I wasn’t quite sure what I’d think about Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee. There was quite a buildup to me receiving it, with the publisher Hideaway Falls, sending myself and many other book bloggers a fun teaser pack before the book finally landed on my doorstep.
I know that M Jonathan Lee is vocal about mental health issues, a subject close to my heart so I was quite looking forward to reading Broken Branches.
The book centres on Ian who is currently living in a cottage that frankly, sounds rather lovely. He lives with his wife and young son and at first, all seems to be well in the family home. But it soon becomes clear that all is not as it first seems.
There are clearly big problems in Ian’s marriage and Ian himself seems to be obsessed with ‘research’ into his family that has lived in his home for many generations. The story changes between the present day and Ian’s childhood as a boy growing up in the cottage when his father farmed the surrounding land. Ian’s childhood was not a happy one and it becomes clear that the family had been plagued by what they called a curse, and that is what Ian is determined to get to the bottom of with his research.
This book is definitely a slow burner, not a great deal actually happens in the book and much of it is spent within Ian’s mind, a mind that seems to be confused and perhaps very unreliable at telling us what is really happening, and at times it seemed to all be getting a little bit silly.
I liked how the story developed though and the more we got to know about Ian the more unsure I was about whether he was totally mad or well, only slightly mad. The writing is solid and it is easy to read, with plenty to keep the reader guessing and a few twists along the way.
Thank you to the author, and to Hideaway Falls, for a copy of Broken Branches.
‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’
A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.
There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.
About the author:
M. Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born in South Yorkshire in 1974. He still lives and works in Yorkshire, England and has three children.
Jonathan began writing seriously at the age of 9 at which point he self-published a magazine which ran for six issues and sold more than 500 copies. Since then, he has written a number of short stories and eagerly hoarded away journal after journal of ideas before finally writing The Radio.
The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012 and is his first novel. He is currently touring schools, colleges, prisons and universities talking about creative writing and storytelling. The Radio continues to receive excellent reviews and film rights are currently being discussed with interested parties. Jonathan appeared at Sheffield’s Off the Shelf literary festival in 2013 and will appear again this year as well as headlining at Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival 2014.
His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015. He has just finished his third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear which was released in September 2015. He is currently working on the final part of the ‘The’ trilogy: working title ‘The Knot’ which is due for release in 2016. He is currently signed on a four book deal with boutique publishers, SoloP Publishing based in the north of England.
Broken Branches is out on 27th July 2017 and is available to pre-order on Amazon UK andAmazon US. You can find out more about the author on his website.
On a little side note, my puppy loved Broken Branches. The photo below shows just how much. She was lucky that she wasn’t rehomed!
I’m fairly sure that this is the longest book review that I have written, I have tried to cut it down but can’t, it seems that I have a lot to say about A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold and feel the need to say it! It is also the first review that I have done that could be classed as giving away spoilers, although being a non-fiction book that doesn’t tell the reader anything that isn’t already ‘out there’ I’m not sure whether you can really class them as spoilers.
My 3* review:
I have to admit that while reading this book I did ask myself why I had wanted to read it. As a big crime fiction fan, I do find myself interested in real crime, especially the more unusual cases. I remember the shooting at Columbine high school in America, I remember being horrified that something like that could happen in a school and trying to comprehend why two teenage boys would decide to go on a rampage in their own school.
I am thankful that gun laws in the UK prevent this sort of thing from happening, and I’ve always been horrified at the subsequent school shootings that have happened since Columbine. I have to admit that part of me is fascinated about what would make someone shoot children in a school, and what type of upbringing might cause someone to do that.
So when I came across A Mother’s Reckoning I wanted to read it, I wanted to understand what had happened at Columbine and how Dylan’s parents coped with the aftermath. I wanted to know whether the author would try to minimise her son’s involvement or paint herself as a wonderful mother who did nothing wrong? I had many questions.
The first half of this book is incredibly depressing to read. It is clear that Sue Klebold descended into a very dark place after the shooting and she uses the pages to vomit those feelings out onto the reader. I got to 50% through and had to take a break, I could feel my own thoughts becoming darker and knew that I had to step away from the book. I read two fiction books before returning, bracing myself for more.
Perhaps because I was prepared for it the second half was not as deeply depressing as the first. In fact, the second half actually said very little that wasn’t in the first half, this book is very repetitive. We hear, again and again, and again, how Sue and her now ex-husband had not noticed anything with Dylan that they hadn’t put down to normal teenage angst and how if she had suspected anything then she would have forced Dylan to get help and that then Dylan wouldn’t have felt so desperate and wouldn’t have killed so many people. I’m simplifying it, but basically, Sue Klebold obviously thinks that she could have saved the day if only she’d noticed.
