ARC REVIEW: Before You Leap – by Keith Houghton

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Title: Before You Leap
Author: Keith Houghton

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
First published: November 1st 2016
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: November 9th 2016
Pages: 302
Rating 3qqq

“Well-wishers will tell you that wounds heal over time. Don’t believe them. The only thing time heals is other people’s memories.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have to admit I couldn’t believe my eyes when I received a message from Netgalley that they granted my wish and sent me a copy of Before You Leap. I’ve wanted to read this title ever since I first heard about it, so I’m glad I was given the chance to do so. Unfortunately, I did end up having mixed thoughts about this novel by Keith Houghton. It is without doubt a very interesting psychological thriller and I liked the general plot, but it wasn’t all good.  First of all, the prologue is a quite confusing and it took a long time before it started to make sense. I feel the start of Before You Leap would have been a lot stronger without the prologue, because it kind of feels more like a ‘filler’ than something that adds a little extra to the story. I liked the prose and creative descriptions, but the plot twists were all over the place. Some of the twists definitely add the right amount of suspense to the story, but others were a bit farfetched. The ending was quite predictable, maybe even disappointing, and Greg’s character development wasn’t that strong either. That said, I still managed to enjoy most of the story, and fans of the genre will most likely do so as well.

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Greg Cole hasn’t been the same since the murder of his twin sister, Scarlett. He escapes his old town and tries to start a new life in Florida. For years he seems to have succeeded, but old wounds are reopened when Scarlett’s killer is released early from prison with a cast-iron alibi. Greg realized his past is about to come back to haunt him. As a talk therapist, Greg knows all about dark secrets and he is not sure up to what point he can actually trust his own memories. His life is starting to come apart and he is starting to loose his grip on reality… Will Greg discover the truth before it’s too late?

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While Before You Leap without doubt has a lot of potential, I did have a few problems with it. The prose and general plot are without doubt intriguing and I liked the psychological twist as well, but unfortunately the prologue and beginning were quite confusing and it took me a while to properly understand what was going on. The plot twists in especially the second half were a bit weak and the ending wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. It’s still an entertaining read though for those who enjoy the genre.

ARC REVIEW: We’re All Mad Here – by Claire Eastham

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Title: We’re All Mad Here
Author: Claire Eastham

Genre: Non Fiction, Psychology, Self Help
First published: November 21st 2016
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Finished reading: September 25th 2016
Pages: 200
Rating 4qqq

“If you have scars from the past, then bear them. We spend so much time trying to ignore pain, when sometimes the best way to heal is to release it.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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When I was browsing Netgalley a while back, this title really caught my eye and not only because of the colorful cover. Let’s just say I’m an introvert myself and while I don’t think I actually have social anxiety, this guide written by Claire Eastham is without doubt really interesting. We’re All Mad Here, or The No-Nonsense Guide To Living With Social Anxiety as the author put it, is all about explaining what exactly it implies to be diagnosed with social anxiety and what can be done to make it easier to live with it. It shows that the author knows what she is talking about (she has social anxiety herself), and I could really appreciate the personal experiences she decided to include in this guide. The prose is easy to read and the whole story has a healthy dose of humor as well despite the more serious topic. And while We’re All Mad Here might not be the most complete guide out there, I think has quite a few interesting pointers for those who don’t know much about social anxiety. Recommended!

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Social anxiety is more common than people think and can take on many different forms. From physical symptoms, distressing thoughts, insecurity to self-doubt, they all make a person want to avoid social situations and things will become worse over time. This guide explains what social anxiety exactly is, why it happens and how to improve your situation. It’s a guide that will help you beat social anxiety matter if it is related to school, university, work, social media or parties and dates. Honest insights about the author’s own social anxiety are mixed with a healthy dose of humor and many tips on how to make things better.

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I like reading non fiction every once in a while and this social anxiety guide is without doubt an interesting read. We’re All Mad Here mixes the author’s own experiences living with social anxiety with general information about what it exactly is and why it happens in the first place. It turned out to be a really interesting read that is both easy to read, funny and has interesting pointers for those who want to learn more about the topic.

