Review: Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn


How far would you go to create the perfect life?  

About the Book

Publisher’s description: Grace Dwyer has it all – handsome husband, adorable child, beautiful home and glittering career. The perfect life. Her new friend Juliette doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope. So just what is it that draws Grace and Juliette together? And when the cracks start to appear in Grace’s perfect life, can both of them survive?


My Review (spoiler free)

Seemingly Gracie has the perfect life. She’s a celebrity cook and successful businesswoman. She lives in a designer house with her handsome husband and beautiful little girl. But Gracie’s “perfect” life is starting to unravel.   Juliette definitely has anything but the perfect life. She has money problems, is a little bit too fond of a drink and is struggling to bring up her daughter alone following a messy relationship.

The unfolding events are recounted from the points of view of Gracie and Juliette and an unnamed third narrator (the latter through diary entries). I thought the author did a good job of creating distinctive voices for Gracie and Juliette and revealing different aspects of their characters as the book progressed.  Gradually, the connections between Gracie, Juliette and the unnamed diarist are revealed resulting in a satisfyingly clever twist at the end.  I did guess part of the twist but not all.  An entertaining read.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Harper Collins, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 392 pages, publication date 23rd February 2017

My rating: 4 out of 5

In three words: Entertaining, mystery, thriller

Try something similar…I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

About the Author

Sam read modern languages at Cambridge University and, after a brief spell in advertising she joined the BBC as a General Trainee. She worked as a documentary maker for twenty years and was one of the commissioners for the launch of BBC Four. Quicksilver, her first novel for children, was published in 2010. Since then she has published a sequel to Quicksilver and two crime thrillers for teenagers. She has been shortlisted for several prestigious prizes and nominated for the Cilip Carnegie Medal for her YA thrillers. Her Perfect Life is Sam’s debut psychological thriller for adults.  Author Website

Follow Sam on Twitter

Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia


Everyone thought they knew Hattie Hoffman. When she was murdered, they found out just how wrong they were.

About the Book

Publisher’s description: Seventeen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. So when she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a good friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers; it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives: Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the real Hattie, and what happened that final year of school when she dreamed of leaving her small town behind . . .

My Review (spoiler free)

The first and most important lesson in acting is to read your audience. Know what they want you to be and give it to them.”

Hattie has ambitions to be an actress and leave behind her small-town upbringing for life in the big city. She’s so used to acting a part that she has begun to believe she can control everyone around her; that she can see how everything will unfold, as if in a play. The trouble is the other people involved don’t know they’re just characters in her play; they don’t know it’s not for real. It’s what has caused her to end up dead.

Told from the perspective of three different characters, including Hattie herself, the reader gradually learns more about the events leading up to Hattie’s death and, eventually, the reason she was murdered. As the novel progresses, the unintended consequences of Hattie’s manipulations become apparent to the reader, in a way they were not to Hattie, providing a number of plausible possible suspects for her murder. The reveal at the end brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Personally, I didn’t feel that Hattie came across as purely manipulative but rather as a needy person, seeking approbation and acceptance by others and feeling the only way she can achieve this is by being whatever they want or need her to be – perfect daughter, perfect girlfriend, perfect student. In this way, her premature death becomes extra sad.

This is a really well-written, satisfying psychological thriller (originally published as Everything You Want Me To Be).

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Quercus Books, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 352 pages, publication date 9th March 2017

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

In three words: Suspenseful, satisfying, enthralling

Try something similar…Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

To buy a copy of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman, click here

mindyAbout the Author

Mindy Mejia is a Minnesota author whose debut novel, The Dragon Keeper, was published by Ashland Creek Press in 2012. Besides the occasional book review or blog entry, Mindy focuses on the novel and she writes what she likes to read: contemporary, plot-driven books that deliver both entertainment and substance.  Author Website

Follow Mindy on Twitter


My Week in Books

corpusNew arrivals

Corpus by Rory Clements (Hardback)

  1. Europe is in turmoil. The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland. In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror. Spain has erupted in civil war. In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers. In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand? When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…


Regicide by David Boyle (ebook)

