Monday, 18 August 2014

The vanishing witch - Karen Maitland - bewitching stuff

From Goodreads ....

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland, author of the hugely popular Company of Liars will thrill fans of CJ Sansom and Kate Mosse with its chilling recreation of the Peasants' Revolt. It offers an intelligent, beautifully researched glimpse of a more deadly, superstitious era ...'A compelling blend of historical grit and supernatural twists' Daily Mail on The Falcons of Fire and Ice The reign of Richard II is troubled, the poor are about to become poorer still and landowners are lining their pockets. It's a case of every man for himself, whatever his status or wealth. But in a world where nothing can be taken at face value, who can you trust? The dour wool merchant? His impulsive son? The stepdaughter with the hypnotic eyes? Or the raven-haired widow clutching her necklace of bloodstones? And when people start dying unnatural deaths and the peasants decide it's time to fight back, it's all too easy to spy witchcraft at every turn.

My review

When I heard Karen Maitland had written a new book I jumped with joy when I found a copy available for review via Bookbridgr. I accepted my advance copy with gratitude and glee and despite a teetering pile of lovely books all crying out to be read couldn't resist the chance to dive straight into the dark and menacing middle ages.

Karen Maitland truly is the Doyenne of medieval fiction and has excelled herself once more with an epic story brimming with amazing characters whom I either despised, loathed, admired, feared and in just one or two cases actually liked.

Central to this story set in medieval Lincolnshire, is cloth merchant Robert, respected member of the town council, wealthy, ambitious, yet oh so gullible and susceptible to a womans wiles. His wife Edith, mother of their two boys, young Adam and older Jan, is ailing. Robert artlessly allows a poor, attractive, widow he has taken under his wing, to enter their home ostensibly to nurse his wife. The widow, Catlin brings her beautiful young daughter Leonie and her elderly retainer Diot, into the home and soon introduces Edward, her adult son and Roberts life soon begins to spiral out of control. His loyal manservant Tenney and the scarred yet kind Beata look on in horror as the well ordered life they have known is ripped apart and become a sham. Everyones lives are changed subtly at first then with more sinister and darker events. I mistrusted almost everyone at one point or another, and the only person who bumbles along unheedingly is the main character Robert.

The only slight niggle I had with is, surely, SURELY no man could be as easily taken in as Robert, there were points where I wanted to scream at him - "Oh you FOOL" but if he hadn't been a malleable character the story might have panned out very differently.

We also meet another family, local peasants, Gunter a one legged boatman, his wife and children living in a hovel and struggling for every mouthful whose paths cross those of Roberts family and they are dragged even lower by circumstances.

The background is the peasants rebellion and there is a good deal of truly gory and gritty historical fact, which as you know is often stranger than fiction, woven through the book.

The story is narrated by a ghost and there are many references to ghostly characters all based on local legend, so I'd recommend anyone local to Lincolnshire to read this, it's an area I'm not familiar with yet this time travel trip has left me feeling it must be a very atmospheric place steeped in history and legends.

Interspersed with local myths, traditions and beliefs related to superstition and witchcraft the story is as unputdownable as all of Karen Maitlands previous novels. It's authenticity and elegance of prose, subtly draws the reader in and then tightens its grip until you are flying through the pages. I was eager to discover who the sinister character in a dark hood is who keeps appearing, what kind of dark magic is in play and who is bewitching whom?

A tempting, beguiling and truly bewitching read, for the reader who loves their historical fiction to contain a little bit of everything presented with an authentic magical quality.

My thanks go to Bookbridgr and Headline Publishing for my copy.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Thrilled and honoured

My humble blog has made it big! A quote from my review of the new release by Jojo Moyes - the One Plus One has been printed in the front of the book along with quotes from several of my fellow bloggers. I am so honoured and thrilled to be included, I absolutely adored this book and Jojo is one of my top 5 authors.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Under your skin - Sabine Durrant - Didn't see it coming!

From the publisher via Goodreads .....

Gaby Mortimer is the woman who has it all. But everything changes when she finds a body on the common near her home. She's shaken and haunted by the image of the lifeless young woman, and frightened that the killer, still at large, could strike again.

Before long, the police have a lead. The evidence points to a very clear suspect. One Gaby never saw coming . . .

Full of twists and turns, this is a dark and suspenseful psychological thriller that will make you second guess everything. Because you can never be too sure about anything, especially when it comes to murder.

My thoughts ...

I recently read and loved Remember Me This Way and enjoyed the authors' style and storytelling so much that when I came across her previous novel, Under your skin, in my local library I grabbed it (despite having a teetering TBR pile the size of Blackpool Tower). That I took it home and immediately dove into it and barely put it down until I'd finished pays testament to the authors' skill at grabbing, and holding your attention from the outset.

We meet the narrator Gaby right at the start when she stumbles across a dead body when she is out for her usual morning run and we are treated to the full gamut of human emotions as we watch her life unravel as result, when she unwittingly becomes a suspect for the womans' murder. Gaby has a great job as a tv presenter, a nice life in middle class suburbia, a successful husband, a nanny, cleaner and a couple of good friends, all of whom one begins to harbour suspicions against at one point or another. We are also introduced to a couple of police officers investigating the murder, a journalist or two and led to wonder who Gaby's mysterious stalker might be. I really felt for Gaby who is incredibly real, and I couldn't help putting myself in some of the positions she found herself in and feeling her angst and anguish.

It's the kind of classy, convoluted, psychological chiller that always gets me intrigued, plus it's a classic who-dunnit of the best kind. The author presents several possible culprits all totally plausible and scatters the most delicious little morsels of red herrings all along the journey, yet unlike most books of this ilk where I usually congratulate myself on doing the detective work quicker than the police investigators, I must honestly admit - I DIDN'T SEE THIS ONE COMING!