ARC REVIEW: The Girl From The Sea – by Shalini Boland

brthegirlfromtheseaTitle: The Girl From The Sea
Author: Shalini Boland

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: June 9th 2016
Publisher: Adrenalin Books
Finished reading: August 5th 2016
Pages: 306
Rating 4,5qqq

“It’s as though I’m riding a never-ending rollercoaster, my stomach constantly swooping and rising. There are too many things to think about, and I don’t know what to do about any of them.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Adrenalin Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I know I have been reading too many mystery/thrillers as it is lately, but when I came across this book I just couldn’t resist. The Girl From The Sea is a gripping psychological thriller with many many plot twists that will keep you guessing what really happened to the main character for a long time. And even though I kind of suspected part of what happened  to Mia a while before the big twist was revealed, it can’t be denied Shalini Boland used Mia’s amnesia to the fullest and she is the perfect unreliable character for this story. And that ending! I’m still not sure I actually like Mia, but her character development is well done; she feels real and it’s easy to feel sorry for her. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to wake up and not remember ANYTHING and not even recognizing yourself in the mirror… It’s without doubt a scary thought. The story itself is fast-paced and I enjoyed the prose and descriptions. In fact, I found myself flying through this book! If you are looking for a good psychological thriller with a refreshing twist, The Girl From The Sea is definitely a great choice.

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Mia doesn’t remember why or what happened to her, but somehow she ended up washed up on the beach only barely conscious. In fact, she can’t remember anything about her life and doesn’t even know who she is… In the hospital, she is diagnosed with amnesia because of the traumatic experience and told her memories will probably come back in due time. But what can Mia do in the mean time? Then, her boyfriend shows up and he seems to be as eager to fill in the blanks as her family. But can Mia really trust them? Why do people seem to be lying to her and why don’t they want her to remember her past?

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I first decided to request a copy of The Girl From The Sea after I read a few positive reviews. And I’m glad I did, but it turned out to be one of my favorite psychological thrillers I’ve read so far this year! This story reads like a train and is full of plot twists that will mess with your mind. The fact that Mia isn’t just another unreliable character and is suffering from amnesia is actually refreshing, and I really enjoyed reading this story. Recommended for fans of the genre!

BOOK REVIEW: Suicide Notes – by Michael Thomas Ford

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Title: Suicide Notes
Author: Michael Thomas Ford
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: October 14th 2008
Finished reading: April 13th 2016
Pages: 295
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“I’m still kind of a mess. But I think we all are. No one’s got it all together. I don’t think you ever do get it totally together. Probably if you did manage to do it you’d spontaneously combust. I think that’s a law of nature. If you ever manage to become perfect, you have to die instantly before you ruin things for everyone else.”

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Suicide Notes is not the first book I’ve read that uses an interesting mix of humor and a serious theme like mental ilness and (teenage) suicide and therefore its plot is not exactly original. In fact, both It’s Kind Of A Funny Story and The Shock Of The Fall use quite a similar setting with a main character inside a psychiatric ward and if I have to be honest I feel those two books mentioned above did a better job especially when it comes to character development and credibility in general. (I’m aware the second title was published years after Suicide Notes, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I think it was better). I want to make clear that I am by no means saying this novel by Michael Thomas Ford was a bad read and I mostly enjoyed reading it, but I did have a few minor problems with it that influenced the rating. First of all, I wasn’t completely convinced by the credibility of the characters and their (lack of) development of both the main character Jeff and the other patients. Also, I’m not sure I appreciate some of the mental ilness, suicide and glbt related humor used during this story. Not only can some of it be found offensive (especially the glbt related parts), I also thought the humor felt forced at points… I do agree the pace is fast and the story is easy to read even though it’s about such a serious theme. I would probably have given it a higher rating if it wouldn’t have been for the last part… I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but it has something to do with the glbt theme that I found slightly offensive and the (sort of) love triangle was somewhat annoying as well.

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When fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day, he finds himself inside the psychiatric ward. Even though he doesn’t really remember what happened the other day, someone clearly made a huge mistake when they brought him to the ward… Jeff is determined to leave as soon as possible, claiming he doesn’t belong there along with the ‘nutjobs’. But what about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart? Jeff doesn’t see what the big deal is about what happened, but other people do seem to be worried about him. It turns out Jeff is part of a forty-five-day program and won’t be able to leave early even though he thinks he is perfectly fine and ‘normal’. But as the days go by, the ‘crazies’ start to seem less crazy and Jeff slowly starts to accept what happened to him…

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Suicide Notes is without doubt an interesting read with a fast pace and a healthy dose of humor to lighten up the serious theme. Still, I do believe there are better books out there with a similar plot. And although I enjoyed reading this novel in general, the characters were not always completely credible and I wasn’t always completely convinced by the humor either. The glbt related parts were probably my least favorite and sometimes even slightly offensive and cliché… But otherwise it is still worth reading if you are interested in the theme.

