Tag: Fiction

Precious You by Helen Monks Takhar

four-stars

 

Katherine is late for work on the first day of new ownership of the magazine where she has worked for twenty years as an editor. She jumps into a taxi only to find Lily has also got in beside her.

Precious You

Katherine makes a mental character assassination of Lily, and as the journey progresses it becomes clear that Lily is starting her internship at the same magazine. As the days progress Lily succeeds in trashing everything Katherine does at the magazine and piece by piece takes apart her life, her home and her man.

This is a car crash of a book. Both Katherine and Lily are dreadful, damaged characters and you can see the devastation to come to Katherine’s life from a mile off. Even though the outcome is obvious the reading is compulsive. This is certainly one of those unputdownable books and a great debut.

 

 

 

HIM by Clare Empson

Five Stars 1

Catherine has had such an impacting shock that it has temporarily rendered her mute. We start the book with Catherine in a nursing home being visited and cajoled by her husband and two children.

Him

From her inner thoughts, we visit the past fifteen years in which she met Him, Lucian, the love of her life but then something happened that caused her to take a different fork and marry Sam instead. Her love for Lucian was and still is, all consuming, intense, obsessive, addictive – He was the one. After hearing of his mother’s death, she re-visits Lucian and almost falls into his chaotic and hedonistic lifestyle again. But something so devastating happens during those few days that she runs back to her husband mute.

It’s beautifully written, many elements resonate with my own life, and it brings back subtle memories of Donna Tartt’s Secret History which is one of my all time favourites. HIM is now one of my favourite books and it’s intense, addictive love caused me to create a new tag on this site – Adictive, Obsessive Love.

 

Between You And Me by Lisa Hall

4 and half 1

 

I love a good twist in a book, getting that ‘WOW’ moment when everything flips on its head is better than a bar of chocolate for me. Between You And Me has the best twist I’ve read for a long time, so much so, I had to go back and re-read the last couple of chapters just to make sure.

Between You And Me

This is a psychological thriller based around domestic abuse. To outsiders Charlie is charming, but in reality is a dominating manipulator and Sal gets the brunt of anything that Charlie doesn’t like. This only happens behind closed doors in their own home, and when Charlie begins to use Maggie, their daughter, as a bargaining tool, Sal has had enough and schemes to leave, taking Maggie too.

Tension is high all the way through, there’s never a dull moment, the reader always wondering what Charlie will mete out next on Sal. Lisa Hall is a great writer and I can thoroughly recommend all her books if you like a taut, gripping read.

 

 

 

 

Have You Seen Her by Lisa Hall

4 and half 1

 

Laurel goes missing on Bonfire Night under the noses of her mother Fran, and nanny Anna.

Have You Seen Her

Immediately tension is high as the evening’s organisers and then police are called in to search for the little girl. It quickly becomes clear that Anna has something to hide about a previous nanny job and is frightened of being recognised by the press and having her past dug up. There are also obvious problems with Laurel’s parents’ relationship, Fran and Dominic, who struggle to hold it together in front of the police. This is a story of every parents’ nightmare.

There are revelations, twists and red herrings at every chapter end and the pace is quick and exciting. Lisa Hall is a great writer and I can thoroughly recommend all her books if you like an edge-of-your-seat read with massive twists.

 

 

# Me Too by Patricia Dixon

4 and half 1

 

Once again, Patricia Dixon has created a topical story using believable, everyday characters.

Me Too

The female lead character, Billie, wanted to travel the world but at the last minute her more grounded boyfriend Stan, decided to stay at home – Billie went anyway, and with the events that followed, she bitterly regrets that decision.

While Billie was away, Stan moved on with his life and Kelly entered his home and life. Within a year, Stan was in prison for the rape and assault of Kelly. Billie is devastated but finds it difficult to decide who is telling the truth. Stan’s letter gives his version which Billie so wants to believe, but then Kelly is equally believable so who does she trust? There were so many red herrings, twists and turns that I didn’t know who was telling the truth.

Patricia Dixon has the knack of writing about friendly, lovable characters and giving them a topical, realistic issue to deal with. She explores the impact on not only the characters’ lives, but those of family and friends around them. I’m never disappointed with a Dixon book and always look forward to the next.

 

His And Hers by Alice Feeney

Five Stars 1

 

His and Hers

Alice Feeney never fails to give a good depth crime thriller with tension and suspense. In this one, we get His, DCI Jack Harper, and Her, TV presenter Anna Andrews, perspective of a series of murders centred around a village from their past.

We quickly learn that Jack and Anna used to be married and that the first murder victim is known to both DCI Jack Harper and Anna Andrews. After murders two and three it looks like Anna’s circle of school friends are being targeted. It’s also clear that the DCI Jack Harper is being framed, or at least he thinks so.

I found this story to be utterly gripping, full of twists and at any one time I could fit any of the characters into being the murderer.  I very much recommend this and all other novels by Alice Feeney.

 

How Many Lives Has Scuffo? by Mac Black

Three and a half Stars3

 

Review by Alice

How many lives has Scuffo? is a light-hearted book with clever jokes and a simple plot. Yet the two go very well together to create a novel one might read if they were in need of a good laugh. It is altogether quite a positive book with its exploration of cats and the myth of their nine lives.

How Many Lives Has Scuffo

The book starts in the late 1950s where readers are introduced to the vicar ‘Harold Scuffington’. He is turned into a cat at a Christmas fayre by a magician, he then finds out he will not be able to return to his human form. He continues to explore his newfound life as a cat getting into some unpredictable situations as he begins to use up his nine lives.

The book is aimed at an adult audience because many of the jokes could be difficult for children to understand however some able teenagers would also enjoy the book.

 

 

 

 

Liars by Anita Waller & Patricia Dixon

4 and half 1

 

Liars

Some dual writer partnerships work really well – husband and wife team Nicci French, Greer Hendricks & Sara Pekkanen – and this Waller-Dixon is seamless and flows beautifully. I know Patricia Dixon‘s writing very well but have only read one of Anita Waller‘s books, both are accomplished writers in their own right, and I guessed quite early on who wrote which character.

Wendy and Nell have been friends since primary school and know each others deepest secrets.

Nell travels Europe for work and they write to each other constantly, that is until and Wendy marries a man who Nell knows is a creep and a womaniser and Wendy’s letters become sparse and formulaic. When Nell returns to Sheffield, Wendy’s husband is unexpectedly nice to her until she’s due to fly back to France and then shows his true colours when he brutally attacks her, both verbally and physically.

There is suspense, intrigue, love and friendship, as well as the odd murder or two. The mix of psychological/crime writer with romantic suspense writer works really well to give softness and reality to quite nasty, sometimes vicious, characters and situations. Very much recommended.

 

Five To One by Chris Chalmers

four-stars

Five To One

The book opens with a helicopter coming down to land on Clapham Common at five minutes to one on a sunny lunchtime. There are too many people around and the pilot realises he’s got it wrong the moment the tail rotors clip trees just out of his sight. The story then introduces several sets of characters who are strangers to each other, but who are all connected by being on Clapham Common at five to one when the helicopter crashes. We delve into the lives of four sets of ordinary people who have extraordinary things happening in their lives which climax with the helicopter crash.

Chris Chalmers’ writing is modern, engaging, flows well and he is a great observer of people. Humour, even at the darkest of times, is liberally scattered throughout the book – confident and sassy.

Chris Chalmers

 

Chris Chalmers website

 

 

34 Days by Anita Waller

4 and half 1

 

34 Days

Anna is in an unhappy marriage. Ray is not a kind person, and now that her children are grown up she decides to take back control of her life. On the day of her 35th wedding anniversary, she packs her bags and leaves her home and Lincoln for good.Ray is furious but believes she will go back to him after a few days but, as she finds herself a modern apartment in a new town, she starts to feel safe and joyously elated. Then Jenny, her daughter-in-law, drops two bombshells which rocks Anna to her core.

This is a serial killer thriller like no other. I’ve never before read such an impacting and unique storyline – family secrets past and present, murder to hide murder – and I rushed through the book needing to know whether Anna and Jenny’s secret, their lives, were safe.

Anita Waller is a fabulous writer. She creates friendly, believable characters and puts them in monstrous situations. This is the first of her books I’ve read, but now I’ve discovered her I have several earmarked for the top of my reading mountain.

Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

4 and half 1

 

Rules For Perfect Murders

I’ve been meaning to read Peter Swanson’s books for a while and this is a perfect introduction to his clever plotting and unique writing style. Each of his books are stand alone stories so you can start with any book.

Malcolm Kershaw owns a bookshop called Old Devils which specialises in crime and mystery novels. He loves classic crime and he once listed his eight favourite murders on the bookshop’s website, ones he thought were impossible to solve. It seems there is a link between some recent deaths and the perfect murders listed by Malcolm.

This is a cleverly plotted whodunnit style crime novel. It’s written in first person which I really like, it gets you inside the head of the character, and I found the whole book to be gripping, fast moving and very entertaining.

 

 

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

four-stars

This is a curious yet compelling book. From being a small girl, Lauren Pailing has visions of parallel lives in other dimensions when shards of light or sunbeams strike near her.

