Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Penny Heart - Martine Bailey - captivating

The Blurb

A historical novel of suspense, seasoned with recipes and remedies, THE PENNY HEART draws on age-old themes of cooking, trickery and revenge.
The North of England 1787. Sentenced to death for a simple confidence trick, Mary Jebb escapes the gallows … but her reprieve is harsh: seven years in the unforgiving penal colony of Botany Bay. Yet Mary is determined not to be forgotten, sending two pennies, engraved with a promise, to the two men who sealed her fate. Timid artist Grace Moore jumps at the opportunity to marry handsome gentleman Michael Croxon – happy if only to get away from her drunken father. But when Grace takes on a new cook, the two penny heart love tokens reveal she is tied to a world she didn’t know existed … A world of deceit, double-crossing, revenge and murder.

My thoughts

I KNEW I was going to love this one, from the enticing description to the delicious cover - I was captivated from the first sentence, and entranced throughout.

I'm a sucker for a very particular kind of historical novel, it must have a ring of authenticity, a strong female protagonist or two and a quirky, thrilling storyline. What it mustn't be is a bodice ripper, fluffy and feminine, an insipid romance.

The Penny heart ticked all my boxes, seized me by the wrist and dragged me back in time to the late 18th century where it beguiled me throughout. I was introduced to not one substantial female but two and immersed in the decaying grandeur of a crumbling mansion, presented with mystery upon mystery and whisked back and forth between here, and Botany Bay penal colony.

The two fascinating females are Mary Jebb, a cunning and enterprising orphan with skill at impersonating her betters and conning people. Her immersion into the criminal underworld of Manchester leads to her downfall when she is caught mid scam and punished with a death sentence from which a last minute reprieve sees her instead transported to Australia. Life here is cruel, brutal and unforgiving, so it's hardly surprising that she carries with her a desire for vengeance which gives her the strength to seek it out.

Meanwhile gentle, innocent, Grace Croxon, a dreamy artistic girl whose only burning desire is to escape the life of drudgery she endures at the hands of her spiteful alcoholic father who constantly belittles her every attempt to make something of herself. Salvation is offered in the guise of marriage to one Micheal Croxon and although they have barely met, she is relieved when he turns out to be handsome and debonair, that she feels an instant attraction to him seems to be the icing on her cake - or will it be her downfall?

In the faded grandeur of neglected, semi derelict mansion DeLaFosse Hall the two womens lives evenually cross paths and we begin to unravel a mystery which keeps us guessing throughout the book.

Each chapter is preceded by a recipe which features in the following chapter and as they become increasingly more bizarre I found it fun to try and guess just how and where this particular "receipt" would appear in the storyline.

The mystery is cleverly written and I went from being gently guided along and thinking maybe really nothing much was happening, to whoah, hold on, I wasn't expecting this!

The beauty lies in two admirably created characters and a strong sense of place and authenticity. I loved the book and felt quite bereft on finishing it. May I give my hearfelt thanks to the author Martine Bailey for very kindly providing me with a copy to review and for entertaining and enthralling me with her delicious storytelling skill.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Tea Planters Wife - Dinah Jefferies - a new timeless classic

From the publishers description....

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever . . .

My thoughts:

Loved this one. Classy, quality writing, a stunning historical family drama set in Ceylon in the 1920s.

The description and detail just oozes off the page and I was immersed in the life of Gwendoline a young Engliah woman, fresh off the boat who has come to join her new husband at his tea plantation. Faced with rather huge cuture shock Gwen is pretty adaptable and having come out to be with the man she clearly adores to bits, helps her fall in love with this beautiful country and the people, even if the way of life is comletely alien o her and she finds the caste system and ingrained prejudices of her new home rather difficult to accept.

What she also finds hard to accept is that her new husband Laurence, at first as passionate as she is, soon seems to draw away from her and his manner cools. Who wouldn't feel very alone in this foreign country running a large plantation house? Her cousin and friend Fran is back at home in England and despite visits, it's hard to maintain the closeness the used to enjoy. Yet there are many new folk who come into her life - all characters created with real presence and stunningly believable. There is Naveena, family retainer, her loyal and gentle servant. Savi Ravasinghe the charming and enignmatic local artist and Christina the pushy, wealthy American she just cannot warm to.

When Laurences feckless sister Verity arrives and shows every intention of moving in with them, could this be the opportunity for Gwen to have a close friend she can rely on? Nope, Verity turns out to be a wasp in the honeypot, spiteful and untrustworthy she proves to be the last person Gwen wants around.

When marital relationships improve and Gwen finds herself pregnant, surely now her cup is overflowing and she has all she needs to bring her happiness in this vibrant and exotic land?

Well..... No.

Things go from bad to worse for Gwen, yet she remains an innocent, very sweet girl, who you can't help but like and have sympathy for. The fact that she is so far from her natural home surely makes things harder for her to cope with when things go wrong. It's heartbreaking to watch from the sidelines as she struggles to make almost impossible decisions, cope with the consequences of her actions and above all hang on to the husband she has given up everything for.

When I began this book I didn't know much about life in Ceylon and the political unrest, but the author weves these facts in so adeptly that you absorb them withiut realising. The cuture and landscape are beautifully described and I felt I was there, sitting on the verandah, watching tiny creatures and colourful birds flit through the trees, walking in the grounds by the lake and waterfall surrounded by exotic flowers. The skill with which the author sets the scene is only surpassed by her skills at creating fabulous chacaters and weaving them into an irresistable story of family secrets and personal sacrifice.