BOOK REVIEW: The Happiness Project – by Gretchen Rubin

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Title: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Genre: Non Fiction, Self Help, Memoir
First published: December 29th 2009
Finished reading: December 16th 2015
Pages: 315
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“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

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I normally quite enjoy reading memoirs, but honestly I’m really not that into self help books. I decided to pick up The Happiness Project anyway since I got a free paperback copy at a book exchange earlier this month. I actually quite enjoyed the first part… The idea of investing time and start a project to bring more happiness to your life sounds interesting, but unfortunately reading about Gretchen Rubin‘s own experience started to turn into something annoying after a while. I mean, she pretty much already had a great life before the project: an according to her handsome and succesful husband, two healthy little girls, a job she loves and a great home in NY. I don’t mind her wanting to be happier, but she did come over as a bit hypocrite in some chapters. I know some people see her as a great example, but I personally would have preferred reading about someone with a bigger and more genuine challenge. As far as the prose: it shows that Gretchen Rubin did a lot of research for her project and I liked that she incorporated blog comments in her chapters. Do I agree with everything she said? No. But I do believe the right person might benefit from at least part of her message.

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Gretchen Rubin was taking the same city bus as she always did when she had the realization that “the days are long, but the years are short”. She also realized she wasn’t as happy as she could be and wasn’t focusing enough on the things that really matter. Hence the happiness project was born, where she wanted to try and focus on improving a different aspect of her life each month. Every chapter tells the story of her adventures during a specific month, giving advice and contemplating both the good and bad parts. Novelty and challenge turn out to be powerful sources of happiness, money can help buy happiness when spent wisely and small changes can truly make the biggest difference… All those conclusions and more can be found in the happiness project.

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Gretchen Rubin had some very interesting ideas in her book, but I can’t say I agree with all of them nor do I think her already almost perfect ‘before’ situation is the best example of a ‘proper’ happiness project. Everybody has the right to be happier and I’m not saying she was wrong doing the project OR writing about it, but I didn’t like her tone in some chapters. Would I recommend this read? Only if you like self help books and are interested in the theme.

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Tell Mummy – by Toni Maguire

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Title: Don’t Tell Mummy
Author: Toni Maguire
Genre: Memoir, True Crime
First published: 2006
Finished reading: May 13th 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 4

“The smile on his lips was always the smile of the nice father, but in his eyes I could see the nasty one, the one invisible to everyone else, the one that lived inside his head.”

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This memoir is not for the weak-hearted and will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Toni Maguire didn’t have an easy childhood. Or more precisely said: a childhood from hell. Growing up with an abusive father, a mother who prefers to look the other way and family and friends who don’t see what’s happening behind closed doors… A recipe for every young child’s worst nightmare. The author was very brave to let her skeletons out of the closet and admit all those horrible facts actually happened to her all those years ago. Don’t Tell Mummy is a truly heartbreaking story that will definitely move you… It’s not a happy story, but one that has to be told as there are so many cases of child abuse still out there. Without doubt a memoir I would recommend; it’s very well written and not only tells us the facts of the abuse, but also the way people judge her when the truth comes out.

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The first few years of Toni Maguire’s life were almost perfect, but things change when they decide to move back to Ireland where her father is born. Their new idyllic life is marked by a terrible secret… When Toni is six years old, her father made his first improper move on his daughter and he doesn’t stop there. He warns her not to tell anyone, because they would end up blaming her for allowing him to do those things… And in the end even her mother prefers to look away. When Toni finally gathers the courage to tell her father’s little ‘secret’,  her mother simply says to never talk about it again. Soon Toni is alone and isolated from friends and family, with nobody to turn to. The abuse goes on for years, and even ends up in a pregnancy; the abortion almost killing Toni. And when people find out, they end up doing what her father warned her they would do: the end up judging and rejecting her for what he has done…

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This memoir tells a truly shocking story that will leave you without words and reaching for a box of tissues. Toni Maguire has had a horrible childhood and she is very brave to write down her story. The acts of her father nearly destroyed both her and her childhood, and it’s shocking that nobody noticed something in all those years before her pregnancy. Don’t Tell Mummy is a true eye opener and a very well written story that I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy reading memoirs and true crime stories. Beware: this is not a happy story and it won’t be for everyone…