Bravo Sabine Durrant, for a genuinely gripping story with a mind blowing ending.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The cold cold sea - Linda Huber - Dark domestic drama

From the publisher via Goodreads: 
When three-year-old Olivia disappears, her parents are overwhelmed with grief. Weeks go by and Olivia's mother refuses to leave the cottage, staring out at the turbulent sea and praying it didn't claim her precious daughter's life. Not far away, another mother watches proudly as her daughter starts school. Jennifer has loved Hailey for five years, but the child is suddenly moody and difficult, and there's a niggling worry of doubt that Jennifer cannot shake off. As she struggles to maintain control there are gaps in her story that even she can't explain. Time is running out for Maggie at the cottage, and also for Jennifer and Hailey. No-one can underestimate a mother's love for her child, and no-one can predict the lengths one will go to, to protect her family.

My thoughts:

The book begins with a family on a beach, a little girl wanders away from her mother and down to the sea, where the unthinkable happens and she is suddenly out of her depth in deep water.

A chilling, dark, domestic drama set in Cornwall, it's tense and scary, but its also about peoples reactions to tragedy and things people will do when dreadful events take over their lives. Emotional and involving with great twists and touches of "Oh no, don't do that"

The story continues in several different perspectives, those of Maggie whose little girl Olivia went missing on the beach, at first she longs for her daughters return, then as weeks pass and the search grows futile she only longs for closure, her feelings of guilt for not preventing this occurring place cracks in her marriage.

There is also Phillip who is abroad caring for his terminally ill grandmother, aware that his wife Jennifer struggles to cope alone he is keen to get back to her, meanwhile she makes plans for their future but finds it hard to relate to her little girl Hailey who has become sullen and uncommunicative.

Finally we meet Katie a newly qualified infants teacher, keen to make a real difference to her young pupils starting school for the first time, when little Hailey joins her class she tries to get the reluctant child to open up, but can't quite put her finger on whether the little girl is just difficult, or if there are problems at home.

As the story unfolds things become clear that I don't want to reveal as you'll uncover them when you read it, theres no great mystery as to what has happened, you'll be able to work that out yourself, but the twists and turns lie not in what, but why and how and the consequences and repercussions of peoples decisions.

There are a couple of pretty unreliable narrators and though we know their viewpoint is skewed its hard to work out quite how things are going to end. You'll really dislike the way a couple of them behave, but there are also situations where you will think, what would I do? How would I cope? It twists at your heartstrings and then slaps you in the face.

This is a clever, character driven story and it's also about emotions, and reactions to those emotions and how events outside our control can have far reaching repercussions. There are a couple of characters whose actions are quite hard to stomach, although you can still have sympathy for them.

One of the main characters is a little girl you will hold close to your heart and you'll keep turning the pages, hoping beyond hope that her story at least can have a happy ending - but can it? You'll have to read this excellent tangled tale to find out.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Fair Fight - Anna Freeman - Fabulous historical fiction

From the Publishers description (via Goodreads)

For fans of Sarah Waters and THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, a vibrant tale of female boxers and their scheming patrons in 18th-century Bristol.

Some call the prize ring a nursery for vice . . .

Born into a brothel, Ruth's future looks bleak until she catches the eye of Mr Dryer. A rich Bristol merchant and enthusiast of the ring, he trains gutsy Ruth as a puglist. Soon she rules the blood-spattered sawdust at the infamous Hatchet Inn.

Dryer's wife Charlotte lives in the shadows. A grieving orphan, she hides away, scarred by smallpox, ignored by Dryer, and engaged in dangerous mind games with her brother.

When Dryer sidelines Ruth after a disastrous fight, and focuses on training her husband Tom, Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition. As the tension mounts before Tom's Championship fight, two worlds collide with electrifying consequences.

THE FAIR FIGHT will take you from a filthy brothel to the finest houses in the town, from the world of street-fighters to the world of champions. Alive with the smells and the sounds of the streets, it is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention and fighting your way to the top.

My thoughts ...

Oh my goodness what a tantalizingly excellent read this was. 
I'm always a little wary of books which profess to be "perfect for fans of ..." any of my favourite books, and as both The Crimson Petal and the White and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters are firmly in my top ten of all time I was excited, yet a touch sceptical about reading this brand new debut title.

I was swept into 18th century Bristol immediately by the authors consummate writing skill. The book's written in first person from the alternating viewpoints of Ruth the female fighter, or pugilist, brought up in a brothel, known as the convent, with her very dissimilar sister Dora, who quickly turns to the life of prostitution which Ruth will do anything to avoid, including climbing into the boxing ring to be punched almost senseless by a man twice her size! 

We also follow the life of George, whose tale begins at boarding school when he begins a lifelong, lamentable relationship with the rather needy Perry, whose life we also follow. Narrated by his sister Charlotte, scarred by smallpox and my favourite character by far. Watching her evolve and develop fortitude was rewarding and brilliant and there was one action she took where I literally cheered out aloud - read the book and I bet you'll give her a round of applause too.

I was a little worried that I wouldn't like the focus on female pugilism, but far from it, the topic was unique and original - something difficult to come across in historical fiction and made me want to rush out and begin thrashing the living daylights out of some poor soul !!

I'm delighted to admit the way the book is written does bear strong similarities to the Crimson Petal, in the sheer readability and deep sense of involvement, coupled with the gritty authenticity of the contrast of life for those living at the lower end of the social scale and those deemed "respectable" by society.

