari Jr My First Microscope
This super cool microscope was designed by a scientist and mum of two and it is a working microscope targeted towards children aged around 3-7 years old. E and C are 5 and 7 respectively and the eye piece is the perfect size for their small faces. It takes three AAA batteries (not included) to activate the light.

Unlike a typical microscope, it has two eye pieces meaning that your child doesn't have to close one eye to use it - I know that can throw some kids off because they don't know which one they should be closing! It is completely designed for little hands with one chunky focusing knob that children can move easily on their own.

E was happily searching around the house and outdoors for things to look at under her 8x magnification lens. The fixed stage means that both flat and 3D objects can be viewed easily without the need for slides. Her favourite things to look at were leaves and her own fingertips and she was in awe at what these items looked like close up.

GeoSafari Jr My First Telescope
I love the idea of a children's telescope because as a child, I remember my dad being massively into astronomy and now he speaks to my children, his grandchildren, about the galaxy and constellations.

The My First Telescope, like the Microscope, is perfectly made for little faces. My face doesn't fit properly in the goggle and nose guide at the dual eyepiece but C and E can use it easily as it's designed with children's pupillary distance in mind.

We tended to wait til night-time to use this to try and get a good view of the moon but it was great to point out the door during the day to see what we could spot (mostly birds on the roof on the house across the road). It has 10x magnification with a wide field of vision and built-in mirror. 

It is so simple to set up and comes with a collapsible tripod too. Attaching the telescope to the tripod is done by lining it up with the top and screwing it on. E found the telescope absolutely fascinating but it did take us a little while to suss out the fact that unless the item we were trying to look at was at least 100 feet away, it wouldn't focus and seemed blurry. Once we got past that hurdle, she was able to easily use it on her own and would excitedly tell me about what she could see.

Learning Resources have a whole host of fabulous science related toys and you can find out more at their website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Books 1-5

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Last year, I decided to set myself a Reading Challenge through Goodreads. I aimed for 80 books but ended up falling short, reading just 57 books. I wanted to do another for 2020 and realised that with 52 weeks in a year, my target of 80 in 2019 was totally unrealistic. This year, I've set myself a target of 60, hoping I can beat last year by 3. Feel free to add me on Goodreads to share reviews.

I will do my book reviews in the same way as last year, by way of round ups after every five books. Here's what I've been reading lately.

1) Sleep by C.L. Taylor - 5/5 

Blurb: All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn't feel so guilty...

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.

Each of the guests have a secret, but one of them is lying - about who they are and why they're on the island. There's a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they've set their sights on Anna.

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.

Review: A dark, twisty book that I absolutely loved!

Anna is driving three colleagues back from a work retreat and they get into a car accident. Two of her colleagues die and the other is injured. She feels a lot of guilt over what happened so she decides to move to a remote Scottish island and work at a hotel.

Before she left, she was receiving eerie messages which continue even after she moves. You suspect every person staying at the hotel and the twists and turns are great.

2) Little Friends by Jane Shemilt - 3/5 

Blurb: Their children are friends first. They hit it off immediately, as kids do. And so the parents are forced to get to know each other. Three wildly different couples. Three marriages, floundering.

There are barbecues, dinner parties, a holiday in Greece. An affair begins, resentments flare, and despite it all the three women become closer.

Unnoticed, their children run wild. The couples are so busy watching each other that they forget to watch their children.

Until tragedy strikes.

Because while they have been looking the other way, evil has crept into their safe little world and every parent's nightmare is about to begin...

Review: The story follows three families; Eve and Eric and their children Poppy, Sorrel and Ash; Grace and Martin and their children Charley and Blake; Melissa and Paul and their daughter Izzy.

The three families spend a lot of time together, even holidaying together, when their children become friends. The POV flits between Melissa, Eve and Grace and it's written well. The women are so caught up with their own lives and what the others are doing that they don't realise what's going on right under their noses. 

I enjoyed the story but there was no chase, urgency or anything that really gripped me. I had guessed the ending so the red herrings that were thrown in just weren't effective.

3) The Chain by Adrian McKinty - 4/5 

Blurb: You are not the first and you will certainly not be the last.


You will become each one.

Your phone rings.

A stranger has kidnapped your child.

To free them you must abduct someone else's child.

Your child will be released when your victim's parents kidnap another child.

If any of these things don't happen, your child will be killed.

You are now part of the chain.

Review: Rachel's daughter Kylie is kidnapped and receives a call telling her that in order to get Kylie back, she must kidnap someone else's child and give their parents the same call that she is receiving. Rachel and Pete, her ex-brother-in-law, then try to work out who is behind The Chain.

The plot is great but a little unbelievable at times. I didn't like Rachel's character progression either. I saw where the story was going and was annoyed that Rachel didn't see it when all of the signs where there. I've only dropped one star though as it is generally an enjoyable book.

4) Stop at Nothing by Tammy Cohen - 4/5 

Blurb: Tess has always tried to be a good mother. Of course, there are things she wishes she'd done differently, but doesn't everyone feel that way?

Then Emma, her youngest daughter, is attacked on her way home from a party, plunging them into a living nightmare which only gets worse when the man responsible is set free.

So when Tess sees the attacker in the street near their home, she is forced to take matters into her own hands. But blinded by her need to protect her daughter at any cost, might she end up putting her family in even greater danger?

Review: I am conflicted about this one. I've rated it 4 but really it's 3.5 rounded up.

The plot is great! Tessa's daughter Emma is attacked by a man when she gets off the bus and is stopped by a kind passerby, Frances, who ends up escorting her home and builds a relationship with both Tessa and Emma. 

Tessa is divorced and is still coming to terms with the fact that her husband left her for another woman. She becomes fixated on finding the man who attacked her daughter, going as far as finding out his name, where he lives and looking up his social media profiles.

I don't want to spoil the ending but to me it was pretty obvious where it was going to go and Tessa's fixation on making the attacker pay was a bit long and drawn out. I liked it but I didn't love it.

5) If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane - 5/5 

Blurb: Laurie and Jamie have the perfect office romance
(They set the rules via email)

Everyone can see they're head over heels 
(They staged the photos)

This must be true love
(They're faking it)

When Laurie is dumped by her partner of eighteen years, she's blindsided. Not only does she feel humiliated, they still have to work together.

So when she gets stuck in a lift with handsome colleague Jamie, they hatch a plan to stage the perfect romance. Revenge will be sweet...

But this fauxmance is about to get complicated. You can't break your heart in a fake relationship - can you?

Review: The fact that I finished it in 24 hours speaks volumes. I've said before that romance or 'chick lit' would never be my first choice because I love crime thrillers too much but my mind may be changing!

Laurie and Dan have been together for 18 years, since university, until he tells her that he doesn't want that life anymore. They work at the same law firm in different departments so will end up seeing each other quite a lot.

One of Laurie's colleagues, Jamie, is looking to make partner and as Laurie is held in good standing at the firm, he suggests they fake a relationship to make him look better and to make Dan jealous.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It has so much depth, the characters are well developed and it was just a fun, easy read.