England, 1100 – King William Rufus is killed with an arrow on a hunt. Rumours start immediately that he was murdered. Nineteen years later in France, Hilary the Englishman is dismissed from his position as tutor when his student, Alys, a young girl with whom he has fallen in love, dies of fever. Turned out in the street Hilary meets a strange man offers to buy Hilary a meal if he does him a favour. He gives Hilary a pouch of silver, and a message to be delivered to Count Fulk in Anjou. But by morning the man is dead, and the crows feasting on his body. Fearing he will be accused of murder, Hilary flees. But he owes a debt of honour to deliver the message. Hilary knows only one man can help him. His former teacher – the brilliant Peter Abelard. Much has happened to Abelard in the years since Hilary knew him. Although he may not be the man he was, he comes to the aid of his former student, deciphering the message. …A message about the death of King William Rufus all those years before. A message about who benefited from that death and about the Great Jewel of Alfred the Great… a jewel which rested in the crown used at the coronation of kings, but has been missing since 1066. Hilary and Abelard’s journey will take them through France, England, and Jerusalem as they race against time to save their own lives, and the fate of the monarchy. For there is a mysterious Saxon claimant to the throne…

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (ebook)donotsay

“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.” Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey (eARC)duels

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father’s choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won’t hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert’s help, Lydia strives to keep her family’s good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (eARC)hiswholelife

Starting with something as simple as a boy who wants a dog, His Whole Life takes us into a richly intimate world where everything that matters to him is at risk: family, nature, home.    At the outset ten-year-old Jim and his Canadian mother and American father are on a journey from New York City to a lake in eastern Ontario during the last hot days of August. What unfolds is a completely enveloping story that spans a few pivotal years of his youth. Moving from city to country, summer to winter, wellbeing to illness, the novel charts the deepening bond between mother and son even as the family comes apart. Set in the mid-1990s, when Quebec is on the verge of leaving Canada, this captivating novel is an unconventional coming of age story as only Elizabeth Hay could tell it. It draws readers in with its warmth, wisdom, its vivid sense of place, its searching honesty, and nuanced portrait of the lives of one family and those closest to it. Hay explores the mystery of how members of a family can hurt each other so deeply, and remember those hurts in such detail, yet find openings that shock them with love and forgiveness. This is vintage Elizabeth Hay at the height of her powers.

(Summaries courtesy of Goodreads)


Challenge updates

  • Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge – 25 out of 78 books read (3 more than last week)
  • Classics Club – 2 out of 50 books reviewed (same as last week)
  • NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2017 – 12 ARCs reviewed out of 25 (2 more than last week)
  • From Page to Screen – 3 book/film comparisons completed (1 more than last week)

The week ahead…

  • Currently reading
    • Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir
    • Final Girls by Riley Sager
  • Planned posts
    • Book Review: Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn
    • Book Review: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
    • Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia
    • From Page to Screen: The Queen of Katwe
  • NetGalley reviews
    • Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik
    • Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan
    • If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss



From Page to Screen: Indignation


About the Book: Indignation

It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. Marcus Messner, a studious, law-abiding, intense young man from Newark, New Jersey is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at the local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hard-working neighbourhood butcher, seems to have gone mad – mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved boy.  However, life is full of unimagined chances and their potential consequences.

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: Indignation (2016)

Indignation is adapted and directed by James Schamus from the book by Philip Roth.  It stars Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner, Sarah Gadon as Olivia Hutton and Tracy Letts as Dean Caudwell.  More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film

The film adheres to the book pretty closely but has additional opening and closing sequences that reference events that will take place later in the film.  It omits the curved ball delivered part way into the novel that provides the reader with a fair (but pretty depressing) idea how the book will end.   Logan Lerman is well-cast as Marcus Messner and gives a very effective performance that captures his studiousness and naivety.  Marcus’ college room-mates get less focus than in the book instead central place is given to Marcus’ relationship with the troubled Olivia.  Thankfully, the director retains the standout scene from the novel – Marcus’ interview with Dean Caudwell – and gives it almost 15 minutes screen time, preserving much of Roth’s dialogue and Marcus’ unconventional exit.  Marcus’s sexual encounters are dramatised in the film but not in a graphic way; they are communicated rather by his facial expressions.   Like the book, the film ends quite suddenly and in a particularly dark manner.