As already mentioned, I loved Charlottes character, there are some excellent, likeable secondary characters, Henry and Tom, to name just a couple and even the highly disagreeable people are likeable in their realism and are almost Dickensian caricatures, with quirks, flaws and foibles, the despicable Dora made me quake with rage and I wanted to shake Perry out of his self pity.

I rapidly became deeply involved with the lives of these disparate characters brought together against normal odds, I was immersed in the 18th century world of pugilism, gambling, immorality, loneliness and greed. I held my breath so many times I'm surprised I can now breathe without the aid of an oxygen tent.

And the ending, sheer perfection, although I actually turned the page expecting a few more words, then turned back re-read the last sentence and thought - BRILLIANT. Bravo Anna, this is an epic work of historical fiction I loved reading.

My grateful thanks to Orion books who published it and for making it available through Netgalley who provided my review copy.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Where love lies - Julie Cohen

The publishers description ...

Lately, Felicity just can't shake a shadow of uncertainty. Her husband Quinn is the kindest person she knows and loves her peculiarities more than Felicity feels she deserves. But suddenly it's as if she doesn't quite belong.

Then Felicity experiences something extraordinary: a scent of perfume in the air which evokes memories that have been settled within her for a long time, untouched and undisturbed. As it happens again and again, the memories of a man Felicity hasn't seen for ten years also flutter to the surface. And so do the feelings of being deeply, exquisitely in love . . .

Overwhelmed and bewildered by her emotions, Felicity tries to resist sinking blissfully into the past. But what if something truly isn't as it should be? What if her mind has been playing tricks on her heart?

My thoughts:

Having read and enjoyed the authors previous novel, "Dear Thing" I was delighted when her latest book, due to be published at the end of July was made available for review on Netgalley. I was even more delighted when a fellow book blogger whose tastes are similar to mine posted a rave review, this accolade alone made me keen to read it.

I wasn't disappointed one bit. This is an easy romantic read with a little darker twist to it. The authors skill lies in creating very real characters and putting them in a mixture of both familiar and "what if" situations. She bares their flaws as well as their strengths and makes both traits part of what you love about them.

Felicity and Quinn are a happily married young couple, despite very different backgrounds. She is a dreamy, artistic soul who was brought up by her rather unreliable but hugely talented artist Mother. Quinn her devoted husband, is a pragmatic businessman with a close and caring tight knit family. They are still settling into married life when memories of an early love affair return to haunt Felicity and make her begin to question whether what she feels for her husband is the real thing or if she could possibly still be in love with Ewan her lover of 10 years earlier.

The scent of Frangipani brings back long lost feelings of her time with him and causes the foundations of her marriage to begin to shake. She needs time to sort out her feelings but will it really help?

The book is beautifully written it draws you into their lives and you just can't put it down until you know what happens next making it quite a quick read for me.

I kind of guessed where it was going but wasn't sure how everything would pan out and must confess, I knew I was hankering for an ending that just could never be. What does happen to the characters is very authentic and real, you feel their hurt and bewilderment at the turns of events and you share the joy and heartache of love and loss.

Superb women's fiction by an immensely talented author, definitely one to add to your tbr (to be read) list. It's the perfect holiday read too, so pack it in your case with your bikinis and sundresses.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Ace King Knave - Maria McCann

What the publisher says:

Behind doors is another story. Behind doors you can do what you like.

Sophia - rational, demure, and hiding a 'little weakness' - has recently married the charismatic Mr Zedland. But Zedland has secrets of his own and Sophia comes to suspect that her marriage is not what it seems.

In cramped rooms in Covent Garden, Betsy-Ann shuffles a pack of cards. A gambler, dealer in second-hand goods, and living with a grave robber, her life could not be more different to Sophia's - but she too discovers that she has been lied to.

As both women take steps to discover the truth, their lives come together through a dramatic series of events, taking the reader through the streets of 1760s London: a city wearing a genteel civility on its surface and rife with hypocrisy, oppression and violence lurking underneath.

My thoughts:

This book owes a lot to Harris's list of Covent garden ladies (of ill repute) it's a bawdy, atmospheric trip back in time to the grimy days of 18th century London, when women had two choices, marry for respectability or eke a living ANY way open to you. Between these pages we meet two women, one from each end of the social scale.

Sophia, eager to fall in love has found the man of her dreams and joy of joy, this handsome and rich suitor has proposed, her parents are delighted with this virtually arranged marriage and to her relief haven't put him off by warning him of the shameful little habit she feared would prevent her from ever sharing a marital bed.

Betsy Ann is her social opposite, living amongst thieves and gamblers in the seediest part of Covent Garden she is a country girl brought down by circumstances, she is an ex-prostitute, living with a grave robber, dealing in rotgut gin and practising sleight of hand with cards.

Titus is a young black slave, serving in the household of Edward, Sophias intended. Loyal to his master he resents the new mistress almost as much as she is appalled by his seeming insolence and sloppy, unfortunate speech impediment.
We are also introduced to the Bawdy house run by Kitty Hartry.

These lives come together in a clash of cultures amidst the seething morass of London which contains the seediest of low lifes and those striving to achieve and maintain respectability. Sophia's husband is the lynch pin who holds this disparate bunch together and he proves to be a multi layered character.

This book is provided with an extensive glossary of 18th century terms which are scattered throughout the dialogue like dried up raisins and bitter candy peel in a rich plum pudding. They made it rather difficult reading for me as I just had to keep checking and re-checking to see what they all meant, many of them were coarse and vulgar, they really helped make the narrative seem authentic yet at times I felt the author had used just one or two "dimber cove" too many.

The story unfolds into a lavishly descriptive rollicking bawdy romp through the brothels and gambling dens of Covent Garden. A hugely enjoyable peep through a keyhole so degenerate you'd have to pinch your nose as you lowered yourself to peer through.

