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Smile By Roddy Doyle

Smile‘Smile’ is the latest book by bestselling Irish author, Roddy Doyle.

Just moved in to a new apartment, alone for the first time in years, Victor Forde goes every evening to Donnelly’s pub for a pint, a slow one. One evening his drink is interrupted. A man in shorts and pink shirt brings over his pint and sits down. He seems to know Victor’s name and to remember him from school. Says his name is Fitzpatrick. Victor dislikes him on sight, dislikes too the memories that Fitzpatrick stirs up of five years being taught by the Christian Brothers. He prompts other memories too – of Rachel, his beautiful wife who became a celebrity, and of Victor’s own small claim to fame, as the man who says the unsayable on the radio. But it’s the memories of school, and of one particular Brother, that he cannot control and which eventually threaten to destroy his sanity.

For years, I’ve been a fan of Roddy Doyle’s books, I remember sitting in the local library reading language and situations that were most definitely far more advanced than me. But, for me that was the joy of Roddy Doyle, coarse language and characters that constantly shocked the reader.

But if you’re looking for something like that in his latest book, then you’re in for a surprise as this book is quite different from his previous novels.

In this story we meet Victor Forde, recently moved to a new area in Dublin, he goes to his new local where he meets a man called Fitzpatrick who claims they went to school together. Fitzpatrick stirs up old memories and feelings that Victor had hidden away and makes him confront the childhood that he would rather forget, a childhood of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers Catholic School.

The story travels between the past and present tense and is seen through Victor’s narrative. The story reflects on the prominent moments in his life, where he meets his partner Rachel, their life as a successful celebrity couple and his battle with writing a novel about Ireland as well being respected as an author.

Throughout the story there is a sense of foreboding and an underlying despair that truly comes to light at the end, as Victor finally confronts his ghosts.

Victor is a desperate character, who longs to be successful but his childhood is holding him back from ever moving forward. The scenes where Victor is remembering his childhood are quite unsettling and can make for moving reading at times.

The story flows at a gentle and slow pace but at every moment, the reader is engaged with this likeable and troubled character. Dealing with the dark issue of child abuse that was quite prominent in Catholic Church and still something that the country has to deal with, ‘Smile’ is a bittersweet story that is filled with sharp wit and a troubled lead, this cleverly written tale of life’s journey and observation made for moving and sad reading.

You can buy Smile from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Good Me Bad Me By Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me‘Good Me Bad Me’ is the latest book by Ali Land.

Annie’s mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. But out of sight is not out of mind. As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly. A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water. Good me, bad me. She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

I have read some dark and twisted books in my time, but none of them has stood out to me as much as ‘Good Me, Bad Me’.

It’s such a complex tale written through the narrative of Milly, a young girl who’s mother was a serial child killer and she has to testify against her mother in the very public court case. As Milly moves in with a new family with a new identity, she has to adjust to the life around as well as deal with the memories and emotions on the run up to the trial.

Whilst, reading this book I experienced such a flurry of emotions that it was impossible to put it down. Milly is a complicated character, having being exposed to various types of abuse as well as witness to some of the most horrific things that a child has to see, it’s no wonder she has trouble settling in. The family that she is placed with look perfect but behind closed doors, seem quite troubled. Mike, is her foster parent, but not only that he is her therapist and is helping advise and guide her through the court case and helping her deal with what she has been through. His wife, Saskia is a bit of a sad character, her main interest is yoga and she tries to get along with her only daughter, Phoebe who continuously pushes her away. Phoebe is an unlikable character. She’s a spoilt bully, who picks on Annie, publicly tormenting her whilst pretending to be her friend in the house. She’s jealous of the attention, Milly gets from her parents particularly from Mike and never misses an opportunity to make her feel uncomfortable or unwanted in both school and home life.

Milly has been through so much and I wanted nothing more than for her to able to settle in and finally have the life that she always wanted. A loving family that provided a secure and happy environment where she wasn’t on edge and constantly afraid. But every time, Milly tries to relax, something happens that reminds her of dark times, the run up to the court case, the bullying at the school and it is at these times, we see a different side to the quiet girl.

With her narrative flowing back and forth from past and present tense, Milly clearly tells her story of her traumatic childhood at the hands of her evil mother and this truly does make for disturbing reading. She’s a brave character, who has conflicted feelings, the love and hatred for a troubled parent and why she was exposed to so much.