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died

At the age of thirteen, Lauren knows that she has died in an accident but she is conscious enough to open her eyes and recover from her injuries. She carries on her ‘life’ while at the same time her parents hold her funeral.

I found it a bit confusing to start with so just keep on reading for the parallels of life to fall into place. Through each of Lauren’s lives ran the same theme of a close friend of her father having gone missing and this held a strong bond and focal point to her memories of friends from other parallels and her own parents.

I could see plot holes throughout several lives, not just Lauren’s but others around her too, but it was such a fascinating concept that I just had to keep reading to see what happens.  A book with fabulous imagination as well as truly likeable characters.

 

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

four-stars

 

This is a most unusual and bizarre concept.  Seth wants a family.  He is legally married to Thursday but she unfortunately can’t have a baby.  He had divorced Tuesday because she’s a high flying lawyer and doesn’t want a family, but he still lives with her on Tuesdays.  Monday is pregnant with Seth’s baby and Seth believes he has the perfect life – three wives who know almost nothing about each other and sees them in rotation.

The Wives

The narrator of the story is Thursday.    I realised a few chapters in that the reader does’t know her name but that doesn’t matter, all is revealed later.  The ‘wives’ don’t know each others names, and know only very basic things about each other – just how Seth wants it. Unexpectedly, Thursday finds out the name of Monday and can’t help but trace her identity on social media. When she meets Monday/Hannah, she sees bruises on her arms and becomes suspicious of Seth.

I found The Wives to be unorthodox and totally gripping. A romantic suspense perfect to read poolside or on the beach.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Five Stars 1

Much talked about by authors, publishers and on social media following accusations of plagiarism. Kate Russell had her hand forced and revealed that this fictional story is actually based on her own life and has taken fifteen years to write.

My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa is a disturbing, provocative, powerful and stunning debut novel. The pupil teacher relationship changes subtly. He seeks Vanessa’s approval, yet he’s always the one in control, manipulating.  The story runs on two timelines – present day when the ‘me too’ movement emerged, and going back to when Vanessa was boarding at High School at the start of her relationship with Jacob Strane. 

This is not a gratuitous sleazy story.  It is very well written and gets to the crux of grooming  (Jacob Strane is a master of grooming).  It shows how the process is often misunderstood, misinterpreted that a consenting schoolgirl knows her own mind, is in full control of a situation with a man three times her age.  Her friends knew, the school knew, her mother knew, yet nobody did anything.  And then there’s the guilt, Vanessa feels guilt.  This is a masterpiece.

 

The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré

4 and half 1

 

The Girl With The Louding Voice is a debut novel rich in culture and has an amazing character, Adunni.  It’s written in the style of a rural Nigerian girl speaking in a very basic form of English which is quick and easy to slip into and sometimes comical to read.

The Girl With The Louding Voice

Adunni is a fourteen year old girl from a small village in Nigeria. Following the death of her mother, the family becomes poorer and her father negotiates a husband for her in exchange for the ‘bride money’.  She becomes the third wife of an older man and is trapped in a life of servitude instead of getting the education she so wants.  Being a spirited and brave girl she escapes her husband and then taken to Lagos to be housekeeper in the wealthy household of Big Madam and her lecherous husband.  At first excited going to the big city, she quickly realises she has been trafficked and will not be paid any wages.

This is a powerful and emotional story of female injustice and slavery, yet ultimately is a story of believing in yourself, that you can achieve whatever you want in life.

I have one hardback copy of this book ~ brand new and unread ~ available to purchase here.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Five Stars

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World

Set mostly in Istanbul, Turkish writer Elif Shafak, has created a quirky, rich and wonderful book in the telling of Leila’s death. We are given a countdown of each of the minutes after death when parts of Leila’s body are shutting down. Each minute tells of milestones or strong memories of her life, the family who disowned her and the friends she made along the way. Right up to the point she realises she’s made a grave error and then her body is discovered.

Elif Shafak has woven real life issues of gender inequality into this story of amazing and strong women in a man’s world. Leila is an intelligent and modern woman and is often put down by men half her worth. A true gem of a book that I’ll be telling all my friends about.

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

four-stars

Twelve year old Edward Adler is the sole survivor of a plane crash. The book switches between being on the plane in the hours running up to the crash, and Edward living with his mother’s sister and her husband. There is a marked difference between Eddie before the crash and Edward, as he is now known, after the crash. Everyone says he’s lucky – lucky to be alive – but Edward feels far from lucky having lost his parents, brother and his whole life as he knew it.

Dear Edward

The time with the passengers on the plane has a feeling of doom – the weather is awful, the turbulence is bad – but knowing something about several of the passengers gives emotion and realism to the eventual tragedy. I recognised many of the similarities of the true plane crash of Air France flight 477 in 2009 in this story, which added to the authenticity leading up to the disaster.

Edward finds difficulty in conveying his feelings to his new family, and his only friend is Shay, the girl next door who he trusts and confides in completely.

A compelling story which kept me gripped when reading about being on the plane, and fascinated in Edward’s progress, both physical and emotional, after losing everything.

 

Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis

4 and half 1

 

Jane Davis is one of the best self-published authors out there and her books are all well worth reading. Smash All The Windows is Jane’s ninth novel and is the winner of The Selfies Best Self-Published Work of Fiction Award 2019.

Smash All The Windows

The story is of a disaster in an over-crowded London underground. The crowded escalators keep moving down onto fallen people at the bottom. People are piling on top of one another and the weight and lack of oxygen is too much to bear. Someone must be to blame – or should they? Is there any such thing as an accident? It’s Friday evening and everyone wants to go home, but should they have been stopped from entering an already too busy station?

Jane has written from the perspective of several victims on their way to the disaster and also from family members struggling to understand, live with, and survive the death of their loved ones. She is an extraordinary and intelligent writer who writes sensitively of a fictional disaster which has echoes of the real-life Hillsborough disaster.

 

 

Jane Davis 1

 

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The Confession by Jessie Burton

4 and half 1

 

After the enormous success of The Miniaturist and The Muse, this is the third novel by Jessie Burton. The Confession is a wonderful story but, apart from the beautiful writing, don’t expect it to be anything like The Miniaturist.

The Confession

The book fluidly moves between the dual narratives of the early 1980s and present day. Rose was abandoned by her mother Elise, as a baby and was brought up by her father. Rose is obviously curious about her mother and after a little heart-to-heart with her father, he gives the name of a well known author Constance Holden, as being in a relationship with Elise in the 1980s. Rose uses duplicitous means to get a job with Constance to hopefully find out more about her mother. The book goes back to when Elise first fell under Connie’s spell and follows their relationship to America where Rose was born.

This is a powerful story of complex relationships, emotions and feelings, incredibly well told in the richest of literary words by Jessie Burton.

 

I have one hardback copy of this book ~ brand new and unread ~ available to purchase here.

 

By Jessie Burton

 

 

 

 

Silence of The Girls by Pat Barker

Four Stars

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2019, Silence of The Girls has a barbaric and graphic start as Achilles enters the city walls and conquers Lyrnessus, home of Briseis. She was queen of the land and is taken as a war trophy by Achilles to serve as his personal slave.

The Silence of The Girls

Achilles is a complex character while Briseis is an astute and perceptive character.

Briseis narrates her story of her life with Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon and other Greek warriors, and gives perspective from slave women during the war years of Troy. The second part of the book takes more narration from Achilles and, after a particularly personal grief, becomes more dark and depressing.

This is a very readable re-telling of the Trojan war, or rather the effects on the women during the war.  Excellent writing with some stunning scenes and poetic moments.  If you enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, you will probably love this one too.

 

 

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

4 and half 1

 

Beautiful Bad is truly one of the most psychological of psychological thrillers. The story builds and builds, goes back in time several years from the day of the killing, returns to the day of the killing, goes back a few weeks before the day of the killing, and all this back story really intensifies the suspense.

Beautiful Bad K

The book starts with the police entering the house after a distressing call to 911. There is so much blood inside that there has to be a body – we don’t know who is dead until close to the end of the book, it is just referred to as ‘the killing’. We are taken back to when Jo and Maddie were best friends and both had a love of eastern bloc countries, their languages and the cultures. Jo lives in Macedonia and Maddie lives in Bulgaria but they get together, often in dangerous travelling situations, as often as they can. The two girls meet a group of men, including Ian, who they party and drink with and this is when the friendship starts to go awry.

Ian is working in security for army officers, escorting individuals and companies in war torn areas of the middle east and Africa. He is clearly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, drinking astronomical amounts of vodka and doesn’t seek professional help. Ian and Jo have some history, possibly a relationship, when Maddie isn’t around, and later when Maddie and Ian are married, she still doesn’t know why Ian and Jo hate each other so much.

The past story meets with present time and all secrets are laid out to be shouted about. I thought the description of their lives in the eastern bloc countries was intense and fascinating. The tension and suspense was high throughout and I loved the twisted turnaround ending.

 

The Passengers by John Marrs

4 and half 1

 

The Passengers

Set in the very near future where driverless cars are the norm, eight cars have hijacked their passengers and are taking them on a course set for collision in two and a half hours time.

Each chapter introduces a new major character (there are no minor characters here) who we learn a little about up to the point of them being locked in their cars. Each character is then written in rotation and find that they are not all they first seemed. As I was reading, I kept thinking that in in a few years time as driverless technology progresses, this could be reality. I found it to be very gripping with authentic characters and plotline.