It's a vivid and pungent tale told with panache and showcasing the skill of the detailed historical research undertaken.

I must admit to a slight disappointment with the ending, such a boisterous novel seems worthy of somehow a touch more than it finally delivers, but this is just nit picking as the overall story really is gratifying in its own right. A superb celebration of bawdiness and deception.

My thanks to who kindly provided my review copy.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Without you - Saskia Sargison

From the publishers description ...
1984 - Suffolk, England.
When 17-year-old Eva goes missing at sea, everyone presumes that she drowned. Her parents' relationship is falling apart, undermined by guilt and grief. But her younger sister, Faith, refuses to consider a life without Eva; she's determined to find her sister and bring her home alive.
Close to the shore looms the shape of an island -- out of bounds, mysterious, and dotted with windowless concrete huts. What nobody knows is that inside one of the huts Eva is being held captive. That she is fighting to survive -- and return home...

My thoughts ...

A rather different take on the "girl goes missing" story. This story of sisters Eva and Faith reads like the deviant love child of Still Missing by Chevy Chase coupled with Enid Blytons famous five novels. But it does it with real panache. This story really hooked me and kept me reading wanting to know what happens.

The story is told in alternating narratives, those of Eva, the girl who goes missing and is held captive on an island, her younger sister Faith, whose remains true to her name in her conviction that Eva is not, as popular belief has it, dead, drowned in a boating accident with her Dad who can't remember the circumstances surrounding the accident.

We also get the take on the situation from the points of view of both their parents Dad Max and Clara their Mum, neither of whom are coping well with the loss of their beloved eldest girl.

We meet Billy too, the mystery man who rescued Eva and who is haunted by his own demons.

Faith tells the largest part of the story, she is rather a loner, finds it hard to fit in and is very much a coming of age story for both girls. We are taken back and forth in time and the setting of the main parts of the story is in the 70s and 80s both eras being portrayed particularly well. I expected a psychological thriller but its also emotionally charged and about family and secrets

Its quite a lovely story about growing up, not fitting in, loss, redemption and forgiveness. I can highly recommend it if you like a good mix of realistic characters, a gripping story with lots of off shoot storylines blended in, hints of legend and history and enough ambiguity to make you pause for thought now and again. Excellent.

My thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown book group publishers for my review copy.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Giveaway - The extraordinary life of Frank Derrick age 81 - J B Morrison

Please note this competition is now closed and the winner has been picked and announced in the messages at the end of this post.

So many of the books I read and review are ebooks these days. However this lovely book

is  a paperback and I'd like to pass on my pre read copy to anyone in the UK who would appreciate it.

To be in the draw just comment at the end of this post telling me why you'd like to win and I'll draw a winner at random on June 30th. Good luck.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Atlas of Us - Tracy Buchanan

From the Publishers introduction

How far would you go for the one you love the most?

When Louise Fenton flies to Thailand to find her mother, Nora, after the Boxing Day tsunami, she fears the worst when the only trace she can find is her mother’s distinctive bag. In the bag is a beautifully crafted atlas owned by travel journalist Claire Shreve, with her notes and mementos slipped in-between the pages. The journal tells the story of Claire’s struggle to find her place in the world following a life-altering revelation, and a tumultuous love affair.

Louise treks across Thailand's scarred landscape, exploring Claire’s atlas to try to make sense of the connection between this woman and the mother she is so desperate to find.

As devastated people are beginning to put their lives back together, Louise uncovers the secrets that nearly destroyed Claire and the man she loved – the same secrets her mother has been guarding all these years …

THE ATLAS OF US will take you on a moving and enthralling journey across the globe, and into the most intimate spaces in a relationship. And it will find its way into your heart.

My thoughts

The atlas of us is a detailed and rather complex romantic mystery told from 2 points of view. It's the story of 2 different women both at the crux of the break up of a relationship.

Louise has travelled to Thailand to search for her estranged Mother, missing following the boxing day tsunami. She soon comes into possession of a travel journal the eponymous "Atlas of Us" believed to have been in her Mothers bag at the time she went missing, but the book belongs to a stranger - Claire and just as I was getting interested in Louise and her story we are transported back a few years into Claires life and her story begins to unfold, its essentially a romance with lots of twists.

It looks at the things we will do for someone we love, and how we can go on loving someone even when we think they may not be good for us.

Louises search for her missing Mum eventually intertwines with Claires story and the 2 are closely woven. It didn't help that I kept getting them both mixed up in my mind's eye!

We end up being taken to lots of different places around the world and it's clear from the descriptions that this author is well travelled herself. There are a lot of characters and even the minor players are given quite a big part in the story.

It keeps you coming back for more and wanting to know how it ends, especially as Louise search plays out through the book. There are lots of secrets which are revealed in stages but there is one real biggie, I didn't have an inkling about and was a real shock.

The only thing preventing me rating this book a 5/5 is it's a little over complicated and for me just a touch too long, there are places where a little less rambling detail might have been more apt and places where I began thinking "just GET ON with the story!"

Despite this it's a very enjoyable and accomplished dual narrative story with lots of romance, mysteries and family dramas galore.

My thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins for providing me with an advance ebook copy to read and review.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Extra ordinary life of Frank Derrick age 81 - J B Morrison

From the publisher's introduction....

Frank Derrick is eighty-one. And he’s just been run over by a milk float. It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active. But now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. 

Frank lives with his cat Bill (which made more sense before Ben died) in the typically British town of Fullwind-on-Sea. The Villages in Bloom competition is the topic of conversation amongst his neighbours but Frank has no interest in that. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers continuously knocking on his door. 

Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that. Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life. She reminds him that there is a big wide-world beyond the four walls of his flat and that adventures, however small, come to people of all ages. 

Frank and Kelly’s story is sad and funny, moving, familiar, uplifting. It is a small and perfect look at a life neither remarkable nor disastrous, but completely extraordinary nonetheless. For fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry this is a quirky, life affirming story that has enormous appeal. And it’s guaranteed to make you laugh.

My thoughts

When I was offered the chance of a copy of this book to read and review I ummed and ahhed at first. From the write up it sounds a touch ridiculous a bit OTT - I love gentle humour but I can't stand farce.

However, when I read through a few reviews from people whose judgement I trust and whose tastes I know are similar to mine I thought "let's give it go then" and I'm SO very glad I did, I loved it.

Frank Derrick is a very ordinary elderly man, living an ordinary life in an ordinary seaside town. He lives alone since his wife died and extra ordinary things just seem to happen to him leaving him even worse off, the accident with a milk float which leaves him unable to manage the simplest everyday tasks in his ordinary life is just typical, he seems to attract the ridiculous and even in this unfortunate accident his dignity is shattered.

He could be a real grumpy old man as he has few friends and a dislike of most members of the public he meets calling his neighbours in secret by amusing native American nicknames, but he is really quite utterly charming. His best friend Smelly John the infirm ex punk rocker and his cat Bill are really his only companions apart from the steady stream of cold callers and salespeople trying to rip him off. But his daughter unable to visit, living as she is in USA sends him a home help and suddenly his life takes on a new dimension, in her short one visit a week Kelly Christmas, home carer, gives him something to look forward to and is a willing, captive audience for his little quips and jokes. It's his outlook on life and his refusal to BE an old fart which make his life so amusing and this lovely book an absolute pleasure to read.

You have to read this book to appreciate its humour and poignancy yet in many ways I found it unbearably sad. It's about old age, loneliness and the importance relatively small kindnesses assume to someone who is alone. 

I so SO wanted something REALLY extraordinary to happen in his life but all the things that do happen are so everyday its only when your life is as EXTRA ordinary as Franks that they assume such huge importance. His trips to the charity shop and the supermarket are all written with such tongue in cheek irreverence you can't help but keep turning the pages and even though I rattled through it in a weekend, Frank Derrick 81 will remain in my thoughts for quite some time.

My huge thanks to Pan MacMillan and the author J B Morrison for lighting up MY very ordinary life with the smiles and sighs this book provided.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Who Are You - Elizabeth Forbes

From the publishers description

Alex, a career officer in an elite regiment, returns from Afghanistan a changed man. He has left the Army behind and is attempting to forge a civilian career as a security advisor. His wife, Juliet, is delighted. She, Alex and their son Ben now live in a well-appointed house in a leafy London suburb.
But all is not well. Juliet's research on the internet suggests that Alex is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but pride means that he will not seek professional help.
Finding solace in web forums, Juliet is offered the use of a cottage and is urged to remove Ben to a place of safety. After a lot of secretive planning and the financial support of Alex's mother who had suffered at the hands of her husband, Juliet and Ben escape the tyranny of their home with the hope of starting afresh...

My thoughts ....

Finished this serious head-fuck of a thriller late last night - blew me away!

Juliet and Alex are a young married couple with a little boy Ben. Juliet is hell bent on creating the perfect home, she has a mental image of being part of the ideal family in a glossy magazine home, surrounded by impeccable neighbours. But this utopian dream eludes her. Alex has been away fighting in Afghanistan and despite longing for his return, he has come back to her a shadow of his former self. Gone is the strong, supportive, caring rock she has built her dreams on and in his place the Alex with whom she is now living is cruel, cold and dangerous to get on the wrong side of.

Getting on the wrong side of him is easy for Juliet, the only way she feels she has any control in their marriage is the small ways she can wind him up and goad him into a reaction, even if that reaction is far from the response she desires.

Both had a fractured upbringing and both of them are flawed, their backgrounds something each partner originally sought to protect the other from, but quite how flawed both are, creeps up on you insidiously and terrifyingly. The author does a sensational job of not allowing you to really make up your mind which, if either party is the least or most reliable narrator and I wavered from being on one side to being on the others side whilst heartily disliking and despising both of them yet I wasn't without sympathy either - brilliantly done!

Juliet becomes so unable to cope with her husband who is so removed from the man she fell deeply in love with and whom she is certain is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder, but is unable and unwilling to admit it, that she seeks support from an on-line forum; something I think most of us can relate to, and she finds help and advice from another woman who has been in a similar situation. Soon her own situation takes darker and more dreadful turns (be warned ... this book is VERY graphic and I found some scenes harrowing and stomach turning yet vital to paint the bleak picture of the situation this couple are in) She knows she must take action to save herself and 5 year old Ben from the desolate sham her marriage has turned into.

This book shows how circumstances shape lives, and victim can turn to culprit and once you're on that downward spiral nobody is going to show up and rescue you unless you take matters in your own hands, and even then, how can you be sure you're doing the right thing?

It is merciless and barbaric and yet heart wrenching too, it plays with your mind and gets in your head and is as twisted as anything I've ever read. It seems almost depraved to admit how much I enjoyed reading it, but if you like your mind to be tweaked and enjoy your psychological thrillers to be raw and abrasive you'll love this.

My thanks to Netgalley and Cutting Edge Press for providing me with a copy to review and to Elizabeth Forbes for making sure I had a sleepless night or two!!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Remember me this way - Sabine Durrant

The publishers introduction...

The new, brilliantly tense psychological thriller by Sabine Durrant, author of the hugely praised UNDER YOUR SKIN.

Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.

A year after her husband Zach's death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place. As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again.

At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did.

But she's starting to realise she didn't really know him.

Or what he was capable of . . .

My thoughts ...

Wow, what a cleverly written story of the kind I love most, twisted and devious with a menacing feel which creeps up on you. A psychological thriller with strong domestic interest it is told in first person and jumps from the perspective of Lizzie, in the present time dealing with the aftermath of her husband's death and the voice of Zach her late husband telling the story of how they met.

After the funeral Lizzie the cracks in her relationship with Zach begin to be revealed, despite loving him intensely she was planning to leave him just before his death and she begins to wonder if this played any part in the accident which killed him, but as her friends and sister worry about her frail state of mind, she begins to feel he may not even BE dead, is this her reaction to grief or does she have grounds for believing she is being followed. Is her head being messed with or is she just crumbling after her loss?

Neither narrator is the most reliable and as you get to know them both closely being sucked into their minds via their voices, you get to have a little sympathy for both, then realise both have huge character flaws and its up to you to decide which one is telling the closest to the truth and discover why they acted as they did. We also meet Onnie an anguished teenager (also with a hidden agenda and secrets) and there's Howard, Lizzies dog about whom I became increasingly worried, she is so wrapped up in her grief and obsessions that she misses the fact that the poor animal's obviously suffering himself.

The ending is as clever as the beginning and even though I guessed Onnies secret early on, waiting to see if and how it would be revealed was rewarding enough.

It's creepy and insidious and will have you looking over your shoulder.
Fabulous read my great thanks to Netgalley and Hodder and Stoughton Publishers for providing me with my review copy.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Now that you're gone - Julie Corbin

What the publisher says .....

When the body of Isla’s brother, an ex-Marine and private investigator, is pulled from the River Clyde, she is convinced he was murdered. When the coroner declares Dougie’s died of accidental drowning and rules out foul play, the police are happy to close the case. But Isla has other ideas.

Determined to find out what really happened the night Dougie died, and why he was even in Glasgow, she starts looking into his unsolved cases. What she finds will put her in grave danger and force her to question everything she thought she knew about those closest to her . . .

My thoughts:

Try and imagine you're a twin (I'm an only child so it's not easy) If you had a twin brother, whom you adored, who supported you through lifes ups and downs, who had always been there for you, since before either of you saw the light of day and if that brother died suddenly and prematurely, you'd feel that loss very keenly wouldn't you? Then, if even the tiniest of doubts arose in your mind regarding the way he died, you'd put everything aside to find out exactly how and why he was torn from your life so cruelly.

Well, that's what Isla McTeer does. This is very much a character driven novel with a strong and exciting mystery running through it and I so related to Isla, she's a single parent of two great kids, she works hard and has a rather fractured family who nevertheless provide a secure framework for her life.

When her twin brother Dougie a private investigator is pulled from the river Clyde (yes it's set in Scotland - didn't you guess from the names?) she is devastated and angry, he was an ex-marine for goodness sake how could he be so foolish as to get drunk and fall into the river after a night boozing in Glasgow and drown?

After the funeral a her grief subsides into dull dismay she re-examines the facts about his death (something she has learnt to do very thoroughly in her job as an insurance investigator) and she decides it can't have been an accident, and when she enlists the help of her ex-husband, a police officer, despite his insistence that her fears are ungrounded, more doubts begin to arise and she begins her own amateur investigation and becomes far more involved than she bargains for. Her search for answers takes her to the seedy world of homeless youngsters Dougie was searching to try and find a missing teenager, she comes face to face with thugs and villains, drug addicts and violent debt collectors and still the answers she is seeking remain elusive.

When I read back what I've just written it makes this sound like some kind of amateur sleuth/ detective drama and it really isn't - I dislike that kind of book. This is a tense well peopled family drama with elements of psychological suspense and thrills, peopled with many well created characters, which will have you feeling as though you know them, they're the family next door, but can anyone really know their own family as well as they think?

Islas on the verge of a new relationship and her boyfriend Ritchie is the only person who seems to support her wholeheartedly at first, her younger sister Marie, living overseas nevertheless still manages to rub her up the wrong way. She finds an unlikely ally in the reckless Tania, Dougies ex wife, who wants to avenge his death.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and have an inkling we may meet Isla and her family again in some future novel (surely the author can't create such detailed and believable characters and not use them again?)

The ending was pretty unexpected and some readers may feel it leaves several issues unresolved but for me it was just right and believable - in real life not every single thread IS firmly tied in a undoable knot.

My thanks to Netgalley, Julie Corbin and Hodder and Stoughton for the advance galley copy which I enjoyed immensely.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Look Behind you - Sibel Hodge

From the publisher:

Chloe Benson wakes up kidnapped and bound in an underground tomb with no memory of how she got there.

She escapes through deserted woods with her life, but no one believes her story.

And when she suspects her husband is lying to her, Chloe is forced to retrace her past, following in her own footsteps to find the truth and stay alive.

But who is following Chloe?

Look Behind You. You never know who’s out there.

My thoughts:

When we first meet Chloe she awakens in the pitch dark, her hands and feet bound, with no clue where she is or how she got there but she knows something is VERY wrong, her life is in grave danger and she must escape!

I don't think I'll be accused of spoilers when I tell you she does manage to get away from her prison - what follows is a nightmare of confusion and terror. She is hospitalised, reunited with her husband yet still her memory remains a blank with complete amnesia of the past few weeks. All she is sure of is that someone wants her dead - but nobody seems to believe her when she says she was abducted, not the doctors or the police not even her husband.

So many doubts are put forward as to her tale she begins to doubt herself, and as it becomes increasingly obvious that her husband is lying about some of the events leading up to her traumatic ordeal she feels alone and that she can't trust anyone.