The story has a timeless feel and I was in some ways reminded of books I read and loved over 40 years ago by Authors like Susan Howatch and Victoria Holt but the style is more contemporary, the writing slicker and the story sharper and more relevant today. Bravo Dinah this is a stunning second novel following on the heels of a lovely debut novel the Separation.

My thanks to Penguin UK via Netgalley for my review copy.

Updated with this lovely image created and shared by the author herself on Twitter

Monday, 31 August 2015

The silvered heart - Katherine Clements - a gallop through the past

The blurb....

The legendary figure of Kate Ferrars, the infamous highwaywoman, is brought gloriously to life in this gripping tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.

'The distant thrum of galloping hooves conjures nothing but doubt and fear these days.'

1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world Katherine Ferrars knows is crumbling under Cromwell's army, and as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to do her duty and marry for the sake of family.

But as her marriage turns into a prison, and her fortune is decimated by the war, Kate becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets the enigmatic Ralph Chaplin, she seizes the chance he offers. Their plan is daring and brutal, but it's an escape from poverty and the shackles of convention. They both know if they're caught, there's only one way it can end...

My thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed this second historical novel based on true characters by Katherine Clements It's a breathtaking gallop throughout history peppered with people and places so real you feel you're there.

I was a little confused at first as I became sure I'd read it before but knew it was brand new, then I reaised that Ive read another book based on the life of Kate Ferrars the highwaywoman which was by Deborah Swift called Shadow on the Highway which was more of a young adult story based on the same character. Both books are well researched with great historical detail so I felt as though I was revisiting an old friend.

Set in the mid 17th century Kate Ferrars has led a rather privileged life brought up in a grand home Markyate Cell, when the book begins she is a young woman on the brink of marriage to a man she barely knows as was so often the case in that era the choices for a woman were remarkably limited, marry or be penniless even though she is minor aristocracy she has no status as a single woman.

Just before her wedding a horrible event taints her life and way of thinking and, in her belief, triggers a thread of wickedness in her which is about to haunt her. Although I could quite easily comprehend what led her to make many of the decisions she does in later life and I don't condemn her for her life on the fringe of respectability, what I found more wicked in some ways than her actions was her selfishness.

Locked in a loveless marriage her relationship with her maid Rachel is a closer friendship than one would expect between mistress and maid. Rachel is really her only friend and she doesn't always treat her well. That Kate looks outside her marriage for love and excitement isn't unexpected and makes for an exciting story. She grasps at the chance of independence and thrills when she joins a highwayman in his adventures and that they end up in a passionate relationship is hardly a surprise, neither is her descent to ruin.

There are a couple of characters I'd really like to know more about, e.g. the story behind Martha Coppin who is an influential secondary character I was fascinated by.

The story flows beautifully and creates a tense and compelling atmosphere you can't help but be drawn deeply into putting Katherine Clements firmly on the map and an author I will eagerly watch for again in future.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Summer of Secrets - Sarah Jasmon - atmospheric and nostalgic

The Blurb.....

One day she was there . . .

and the next day, the day after the fire, she was gone.

In the summer of 1983, when Helen is sixteen, Victoria Dover and her eccentric family move in next door, at once making her lonely world a more thrilling place. But the summer ends with a terrible tragedy, and everyone involved – her father and the entire Dover family – simply disappears.

Then one day, thirty years later, Victoria comes back.

A suspenseful, spell-binding coming-of-age story about young friendship, damaged families and how one simple action on a long, sultry summer can echo through the years.

My thoughts

Sarah Jasmon has written a stunning debut novel evocative of youth, the long hot days we all insist lasted all summer long, the search for friendship and acceptance and the ache of loneliness. It's almost a coming of age novel but it has a small part set now and a much greater part set in the 1970s.

The main character Helen really resonated with me, I am almost embarrassed to admit how much of her I could see myself in.

The part which begins in the present day sees Helen as an adult, she seems to have a pretty nice life, working in a bookshop with her own flat above it, it's only later in the book that the cracks begin to reveal themselves. She sees an advert for a photography exhibition which open the floodgates of memory and take her back to the time she was a teenager and one particular summer when everything began to change.

An only child with few friends living in a rather isolated old house (this was when the recognition began to ring bells with me) she is delighted to find a new family have moved in to one of the canalside cottages at the top of her road and when the first tentative inroads of friendship are made she grasps the chance to become involved with anothe family where live although hectic and erratic seems far more interesting than living at home largely ignored by her depressed father, following the departure of her Mother.

As summer passes she becomes embroiled in this rather hippy dippy families secrets and foibles and we can feel all is not going to end as well as we would hope for everyone concerned.

The writing is fabulously descriptive and amazingly atmospheric with a hazy dreamlike qaulity at times which nevertheless makes it all seem more like real memories which are never that clear but blur more as time passes. I love the nostalgic feel of the past and the languid pace which nevertheless kept me turning the pages. Reading this book is effortless and compelling. I loved this book, was really saddened how Helens life actually turns out especially as it seemed in so many ways her past emulated my childhood and had a huge lump in my throat by the final chapter as the past it creates is so authentic.

My huge thanks to the author Sarah Jasmon for providing me with a copy to read and review, via #bookconnectors.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Daughter's secret - Eva Holland - an excellent debut

The Publishers Blurb:

When Rosalind's fifteen-year-old daughter, Stephanie, ran away with her teacher, this ordinary family became something it had never asked to be. Their lives held up to scrutiny in the centre of a major police investigation, the Simms were headline news while Stephanie was missing with a man who was risking everything.