The Verdict

I think the director does a good job of adapting Roth’s novel but obviously the process of adaptation means emphasising some aspects and diminishing others (no “War of the White Panties” in the film!).  James Schumas chooses to place Marcus’ relationship with Olivia at the centre of the film, thereby losing some of the minor characters from the book.  From the novel, it is quite clear that Marcus must graduate from college to avoid the draft and that expulsion for breaching any of its rules will have dire consequences.  I’m not sure this comes across as clearly in the film and, had I not read the book, I might have missed the significance of what happens at the end and why we suddenly find Marcus in an altogether different setting.  So, on balance, although I very much enjoyed the film, which is a well-crafted piece of cinema with excellent performances, I think the book wins out (as it so often does).   

Book Review: Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers


A story of life, chess and one girl’s dream of becoming a Grandmaster

About the Book

Description (courtesy of Goodreads):  One day in 2005, while searching for food, nine-year-old Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende, who had also grown up in the Kampala slums.  Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids through chess – a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chessboard in the dirt of the Katwe slum, Robert painstakingly taught the game each day. When he left at night, slum kids played on with bottle caps on scraps of cardboard. At first they came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love chess, a game that – like their daily lives – means persevering against great obstacles. By the age of eleven Phiona was her country’s junior champion and at fifteen, the national champion. Phiona’s dream is to one day become a Grandmaster, the most elite title in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world’s most unstable countries, a place where girls are taught to be mothers, not dreamers, and the threats of AIDS, kidnapping, and starvation loom over the people.

Book Facts

Format: ebook – to buy from Amazon, click here
Pages: 242
Publication date: October 2012
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

My Review (3½ out of 5)

Subtitled “A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster”,   the book tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the Katwe slum area of Kampala, Uganda.  Phiona’s aptitude for chess is spotted by an inspirational mentor, Robert Katende, and soon it offers her the tantalising possibility of finding a route out of poverty and hardship.    She joins his group of “Pioneers” and it soon becomes obvious that she has a special talent.

I really enjoyed learning about the family background and upbringing of Phiona and her mentor, Robert Katende, who had an equally challenging start in life.    The book really brought to life how awful and precarious life is in the Katwe slums, its inhabitants constantly at the mercy of the elements and prey to disease, crime and addiction.

‘Katwe has no street signs.  No addresses.  It is a maze of rutted alleys and dilapidated shacks…Survival in Katwe depends on courage and determination as well as guile and luck.’

Expectations are low for the inhabitants of Katwe, particularly its women.   As the author notes: ‘If you live in Katwe, the rest of the Ugandan population would prefer that you stay there.’  He makes an interesting connection between the mental aptitude needed to master chess and the mental toughness needed to overcome the daily challenges of life in Katwe.   As one of Phiona’s fellow ‘Pioneers’ says:

‘The big deal with chess is planning.  What’s the next move?  How can you get out of the attack they have made against you?  We make decisions like that every day in the slum.’

When Phiona achieves her first tournament success, it opens up thoughts of new possibilities:  ‘I remember by the time I got home I felt I was not the Phiona of always.  I was a different Phiona.’  However, the book puts into context Phiona’s achievements in the chess world, which although tremendous for a girl of her background, are a long way from becoming a Grandmaster.  Similarly, the author is brutally realistic about the challenge Phiona faces in achieving this goal because of the need for financial support that is probably beyond the means of a country like Uganda, unlike say China or Russia.  In fact, it is this book (and subsequently the film adaptation of it) that has brought most financial benefit for Phiona and her family so far.

In separate sections of the book, the author contrasts Phiona’s story with the story of other Ugandan athletes and the struggles they faced to compete on equal terms in the world.  He also provides a lot of information about the founding of Sports Outreach, the project that enabled Robert Katende to set up his chess group.

Although I found the book fascinating in parts, the style was rather journalistic with lengthy interview-like quotes and therefore it was not as easy to read as I would have liked.    This is probably explained by the fact that the book grew out of an ESPN Magazine article.  Also, I would have preferred the book to focus mainly on Phiona, the other “Pioneers” and Robert Katende.   However, it is an inspiring story very proficiently told.

This book forms part of my From Page to Screen reading challenge.  I will be posting a comparison of the book and film separately.

In three words: Factual, informative, interesting

Try something similar…A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

crothersAbout the Author

Tim Crothers is a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated who is currently a journalism professor and a freelance sportswriter. He is the author of The Man Watching, a biography of Anson Dorrance, the legendary coach of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team, co-author of Hard Work, the autobiography of UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, and author of The Queen of Katwe, the story of a 16-year-old female chess champion from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Crothers lives with his wife and two children in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Author Website