Friday, 27 November 2015

The Widow - Fiona Barton - a different point of view

My thoughts:

Having been lucky enough to be offered and sent a copy of this already well publicised book in advance of publication for a review, I wanted to be blown away by what is being described as "the ultimate psychological thriller" but I have mixed feelings now I've finished it. I'm sitting on the fence somewhat, because I liked it enough to keep reading and wondering but didn't like it enough to want to shout about it.

On the one hand it kept me reading late into the night, it's a competent page turner and rather cleverly written, jumping about in time, over a few years, there are a few deliberate red herrings and hints at some massive twist coming.

We know at the beginning that Glen Taylor is dead, that’s obvious without even picking up the book, as it’s told in retrospect by his widow Jean. Jean stood by Glen throughout his trial for the abduction of a child and as she prepares to tell her story to the press we are permitted insight to what the past few years have been like for her since little toddler Bella went missing from her Mums front garden and the finger of suspicion begins to point at Glen.

As Jean begins to talk to a reporter about her exclusive inside story, we are taken back in time to just after Bella is abducted, to earlier in Jean and Glen's marriage and a picture of a pretty loveless marriage emerges.

For me it doesn't have the required elements of a psychological thriller. The twists and turns, the great reveal, the OMG moment which are so essential for this type of book to work for me just weren't there. The ending was completely predictable and felt like a real let down. I kept thinking "it's going to be something different" - and it wasn't. It's more or less a straightforward story of a police investigation into a missing child, and the story behind the husband suspected of this crime from the perspective of his wife.

Oh and the characters, they are in the main, bland and shallow and completely unlikeable. Even when the police bungle the investigation, I only become mildly exasperated with them. I'm all for dark, despicable flawed characters the ones you love to hate but I just couldn't summon up enough emotion to care enough about one single character in this story, to be secretly rooting for them despite their flaws, to be appalled or horrified or annoyed by them or feel any sympathy and I still don't grasp their motives. They were just sad little people with even sadder little lives that I got sucked into for a while.

Jean has a few very unpleasant character traits, I almost worked up enough dislike to despise her and at one point felt a smidgeon of sympathy but on the whole I just wanted to shake my head and tell her she was a misguided fool.

However there was something very compelling about being on the wrong side of the fence regarding a missing child, I've read a few books recently which explores this theme from the viewpoint of the family of the abducted child but although we are introduced to Bella's Mum is from the viewpoint of the people on the wrong side of the police investigation.

If you like police dramas and murder investigations you may love this story written from a different viewpoint but don’t expect a twisty edge of your seat psychological screamer because if you do, like me you may feel a little let down by the time you reach the end.

The Official blurb from Goodreads:

We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

'The ultimate psychological thriller' Lisa Gardner

The Secret by the Lake - Louise Douglas - Blog Tour

I am delighted to take part in the current blog tour for the new book by Louise Douglas as not only is it a stunning read, Louise is a genuine and lovely person.

I'm very selective about which blog tours I take part in, because they can take over your time so much you end up with no time to read or write reviews. But this is one I felt I couldn't say no to.

Mr review was publsihed a few weeks ago so here is a reminder and some more information about Louise and her book The Secret by the Lake.

My Review

This haunting, romantic mystery beguiled me throughout, it has everything the discerning reader could wish for in a captivating and intriguing new novel.

Brimming with hidden secrets, family tension, and the overwhelming sense of something nasty lurking underneath the surface this book is narrated by Amy, with a patchy childhood herself she has always sought to belong and when she landed a job as nanny with a wealthy family in France it became not merely a job but a whole new life and family to belong to and cherish.

Returning home to the UK to visit her ailing father out of a sense of duty more than familial love, she doesn't hesitate when she receives an urgent summons from her former employer Julia to whom tragedy has befallen. She drops everything to join Julia and young daughter Viviane in a tumbledown cottage overlooking a lake where Julia lived as a child with her hapless, misfit sister Caroline, an upbringing no more love filled than Amy's own.

What Amy finds is a fractured family living in near poverty in a dilapidated house where a young woman once lived and died in mysterious circumstances and a close knit rural community reluctant to let go of the past.

She also finds love and her own inner strength as she tries to uncover the truths about what really happened to Caroline.

Set mainly in the 1960s it captures the essence of buried small town secrets, the closeness of a rural community and a creeping sense of apprehension, desolation and imminent 

The whole book simmers with mysteries, camouflaged secrets and deeply shrouded unpleasantness that has been buried for years, as Amy begins to peel away the layers, the messages which are revealed are about to release unexpected corruption and depravity.