Now, six years on, Ros takes a call that will change their lives all over again. He's going to be released from prison. Years too early. In eleven days' time.

As Temperley's release creeps ever closer, Ros is forced to confront the events that led them here, back to a place she thought she'd left behind, to questions she didn't want to answer. Why did she do it? Where does the blame lie? What happens next?

My thoughts - an excellent debut novel

Recently I've read rather a lot of Domestic Noir dramas/ psychological chillers, which is where I'd place this excellent debut novel. Some have been greatly applauded by others yet I haven't warmed to them at all, some have deserved and lived up to the hype, while others have been stunning in their twisty simplicity and sheer cunningness feeling like a real discovery, and I've loved them.

I'm pleased to announce that this falls firmly into the "LOVED it" category for the sheer readability, strong characters and easy to follow yet gripping storyline. It's full of "there but for the grace of God go I" situations, where you try and work out how you'd feel and react in that position and even though I rather disliked the main protagonist Ros I'm sure if I had a teenage daughter who'd been abducted by her teacher I too would be a neurotic wreck ....(will the person who knows me and said I AM, please keep quiet.)

Rosalind has a privileged life, a beautiful home in the wealthiest part of town, plenty of disposable income and the perfect sub nuclear family - a husband and two grown children one girl, one boy. But her life went sour 6 years ago when her, then just 15 year old daughter Stephanie, went missing and her carefully constructed world began to fall apart. 6 years have passed and we know Steph has returned to the family fold, but the unexpected discovery that the schoolteacher who lured her away, having served his sentence for child abduction is due to be released from prison early, bringing to the surface thoughts, worries and secrets which have remained buried until now.

Rosalind is a complex character with some wonderfully written neuroses and character quirks and flaws. I love the way she faces every event by pre-empting every possible disaster and unlikely scenario which might go wrong to the point of creating totally ridiculous catastrophes and allowing her obsession to overtake her life. Even more than this I loved the slightly tongue in cheek recipes for revenge she conjures up and imagines, knowing she is never likely to act on them just allows her to be even more creative and original in dreaming up imaginary punishmnent for those who have harmed her and her family, I found some of them pretty amusing. Steph is a rather selfish mess, having inherited some of her mothers phobias and faults and grown a whole new load of her own in addition.

The intricate story jumps back and forth between then and now but this never makes it a difficult book to follow. I really enjoyed the look inside this fractured families life and breathed a sigh of relief that I'm not living it. It's cleverly and beautifully written and I thoroughly appreciated reading it. My thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

It's published today 13th August 2015 and can be purchased now. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Devastation Road - Jason Hewitt - hauntingly bleak

The Blurb......

A deeply compelling and poignant story that, like the novels of Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, dramatises the tragic lessons of war, the significance of belonging and of memory - without which we become lost, even to ourselves.

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past and himself.

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany. When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself - how can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

My Thoughts

What a haunting and thought provoking read this is. Like the cover, the whole book is atmospheric and seems written in monochrome, overlaid with a layer of gery dust which obscures memories this makes for a beautiful ethereal quality.

The main protagonist, Owen finds himself in a field near a river. Confused and injured he struggles to his feet and begins walking, to where, he doesn't know, any more than where he has come from or how he got there. His memories are clouded and distant he's not even sure of his own name. It's clear war has ravaged this country but he doesn't even know what country he is in. Did he take part in the war, was he wounded in battle?

His journey brings him in contact with more devastation, fleeing refugees, one of whom, a boy named Janek, joins him despite neither speaking the same language they rub along together, company for each other in this drab and dangerous grey landscape. As he walks memories begin to surface like pieces of shrapnel beneath the skin, but as soon as he tries to grasp them they are gone and he starts to make notes to aid his memory. It's clear he is suffering from some form of amnesia but what horrors is his mind blocking that can be worse then the sights he sees on the road? When a young girl with a baby cross paths with them the dynamics of this pairs journey change.

The writing is poetic, the descriptions bleak, with an impending sense of apocalyptic doom. It's so easy to get swept up in the dreariness of the scene unfolding, yet the characters are compelling and engaging and you just long to know Owens past, what will happen to Janek and Irini and the little man with no name.

When the secrets from the past begin to unfold they're not quite what I expected nor wanted for the hapless group of travellers, some of the scenes are mind numbing and past events unpredictable.

This is a world war 2 novel that reads like a scene from a horrifying future, it's timeless but contains memories you want to leave firmly in the past, yet there are glimmers of hope and redemption and right at the end one large tear rolled down my cheek and I let out a sigh of satisfaction which only follows a damn good read.

My thanks to the author Jason Hewitt for kindly providing me with a copy of his super new book via #BookConnectors in exchange for sharing my review. It's been a pleasure and I really enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Quick paperback cover reveal - We are all made of stars - Rowan Coleman

Just wanted to give you a quick advance peek at the cover reveal of the upcoming paperback version of We are all made of stars by Rowan Coleman.

The Mountain story - Lori Lansens - thrilling

The Blurb

Five days. Four hikers. Three survivors. From Lori Lansens, author of the national bestsellers Rush Home Road, The Girls and The Wife's Talecomes a gripping tale of adventure, sacrifice and survival in the unforgiving wilderness of a legendary mountain.

On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on.

Wolf, now a grown man, has never told his son, or anyone, what happened on the mountain during those five days, but he can't put it off any longer. And in telling the story to his only child, Daniel, he at last explores the nature of the ties that bind and the sacrifices people will make for love. The mountain still has a hold on Wolf, composed of equal parts beauty and terror.

