Bare Minimum Parenting Review: James Breakwell Strikes Again!

Bare Mimimum Parenting

Despite not having (nor ever wanting) kids, I thoroughly enjoyed James Breakwell’s previous book Only Dead On The Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, I was excited to find out what new nuggets of parenting expertise this dad of four, known online as Exploding Unicorn, had to offer in his latest book.

With its publication scheduled for tomorrow I thought I’d share my perspective on this latest offering from the American father of four girls, whose exploits I excitedly follow online. As a reviewer of his previous book I was pleased to receive the second and eager to find out the latest insight and knowledge that this Star Wars loving nerd turned dad had to impart.

Granted, I’m not really the audience he’s probably going for, being a woman with no desire or actual children who isn’t a mad fan of non-fiction books. Despite this, I found myself laughing out loud at points while reading Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child. 

Proudly declaring right from the start that his book contains no factual evidence, studies or anything remotely scientific, Breakwell has created a resource based on personal experience, which is both endearing and endlessly funny.

Going through the potential issues of different types of parenting, predominantly overachievers, Breakwell showcases how they are inherently wrong. Less anecdotal than I would have thought and liked it to be, the book nonetheless draws on the author’s experiences raising four young children to offer a completely new approach to parenting.

Defining and describing his pioneering strategy in detail, Breakwell makes an utterly hilarious case for simply letting children become who they are going to be, only shaping them when they steer too far towards the bad side of crazy. As Breakwell aptly states on page 28: ‘If you’re looking for a life goal, a good one is, “Don’t raise a serial killer.”’

Ultimately, Breakwell’s approach can be summed up by a popular saying: Don’t sweat the small stuff. He repeatedly reminds his readers that young kids forget pretty much everything, and as such they aren’t going to care if you weren’t there enough or gave them too many rules (within reason). This combined with his witty remarks and humorous asides about his own children make Bare Minimum Parenting a great read for anyone who has, wants or interacts with kids and is frightened that whatever they do will somehow influence them and change their lives for the worst. Spoiler alert: James Breakwell doesn’t think it will.

 

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Stealth Review: Rina Walker Is As Deadly and Dastardly as Ever

stealth hugh fraser novel

Hit woman Rina Walker returns in another breath-taking novel from actor turned author Hugh Fraser.

After taking on a job, Rina discovers that there is much more to it than she previously thought. Failing to undertake the contract, she gains the unwanted attention of both Military Intelligence and the Broadmoor inmate who issued the order. While she deals with the difficult task of cleaning up her own mess, Fraser’s protagonist is also perused by a group of mercenary gangland heavies thanks to another kill she carried out from her conscience.

With her naturally dangerous working life in disarray, Rina has to work hard and fast to stop it colliding with her private one and keep those she cares about safe. Fraser has a real skill in creating a multi-dimensional character whose life is both complicated and, at the same time, not too syrupy. His protagonist is always perfectly balanced in every respect, and this is seen again in Stealth, which despite being the fourth book in the Rina Walker series, remains every bit as brilliant as the first three.

One of Fraser’s real triumphs, which I have remarked upon in previous reviews of his work, is his dialogue, and Stealth lives up to its forebear’s names in this regard too. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, and is used as both a characterisation tool and a plot driver, keeping the narrative flowing so that readers gain vital information quickly, without what I call ‘info dumping’, where writers dump huge chunks of information on their readers so they just end up trawling through endless paragraphs of exposition. By integrating this information into his dialogue Fraser keeps his reader hooked throughout, and draws them in as the novel speeds through to its nail-biting conclusion.

In all, Stealth is another great addition to the already spectacular Rina Walker series, and I’m looking forward to the next one even though I’ve only just finished this one!

She Chose Me Review: A Brilliant Psychological Thriller

she chose me

Another exciting blog tour article for you today! This time it is gripping thriller She Chose Me by Tracey Emerson, which was only published a few days ago. Hot off the press, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this thriller, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself hooked only pages in.

Having lived abroad for many years, protagonist Grace comes back to London to deal with her Mum, who is now dying. She then starts receiving disturbing Mother’s Day cards, despite not having any children herself.

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That’s when things start to get really eerie. Emerson paints a chilling portrait of a woman driven to the brink of insanity by someone clearly out to torment her, with silent phone calls causing flashbacks to a past that Grace thought she had managed to outrun.

With the truth closing in on her, Grace becomes a disturbed mess and readers get to see Emerson’s exceptional characterisation in action. The author paints a remarkably astute and accurate picture of a woman on the brink, all the while keeping her readers guessing and giving them teasing clues that lead them piece by piece to the final, nail-biting finale that leaves readers on the edge of their seats.

