3 March 2011

Book Review: Without Him by Fiona O'Brien

Shelley thought she had it all - a loving husband, a gorgeous house and most importantly her 3 beautiful. However, her world is shattered when husband Charlie runs off without a word after his business empire collapses around them. Shelley's house is sold from under her feet, she's left with no money, and 3 children who don't understand where their dad has gone. Shelley is forced to move in with her mother-in-law Vera who hasn't seen the family for years after an argument with Charlie, something Shelley has never got to the bottom of, and finds herself having to work, look after 3 confused children and keep herself from bursting into tears over a lost marriage. When Russian billionaire Lukaz comes into the picture, Shelley's unsure about his motives after finding out he did business with her estranged husband. Will Shelley be able to hold it all together for her family without her husband and what exactly is Charlie's big secret?

I have previously read one of Fiona O'Brien's books, No Reservations, and I really enjoyed it. It had a great writing style, a well constructed plot that kept me gripped and was just overly very enjoyable. When Fiona contacted us asking us if we wanted to review her latest books, I jumped at the chance because they sounded great, and I was hoping they would be as good as the previous book I've read. Without Him is Fiona's latest title, and is released in the UK in April, having previously been published in Ireland in 2010. My cover is slightly different to the green pictured here, being tones of purple which I find much nicer, and I think the cover suits the book well enough.

The story begins with Shelley having just found out about Charlie's betrayal and we meet the family when they are having the kitchen removed by the fitters due to non payment. It's a pretty shocking start but it immediately gives you sympathy for Shelley and her 3 children Olivia, Emma and Mac. O'Brien doesn't shy away at all from showing the emotion of the events on the family, the toll it takes not only on Shelley but also the young and impressionable children, but interestingly also on Vera, Charlie's mother who is pleased to finally have time with her family after years of not speaking. It's a book that is deeply rooted about family, the importance of honesty and looking after those around you, even when times are very tough.

I really enjoyed how O'Brien wrote this book. She chooses to write in the first person tense, but each chapter is narrated by a different character. The main narrators are Shelley and Vera, but we also get chapters from the 3 children, Lukaz and even, sporadically, Charlie himself which makes for interesting reading. It's easy to differentiate between all the narrators and I loved how it was constantly changing, it kept the book fresh and gives many different perspectives for the story, and I really liked, especially when we see Shelley's, then Vera's perspectives of something. There is a slight overlap occasionally and it works so well. I was never bored and really enjoyed the unusual writing of this book.

The story is very well constructed, and certainly keeps you gripped. Nothing is really revealed at the start - we know Charlie has lost his business, but then other things become apparent to do with him and his "extra-curricular activities" shall we say, we aren't given the whole story but things are eventually revealed and I didn't see these things coming at all, so well done to O'Brien for keeping us in the dark and making me surprised - I like chick lit that isn't that predictable and this certainly wasn't. As well as the modern day story, we also dive into the past of Vera's relationship when Charlie was small, and I enjoyed this movement back and forth in time, it added a different element to the book and made it something different from the norm. I also felt it gave me a really good insight into Vera, a character we would otherwise not know much about, and O'Brien makes these time travelling portions distinguished by dating them at the top of Vera's chapters.

Overall, this book is a fantastic read, and I loved every page of it. It isn't a short book  by any means but I found myself ploughing through it fairly quickly because I couldn't put it down. I really wanted to find out just what Charlie's secret was, how Shelley was going to deal with everything that happened, including the appearance of the brilliant Russian character Lukaz, and the alternating chapters made it just a bit different, and I loved reading it. O'Brien's writing is very easy to read, and she certainly brings alive not only the story but the emotional journey all of these characters go on throughout the book as well. If you love well written and enjoyable chick lit that isn't all light and fluffy, then I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy of 'Without Him', it's brilliant!

Rating: 5/5

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