My thoughts

I've read and enjoyed all the previous books by Lori Lansens starting with The Girls and was delighted when I recieved this, her latest novel to review.

As well as being aware she is an amazingly accomplished author, I liked the idea of the book, I love the outdoors and survival in the wild stories always enthrall me. This is the story, told by a father to his son, of a day out in the mountains gone badly wrong. It's also a story of friendship and family, decisions and sacrifice. Wolf is a brilliant character, his upbringing sadly lacking but he learns loyalty and finds a deep and abiding friendship until something goes badly wrong, leaving him broken and racked with feelings of guilt and loss.

When Wilfred aka Wolf sets out at the age of 18 on what he plans to be his last pilgrimage to the mountain area he loves and respects, he doesn't consider that he might become responsible for anyones survival apart from his own. Joining him in the cable car ascent are three women whose lives are about to become inextricably entwined with his. They all end up stranded on the mountain together with practically NO supplies or appropriate clothing making for a tense and exciting story of survival against the odds which kept me turnig the pages until late in the night.

I was pleased when the 3 women were introduced to the story as I like a book with some female characters I can relate to. BUT I failed to relate to any of these 3 women, who annoyed me almost as soon as they were introduced and instead of growing more likeable in adversity they continued to rattle me.

As a lover of the outdoors I'm afraid I hold the greatest contempt for people who travel with disrespect for the elements. I've clambered uphill, wearing my specialist, all weather survival gear, carrying emergency rations, only to meet women in flimsy summer sandals and thin cotton dresses stumbling down past me and I could shake them I really could, because it's not just their own lives they are putting at risk its the other people with them, the mountain rescue teams who have to risk their lives to come and rescue them if they get into difficulty.

Well these foolish women were like that, one of them is wearing flip flops for Gods sake! And almost everything they do, each decision they make is the wrong one, they are only out there for 5 days and the mishaps and accidents which befall them almost defy belief - but sadly it is believable. It all goes to show what a caring person Wolf is as he takes on responsibility for these hapless souls.

This doesn't detract from the great writing and what turns out a tense and ultimately uplifting story, the womens frailties make it all the more believable and I'm a firm believer that you don't have to like all the main characters in a book to love the book and there are some amazingly strong and realistic suporting characters in here too. It's a super book, one I'd highy recommend to anyone who already loves Lori Lansens and anyone who's new to her writing and likes gritty adventures peopled with real characters with very human strengths and failings.

My thanks to http://www.simonandschuster.com/ for my copy, provided in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley - magical

The blurb

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

My thoughts ...

I want a clockwork octopus! Now that's not a phrase I ever thought I'd hear myself utter but I fell head over heels for Katsu the clockwork octopus in this beguiling and totally charming story.

My beautiful hardback copy of this book was a prize I won in a blog competition. I sort of had mixed feelings about it before I read it, especially when a couple of reviews describe it as steampunk - me and steampunk haven't got a very good history so far. However I wouldn't really categorise this as steampunk. It's really hard to put in any kind of genre-box - it's completely original, totally unique and absolutely. mind blowingly, beautiful. It reads like the bizarre love child of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and The Time Traveller's Wife

When we meet Thaniel it's London in the late 1880's, he's working as a telegraphist for the Home office and the story just sweeps you into this gossamery historical setting which is ever so slightly skewed from reality. It's magical and enchanting with amazing characters, several of whom are Japanese. On one hand there is Kaito Mori the eponymous watchmaker, delicate, quiet and determined who is a genius at manufacturing delicate clockwork machinery and has the uncanny ability of being able to "remember" the future, on the other there is Matsumoto a dapper young man about town with a penchant for designer clothing who is the unlikely companion of Grace Carrow a bluestocking who studies science, conducts experiments and cross dresses to avoid the female discrimination which is rife in Victorian Oxford.

Thaniel comes into possession of a watch created by Mori and this is the first in a long series of events which change his life beyond recognition, beginning with a bomb blast and the search for the perpetrators of the explosion, seemingly pointing to the gentle and unassuming Watchmaker Mori for whom Thaniel develops a fondness as the 2 share humour and kindness, both qualities which have been lacking in Thaniels pretty mundane existence.

The whole book has a magical dream like quality, EVERYTHING about it is completely original and captivating, from Thaniels ability to hear sound in colour and his penchant for drinking real loose tea, to the Japanese village in Hyde Park, not to mention Gilbert and Sullivan playing supporting roles? It's painted with the most delicate of touches and delectable etherealness yet is also very down to earth. 

The cover is beautiful too with a die cut clockwork front and gold leaf on a velvety black background adding to the complete reading experience I'd have nissed if I'd read the ebook.

I finished reading it late last night and immediately wanted to turn back to the very first page and read it again. I loved it and am left almost bereft by its absence now I've reached the astute and inventive ending.

Finally a huge thanks to Pam Reader http://www.pamreader.blogspot.co.uk/ for hosting the giveaway which allowed me to win this delightful book.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Mistake I made - Paula Daly - irresistably readable

The Publishers Description:

We all think we know who we are.
What we’re capable of.

Roz is a single mother, a physiotherapist, a sister, a friend. She’s also desperate.

Her business has gone under, she’s crippled by debt and she’s just had to explain to her son why someone’s taken all their furniture away.

But now a stranger has made her an offer. For one night with her, he’ll pay enough to bring her back from the edge.

Roz has a choice to make

MY review

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this latest twisty psychological thriller by Paula Daly whose previous 2 novels I've also enjoyed. This takes us back to her favourite setting of the Lake district to watch the main character - Roz's already crumbling life fall even further apart.