Another thing that Klebold focuses on is what she calls ‘brain illness’. She does eventually give a brief explanation of why she says brain illness rather than mental health but if I’m honest, by then I was past caring about the why as it had become so annoying that I just wanted her to stop it and call it what it is. Brain illness makes no sense to me, sure, I understand that when you have mental health problems that your brain doesn’t work as it should, but does it have an illness? If my kidney’s stop working properly I don’t say that I have kidney illness, or a leg illness when I’ve broken my bone. You get the point, but it’s annoying and unnecessary. And yes, I do have mental health problems so feel that I am able to say that I hate ‘brain illness’.
It was interesting to read about Klebold’s denial around what her son did and how that denial was smashed when the police sat her down and told her step by step, what had happened during the rampage that Dylan and his friend Eric went on, including who shot who. It is made clear to us that Dylan shot fewer people than Eric and that he had spared a few people, telling them to run instead of shooting them. While these may be true facts it did feel that Klebold had emphasised them to make sure that we know that her son was not the worst.
It is clear that Klebold sees Eric as the bad one and that without him in his life Dylan would never have done such terrible things. Klebold acknowledges that Dylan had mental health (sorry, brain illness) problems that were undiagnosed and tells us repeatedly that Dylan was suicidal yet unable to kill himself, but so desperate was he to die that he went along with Eric’s plan to kill others, something that both boys knew would end in their deaths too. Klebold does talk about the memorials for the victims, she tells us that originally two crosses had been put there for Dylan and Eric but they had been destroyed. I can’t help but feel that she thinks that Dylan deserves a cross, that he too was a victim in all of this.
Since finishing this book I have done some more research into Dylan especially, but also Eric and the shootings. It is clear that there were more signs that Dylan was in trouble, like clear anger management issues, that were not mentioned in the book. This is not a short book and as I said it is very repetitive so there was plenty of room for Klebold to tell us about this, but I guess that she didn’t want to. Which makes me question the rest of the book, and what else she decided not to tell us.
What Klebold had to go through must have been beyond horrific and I do feel compassion towards her. She has clearly gone on to do a lot of good, supporting others who have lost children to suicide and reaching out to other parents of school shooters. The fact that she managed to get through what happened and put it to something positive is commendable.
However, I’m not really sure what she wanted to achieve with this book. The focus of the book is, understandably, on Dylan and although she tells us many times that she is very sorry about the people that were hurt by her son the victims seem to be almost forgotten and, in many ways, irrelevant. The book is far longer than it needed to be, mainly because of the repetitiveness which is a shame, this book could be a very powerful tool, helping parents to look at their children and see signs that may suggest that their child needs help and support. Instead, Klebold comes across as quite preachy and arrogant, placing blame with many people and institutions, but not with Dylan and certainly not with herself.
I received a copy of A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold from the publishers via Netgalley, I was under no obligation to review the book and all thoughts are my own.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.
All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.
After The Lie tells the story of Lydia and a secret that she has been forced to keep by her mother for many, many years. A secret that has consumed her and affected every part of her life. A secret about a mistake that she made as a teenager that changed her life forever. Now married with teenagers of her own Lydia is obsessed with keeping them safe so that they don’t repeat her mistake.
The book is told from Lydia’s point of view, we get to hear a lot of her thoughts and fears. Some of them quite funny, some of them annoying. Lydia is obsessed with people’s weight for example. I don’t think that there is a woman mentioned in the book that I don’t know whether they’re overweight or underweight. She is also extremely self obsessed!
Once the big secret was revealed I have to admit that I thought ‘is that it?’ Although things were more complicated than they first seemed I did spend the majority of the book thinking that it was a lot of fuss about nothing.
After The Lie was easy to read and the characters were well formed, I liked Kerry Fisher’s writing style. I just had a few niggles with the book and plot that stopped me from giving it 4*s.
I was given a copy of After The Lie by the publishers in return for an honest review.
Your past will devastate your family. But your lies could destroy them. What would YOU do?
Sometimes a lie can split your life in two. There is “before”, and there is “after”. Try as you might – you can never go back.
When Lydia was a teenager, she made a decision that ruined her family’s life. They’ve spent the last thirty years living with the consequences and doing their best to pretend it never happened.
Lydia’s husband, the gorgeous and reliable Mark, and her two teenage children know nothing about that summer back in 1982. And that’s the way Lydia wants it to stay. The opportunity to come clean is long gone and now it’s not the lie that matters, it’s the betrayal of hiding the truth for so long.