John Marrs is an excellent weaver of realistic fantastical stories and I can thoroughly recommend all his books – ‘The One’ is a particular favourite of mine.

 

John Marrs

 

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This Is Gomorrah by Tom Chatfield

Four Stars

This is not my usual kind of story at all but the blurb of the book sounded so intriguing, I just had to read it. Just to give you a slight idea of the Dark Web – it is over 500 times bigger than the web as most of us know it and is 99% of the internet you can’t Google. It’s not illegal to access and you can’t ‘accidentally’ find yourself in there.

This Is Gomorrah 1

Azi is a hacker working on the Dark Web in his garden shed. He sees himself as mostly a good guy hacker, he doesn’t exploit companies or hold their data to ransom but he’s capable of severe meddling. After seeing some serious terrorist related information passed to him by an internet ‘friend’ he is within minutes visited by unknown people who persuade him to arrange to meet his friend Munira, and leave the country. For a while in the book I was unsure who were the good guys and who were bad, so I just kept reading with an open mind and accepted it as told until it more fully unfolded. I don’t want to say more about the actual story, but I did find it quite gripping, also amazing, and wondered where the story would end up.

It has a dual storyline with Azi and Munira in the main but also Kabir in Syria trying to make his escape. It also occasionally goes back to Azi’s childhood when he first started his passion for computers. I’ve been around since “dial up” using a 3.1 machine, in fact before then I used a Vic 20 without internet access, so sympathised with Azi in his frustrating early days – kids today don’t know how good they’ve got it.

This Is Gomorrah is well worth a read and think it might suit men and those with computer and internet knowledge more than others – though I enjoyed it so give it a go. It’s well written and Tom Chatfield has certainly got a technological, streetwise and astute mind.

 

 

Thin Air by Lisa Gray


Four Stars

 

Jessica Shaw is a private investigator. She specialises in missing persons and while trawling through online pictures of various missing people wondering which job to take up next, she receives an email with a picture of a three year old with the message ‘your next job’. Jessica recognises the little girl as herself, and with a little bit of investigation realises that she was once that missing person.

Thin Air

The investigation which she obviously has to take up, makes her feel her whole life was a lie and she just has to find out what happened to her murdered mother, who the man was who brought her up, and who her real father is. Someone from the past wants to keep things in the past, and as Jessica faces things head on she unwittingly puts her life in danger.

This is a very intriguing storyline – not knowing you’re a missing person – and it is cleverly written with a dual story of a very brutal murder of a young student. The two stories seem to be separate, and so many years apart, but all is revealed at the end.

 

 

 

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

five_stars

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, one of the best I’ve read for a while. Having read and loved The Thirteenth Tale, I knew I’d be in for a good solid story with Once Upon A River. Several times during the book I was reminded of the writing style of Charles Dickens – a story with proper grounding and characters with personality.

Once Upon A River

Set in 1887 on the banks of the River Thames, much of the story centres around the The Swan, a local inn where storytelling is the entertainment and where more beer means more embellishment. One evening, an injured man stumbles in carrying a young girl who appears to be dead. A little girl who sometime later is alive. This is a time when superstition and supernatural blurred into real life and a dead girl coming back to life is a fantastical story for all to tell and re-tell.

The girl has three possible identities, she is either Alice, Amelia or Ann, and none is certain of her identity even when she lives with two of the families claiming her.  The girl herself has lost the ability to speak and there is frustration from the Vaughan’s who desperately want her to be Amelia, their daughter who disappeared two years ago.

The river plays a large part of the story and to add to the strange goings on with a child coming back to life, there is rain, more rain, and inevitable flooding which seeps into their homes and lives as the river becomes a torrent.

Amidst superstition and folklore there’s also skulduggery, ransoms and beatings.  Once Upon A River is a fulfilling story which has a depth of storytelling which is rare these days.  I absolutely loved it.

 

 

Sleep by C.L. Taylor

4 and half 1

C.L. Taylor never fails to grip you from the very first pages.  

Sleep

The opening chapter is a killer! Then, Anna is driving three work colleagues back to London in atrocious weather, just following the rear lights of the car in front because conditions are so poor. One of them feels ill and wants to open one of the back windows. This knocks Anna’s concentration and before she realises what’s happening, the car spins out of control and rolls. On waking in hospital, Anna comes to realise that two of her passengers are dead and one has serious life changing injuries. As Anna recovers, she has the feeling that she’s being watched and followed. Scared, having just broken up with her boyfriend and needing a new start in life where nobody knows who she is, Anna takes a job as a hotel receptionist on the remote Scottish island of Rum. The holidaymakers are flaky and flawed and as a storm comes in, Anna realises that whoever was following her in London is still following her now.

Sleep started off like her novels usually do – normal, believable characters but in unusually tense situations – but once it got going, Anna is put in an isolated situation with a new group of characters. It reminded me very much of an Agatha Christie style whodunnit with red herrings throughout and only a limited number of people out to get Anna.

C.L. Taylor is brilliant at creating suspense, that nail-biting, seat-of-your-pants thriller that keeps you turning pages. I’d recommend any of her books.

Cally Taylor

 

 

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The Feud by Amanda James

4 and half 1

 

Chapter One opens with Kenver Penhallow and his family escaping from their home during the night which is well ablaze. Kenver and Wenna do a quick head count of their children and realise that little Jago is missing, last seen in the barn looking after a sick puppy. The barn is a pile of charred wood and the little boy is perished. The language in this chapter is old Cornish, told of the olden days, of a time 200 years ago when the Feud began.

The Feud

Matt Trevelyar moves to St Agnes in Cornwall after giving up teaching in London following the sad death of his wife. Within days, he receives messages in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome and that he should return to London. Not easily put off, Matt takes up his teaching position in the local school and starts to make enquiries with the locals about who might want him to leave. He learns of a feud between two families, one of which he is a descendent.

The characters are a delight to read about and are realistic for small village life. Lavender is typical artist-hippy, and when Matt and Lavender first meet it’s obvious that love will blossom – but how do they overcome the fact that he is a Trevelyar and she is a Penhallow.

This starts out as a vicious crime but is ultimately a romantic suspense novel. Amanda James is a talented writer and writes beautifully about her beloved Cornwall.

 

Amanda James

 

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The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

4 and half 1

 

This is one amazing book!! I was first attracted to this book because I saw a clip on BBC TV that after actually flying one of these early machines, Rebecca Mascull went away and re-wrote all the flying parts of the book. It looked so very interesting and I just had to read it. The story roughly covers a period of ten years from 1909 when Auntie Betty arrived to the Dobbs family, and is set mainly in the Humberside and Lincolnshire areas.

The Wild Air

Della Dobbs is a quiet child, doesn’t speak if she can get away with it, and has a father who ‘chooses’ to be an invalid and doesn’t care for his girl offspring. When Auntie Betty arrives from America, Della’s interest is piqued by Betty’s talk of America and, in particular, kite flying. In those early days, Della and Auntie Betty make their own kites – simple ones, box kites and introduce more strings. The strange little boy on the beach is fascinated by the two women with kites and Dudley quickly forms a friendship with Betty and Della. For years, Della and Dud correspond while Dud is away at school and Della grows up and moves on to aeroplanes.

Della is an absolute inspiration to young women. She never gave up in learning to fly, no matter how tough the male aviators and mechanics made it for her. As war approaches, the men go off to fight and the women are expected to do the jobs left behind. Della is hugely practical, a mechanic in her own right, and begins to be taken seriously in a man’s world.

There’s so much to this book that it’s difficult to put in words, without giving the whole story away, just how fabulous the characters are and how the weaving of each of their own stories fits into Della’s life.

There’s love, tragedy and death packed into this fabulous story, and is enjoyable whether you have an interest in flying or not. It’s superbly written and very well researched. 

I would certainly, without a doubt, read anything written by Rebecca Mascull.

Rebecca Mascull

 

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Codename Villanelle: The Basis For Killing Eve

4 and half 1

 

When a book goes to screen I always try to read the book before it appears at the cinema or TV. I did this one the other way round, and I’m so pleased I did. After watching the Killing Eve series, I just had to read the book – Villanelle was under my skin. After reading a few book reviews, I realised that it wasn’t liked by all but I felt that watching the series first gave a head start on Villanelle’s character.

Codename Villanelle

With visual characters already in my head, I quickly got into the story, slightly different from the TV series, and immediately loved Oxana (later becoming Villanelle) and Konstantin. The book does flip about and has a rushed, almost the book in a draft form feel about it, but this staccato, slightly detached writing style really fits with Villanelle’s character. She is seriously flawed, crazy and uncontrollable at times and her lack of emotion makes her a perfect assassin.

Eve is a character who seems to be always running on catch-up. She never makes dinner with her husband even when they have guests round. She’s uncomfortable in fashion and barely has time to do her hair or apply make-up – she knows she should make more of an effort but it just doesn’t seem to work for her. The final straw is when she’s kicked off her job of finding the mystery female assassin who killed on her watch. She knows she’s close and just has to find this cold killer.

Villanelle has certainly got under my skin and I now have to read book two before it hits the screen.