Roz is a single parent, struggling to bring up her 9 year old son George who is the centre of her world, she works hard as a physiotherapist but every penny she earns still isn't enough to clear the huge amount of debt she has ended up with since her doomed marriage floundered and she begins clutching at some very dodgy straws to extricate herself. It's difficult to tell exactly which "mistake she made" is the one in the title as this is one lady who seems unable to make the right decision at any point in her life and it really makes you count your own blessings.

I did get a little exasperated with the hapless Roz at several points, she is pretty amoral and incredibly naive for an educated women, but it was easy to get swept along with the way one bad decision leads to another and I'm reading it and shouting "NO - for Gods sake woman, just say NO"

However it's so engaging and irresistibly readable I could forgive her and found myself rooting for her most of the time. I also enjoyed meeting up with DC Joanne Aspinall again although this time she plays very much a supporting role rather than a starring role as she does in the previous books, and I really missed her Aunt Jackie.

Paula Daly's real strength lies in her ability to create very believable quirky characters and place them in dark situations which she serves up with a wry sense of humour - brilliant.

My thanks go to Netgalley for allowing me yet again the privilege of reading a great book before publication date.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Precocious - Joanna Barnard - compelling and readable

The Description

There are some lessons you shouldn’t learn in school…

Fiona Palmer is (un)happily married when a chance meeting with her former teacher plunges her headlong into an affair.
Intercut with the realities of their adult relationship, Fiona remembers first meeting the enigmatic Henry Morgan as a precocious and lonely fourteen-year-old. Her schoolgirl crush developed into an intense relationship, but it was always one which she controlled.
Or did she?

A controversial, compelling debut novel from an award-winning writer

My review

Precocious is a well written compelling debut novel which is really quite difficult to categorise, I thought there was going to be more of a twist to it expected a psychological thriller and it really isn't this at all. It's sort of a mix of coming of age/ love story and domestic drama.

It's quite probably a tale many of us can relate to, focussing on that teenage crush on a teacher which could so easily get out of hand. The narrator is Fiona who is now 30, married and has never really got over her teenage crush, because for her it was different - she was different and what happened in her past wasn't a mere crush it was love - (wasn't it?)

Even though she is happy with her oh so gentle and tolerant husband, she is missing excitement in her life and when she bumps into her ex English teacher Mr Morgan, she finds the flame which has been on a back burner all these years flares back into life and she rushes without heed into an ill advised and self destructive affair which threatens to consume her.

The story zips back and forth to when she was a schoolgirl, recording her growing pains in a secret diary and feeling every ounce of angst and passion that a handsome attentive teacher can inspire. We watch her fall in love and as the relationship between the 15 year old Fee and her 28 year old teacher develops, it's easy to be swept along and think, as does she, there's nothing wrong with this, they have found each other, kindred spirits despite the age difference and the innate wrongness of any kind of intimacy between the Mentor and the pupil.

Back in the present day we watch her careering along an obvious collision course and begin to see what she has failed to recognise, this man has well concealed flaws - Is Fee going to allow herself to be totally destroyed by them?

It's really very believable and a gripping read, however I was really expecting some sort of OMG moment that never happened and the ending was a little too gentle with several things unresolved, for me to give this very readable and competent debut novel a perfect 10.

My thanks to the publisher Randomhouse for my copy via Netgalley in exchange for sharing my thoughts publicly.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Girl in the woods - Aspen Matis - not about the walk

What the publisher says

Girl in the Woods is Aspen Matis’s exhilarating true-life adventure of hiking from Mexico to Canada’a coming of age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation. On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Overprotected by her parents who discouraged her from speaking of the attack, Aspen was confused and ashamed. Dealing with a problem that has sadly become all too common on college campuses around the country, she stumbled through her first semester—a challenging time made even harder by the coldness of her college’s “conflict mediation” process. Her desperation growing, she made a bold decision: She would seek healing in the freedom of the wild, on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail leading from Mexico to Canada.

In this inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles her journey, a five-month trek that was ambitious, dangerous, and transformative. A nineteen-year-old girl alone and lost, she conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Exhausted after each thirty-mile day, at times on the verge of starvation, Aspen was forced to confront her numbness, coming to terms with the sexual assault and her parents’ disappointing reaction. On the trail and on her own, she found that survival is predicated on persistent self-reliance. She found her strength. After a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again—and heal.

Told with elegance and suspense, Girl in the Woods is a beautifully rendered story of eroding emotional and physical boundaries to reveal the truths that lie beyond the edges of the map.

What I thought

Firstly let me say this is compellingly readable, I couldn't help but keep turning the pages to discover what happens to Aspen on her journey whilst hiking the PCT trail in the USA.

I love walking and travel and hoped this might provide some insight on what its really like to undertake a really long trek, alone.

BUT and this is a huge but, I don't think I have ever in my life failed to engage with any person as much as the author of this book!! She is quite young, 19 when the book begins, she has led a strange sheltered upbringing which she is obviously desperate to break away from, but - Oh my, this is one self centred, self pitying, inconsiderate, messed up girl.

She is her own worst enemy and I had very little sympathy for her, even when the "awful catastrophic event" occurs. She allows being raped by a fellow student at college to dominate and define her life. I wanted her to say, ok it's happened, draw a line under it, don't allow this to ruin you. But she manages to allow herself to become a professional victim, she lets this one thing define her, every person she meets her first thought is about telling them "I have been raped" and she seems to use this one fact as an excuse to be a complete pain in the neck.