I’ll be honest here: generally speaking, these psychological thrillers where human nature and personal conflicts are at the centre is not really my bag. Give me a good serial killer any day. But She Chose Me really is in a league of its own. This novel has style and class in abundance, and Emerson drives the narrative forward at a startling pace, giving the reader no time to dwell in what may or may not have happened. There’s no time for boredom in this fast-paced thriller.

Written in the first person, the novel shifts between past and present, giving the reader an intriguing insight into both Grace’s current situation and the events that led to it. This alternating narrative is done well, and is not clumsy as some attempts often are.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this tightly wound thriller, and I will be looking out for more of Emerson’s writing in the future- and I would suggest you do the same.

In Her Shadow Review: Another Insightful Thriller From Mark Edwards

in her shadow

Having loved The Retreat earlier this year, I was keen to see how Mark Edwards’ latest novel would turn out, and if it could live up to his previous success.

Spoiler alert: it did.

For the blog tour to celebrate the book’s release, I took a look and have concluded that this latest outing is every bit as good as his previous novel.

With its innovative take on the perfect life that’s not all it seems to be, In Her Shadow explores the complexities of human relationships and the issue of whether or not you can really know and trust anyone.

Protagonist Jessica is still coming to terms with the death of her seemingly perfect sister Isabel, even after several years. Then, when Jessica’s young daughter starts offering up details about her aunt’s life that she could not possibly know, Jessica becomes suspicious that her death was more than just a tragic accident.

As she delves into her sister’s seemingly idyllic life, Jessica finds herself uncovering secrets she never even dreamed of, as she comes to terms with the fact that her young daughter is intrinsically linked to the tragedy. With members of her family called into question, the protagonist sets out on a harrowing journey to uncover the truth.

Integrating the vulnerability of a child and the intense emotions of adults, the novel crafts a rich narrative that is both compelling and engaging. The characters are relatable and their responses to the tragic plot is relatable and understandable, something that is often lost in thrillers where characters behave in implausible ways and react uncharacteristically to tragedy.

In all, with its gripping plot and strong characterisation, In Her Shadow is a cracking thriller that stays with you long after you put the book down, which, in my humble opinion, is more than enough reason to pick the book up in the first place.

Lethal White Review: The Best Of A Not-So-Brilliant Bunch

lethal white

The forth instalment of the Cormoran Strike novels is excessively long- but don’t let that put you off, this is actually the best of the lot. Not that that’s saying a great deal.

Picking up directly from where Career of Evil left off, the novel shows Strike and his former assistant turned salaried partner Robin falling into an uneasy rhythm following her marriage. This is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Billy, a highly disturbed young man who comes bearing tales of child murder, before leaving as quickly and loudly as he came.

With Billy now disappeared, and no real motive to investigate his claims, Strike takes the case of the foppish politician Jasper Chiswell, nicknamed ‘Chizzle’, who is being blackmailed. Keen to avoid divulging what he is being blackmailed about, the Minister commissions Strike and his agency, which now includes several employees, to obtain information he can use against his blackmailers, who, incidentally, include Billy’s older brother Jimmy.

While the 2012 Olympics takes London by storm, the case quickly descends into almost comical absurdity, with Strike and Robin pursuing multiple lines of enquiry, many of which revolve around Chiswell and his laughably posh family. One of the problems I find with Rowling’s Strike series is that I am always unsure if she realises that she crossed the invisible line between light-hearted satire and full-on ridiculousness which is present in all crime fiction.

After all, her protagonist does, on several occasions, mention how posh and out-of-touch his client and his family are, even at one point referring to them as teletubbies, but the reader remains baffled throughout by the intensity of their otherness and the fact that none of them seem to realise how incredibly self-incriminating they are being.

In this latest outing as in all the previous, Strike remains a mess of contradictions. Although Rowling goes to great pains to make him out to be a mess of a man who she describes on numerous occasions as ‘classless’, he also shown to be more at home in a swanky pub in Mayfair than among normal people. He is often slovenly and unkempt himself, yet he judges a young woman for having painted eyeliner over a piece of sleep in the corner of her eye.

The character also mentally derides his latest temporary secretary for not remembering that he detests milky tea despite the fact that he himself is completely incapable of thinking of the feelings of others, even crashing his colleague’s wedding and taking out her flowers in the prologue. Rowling either drastically underestimates the intelligence of her readers or she is unaware of how characterisation works, but either way, the result is the same; a protagonist with all of the sincerity of a Tory election promise.

Then, of course, there is the question of length. I don’t know if you’ve been to Waterstones lately to check it out, but this book is HUGE. In hardback it is over 600 pages long, although a good 300 of these are completely unnecessary. Rowling gets so bogged-down in the minutiae of surveillance and the day-to-day running of a detective agency that she lets her narrative run away from her, and spends fruitless chapters describing the perfectly mundane. There are also far too many needless characters, leaving the reader struggling to keep up with who’s who and what’s what.