 

Villanelle

Three Men On Their Bikes

Four Stars

Three Men On Their Bikes

Harry, George and Ian take up cycling as a way to keep fit and to give them a weekend interest. After three months of one hour rides to the pub on a Sunday lunchtime, they decide they are ready for a cycling holiday over the Pennines – then the fun starts!

These beginners ‘accidentally’ get into a race with seasoned cyclists and get help from other cyclists in different ways. Narrated by Ian, we get an amusing take three different personalities spending intense periods of time together, including sharing a bedroom, all three together! There is much for the three men to learn about themselves and each other – some good traits, some not so good. It sometimes reads very much like a younger version of Last of The Summer Wine, there’s very little new ground here but an amusing and entertaining read.

 

The Closest Thing To Flying by Gill Lewis

Purplefourstars

Review by Alice

Semira and Hanna, her mother, have been in Britain for four years. They are under the “care” of Robel, a vile, pot-bellied people trafficker, who makes sure her mother doesn’t learn English or get paid, leaving her dependant on his scant goodwill.

The Closest Thing To Flying

They live in a house packed with people in similar circumstances. One day, Semira finds herself buying an old hat on a market stall, strangely drawn to the bird that decorates the hat. When she takes it home, she discovers there is an old diary hidden inside the hat box, written by a young girl called Hen over 100 years ago. Semira finds herself caught up in Hen’s story, finding in it an escape from her own life that is full of hunger and loss. She finds that she is challenged by the girl in the diary to speak up in her own life and fight for her place in the world.

I liked the feeling of escape and joy that Henrietta feels when she learns to ride a bike, and how that becomes mirrored in Semira’s story as she is also introduced to cycling through her new friend. This meeting then leads to more revelations in Semira’s life, about who she is and where she comes from. I also really liked the resolutions we get to some, but not all, parts of the story – it was interesting that not everything is resolved. It is a good bedtime book, perfect for children around 9-10 and older who are confident readers.

Those Who Lie by Diane Jeffrey

 

Four Stars

Emily Klein doesn’t know her husband Greg is dead until the day of the funeral. From her hospital bed, she doesn’t yet know that she killed him. Once home and beginning to recover from the dreadful car crash, she sees her husband at a distance, in coffee shops, around town and in his car, yet when she gets home the car is on the drive.

Lies 1

Posts appear on his Facebook account and she begins to get text messages from him, it can only be him as he’s the only one who called her Alice when her name is Emily. She thinks she’s losing her mind and the reader is reminded of her past when  she was in a mental institution after killing her father.

The book switches back to her childhood home with her sister and their abusive father. We get an idea of Emily’s mental state and the reason behind her spell in a mental institution. Emily’s sister is key throughout the story giving support when she’s just lost her husband. Most of the story is in present day, just a few switches to childhood as memories resurface.

Emily’s friends are all under suspicion of imitating Greg and she doesn’t know who to trust or believe. There are several twists and jaw-drops before all lies are revealed and unravelled at the end.

Diane Jeffrey

 

 

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Rosie and Ruby by Patricia Dixon

five_stars

Rosie and Ruby was first published under the title Three Mothers, (Trois Meres) and was Patricia Dixon’s second novel. Her writing and storytelling in this book is flowing and confident, not afraid to tell it how it is.

Patricia Dixon - Rosie and Ruby_cover
Briefly, this is the story of cousins Rosie and Ruby, starting with their childhood and teenage years living in Manchester with their parents. Both have equally awful mothers in different ways, and both girls, and later young women, come to terms with and overcome the mental scars that haunt them for years. Rosie follows her dream of being a hotelier and ends up in France, while Ruby marries her wealthy whirlwind heart throb who turns out to be a violent and vicious monster. I don’t want to give the whole story away so won’t go any further with that.

There were tense and, at times, quite viciously nasty parts in this book and I can see that a more sinister genre was waiting to escape – Over My Shoulder by the same author.

Patricia Dixon writes fluidly and interestingly and never leaves any loose ends. When a new character comes on the scene she gives a concise and engrossing outline of who they are and what sort of personality they have.

Whose books are hers similar to? Well, the Manchester element reminded me of Mandasue Heller but her warmth and friendship within the story is much like Patricia Scanlan or Maeve Binchy – lovely fulfilling stories. I have read all Patricia’s books and the warmth, emotions and characters never fail to give me a fuzzy loved feeling.

 

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Death’s Dark Veil by Patricia Dixon

Five Stars

Death’s Dark Veil opens with someone on their death-bed being taunted and observed by ghostly figures. She knows who they are and knows they have come to escort her to the next world, but their descriptions are terrifying and I wondered if she could ever rest in peace.

The firstDeath's Dark Veil chapters introduce two very different characters, Georgie and Ivy, and these two young girls create the theatre for a very dark and dangerous show. Each has a tragic start to their adult lives but grow into strong and capable young women. We follow them individually to the time their lives collide at Tenley House, the Gothic towering home of first Daphne and Kenneth, then Georgie and Kenneth, as well as a dreadful old bat mother-in-law, Phyllis. Evil is all around, too many deaths for comfort (and coincidence), so who is behind these suspicious deaths?

Well written in a dark and menacing way with a good amount of humour to keep things light – the nick-name for curmudgeonly Phyllis, (Syphilis) had me howling.  There are gasp out loud moments at tragedies and deaths, and there is a great twist at the end.  I certainly didn’t guess the outcome and I loved the ending.

 

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Katerina by James Frey

Purplefourstars

I haven’t read any of Frey’s previous novels and only when looking at other peoples reviews of this book did I realise there was massive controversy surrounding his book A Million Little Pieces. I have read this book ‘blind’ in that I haven’t read any of his previous work nor did I know about the controversy prior to reading Katerina in the hopes that my review is accepted as totally unbiased.

katerina

To start with I found the strange sentence construction and lack of punctuation difficult to follow and not easy to take in, but the more I read, the better I got at ‘getting’ it. It’s James Frey’s unique writing style and he has every right to write and punctuate, as an artist, as he wants. It’s raw and passionate and at times so gut-wrenchingly sad and pathetic. It’s full of profanities (don’t read if you don’t like unnecessary swear words – it’s full of, and punctuated by, the f-word) but I strangely got to like it and felt his anger, disgust, hate, fear and love pounding through.

It’s written over two timelines and two countries – Paris in 1992 and Los Angeles in 2017. Jay is a disillusioned, non-conforming young student in America and decides to sell unwanted personal items and make fast money from drugs to fund himself in Paris, France. We go back and forth from Jay in Paris to Jay’s present day and really just learn his background, his strengths, weaknesses – oh, the weaknesses!!! loves, life and beliefs, and, of course, meeting Katerina. It’s a roller-coaster of a young life which I read with loathing and longing in equal measure.

It’s written like a memoir and after the furore I’ve now read about Frey’s earlier ‘memoir’ novel A Million Little Pieces, it feels like this is ‘the real thing’ or at least has put some reality into the fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed Katerina and now need to read the very controversial Million Little Pieces.

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Christmas Spirit by Nicola May

 

Four Stars

 

Christmas SpiritThis is a lovely Christmas themed story, short enough to read in an afternoon. The characters are endearing and different from each other with just jilted Evie, funny man-mad Beatrice, and c and thought provoking Yves.

Evie has split up with her boyfriend just before Christmas and so she’s upset, penniless and not looking forward to Christmas at all. To keep her mind off her ex-boyfriend on Christmas Day, she agrees to work in a homeless shelter serving food. Here she meets enigmatic Yves and meets him at various places over the next few days.

A heart-warming Christmas story with a touch of magic and an unexpected twist.

 

Indecent by Corinne Sullivan

3-and-half-star

I enjoy a good slow burner of a book but the burn has got to be really worth the slow. For the first half of this book, I was disappointingly waiting for something to happen, for the story to take off. We really got to know Imogene, our leading lady, during this time but she was such an insular, detached sort of person that nothing had really happened in her life to create a story about. We learn of her insecurities, lack of confidence, lack of experience with the opposite sex and the propensity to pick her face all the time.

Indecent

Imogene is an apprentice teacher at a prestigious boarding school for boys, and works under the supervision of other tutors. She knew and understood the rules of the school and what her relationship to the students should be, but her lack of experience or stupidity has her taking personally any interest from the boys.  This naivete sets her on a course of inappropriate behaviour and reckless abandon of school rules. and I could see a mile off that this was going to end badly.

What I couldn’t get out of my head while reading, was if the sexes were changed – Imogene was a male teacher at a girls boarding school – is that it would blatantly have been a very uncomfortable read about grooming and paedophilia.

The final third of the book did pick up in tension as we see the excruciating obviousness of Imogene’s demise. She can’t cope with work or indeed life, and her lack of relationship experience leads her away from all sensibility.

Very well written, and certainly worth reading if you like a slow burner.

 

Viking Wolf by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

4 and half 1

 

Viking Wolf

This is the second instalment of the Viking Warrior series, Viking Thunder being the first. Viking Wolf carries on where Viking Thunder left off and opens towards the end of the crossing by boat from England to Erik’s homeland. Elswyth and Faline took the decision to leave their village where both had bad memories and nothing to stay for, and joined the Vikings on their ship home.