Then she sets off to walk this massive hike, to help herself get over it, and continues to put herself in compromising position, after difficult situation over and over and blames everyone else, her parents, her brother, the other long distance walkers and continues to pigeonhole herself as "the girl who was raped" not the girl who walks.

I had hoped it would be more about the walking and the practicalities of taking a long distance hike, but I got very little sense of place at all from the book. The characters who populate this long distance trail all appear to be misfits and wierdos, and I had to wonder if they are all as dislikeable and twisted as they seem on paper or if its this crazy girls warped view of the world which painted them this way.

I finished the book, was glad she managed to mature a little by the end and find some kind of closure, but I certainly won't be rushing to walk the Pacific crest trail in a hurry, I won't dash out to find anything else written by this woman and the book has failed to inspire me in any way whatsoever, apart from to thank heaven that although I consider myself to be pretty self centred I never have, and never will be, as totally messed up as this misguided young woman whom I could not admire or even empathise with but did pity.

I recieved an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Follow You home - Mark Edwards - tightly woven and tense

The Blurb

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a final adventure before settling down.

After a perfect start, Daniel and Laura’s travels end abruptly when they are thrown off a night train in the middle of nowhere. To find their way back to civilisation, they must hike along the tracks through a forest…a haunting journey that ends in unimaginable terror.

Back in London, Daniel and Laura vow never to talk about what they saw that night. But as they try to fit back into their old lives, it becomes clear that their nightmare is just beginning…

Follow You Home is a chilling tale of secrets, lies and deadly consequences from the author of #1 bestsellers The Magpies and Because She Loves Me.

My Review

Finished this last night - amazing - completely blew me away. Can this author get any better than this? Nope I don't think so.

This book is a terrifically fast paced psychological nightmare, which had me tensing my muscles, shouting out loud and reading until the wee small hours, I just didn't want to stop devouring it.

This author makes difficult relationships seem the norm, and in this respect, his creations Daniel and Laura, a loving couple travelling together around Europe on the holiday of a lifetime before settling down to domesticity and parenthood, appear rather too cozy and normal. But as expected all is about to change when their train journey through Romania is about to go wrong - very VERY wrong. They end up wandering through a dark forest miles from civilisation, looking for help but what they find is beyond both their comprehension.

What follows is a battle to stay sane against all odds, when returning home the unfortunate pair, realise that despite trying oh so hard they are unable to put the suppressed events which shattered their trust in each other, behind them. Something has followed them home and despite seeming impossible things are only going to get worse.

An amalgum of lies and secrets, things get so crazy and complicated I almost thought at one point that I was going to say "He's gone TOO far this time" but although it pushes against the boundaries of belief it never for one minute becomes too far fetched. It's knitted together so cleverly and tha author ties every loose thread neatly into tight knots, yet still manages to save a stunned gasp for the very ending. Fabulous, huge thanks to Mark Edwards for allowing me this privileged advance read via Netgalley.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Quality of Silence - Rosamund Lupton

The Blurb

On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrived in Alaska.

Within hours they were driving alone across a frozen wilderness

Where nothing grows

Where no one lives

Where tears freeze

And night will last for another 54 days.

They are looking for Ruby's father.

Travelling deeper into a silent land.

They still cannot find him.

And someone is watching them in the dark.

My review

I found this to be a real page turner, even though the storyline is very far fetched. It’s basically a human interest/ love story with a chilling twist.
It’s about Yasmin, who brings her deaf 10 year old daughter Ruby with her to Alaska, they are on their way to be re-united with Ruby’s Dad, the love of Yasmin’s life. Ruby hero worships her Father, a wildlife photographer, he treats her as an equal, communicating with sign language and an innate depth of understanding that brings them closer than Ruby feels with her Mum, who sometimes pressurizes Ruby to conform to the person Yasmin wants her to be.
But the dynamics are about to change. 

On arriving in Alaska Yasmin discovers that her husband is missing after a dreadful accident, and the police believe he is dead. Refusing to believe he is dead, she tells Ruby he is stuck in the snow and ice and off they set to try and find him. Careering chaotically into the frozen wastes of Alaska with no thought but “He can’t be dead” and “Who will look for him if we don’t?” Thrown together in this situation Ruby and Yasmin have to rely on each other for strength and its hard to work out which of the 2 is the stronger. Then there is the insidious realization that in this huge vast freezing wasteland they are not alone after all.

What follows is a cleverly constructed story with lots of contemporary, topical subjects, including coping with deafness and bringing up a deaf child, ice road trucking, wildlife photography, asylum seekers, CB radio, prejudice, and fracking. Bundle them all together and you get a story that’s unusually different and thought provoking.
I loved Ruby for me she is the best child narrator since Jack in Room. About half the book is written first person in her unique voice, one we are never likely to hear vocalized as she never speaks, communicating via sign language and text to voice apps on her laptop. I loved the way she “sees” words in colours and shapes and empathized with her, even if her unusual childhood has led to a wry precociousness which I found easy to overlook.
Ruby is an engaging and unlikely heroine, Yasmin is pretty darned unbelieveable, I know you’d go to the ends of the earth for a loved one but she must be some kind of superhuman because I sure as hell couldn’t tackle what she does.
A lot of the story is set in the cab of a massive heavy haul truck on ice roads, but it doesn’t get boring, we are treated to flashbacks in Yasmin’s and Ruby’s lives and there are some really great characters I wanted to learn more about, like Coby, and Adeeb.

Overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, tense and chilling in more ways than one, with just a touch of the soapbox in the protestations about fracking, although it certainly made me think twice about this subject.

My thanks go to Netgalley for my review copy.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

First one Missing - Tammy Cohen - takes you places you don't want to go.

The Blurb ....

There are three things no-one can prepare you for when your daughter is murdered:

- You are haunted by her memory day and night

- Your friends and family fear you are going mad

- Only in a group with mothers of other victims can you find real comfort.

Welcome to the club no one wants to join.

My review

First one missing is the second book I've read by the popular and competent author Tammy Cohen. She weaves a powerful, taut psychological suspense novel about the aftermath of having a child murdered. She takes a pretty taboo subject and lets us into the minds of everyone whose lives have been tainted by this awful occurrence.

Megan Purvis, the eponymous first one missing, was snatched and abducted at the age of just seven and the discovery of her body on Heathland in London is just the beginning of a spate of dead bodies over the space of several years, all little girls of similar age, all murdered and left in the same area.

The serial killer is sought by the police, whilst the families of the dead girls fall apart piece by piece.

Truly psychologically chilling this book takes you places you never want to go, feel things you never want to exeperience and even get inside the heads of paedophiles and murderers.

At various points throughout the book I suspected almost everyone of being the murderer yet when the final reveal comes it's a shock and a revelation cleverly plotted and hinted at through the book.

If you love twisty emotional domestic noir thrillers with great characters and bursting with emotion you'll enjoy this latest offering by Tammy Cohen (who has also written as Tamar Cohen)

My thanks to Netgalley for my advance ebook copy.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A brutal trade by Faith Mortimer - dark murder in sunny Cyprus

The blurb:

A BRUTAL TRADE - A Diana Rivers Thriller by Faith Mortimer

Even on a small island the darkest secrets can’t stay buried forever…

It began like any normal day in Cyprus…except it wasn’t…the body of a woman brutally murdered and discovered in a shallow grave changes all that.

It is only days later when amateur sleuth, Diana Rivers and old flame, Chief Superintendent Adam Lovell discover a second female victim…only this time the discovery is even more chilling and shocks the island inhabitants.

Joining forces with local policeman, Sergeant Yiannis Loukiades, the three embark on a journey which takes them on the fringes of humanity. Disturbing secrets are unearthed. They are on the hunt for killers who will stop at nothing in their hunt for one vital woman.

As the bodies mount up, the detectives ask themselves one question. What is the reason for the women’s’ deaths and their horrific mutilations?

With the investigation quickly gathering momentum, Diana finds herself exposed to great danger…in the sights of a lethal individual who’ll put a stop to her meddling. Each move could be deadly… vicious in its outcome…can the team bring a halt to this brutal trade?

My Review

I was lucky enough to read my review copy of a Brutal Trade whilst on holiday in Cyprus, although I needn't have been there to picture it as the author draws on her in depth knowledge as an ex-pat resident of the mediterranean island to set the scene.

It's not your typical beach read however, as its a gritty thriller following the efforts of the local police aided by author and amateur sleuth Diana Rivers, to unravel a series of gruesome murders and a mystery surrounding organ donations, medical misdemeanours and organised crime. It made me look over my shoulder a few times as I wandered the streets of Paphos and Limassol.

This is the first in the Diana Rivers series that I've read and although its number 7 in the series it is so well written that you can easily get into the story and read it as a stand alone, although it does make you want to find out what's gone before.

The victims of this crime are Asian illegal immigrant workers tempted to Cyprus with the promise of steady work and a good income but many fall prey to a gang of criminals with more on their minds than having their housework done!

The book begins with the discovery of the gory, partly dismembered body of a young woman and swiftly draws you into the investigation to discover who is behind this and other similar crimes and why. If you like lots of action, excellent characters and a great setting you won't go wrong with this mystery thriller, which focusses on a taboo and unpleasant subject, that repels your moral sensibilty yet makes you need to read on and discover more. My thanks to the author for providing a copy for me to review.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Only We Know - Karen Perry - filled with secrets and repercussions

Publishers Description

In 1982, an idyllic summer is shattered when three children play a game that ends in tragedy.

Now, thirty years later, Nick, Luke and Katie remain bound together by the truth of what happened that day.

But some secrets won’t stay buried.

And when Luke vanishes and the threatening messages begin, it becomes clear someone else knows the truth – and is intent on justice, no matter what the cost…

My thoughts

I greatly enjoyed Karen Perry's debut novel the boy who never was and was pleased to be offered the chance to read an advance copy of her new book. This chilling thriller about family and secrets and revenge begins in the 1980s in Kenya with a group of children playing by the river when something tragic occurs which is bound to have repercussions which follow them over the years.

It jumps back and forth over a span of 30 years and sees 3 adults with lives bound by tragedy being torn apart you get wrapped up in the storyline although I didn't really find a character I could relate to they are all believable and realistic.

This is a tension filled family mystery and to say too much would be to give the plot away there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing but no massive shocks. If you like people centred family dramas this is a great summer read. 

My thanks go to Netgalley and the Publisher Michael Joseph for my review copy.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

How I lost you - Jenny Blackhurst - fast paced thriller

The Blurb:

They told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied? I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you? My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life. This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

My thoughts

I wanted to be blown away by this book, it's my favourite genre, I've found recently I devour and enjoy more psychological thrillers than any other type of book.