Her husband begins to emerge as a thoroughly unpleasant character but surely he couldn't have been involved in her enforced captivity? But if you can't trust your husband who can you trust

Its a twisty tale, very tense and dramatic and I really engaged with Chloe, even though I did end up screaming for goodness sake, why are you even WITH this creep in the first place??

The author skilfully plants doubts and double bluffs at every turn until you're sure you know what's going on then a niggle of doubt creeps in just like it does with Chloe. A clever and captivating (no pun intended) story I thoroughly enjoyed, with just a couple of small discrepancies which emerged close to the end which weren't sufficient to spoil my enjoyment.

My thanks to Netgalley for the ebook version which they provided me with.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The storied life of AJ Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

From the publisher's blurb

In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books—and booksellers—that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

My thoughts ...

What drew me to this book was the comparison to The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie Society and Pilgrimage of Harold Fry both of which I loved. Perhaps that placed an expectation in my mind and tinted my anticipation with a faint colourwash of disappointment when I found it quite dissimilar in style to either of these books.

Nevertheless, what this book is, is a charming and witty look at life through the eyes of a curmudgeonly bookseller who is finding lifes miseries and setbacks are outnumbering his erstwhile pleasures and his life is no longer something to be anticipated and even his beloved books can't cheer him up.

Then he receives a delivery he isn't expecting and along with it comes the opportunity to shed a little light on his dark thoughts and brings with it the realisation that there are after all people in his life who care.

Peppered with literary references this book is cleverly written to appeal to its own target audience (booklovers and readers everywhere)

If you're looking for intelligent romantic fiction with quirky characters and zany humour, look no further, enter the book filled life of AJ Fikry.

Closing in - Sue Fortin

From the publisher's blurb ...

Helen has had to leave everything she’s ever known behind; her home, her family, even her own name.

Now, returning to the UK as Ellen Newman, she moves to a small coastal village, working as a nanny for Donovan, a criminal psychologist. Attractive, caring and protective, this single father and his sweet daughter are a world away from Ellen’s brutal past. She thinks she’s escaped. She thinks she’s safe.

But Ellen can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong.

Strange incidents begin to plague her new family, and their house of calm is about to become one of suspicion and fear. Who can be trusted? Who is the target? Who is closing in?

My thoughts

Let's hope we're never in the position in which Helen finds herself, where you need to run and hide so badly you change your name by deed poll and try to completely change your identity.

Now called Ellen, our escape artist is fleeing a relationship gone bad - very bad and when she lands herself a position as live in nanny to the loveable Izzy and her very agreeable Dad, Donovan, she thinks her troubles are behind her, but they're only just beginning.

What follows is a swirly cat and mouse chase, where Ellen has to try and stay one step ahead of a game where she isn't even sure of the rules. Has someone from her past tracked her down? Or is Donovan the target for increasingly bizarre little incidents which make us increasingly more uneasy for Ellen and Izzy's safety. 

Donovans job as a criminal psychologist helps him recognize who to trust and who is lying, yet even he becomes confused with all the psychological doubts and diversions (as did I)

The author adeptly throws in a few red herrings to confuse us about just who is doing what, to whom and then a niggle of doubt as to Ellens credibility are catapulted into the mix which builds to a really tense, nail biting climax.

I thoroughly enjoyed this romantic thriller, with great characters, a vigorous storyline and sufficient curved balls to keep you guessing all the way through.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Harper Impulse for providing my digital copy which has introduced me to another enjoyable author.

It's available as I write for your kindle at the bargain price of just £1.99.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Highwayman's Daughter - Henriette Gyland

From the publisher's blurb:

Is it a crime to steal a heart?

Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations.

So when his stagecoach is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin Rupert s wager by tracking her down first.

But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart.

Henriette won the 2011 New Talent Award from the UK Festival of Romance for her debut Up Close.

My thoughts:

PERFECT romantic escapism!

Sometimes you want to read something intellectual and urbane, which will spark deep literary discussion. Then sometimes you just want to escape from the 21st century of hustle and bustle and hi tech lifestyles. What better place to escape to than 18th century England when men were, rich, good looking hunks and women were .... Highwaywomen ??

Yep, take this with a pinch of salt and your tongue lodged firmly in your cheek and enjoy it for exactly what it is, pure romantic historical fiction at its very best with a story to warm the coldest heart, enough twists and turns to keep your feminine heart a flutter and a pinch of hot forbidden love to raise your eyebrows.

I don't need to summarise the storyline, as that's been done ably above. It's the skill of the author which lifts this way above the run of the mill bodice ripper to the cleverly constructed fiction which makes you suspend disbelief in the unlikeliest scenarios and coincidences and just go along for the ride (on horseback of course) 

Henriette Gyland has already proven her skill as a romantic fiction author with 2 commendable previous books, also published by the lovely people at Choc-lit, both, inventive contemporary romantic mysteries. With this her latest she departs into the realms of historical fiction and with an adept hand creates a fabulous and likeable hero and heroine, in as romantic a setting as possible, yet introduces some superb red herrings and  a touch of dark and gritty realism (life inside an 18th century prison, executions at Tyburn to name just two)

If you want a feisty and slightly different heroine, a hunky hero to make your heart beat faster and a story clever enough to hold your interest yet easy enough to follow to make it sheer reading enjoyment from start to finish, this is the book to read when you want to make your escape. Another passionate triumph from Choc lit (who kindly provided me with an advance copy - thank you Choc Lit) and a charming detour by the author. Delicious!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Finding you - Giselle Green

From the publishers blurb:

Julia and Charlie are ecstatic to be reunited with their stolen child, Hadyn. A year after he was snatched from a beach in Spain during a family holiday, they had feared that he would never be found alive.