Elswyth meets Erik’s brother and feels a shiver of danger, not wanting to be left alone with him. On Erik’s home turf, Elswyth feels that she is looked down on and not to be trusted by his kin folk. She slowly makes friendships when sickness sweeps the village but is mistrusted by some. There is plenty of Viking folklore, lust and eroticism to keep the reader entertained, with the story moving at a good pace and a touch of fantasy giving a very satisfactory ending.

As with each of Emmanuelle’s books, this is very well written and edited and I look forward to the next in this action-packed Viking series.

 

First in the series: Viking Thunder  Viking Thunder 2

Four by Andy Jones

4 and half 1

An intimate story of three friends when a new lady joins to make the foursome. We are first introduced to Sally, a GP, who is married to Alistair. Their marriage is taking a bit of a battering and they are attending marriage counselling in an effort to save their marriage. We then meet Mike who has recently divorced and has a little girl who has emigrated with her mother. He used to be at university with Sally and were a little more intimate than Alistair knows about, and also now works with Alistair. Faye is a young actress and is introduced by Mike to Sally and Alistair after she has just performed a part as a naked schoolgirl on stage. Faye is flirtatious and after an evening of drink, drugs and a dare game called ‘never have I ever’, the couples swap and end up sleeping together.

Four

The main theme of the book is the analysis of what that one reckless night has done to each of them individually and as couples. Then, about half way through the book, there is an unexpected twist which has further connotations.

I found the book to be well written and delved deeply into areas I’d not thought about. It felt realistic and the characters were all believable. There was tension throughout because of the embarrassment felt by each of them in the cold light of day. It was refreshing to read a male author’s viewpoint of some very intimate and emotional situations and I will certainly look out for more by Andy Jones.

The Bad Mother by Amanda Brooke

3-and-half-star

The Bad Mother

The Bad Mother is a rather chilling tale of expectations and realities of becoming a new mother. Lucy is expecting her first baby but rather than all the excitement of buying all the baby things and decorating its room, Lucy is worrying about lapses in her memory, a complete loss of confidence and her capabilities of looking after a new baby. Lucy’s mother puts it down to ‘baby brain’ and hormones but her husband isn’t so sure it’s as simple as hormones, he’s convinced it is a mental problem which she may have inherited from her father.

For a good way through the book I was trying to convince myself that all Lucy’s problems were down to her husband, Adam – well, the blurb on the cover tells us this – but thought that was too simple and that there must be a twist. I disliked Adam as a character from early on. He comes over as a whiny, spoilt, petulant person who likes to get his own way.

After Lucy and Adam’s little girl is born, things don’t get any better and Lucy is convinced that she is a danger to her baby and incapable of keeping her safe and cared for. The story moves at a reasonable pace and finally comes to a head in a breathtaking way.

This was a well written book touching on many issues but I didn’t find it a page-turner, it should have been shorter instead of reiterating the same things. I would have liked to have known what made Adam tick. His upbringing was similar to many children but they don’t all act like him, just what clicked in his brain to make him so selfish and duplicitous. Equally, why did Lucy so quickly and easily change from being a strong, confident, working woman with many friends into a whimpering wet lettuce.

 

 

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

4 and half 1

Helena is a confident and successful business woman heading her own department in an international make-up company. Then Ashley is interviewed and taken on and everything goes out of kilter.

The Rival

The story is told in a present day and back a year or so style, and although I felt that sometimes the timeline wasn’t quite clear (only realising we’d gone back/forward after a paragraph or two,) it worked well to show how quickly Ashley was taking over and Helena was spiralling down with pregnancy, childbirth and depression.

Both main female characters had their faults, pushy, deceptive, unfaithful etc., and the author making them both unlikeable at times made them feel realistic, more true to life, just a bad combination when they got together.

I thought the book was well written and well plotted, it had a couple of unexpected twists at the end and I enjoyed it very much.

 

Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany

4 and half 1

Best Kept SecretA powerful and impacting story of how Cadence struggles with work and bringing up a toddler after her marriage falls apart, and turns to the bottle to help her cope with life. Only it doesn’t, it devastates her life in the most sobering way possible when her husband finds her passed out from drinking with their son in the room, taking him away and filing for custody of four year old Charlie.

From sinking so low Cadence, with help from her sister and alcoholics’ meetings, lifts herself from the depths of despair to fight to gain the right to see her child.

A raw and emotionally charged story portraying the destructive effects of alcohol.

Amy Hatvany

 

 

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Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

Five Stars

Patrick Gale’s writing is exquisite. I haven’t read many of his novels but each one I have read has been perfectly told, at just the right pace with a large dose of compassion and tenderness.

Take Nothing With You 1

Eustace is an only child but he wasn’t his parents’ only child. Much of his insecurities stem from the fact that he survived when his siblings didn’t, although he doesn’t know that from his parents. The story begins with Eustace as an adult just having been told he has cancer. He has also just fallen in love and doesn’t know if he can tell his new love of his recent diagnosis. We mostly see Eustace growing up in the old peoples’ home where he lives with his mother and father. He’s a bit of a strange young boy; he enjoys ballet but when his father is angry after seeing him ‘prancing around’ he is forced to change course and learns to play the cello. Eustace has a gift for music and becomes quite an impressive young player.

Eustace’s mother is remote and fragile until she starts taking Eustace to Bristol at the weekends to stay with Carla his cello teacher, and her two gay friends. Mother becomes more alive than ever she is at home and Eustace sees a wonderful new side to his mother, especially when drinking wine with Carla. Eustace’s cello lessons, as well as his private schooling, become a stretch too much for his parents, and at the age of thirteen has to attend the local comprehensive school. He didn’t have an easy time at the private school, he is a slightly weird child, and relies heavily on Vernon, his one friend who also moves to the comprehensive with him.

This is a coming of age story which is sad and touching on so many levels. It’s not unexpected that Eustace is gay, but in the wrong school with the wrong people he’s a jigsaw piece that doesn’t fit, but put him in the right setting with musical and artistic people, Eustace flourishes. As he grows, there is tragedy, laughter and raw emotion, until we meet Eustace again with his new love in the present day.

Take Nothing With You is a beautiful literary piece. It’s impeccably written by a talented master of the pen and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up any of Patrick Gale’s books. Totally recommended.

 

Over My Shoulder by Patricia Dixon

Five Stars

This is a dark and addictive story of how lovely Freya becomes manipulated and controlled by Kane. Freya’s character is portrayed to be a normal working young woman of the 1990s. She has a very real personality, the sort of girl we could have worked with and from a family we could know of. She meets Kane whilst at work and quickly becomes quite besotted by him, even though she has a steady boyfriend. From the start, Kane is a manipulator and engineers meetings with Freya until their relationship takes off, just as he had planned it. Kane is a complex character and is a truly nasty piece of work. Kane has a beautiful and kind young woman by his side, but his cruel side surfaces when least expected, and as Freya becomes more isolated from her friends and family, her traumatic life becomes insufferable.

OMS

Much of the early and middle part of the book is set in 1990s Manchester and and shows a reflection of how times have changed in such a short time; the lack of technology, few mobile phones and attitudes of the police. Later, we move forward to the present day to conclude the story in a nail bitingly tense final few chapters. It is truly a gripping and shocking story from start to finish and just shows how easy it is to fall in with the wrong people.

Patricia Dixon writes in a very relaxed and northern style and her characters are totally believable. This book covers a lot of issues which might shock some readers, so be warned there is some violence and domestic abuse. Patricia Dixon has written sympathetically and emotionally about some very difficult issues and I think she’s done a great job of giving realism to a fictional story. This is her first psychological suspense novel and I do hope she writes more in this genre.

I was asked to be an early reader of this book and feel very privileged to have seen the story grow and change. Fourteen months after the first spark of an idea, several edits, a cut of around 50 pages, and a few tears along the way, Patricia now has a very gripping, tight plot which I feel rivals the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ style psychological books. Very well worth reading and there’s even a cameo of me in the final chapters!

Patricia Dixon

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They Don’t Know by Patricia Dixon

4 and half 1

 

I’ve read all of Patricia Dixon’s books and I’m struck each time by the warmth of her writing. She oozes love and care for the characters she’s created, and in turn they give friendship and reality to the story.

They Don't Know

There is a short prologue which relates to a time near the end of the book. We then start chapter one with Daisy, who lives in France with her parents, leaving the family home to go to university in Manchester, England. She’s an astute girl but is also shy and very nervous about the whole university process and getting accommodation. During the wait in the long queue she meets Adam, who is also a little nervous, but after a few minutes of small talk they hit it off and it’s obvious they will become good friends.

There is also a little back story of Adam and his brother Ryan which fills in their personalities and why each are like they are – quite different but both troubled. Once all three meet up, they become a solid force to be reckoned with, nothing will ever break them.

Adam is a good looking lad, and when Fliss can’t get him to be her boyfriend, talk about him being gay is spread around. Adam is hurt about the false and personal allegations and confides in Daisy his true feelings and unusual sexual orientation.

This is a very moving book; there is love, emotion and deep friendship as well as a dreadful tragedy which rocks them to the core. The character description is exquisite, you can picture what each of them look like. They feel so real and have definite individual identities. This is a love story with a difference, and I adored the references to songs, especially Kirsty MacColl’s They Don’t Know.