When someone from the past turns up as a parent at the school gates, Lydia feels the life she has worked so hard to build slipping through her fingers. The more desperate she becomes to safeguard her family, the more erratic her behaviour becomes. But when the happiness of her own teenage son,Jamie, hangs in the balance, Lydia is forced to make some impossible decisions. Can she protect him and still keep her own secret – and if she doesn’t, will her marriage and family survive?
Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.
Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.
Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.
Alyce is staying at home to please her parents.
Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses is lovely young adult book about life in the 70s in Alaska. I’ve always been interested in Alaska and I was intrigued by the title of this book.
This book is very different to what I normally read, but it was nice to have a change. Although it felt slow to start and I had to remind myself that thrillers start with a bang, but other genre’s are slower to get going. The Smell of Other People’s Houses turned out to be a lovely book, I loved how the story of the teenagers evolved and how they were all connected in unexpected ways.
An easy read, The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a charming book and gets a solid 3*s from me.
I was given a copy of The Smell of Other People’s Houses by the publishers via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
The powerfully gripping new book from USA Today bestselling author Kate Hewitt.
Josh and Ben are nine years old and best friends, until a single, careless act in the school playground destroys the lives of both families – and wrenches their small Manhattan school apart.
As both mothers Maddie and Joanna try to find out what really happened between the boys, they discover the truth is far more complicated and painful than either of them could have ever realised with lasting repercussions for both families.
And when tragedy strikes again in the most unexpected of ways, the lives of these two women will be changed once more, and this time forever.
When He Fell explores the issues of parental responsibility and guilt, and whether there are some acts that human nature just cannot forgive.
My 3* review:
When He Fell tells the story of two families, their sons are best friends, two misfits who form a bond. One day in the school playground tragedy strikes. One boy is in a coma and the other is refusing to talk, throwing the families into a nightmare that neither were expecting.
I really enjoyed the start of When He Fell, the concept was interesting and I wanted to know what had happened and why. But as the book continued I became more and more frustrated with the characters, none of them were very likeable and a lot of their decisions really didn’t make a lot of sense. I also felt that the book lost its way in the middle, there were large chunks that didn’t do anything to add to the story.
The last part of the book did improve, the questions were answered and we saw the future of the families involved. It was a shame that a book that had started so promisingly lost its way, but I still enjoyed reading When He Fell, and it certainly made me think about the fragility of life and the way that I parent my children.
I received a copy of When He Fell from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
Kate Hewitt is the author of over 40 novels of women’s fiction and romance. She loves telling an emotional story in a variety of genres, and has been nominated for the Romance Writers of America RITA Award twice. An American ex-pat, she lives in the Cotswolds of England with her husband, five children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever. You can follow her adventures in village life on her blog, A Cumbrian Life.
‘The Girl With No Past tells the story of Leah, a girl with a dark secret in her past that is having a huge impact on her life. She is a loner, she has no friends and emerses herself in books, both at work and at home.
The chapters are all told my Leah, some while she is at high school with friends, a boyfriend and clearly a bright future ahead. The majority of the chapters are telling us about Leah’s life now, a time where she is consumed by guilt but is slowly starting to realise that she wants more from her life.
The Girl With No Past is an easy read, you don’t need to think about it, although I did want to know what had happened in the past and who was seeking revenge on Leah now.
The story lacked oomph, Leah was not very likeable and I never really cared all that much about what had happened. It was fairly predictable too.
But saying that I quite enjoyed reading it, it isn’t a book that I will remember in a few months time, but I’m certainly not sorry that I read it and would read more from the author.
I received a copy of The Girl With No Past from the publisher, Bookouture, from Netgalley in return for an honest review.’
‘I wanted to read Henry Hodges Needs a Friend because my son has struggled with making friends at school, and although things are much better now I still felt that it would be good to read a book about it.
Little Henry is sad because he has no friends, so his parents take him to a rescue centre and he finds the perfect dog who becomes his best friend. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? What’s not to like? Well actually I didn’t like some of it. There were no attempts to help Henry make friends, and while I think that it’s absolutely wonderful that Henry has his dog to be his friend, I don’t think that should be portrayed as a good solution for a child struggling to make friends. It’s a bit like ‘you have no one to play with? I know, let’s get a dog!’
So while it’s a sweet little story it is not something that I will read for my son, he’d be on at me to get a dog!!
I received a copy of Henry Hodges Needs a Friend from the publishers via Netgalley in return for an honest review.