Now the couple are eager for their lives to return to normal – but something is very wrong. Hadyn is still in many ways a ‘lost’ child. He seems to have been badly affected by the abduction, making it impossible for the family to simply pick up the pieces and move on.

In their efforts to unravel exactly what happened to their son and to find a cure, Julia and Charlie clash as to the best way forward. As their own insecurities surface, their relationship comes under threat - a situation not helped by the appearance of a former lover who is only too happy to rock the boat.

As dark secrets are uncovered, the couple’s love for each other is tested to its very limits, and they begin to doubt that they will ever be able to help their troubled little boy...

My thoughts ...

I was offered an advance copy of this to review and when I heard it was a follow up to another novel Little Miracles I almost passed up the chance to read it. I'm glad I didn't as it's a lovely, emotionally engaging book which can easily be read as a stand alone - However I do feel you'd probably feel an even closer involvement with the storyline of a little boy going missing in Spain if you did read the first book and if you have the chance to read both in the correct order I'd highly recommend doing it that way rather, than as I intend to, read them in reverse order.

Finding you describes the aftermath of a tragic event, which has had an outcome which should be joyous and tranquil, a couple whose toddler son went missing has, against all odds got him back and are ready to get back on with their family life, but what if the thing you wanted most of all above everything turns out be not quite how you dreamt it would be?

Julia wanted nothing more in life than to have her beloved little boy Hadyn back, return home to England and be a great Mum to him. But Hadyn seems cold, undemonstrative and disruptive around other people and not knowing what happened during his absence makes it harder to know how to behave with him. 

The cracks which appeared in Julias marriage to Charlie are proving far more difficult to paper over than they had both hoped and here the author does a fabulous job of switching from Julia narrating the story to Charlies voice and I was amazed at how easily misunderstandings arise between them, when its Julia telling the story, Charlies responses and reactions seem almost reprehensible yet when it switches to his point of view although he did annoy me with his rather bumbling ineptitude and failure to see things from his wifes position I could fully understand why and how he was doing and seeing things the way he did.

This is an excellent family drama, told beautifully with great skill, by a very accomplished author. Full of emotion, handled with sensitivity and perception this is sure to delight existing fans of Giselle Green and those looking for a new author to entertain and enthrall.

Little mercies - Heather Gudenkauf

What the Publisher says about this new title:
In her latest ripped-from-the-headlines tour de force, New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf shows how one small mistake can have life-altering consequences…

Veteran social worker Ellen Moore has seen the worst side of humanity—the vilest acts one person can commit against another. She is a fiercely dedicated children's advocate and a devoted mother and wife. But one blistering summer day, a simple moment of distraction will have repercussions that Ellen could never have imagined, threatening to shatter everything she holds dear, and trapping her between the gears of the system she works for.

Meanwhile, ten-year-old Jenny Briard has been living with her well-meaning but irresponsible father since her mother left them, sleeping on friends' couches and moving in and out of cheap motels. When Jenny suddenly finds herself on her own, she is forced to survive with nothing but a few dollars and her street smarts. The last thing she wants is a social worker, but when Ellen's and Jenny's lives collide, little do they know just how much they can help one another.

A powerful and emotionally charged tale about motherhood and justice, Little Mercies is a searing portrait of the tenuous grasp we have on the things we love the most, and of the ties that unexpectedly bring us together.

My thoughts

Heather Gudenkaufs books just get better and better, this one's amazing. She creates complex characters with such competence I can't believe they aren't real people. 

The story is told from two perspectives, that of Ellen  the social worker, her busy personal life as a devoted Mother of 3, whose frantic personal life competes for her time with her beloved career of child care social worker to which she is completely dedicated. Any woman who has juggled home life and career will relate to her sometimes haphazard approach to the breakfast time mayhem as she hurtles out of the door to a job which can frequently contain life and death decisions.

Hardly surprising then that mistakes can be made - but one genuine oversight puts her in a dreadful position she has seen clients in and threatens her role as a mother and her position as social worker I can't imagine how awful this must have been yet I felt every second along with her.

Contrast Ellens mature voice with that of a bewildered yet feisty young girl, Jenny whose situation of sudden homelessness brings her into the periphery of Ellens life and into the care of Maudene and suddenly the two similarly chaotic lives coincide. 

Often feisty young heroines can be a touch annoying, twee or over cute, but Jenny is just right, I loved her, she has had a pretty haphazard upbringing, her Mum abandoning her and left in the care of her hapless yet nevertheless loving Dad who sadly has difficulty enough looking after himself let alone caring properly for a little girl yet she maintains a hopeful optimism which is frequently dashed and an innocence, slightly tarnished but not yet jaded enough to make her cynical.

The story makes you face one of those terrifying "what ifs" which you really never want to contemplate ... how would you cope if everything you loved was at risk of slipping away from you and it was all your fault? How could you live with yourself and what would you do?

There are lots of secondary characters I'd love to know more about - Joe the cop Ellens devoted, platonic friend, and the lovely Maudene too, and I'd so love a hint of what happens afterwards and how the main characters get on in the years following these tragic events.

I read the book avidly 'til late at night and absorbed every word, it was like taking part in an unfolding tragedy I could do nothing about but cheer from the sidelines and hold my breath when things got to their very worst. Fabulous writing from an author who is now one of my very favourites, this book will be enjoyed by anyone who likes Diane Chamberlains writing.  

A huge thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin for supplying me with an advance copy to review, what a privilege and pleasure it was.

This book is due to be published in the UK on 4th July and can be pre-ordered.