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One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis

4 and half 1

 

Amber and Vicky are best of friends until Vicky does something unthinkable and illegal. This is a tense and chilling tale of what started off as Vicky leaving the house for ten minutes while her baby was asleep, but unforeseen circumstances ricochet her life off into a catastrophic direction.

One Little Mistake

 

Amber now has a serious hold over Vicky and she takes full advantage of taking over or ruining everything that is important to Vicky’s life.

There is a back story from eighteen years earlier which fits together perfectly with the final third of the book.

One Little Mistake is well written, precisely plotted and perfectly paced. There’s never a dull moment and the anticipation of what Amber will do next is nail biting. A great debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more by Emma Curtis.

 

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Four Stars

This is an old fashioned who-dun-it style crime story but with a fantasy twist. No year is mentioned but I feel it is set around 1900 – give or take a decade or two.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered each evening for seven days. Aiden Bishop has the task of solving the crime from the perspective of eight guests at the celebratory party at Blackheath before he can leave the house. Each morning he wakes in the body of a different guest and re-lives the same day using the skills of the ‘host’ body to his advantage. Some host bodies seem, at first, to be of little use in solving the murder but each has something, even if it’s only being in the right place or hearing the right conversation, to find who did it.

This book is quite unique and requires a high level of concentration to remember what has already been learned and to keep up with new perspectives of repeated events.  It’s very well written and the author must have an amazingly well organised mind to create such a faultless and intricate plot as this one.

 

We Were Young By Cat Clarke

Four Stars

This is the first book by Cat Clarke that I’ve read and thought that the plot and storyline were very good. What I was a bit disappointed with was that the sixth word in the book was an ‘f’ word and that by the end of chapter 1, our young female protagonist had drunk excessive amounts of alcohol and had meaningless sex.

We Are Young

The storyline is full of modern issues, such as parents’ divorces, sexual orientation, music etc. One

of the main issues this book deals with is suicide and death and coping with the death of a young person and how it affects their family.

The main characters are well developed and we get to ‘see’ inside their heads. Most are likeable, except the one or two we’re not supposed to like.

I would say that this is written for the older teenager.

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

Five Stars

This is a brilliant holiday read, full of toxic friendships that you just know are going to end in tragedy.

The Cliff House

Tamsyn lives in a Cornish village with her family who struggle financially since the death of her father. She has an unhealthy obsession with the house on the cliff which her mother is the cleaner, and thinks nothing of occasionally stealing the key, snooping around the house and using the swimming pool – until she is caught by the teenage daughter, Edie.

Edie is rich, rude and rebellious whereas Tamsyn is loved, poor and friendless. A friendship with Edie is almost too good to be true for Tamsyn and she spends as much time as possible with Edie in the Cliff House. That is until it all starts to turn sour.

This is a book I found hard to put down. The anger and hatred coming from Edie is palpable and add teenage hormones, alcohol and motorbikes to the mix and you have one very gripping summer read.

Amanda Jennings

 

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My Husband’s Lies by Caroline England

Four Stars

My Husband’s Lies is the story of seemingly ‘normal’ people on the outside, but scratch below the surface and we have some problem relationships, flakey marriages and unhinged individuals.

My Husband's Lies

The book’s opening chapters introduce each of the ‘cast’ at Nick and Lisa’s wedding. There are quite a lot of characters introduced at once and you do have to remember them as couples as well as individuals, so attention is required from the beginning.


Caroline England has a lovely writing style and has woven interesting and topical plots for each of her characters. Very quickly this becomes a book which is difficult to put down as the ends of several chapters have cliff hangers. Many issues are explored – adultery, deceit, sexuality and, of course, the husband’s lies – but seeing both sides of the story seems to help negate blame, probably because the characters are so likeable.

From the start, when a guest at the wedding is about to jump from a hotel window, there is a feeling of doom, ‘this can’t possibly end well’ throughout the book but I certainly didn’t expect the explosive and shocking ending served to us. On finishing I felt bereft, I needed to know more, but ‘more’ doesn’t matter in the context of this whopping finale.

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Anna by Amanda Prowse

4 and half 1

Anna is the first of two books making up a whole love story, Theo being the second. Having only read Anna (for the moment) I would say that this is a complete stand-alone story in itself, there is no ‘cliffhanger’ and you don’t need to read the two together, but reading Theo might make you change your mind about the balance of their relationship.

Anna by Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse has a natural and easy to read style of writing, is a master at crafting relationships and interactions within family life, and I therefore found Anna a delight to devour. This is quite an unusual concept to have two books written about the two protagonists of the one love story. I can only think of one other book I’ve read in which half the book was written in the viewpoint of the female and flip the book over to read the same story from the viewpoint of the male, so depending on which order you read them, you may have differing views of the main story.

Anna’s story is set over three decades so we get snippets of Anna as a child with her mother, during and after tragic circumstances leaving her in a children’s care home, her working life and her time with Theo. Anna is a lovely well balanced and grounded character despite sad circumstances surrounding her upbringing. She is a character you can like and warm to, she feels like your friend. I love the way Amanda Prowse has given her weaknesses as well as strengths, which brings Anna to life in a very real way. She has a great little coping mechanism for when things get too much for her or if feelings of anxiety are becoming overwhelming, The Alphabet Game, in which she goes through the alphabet listing things around her or how she is feeling to give herself thinking and breathing time – not a bad one to use in our everyday life.

There are some interesting characters to meet along the way – Jordan was the best thing that came out of the disaster of living with her aunt and uncle, and angry Shania becomes one of Anna’s best friends.

I was so pleased when Anna and Theo first met, I’d been anticipating the moment from the very beginning, and felt that they gave off good natural vibes for a long term relationship. It’s not a smooth ride though, and I will definitely be reading Theo to understand his life and hang-ups and hopefully see that they do eventually get a happy ending.

Anna & Theo

Amanda Prowse

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The Perfect Girlfriend

4 and half 1

If you like a tense story of a manipulative, bunny-boiling stalker then this is the book for you.

The Perfect Girlfriend

The book opens with a short prologue of Elizabeth as a child on the day her little brother, Will, died while he was in her care. We then very quickly move on to present day when Elizabeth, who now uses her middle name, Juliette, is coming to the end of her air steward training. This isn’t her preferred career choice, no, this is solely to facilitate her obsessive stalking of her ex-boyfriend, Nate, who is a pilot. Their relationship finished several months ago but Juliette just can’t let him go. He doesn’t know it yet, but he soon will.

Juliette changes work rosters to enable her to crew on the same flights as Nate, and when he is away she lets herself in to his apartment knowing how long he will be away for, and snoops, takes photos of private documents and even stays overnight. She is scheming, devious and intelligent with it.

Nate is the brother of Belle, Juliette’s school friend who was more of a mental bully than friend, and Juliette being a little unhinged has kept track of both of them to mete out her revenge.

Juliette is a fabulous character, I loved her neurotic, unbalanced personality and she makes for great reading. This is Karen Hamilton’s debut novel and I think she has done a great job of creating a seriously flawed yet likeable character in Elizabeth/Juliette. Her writing keeps you on your toes all the way through the book – I wondered where some of the crazy situations were going and was never disappointed when Juliette’s intentions were revealed. The pace is fast, is never dull, and has just enough description to let us realise what devastation she has caused. The only slight disappointment was the ending, I wanted more, more of the life all the main characters were leading. I’d got used to Juliette’s scheming ways and I didn’t want it to end.

 

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

 

4 and half 1

The Art of Hiding is a stand alone novel (not part of any series) and is a beautifully written, very emotional story of loss, family coming together and seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

The Art of Hiding

Nina is watching her son, Connor, play rugby at his very expensive school. She’s a step away from the other parents because she doesn’t quite fit in. She has the stylish clothes and drives the right car but she isn’t one of them. At that moment, she gets a phone call from a hospital doctor informing her that her husband, Finn, has been involved in an accident and to get to the hospital right away.

Devastated Nina’s life starts crumbling around her. The place she calls home, the cars, jewellery – all of it, is a castle in the sky. With little more than the clothes she could pack in a box, she and her two boys flee to her childhood town, right back at square one with small pokey rooms and cast off furniture. But, she has her sister Tiggy living close by.

Nina and Tiggy learn a few home truths about each other and Nina’s sons, Connor and Declan, learn to live without the luxury of modern accessories. Life is hard, really hard, but Nina is strong and has to pull this off because she has two boys relying on her. There is an unwritten cloud of suspicion hanging over Finn’s accident and it’s interesting to see how much mother and son think along the same lines but neither will actually say it out loud.

Amanda Prowse has a lovely way of dropping values and morals into her stories and focuses on the importance of family, love and happiness. She puts life into perspective and her characters get to take a good look at themselves for what they have and what they are. Yes, there’s a lot of sadness and grief in this book but by the end there is a feeling of accomplishment and promise.