Cleverly written with dark but sympathetic characters that I did feel a strong empathy for, this book was captivating from the very start. Riddled with deceit, this atmospheric story made for truly dark and unsettling reading that really pulls the reader in, touching on the subject of child abuse, serial killers and multiple personalities, ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ is an explosive story of morals, moving on and a teenage girl trying to piece herself back together and just wanting to be loved.

You can buy Good Me Bad Me from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

A Stolen Childhood By Casey Watson

A Stolen Childhood‘A Stolen Childhood’ is the latest book by Casey Watson.

When Casey first meets Kiera, a small slight girl who’s just lashed out at a fellow pupil in assembly, she immediately senses something’s wrong. Something in Kiera’s eyes alerts Casey that this is an “old head on young shoulders”, and with Kiera’s constant tiredness and self-soothing habit of pulling her hair out, she follows her instinct and takes Kiera under her wing.

At first the answer seems simple enough; Kiera’s parents aren’t together and they don’t get on, which makes life hard for Kiera as she’s so close to her dad. But as the weeks roll on, Casey begins to understand that there’s something much darker going on behind closed doors. And when she finally learns the truth, she’s terrified she won’t be able to save Kiera from it.

I tend to stay away from books about children, as years ago I read the book, ‘A Boy Called David’ a story about a young boy who was abused by his mother and after this traumatic story, it left me heartbroken and I vowed never to read one of these type of books again but then I was sent a copy of ‘A Stolen Childhood’ and I found myself getting tentatively stuck into the story.

The story is a true one which does make for shocking reading and is seen solely from the perspective of Casey Watson, a behaviour manager in the ‘unit’ of the local comprehensive school. In the unit, she deals with children with learning difficulties, who come from abusive families and broken homes, she helps them understand, interact with others and deal with their problems. It’s in this job, that Casey meets Kiara Bentley, a small 12 year old girl with a quick temper and a frank manner of behaving.

Casey notices that Kiara doesn’t act like other 12 year olds, she is advanced for her age and this is what Casey particularly notices about the girl and begins to look into Kiara’s background and is horrified to discover what the little girl is embroiled in.

This book is an unexpected and unsettling story, written in a frank and descriptive style, the story takes us to a world which is every parents nightmare where children are the victims of sexual abuse but are brainwashed into thinking that it is all perfectly normal. Casey is a strong woman, who is both courageous and brave in her job, taking on challenging children and their families as she tries to make a better life for everyone. Kiara is an unsettling character, she is volatile with unpredictable behaviour and I found myself regularly on guard with her, as she was constantly revealing something different about her home life.

A difficult story with an uncomfortable subject, ‘A Stolen Childhood’ is a remarkably moving, true story about one woman’s bravery to protect a little girl and help get her innocence back.

You can buy A Stolen Childhood from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud by Rowan Coleman

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud

“Lessons in Laughing Out Loud” is the latest book by Rowan Coleman.

Willow and Holly are identical twins, they mean the world to each other. Holly calls Willow her rock, always there in her hour of need. And Willow feels the same about Holly, they are identical but they differ in one respect, Willow is afraid and only Holly knows what it is has made her twin sister scared.

Willow knows she is missing things from her life, she sees those missing things in Holly’s life who is able to laugh, have fun and move on. A single moment in Willow’s life changed everything, so her life has taken a different path. But it seems that past has a way of catching up with Willow as she tries to help those close to her and professionally and she tries to figure out, able she eventually be able to laugh out loud.

It’s been a while since I last read a Rowan Coleman, and “Lessons in Laughing Out Loud” was a wonderful return.

Written beautifully, the story is a page turner from start to finish. With Willow, as unlikely lead, size 18 with a secret to hide, she is heart warming to read as she tries to help everyone around her whilst trying to keep her own problems as far from her thoughts as possible. I loved her thoughtfulness and the protectiveness she provided for her young step-daughter and India, the heartbroken celebrity, as she tried to shield them from the harsh world. With a wonderful host of characters, there was someone for everyone. Chloe, her step-daughter, who was terribly obnoxious and hard minded but craved love and support, Serious James, the clumsy accountant turned comedian and finally Victoria, Willow’s dictatorial boss, who occasionally shared a softer side.

Even though, the story is heart warming and there are elements of humour in it. Thereout the story, there constantly seemed to a sensation of sadness that lingers quietly in the background. It’s not until it is pointed out that you become aware of it and think “Oh, that’s what’s that is”

“Lessons in Laughing Out Loud” is wonderfully tender book that will have you giggling and quietly crying. Written about a sensitive subject about a beautiful character, it’s hard not to get involved with this emotional and engaging book.

You can buy Lessons in Laughing Out Loud on Amazon and other good bookshops.