The author did a great job of whetting my appetite and reeling me in to the story of Emma, formerly known as Susan and recently released from prison after serving a sentence for murdering her baby son. Things begin to happen which re-inforce her belief that she didn't kill him, but she's been told for years by the medical profession that she is suffering from a mental lapse of memory, a psychosis which makes her forget the details of this terrible event.

However things gather pace and we hurtle towards finding out what really happened, whilst being shown lots of red herrings and the first half of the book had me gripped by the throat, but then, for me it went down hill somewhat in the latter part of the book.

I'm familiar with having to really take things with a pinch of salt in this kind of book but this suddenly degenerated from the tense and compelling storyline to a frankly ridiculous back story that far from explaining things just made me groan out loud and begin to question how far the book had made me accept things happening which began to seem not just unlikely but impossible, coincidence after coincindence began to pall, and I also found it got really confusing. there were a lot of characters to get to grips with and some of them seemed pretty superfluous.

The beginning is great, the ending is pretty satisfactory but the latter middle part is a touch too convoluted for me to give this book more than a pretty round 3 stars.

My thanks to Netgalley for my review copy.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Good Neighbour - Beth Miller - secrets and lies

From an advance reading copy provided by Netgalley

The blurb
Everyone has secrets. How far will you go to protect yours?

After living next to the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed when Cath and her two children move in next door. Cath soon becomes her confidante, a kindred spirit, even her daughter’s babysitter.

But Cath keeps herself unusually guarded and is reluctant to speak of her past. And when Minette witnesses something unspeakable, she begins to question whether she really knows her new friend at all…

An addictive and gripping novel, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Daughter

My Review:

Having lived next door to neighbours from hell I thought I would have more sympathy for Minette than I did, she was pretty annoying to be honest, in fact most of the characters were pretty flawed but that's what makes a book like this believable.

It's a story about lies, and motherhood, friendship and family and misplaced trust. Minette and husband Abe live with baby Tilly in a semi detached house where they have had to put up with neighbours they just don't get along with at all and who have made the first few months of young Tillys life a nightmare, always treading on eggshells trying not to annoy them and rock the boat by giving them cause to "go off on one".

When the neighbours move out and Minette discovers her new neighbour is a single Mum with 2 kids who is approachable and friendly, she begins to relax and the 2 women become friends. Minette is a typical bored, tired and lonely young Mum and is grateful to have a friend nearby. But when she makes an indiscreet decision and trusts Cath with her secrets she never expects to find that Cath has a secret of her own which is even more shocking and unexpected.

I'm trying not to give too much away as the story relies on the layers being peeled away gradually. If you enjoy family dramas with some tense nail biting moments and characters you'll love to hate, you'll probably love this one. It reminded me somewhat of The Playdate

The book has quite a few revelations and shocks and makes for gripping reading, some of it rather disturbing.

I kind of expected another great twist at the end which didn't really happen, the twists are mostly in the middle of the story, however the author ties up all the loose ends very neatly, keeping the reader entertained and satisfied throughout.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

We are all made of stars - Rowan Coleman - heart wrenching and uplifting

The blurb

What if you had just one chance, one letter you could leave behind for the person you love? What would you write?

Stella Carey has good reason to only work nights at the hospice where she is a nurse. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, Stella leaves the house each night as Vincent locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

During her nights at the hospice, Stella writes letters for her patients, detailing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and posts them after their death.

That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time, to give her patient one final chance of redemption...

My review

Rowan Coleman - you did it again - tore my heart in two, then sewed it back together. I'm clearly a more sensitive soul than I imagined, I sobbed my way readily throughout this stunning work, but by the end, even though I felt as though I'd been through the wringer, had a big smile on my face. It IS uplifting and it's also heart wrenching, especially if you've ever lost someone and not had the time to say your goodbyes.

This book cleverly tells the stories of several people, there is Stella (Stella means star by the way) who is working as a nurse in a hospice, throwing all her energy into helping people who have a terminal illness, nursing them and caring for them and helping them by writing last letters to their loved ones when they are too ill or tired to put pen to paper themselves. But at home things aren't going smoothly, the love of her life, her husband Vincent, has returned from Afghanistan with his leg missing and his soul in shreds.

These letters form the backbone of the book, one is included at the end of each chapter and even though you don't even get to know a lot of the people for whom these are written these little, poignant vignettes allow a peek into dying peoples lives and hearts and it was often these which tore me up most.

One of her patients in the hospice is Hope, she is only 21 and has Cystic Fibrosis, a life threatening condition which has nearly finished her off, but she is going to live to fight on another day and throughout her life her best friend Ben has been there as her rock, her best pal and we get to know him as well as her (I fell in love with this lovely caring young man, more than a little bit)

There is Issy only 14, she won't see 15 but at the hospice Stella and Hope manage to make her laugh and feel like the teenager she is - not the terminal patient she has become.

Hugh's story seems unrelated at first, he curates a museum, lives alone, apart from his cat, cat's feature heavily in this book! When new neighbours move in, a young single Mum and her son he isn't prepared for the impact these people will have on his existence.

In that impeccable Coleman way these stories intertwine beautifully and the parts make one whole, which is intense, emotional, engaging and truly stunning.

I thought Rowan's "The Memory book"The Memory Book was a fabulous read and that she couldn't possibly outdo it, but this new novel holds its own alongside this. It's gentle and lovely and will appeal to fans of Jojo Moyes

Well done Rowan Coleman (even though I should be really cross with you for the swollen eyed look which is becoming de rigeur after a late night session with one of your books!)

My thanks to the folks at www.lovereading.co.uk who sent me this copy to read and review in advance of publication read my review and others on their site here