Named after the colloquial term for a horse that is doomed to die due to a genetic condition, the one thing that Lethal White does have going for it is its foreshadowing. Rowling is able to skilfully direct her readers where she wants them to, and at times it is intriguing to realise where a certain detail came into play previously. Each chapter begins with a line from Rosmersholm, a play by Henrik Ibsen, which focuses on a time of political change and the emergence of a new order, a metaphor for the downfall of the Chiswells, whose gilded life is quickly disintegrating as the case develops.

There is also some great skill shown in Rowling’s depictions of her disgustingly upper class characters, particularly Jasper Chiswell. There is one scene, in which he is chewing with his mouth open, and he spits a piece of potato at Strike, which is so vivid that I physically reacted (the poor chap on the train next to me thought I was mental, but there you have it).

These brilliant, emotive stretches of text are interspersed with a lot of waffle, but there is some narrative excellence. Robin and Strike’s relationship is brilliantly handled, and it is great that their strange passion for each other does not overwhelm the main plot.

All in all, Lethal White remains by far the best of the Strike novels, although it is, fundamentally, too bloody long and at times completely absurd. Hard-core Rowling fans will love it; anyone else is better off elsewhere.

Gazelle In The Shadows Review: A Sizzling Portrayal of Spying in Syria

gazelle in the shadows

Former Foreign Office employee Michelle Peach offers a truly gripping thriller that draws on her own personal love of travel, in particular Arabia and Syria, where the novel is set. Thanks to an educational background focused on the region, and time spent at an embassy there, Peach is able to offer a fascinating story that expertly weaves an evocative setting into a breath-taking adventure.

The plot centres around a young woman named Elizabeth who, having excelled at Arabic studies at University in England visits and falls in love with the region and settles into an amazing life in Damascus. Kind and caring, she makes new friends and soon comes to love this beautiful country and the people who call it home.

However, it isn’t long before things take a dark turn and she is thrown into a world of lie, deceit and espionage, with no idea who to trust and danger lying in wait around every corner. Intense and fast-paced, the novel is packed with intrigue and brings readers into contact with a myriad of unique characters who capture the imagination and drive the plot forward.

From the very first sentence Peach creates an atmosphere of tension that permeates throughout the novel, and with many exhilarating plot twists readers will find it difficult to put this engaging thriller down.

Accurately capturing President Hafez al-Asad’s Syria, the novel takes readers on a journey through this beautiful land, and as such, as much as it is a coming-of-age novel and a thriller, it could also be seen as a postcolonial depiction of the region. Sensitively navigating the difficult issues of class, race and gender, Peach packs a lot into one beautifully crafted narrative.

With such strong plotting, tense narrative and cleverly constructed characters Gazelle In The Shadows is a great thriller to keep you entertained as the nights draw in and you find yourself in need of an exciting story to keep you entertained.

Truth and Lies Review: A Nail-Biter From Start To Finish

truth and lies caroline mitchell

Another awesome Blog Tour post for you today! This time I checked out Caroline Mitchell’s latest novel Truth and Lies, in which the hunt for a kidnap victim turns sinister when it links to a decades old case and a manipulate psychopath who is trying to use her knowledge of the burial places of her victims as leverage.

Drawing on the author’s background in the police, the novel focuses on DI Amy Winter, who is still reeling from the loss of her beloved father when she learns a shocking revelation: she is in fact the daughter of renowned serial killer Lillian Grimes. Grimes leverages her position as Amy’s mother and the wife of a serial killer to manipulate her and those around her, and as Amy battles this and fights to uncover the truth behind a high profile kidnapping startling truths are revealed.

Much like Emelie Schepp’s brilliant debut novel Marked for Life, Truth and Lies revolves around Amy’s struggle to keep her past from destroying her present, and in so doing entering into a web of deceit that threatens to upend everything she has worked so hard for. Her relationships with her adoptive family and her friends are tested, and Mitchell’s exceptional characterisation shines through here, as we see many well-honed, multi-dimensional characters and relationships being put to the test by both this latest kidnapping and Lillian Grimes’ shocking revelations.

There are twists throughout the novel, and whilst at first I was annoyed that certain revelations were made too early, I gradually came to realise that the novel is so deviously plotted that it would have been difficult to confine all the twists to the final pages.

Being so hard to put down, this book is one to consume quickly, and as such I would thoroughly recommend Truth and Lies to anyone embarking on a late holiday, or anyone who simply fancies a gripping page-turner. There’s also a great cliff-hanger ending, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment and can’t wait to find out what will befall DI Winter in the future!