Amanda Prowse

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Poppy DayA Mother's StoryThe Food of Love

 

 

 

 

The Idea of YouAnnaTheo

 

 

 

 

 

Things We Never Said by Nick Alexander

four-and-a-half-stars

The book opens with the prologue at the aftermath of Catherine’s funeral.  It is a little bit sad but it is a good opportunity for the reader to be introduced to the main characters – Sean, April and Maggie.  After everyone has left the wake, Sean, now a widower, is visited by his neighbour and friend, Maggie, just to check on him and also leave him a simply wrapped cardboard box.  Sean later opens the box to find that Catherine has left him twenty-nine numbered envelopes, each containing a photograph and a cassette recording of her memories of the time the photograph was taken.  The first instructs him to open the envelopes at weekly intervals.

Things We Never Said

The chapters of the book start with a short description of each photograph of the weekly opened envelopes, and then the verbal contents of the cassette which Catherine recorded during her final weeks in hospital. We go back to the beginning of Catherine and Sean’s relationship when they first met at a fairground and hear from Catherine her first hand impression of meeting Sean. The following chapters give milestone markers of their marriage, the birth of their daughter, April, and various parties and workplace memories – some of which even Sean had forgotten about.

I thought this was a very clever, if not quite unique, way of telling the story of an, at times, troubled marriage through snapshots of memory. Although the premise sounds depressing, it has very uplifting and amusing moments. It is written with emotion and sensitivity and also shows how father and daughter come to terms with the loss of wife and mother in different ways.  I am ashamed to say that this is the first book by Nick Alexander I have read, but it won’t be the last.

 

Nick Alexander

 

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The Half Life of Hannah     The Bottle of Tears     The Other Son

The French House     The Photographer's Wife     Things We Never Said

 

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shrive

four-and-a-half-stars

The Stars Are Fire is a tragic fictional story based on real events in Maine, east coast of America, in 1947. This is a sophisticated story of love, loss, tragedy and striving against all odds to do the best for your family.

The Stars Are Fire

Grace is in a fairly loveless marriage with Gene. They have two children but they weren’t conceived in the raptures of which Grace’s friend, Rosie, talks about, in fact, Grace hardly dares believe that bedroom relations can be pleasurable. Times are very hard in spring 1947, and Grace’s only happiness is spending daytimes chatting with Rosie, sharing the odd half grapefruit which was difficult to come by. There has been nothing but rain for weeks and everything is sodden and muddy until, all at once, it isn’t. The sun shines, the ground dries up and it continues like this until everything is tinder dry. With the drought, the inevitable fires start and when one night Grace and Rosie’s husbands go off to help put out the fires, the two women have to abandon their homes and rush to the waters edge to keep safe. When only one of the husbands returns, there are tough days ahead, both emotionally and financially.

Shreve’s writing style is quite fine, always beautifully written, and I think you have to have read two or three of her books to really appreciate the subtlety and nuances which seem to speak louder than the written word. Her books are not particularly gripping or un-put-downable, but do have a certain intrigue and sophistication, and I found those qualities in this book.

Anita Shreve

 

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The Pilot's WifeStrange Fits of PassionLight on Snow

 

 

 

 

 

an Trodai: Scolai by John Breen Wren

Five Stars

Well written and well told, a story of ancient Ireland from an American author with strong Irish roots.

an Trodai Scolai

This first book of a trilogy tells the story of Scolai, born of an invading Viking warrior and a young village girl who dies in childbirth.  We follow Scolai’s early years growing up with his adoptive parents and his longing to be a great warrior when he sees and is told of the numerous battles going on in early 900’s Ireland.

John Wren is not afraid to ‘tell it as it is’ and if you have already read any of his previous books you won’t be surprised that there are plenty of severed arms, heads and spilled guts.  The story and Ireland is well researched and told with a slight American slant and even a touch of mystical folklore.  The Celtic names and place names add to the authenticity but can be a little difficult to pronounce.  There is a glossary of words and characters at the back of the book which is both informative and helpful.

This was a pleasure to read and I very much look  forward to reading an ​​Trodai: Laoghaire, the second instalment of this trilogy. an Trodai Laoghaire

 

 

John Breen Wren

 

 

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The Man I Thought You Were by Leah Mercer

Four Hearts 1

Oh, what an emotional roller-coaster.

The Man I Thought You Were 1

Anna and Mark have the perfect marriage filled with love, thoughtfulness and care for each other. One evening as Anna is busy preparing a meal awaiting the return of Mark from his work at the bank, Mark walks in straight faced saying he needs to talk. Within minutes he’s walked back out of the door having told Anna that he’s leaving her. Struck totally dumb, Anna believes he will be back in an our or two, then be back for the weekend and, when he still doesn’t return, he’ll be back before work on Monday – he’s left the car, his clothes and mobile phone, so he’s bound to be back.

As the days turn into weeks, Anna seeks the help from her sister, Sophie, and Mark’s father in trying to trace him.

The book is written with ‘Anna’ and ‘Mark’ chapters, so we get each character’s perspective and view of what’s happening and how each are coping emotionally.  I don’t want to give too much away about the story and Mark’s reasons for leaving Anna, but what I initially thought started out a bit chic-litty with the wonderful marriage and an affair thrown in, was completely wrong. This is a very grown up story of sadness and grief, and my heart skipped beats at crucial moments and I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear through the penultimate chapter.

Leah Mercer

 

 

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Five Stars

What an incredible debut and so brilliantly written.

Eleanor Oliphant is so obviously not ‘fine’.  She’s had an unfortunate and horrible childhood, in and out of foster homes, no family or friends, and an unsightly burn scar on one side of her face.  But, in Eleanor’s eyes, she has a job, a home and can look after herself so, she’s absolutely ‘fine’.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine 1

The book is split into three Parts – Good Days, Bad Days and Better Days. Good Days is the setting of the scene, we get to know Eleanor and her foibles.  She is a strange, complex and eccentric young woman, one who you could imagine maybe being a bit picked on or seen as weird.  After helping a collapsed man in the street, she begins to build a friendship with Raymond, her work colleague.

During Bad Days and Better Days, Raymond is an absolute rock for Eleanor. Written with sadness and pathos, the Bad and Better Days are a revelation into how childhoods and their traumas can impact on later life.

Gail Honeyman has written a truly amazing book and has cleverly woven a lovable character in Eleanor Oliphant and her sad life.  There is much to laugh at as well as giving the reader deep and caring feelings for this strange young woman.  I came to love Eleanor Oliphant and was truly sad to reach the end of the book and the end of my time with her.  I haven’t read a book quite like this since A Man Called Ove was released.

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

five_stars

This one made a deep emotional impact on me – it’s the only book I can honestly say made me teary eyed – twice! On reading the first few pages, I thought it felt very much like Kate Atkinson’s Behind The Scenes At The Museum, another book which made a big impact. It also had similar emotional overtones of A Man Called Ove.

Tin ManThe prologue introduces Dora and Leonard Judd, parents of Ellis, while Dora is still pregnant with Ellis. It is only a short prologue but gives an insight of the early life Ellis would have had and his mother’s strength of character.

The first half of the book is written in third person of Ellis – Tin Man – so called because he works in Tinny Bay, the area of the car factory which knocks out dents of car panels. It took me a short while to get used to the minimalist punctuation of the writing style – no speech marks so therefore had to concentrate on who was speaking. We go back and forth through Ellis’s life, back to a young teen when he first met Michael after both boys became motherless. Their bond and closeness started immediately and never left either of them, even when Ellis met his darling Annie.

In the second half of the book the writing switches to first person and we hear Michael’s very sad and detailed account of his life with and without Ellis. Throughout the book, particularly for Michael although it is Ellis who is the artist, a print of one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings which Dora won in a raffle in the prologue, features strongly.

I really don’t want to give too much of the story away because this isn’t a book of plots and twists, it’s the discovery of self and each other, so you really need to experience this for yourself. You may already have guessed or some might like to take this as a ‘warning’ that the story is mostly of gay love, not graphic, but so delicately and sensitively told.

S Winman

 

 

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The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

five_stars

This book is so addictive – I just couldn’t put it down!

Cherry really wants to lift herself up out of the poverty she is born to, and being a very intelligent young lady, she acquires a position in an estate agency in the affluent Kensington area of London. When Daniel walks in to the estate agents to purchase a multi-million pound apartment, Cherry seems to fall on her feet when Daniel asks her for a viewing and a date.

The Girl Friend

Daniel’s mother, Laura, initially is intrigued and excited to meet Daniel’s new girlfriend, but their first meeting doesn’t get off to the start that either Cherry or Laura hoped for.

There is much manipulation, deceit – oh my goodness, the whopping lies – from both Laura and Cherry in their battle to win Daniel. Laura needs to protect her son from Cherry and Cherry needs to get Daniel on her side and have him put a ring on her finger.

This is a bat and ball game of subtle, and not so subtle, jibes, quips and down right spiteful viciousness between Cherry and Daniel’s mother. As time goes on the hatred intensifies and the poison between Laura and Cherry increases. But one lie is so big that it is more catastrophic to the teller than who it is aimed at if it gets out. This can’t possibly end well for either of the two women and as vile words turn into murderess intent, the pace quickens to the point that you just cannot put this book down until you get to the climatic end.

When I first started this book I thought ‘hmm, a bit chic-litty’ but very quickly it became clear that this is not a light humorous summer read, this is deeply chilling and, if you can imagine having a few million pounds at your disposal as well as a holiday house in St. Tropez, has a very real feel. It’s well written and the plot I found faultless. The characters are minimal but each plays an important role – no extras or bit parts here. If you like an intensely chilling, quick-paced read, then this is certainly the book for you.

Michelle Frances

 

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Deceit In May by Roz Ryszka-Onions

Four Stars

This is a fluid and easy to read suspense story set mostly in the south of England.

Deceit In May

Keira is clearing and selling the family home she shared with her parents. She’s too sad to stay there after first her mother, then father, were shot in an apparent suicide pact. The story begins with her just moving in to a waterside home when a neighbour, Toby, turns up on the doorstep with a much welcome cafetiere of coffee. The two get on amazingly well and quickly become friends. A few days later when out shopping, Nathan introduces himself to Keira and the two very quickly start dating. Keira likes both Toby and Nathan and there is an obvious battle taking place in her head and heart which one of them she wants to be with, not to mention the jealousy between the two men.

Very quickly after moving in to her new home, Keira feels uneasy following a series of unusual events – banging on her door, damage to the property, and even items going missing from inside the house. After nearly being run off the road, she realises that these incidents are part of a serious scare tactic, possibly relating to her parents’ deaths which she starts to question as being a suicide pact.

Keira doesn’t know what she is mixed up in and the story becomes very fast paced with a good few tense and gripping moments to keep the reader captivated.

Her past is part of a conspiracy she knew nothing of which goes to the heart of British aristocracy, businesses and politics. By the end of the book, with a little help from a private investigator, the bad guys have been sorted from the good, leaving Keira to set up home and live safely with her man.

This is the first book I’ve read by Roz Ryszka-Onions and I’m surprised that I’ve not seen her several books or her name mentioned on the many social media sites, pages and groups which I frequent. Her writing style is easy to read, flows well and is quick paced – well worth picking one up.

 

Should You Ask Me by Marianne Kavanagh

Four Stars

This is an unusual and quirky story set in wartime 1944 with two past timelines giving the personal lives of Mary and William.

Should You Ask Me

William was injured earlier in the war and now has a desk job as a police officer in a sleepy town in Dorset. His back story is just a couple of years earlier but he has a lot of hang-ups and carries a lot of guilt about his survival over others during his time serving in the Army.

Eighty-six year old Mary’s back story is the book’s main storyline and when two bodies are unearthed during the war, she feels compelled by past knowledge and guilt to hand herself in as being responsible for the bodies.

The way Mary tells her story to William, the police officer taking her statement, is a work of art. She goes off at tangents (all relevant to the plot) and rambles her way through what happened all those sixty-two years ago, irritating William by her long-winded way of telling who the bodies are and how they died. There is not a moment of boredom for the reader, it is a cleverly crafted book full of nostalgia and pathos, but annoys the life out of William with her whole week in giving her statement.

This is a beautifully written book, quite unusual in its style of telling, and certainly one I will recommend to my friends.

Marianne Kavanagh

 

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The One by John Marrs

Four-and-a-Half-Hearts

 

This book seems to be a re-naming of A Thousand Small Explosions by the same author, so if you’ve read that one, this is not a new book.

This is a fabulous read, I couldn’t put it down. Just imagine that a gene had been discovered which tells who your perfect life partner is, The One who is for you. You may be perfectly compatible with others but to get The One is a match made in heaven, gives off a thousand small explosions.

The One

We start with fairly short chapters introducing six random subscribers to Match Your DNA, an international company matching your DNA with one other somewhere in the world.  We very quickly learn a little about the lives and ‘getting together’ of Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Amy, Ellie and Nick.  Most have taken the test and are with their perfect partner and others are curious to see who their perfect partner is even if they are with someone at the moment. 

Each of the characters’ lives are interesting and different, Christopher, for example, is a serial killer and we follow him through his murders and also his love life, while Ellie, who set up Match Your DNA, is scared of anyone getting too close because they may only want her for her billion pound fortune.

The premise of the story is quite thought provoking in many ways – if you’re happy and in love with one person would you jeopardise that love for a perfect match? Would you cheat on your perfect match in the likelihood they will take you back because your love is so deep? The chapters of each character are fairly short so there isn’t a moment of getting fed up with one or another character, and each are lovely and easy to fall back into. For a book about love and finding happiness there’s also a lot of sorrow and pathos. Some perfect matches are dying or seriously ill, but John Marrs has a wonderful compassionate way of writing so that even the sad parts are engaging and thought provoking.

This is the first book I’ve read of John Marrs and was so impressed that I have just purchased another of his books. He has a good fluid way of writing and I would have thought that this book has a degree of enjoyment for everyone.

John Marrs

 

 

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All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

Four Stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Donal Ryan but it won’t be the last.  He has an economic way of writing which I like but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in substance.  The short, often staccato, sentences are potent and impacting.  This is a very Irish book with lots of words and phrases which could be a bit tedious for some but read in the right accent gives a full on ‘I am there, in Ireland’ feel to it.

All We Shall Know

The story centres around Melody and her failing marriage to Pat after revealing she is pregnant with another man’s child. Both Melody and Pat have unstable personalities, both fly of the handle, blame each other, fight at the drop of a hat.  Melody carries this anger through her pregnancy and has some raucous and sometimes amusing outbursts. Much of her time is spent at a traveller’s campsite with Mary, cousin of the baby’s father, and we experience a little of the traveller’s lifestyle.

The chapters are cleverly headed by the week numbers of Melody’s pregnancy and we can imagine her baby’s progress and size as the weeks move on. I was also very conscious of this being a male author writing of a very feminine time of a woman’s life – I think he did it expertly.  The ending was surprising and I did question whether a mother could actually do that.

Donal Ryan

 

 

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Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington

Five Stars

Gripping and intense, laced with mystery and intrigue, this is a real page turner.

Briefly, (and without spoilers) seventeen year old Sophie is brought home from a drunken Saturday evening out with her friends by the police. She was found in a dazed and drunken state close to where the body of her friend is later found. Sophie has no memory of the whole of the evening.

Her parents are in a strained marriage and her mother, Karen, has panic attacks and agoraphobia since she herself was attacked two years earlier. The story is told from three main perspectives in short sharp chapters – Sophie, her mother Karen and Detective Inspector Lindsay Wade. We deftly move between the three characters in a race to find the killer of Sophie’s friend, Erin, before the stalker who Sophie realises is following her, strikes again.

The book touches on several issues – anxiety, agoraphobia, grief and loss as well as teenage secrecy and withholding information. Sam Carrington is a confident writer of crime and suspense and I found it a real pleasure to tramp through the book as fast as I could. I thoroughly recommend Saving Sophie and will be watching out for future publications by Sam Carrington.

Sam Carrington

 

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The Stepmother by Claire Seeber

4 and half 1

 

I really enjoyed this book and found I’d devoured half before I realised what time it was. It’s written in a very easy flowing way with short sharp chapters switching between Jeannie and her sister Marlena.  The characters are well developed, quite complex because of their background and upbringing, and likeable to the reader because we can easily relate to them.

If you’ve been a step-mother, or indeed a step-daughter, you may be able to relate to the anxious first few meetings.  If those meetings don’t go well and you then throw into the pot that the child/children are teenagers, their father is the apple of their eye and their mother is glamorous and jealous, well, scary things can happen and in this book they really do.  I am a step-mother to a boy and girl and I know I tried too hard to make them like me, so I can fully relate to Jeannie’s over the top efforts with Scarlett and Luke. Thankfully mine didn’t terrorise me into submission!

Very loosely, the story is set around Jeannie and Matthew meeting and marrying in quick succession. Matthew is a wealthy businessman with teenage twins and an ex-wife you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of.  Jeannie comes from a complex and broken background, has hardly had any serious relationships and finds herself swept off her feet by Matthew who is probably on the rebound.  Jeannie moves into Matthew’s former matrimonial home and when his children visit she finds she is on edge and feels a bit of an outsider in her own home.  The narrator of the story keeps referring to Snow White and this does feel very much like a grown up version of the old fairytale.

This is a very readable dark and sinister fairytale of sorts, complete with locked rooms, dead birds, secrets and wicked women.  I enjoyed it very much and will certainly read more by Claire Seeber.

Claire Seeber

 

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Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Five Stars

This debut by B A Paris is a stunning psychological thriller at it’s very best. It felt so simple and easy to read that I devoured it in great chunks. I feel that the simplicity comes from there being very few characters. Grace and Jack are at the fore the whole way through with Millie, Grace’s sister, not far behind.

Behind Closed Doors

Simply told, yet Jack is such a complex character, a true unbalanced psychopath. He has so charmingly wooed and courted Grace and is the apple of Millie’s eye. Until the moment of marriage when BANG! the real Jack makes his debut. He is cruel and manipulative, his remarks are cutting, he is totally sadistic and spiteful. What he might do next had me on the edge of my seat. It’s creepy and subtly dark and the tension becomes unbearable.

The story is set over two very close timelines – present time, and the time of Grace and Jack’s marriage just a few months earlier. The timelines come closer together the further we read through the book until the final gripping chapters are in present time giving a very taut and satisfying finale.

You need to read this. I really don’t want to give any clues of the plot away but you will need to set time aside to read as this is not a pick-it-up-put-it-down sort of book. I haven’t read one as good as this little gem for a while.