I loved the progressive sense of malignance and the ethereal quality of the brooding lake and the spectral brooding presence of the much maligned Caroline.

About the Book:

Amy’s always felt like something’s been missing in her life. When a tragedy forces the family she works for as a nanny to retreat to a small lakeside cottage, she realises she cannot leave them now.

But Amy finds something unsettling about the cottage by the lake. This is where the children’s mother spent her childhood – and the place where her sister disappeared mysteriously at just seventeen. 

Soon Amy becomes tangled in the missing sister’s story as dark truths begin rising to the surface. But can Amy unlock the secrets of the past before they repeat themselves?

Author Links:

About the author:
Louise was born in Sheffield, but has lived in Somerset since she was 18.  She has three grown up sons and lives with her husband Kevin.  The Secret By The Lake is Louise’s sixth novel and she currently writes around her full time job. 

In her spare time, Louise loves walking with her two dogs in the Mendip Hills, meeting up with her friends and she’s also an avid reader.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Day of Second Chances - Julie Cohen - wonderfully absorbing

The publishers description

Can you imagine keeping a secret so devastating, you couldn’t even tell the people you love?

Honor’s secret threatens to rob her of the independence she’s guarded ferociously for eighty years.

Jo’s secret could smash apart the ‘normal’ family life she’s fought so hard to build.

Lydia’s secret could bring her love - or the loss of everything that matters to her.

One summer’s day, grandmother, mother and daughter’s secrets will collide in a single dramatic moment.

Is it too late for second chances?

My thoughts

I've read some lovely books recently and this is another brilliant read which blew my socks right off!

It's difficult to praise a book I loved without resorting to cliches and overuse of superlatives, so I won't even try and avoid them. I found it to be incredibly enjoyable, terrifically captivating and wonderfully heart warming.

It's an absorbing and moving story of relationships, and love and secrets. Focussing on the interconnected lives of 3 women, 3 generations, 3 very different secrets. Theres a lot of warmth and love and hugely believable relationships yet there are a few gritty issues faced by the characters keeping it firmly grounded in realism.

Between these pages we meet Jo, she's 40 with 2 marriages behind her and 3 children, a teenage daughter and 2 lively, loveable, handfuls of toddler Oscar and Iris around whom her whole world revolves.

Jo is so ordinary, so normal and so very special! When life offers her a glimpse of happiness for her alone she finds it hard to put herself first for once. We meet her when she is struggling onto a busy bus, overladen with shopping, a buggy and 2 very lively toddlers, this scene paints her life so realistically I was there on the bus with her and despite never having been in this situation myself I could SO feel her frustration, exhaustion and desire to remain smiling. She deserves some happiness.

Lydia is her teenage daughter, bright, with a great future ahead of her, many friends including her bff Avril, exams are looming and her secret threatens to spill over, she battles to keep it hidden despite the fact its almost killing her not to reveal it. She is a typical angst ridden teenager whom Jo finds it increasingly bewildering and difficult to deal with, her sweet loving little girl is rapidly growing into a woman concealing a life altering awareness she can't bring herself to face head on.

Into this family comes Honor, Jo's Mother in law from her first marriage the 2 women have never seen eye to eye in fact they can barely tolerate each other. When Honor falls downstairs she is reluctant to ask for support, but having been completely alone for many years Jo is the person she is forced to turn to. Honor is feisty, intractable, irascible and fiercely independent, she's not a warm cuddly Nana, isn't used to children and likes her own company, so it's unthinkable that she could fit in with Jo's noisy slapdash household.

Honor is the character I most closely related to, when she is first introduced to a noisy family meal with toddlers screaming and a sulky teenager I cringed with her.

The lives and pasts of these 3 incredibly real women are so stunningly written, believable and incredibly moving, that what could be an everyday family drama is transformed into a page turner I just couldn't put down. I was so deeply immersed in their lives, I emerged at the end, blinking and wondering who and where I was!

By featuring 3 women equally each of a different generation the book will assuredly appeal to women of any age from Teen, to Mum to Grandmother so if you're a woman - I think you'll relate more to one character than the others but I'm certain you'll love them all.

Author Julie Cohen has already written 2 previous fabulous novels which I loved, the Richard and Judy choice Dear Thing and the wonderful Where Love Lies which I just heard today has won a prestigious award Best Romantic Read 2015. Very well deserved, congratulations Julie. I have no doubt in my mind that this, The Day of Second chances will be as great a success.

My thanks go to the super for providing my copy to review and the wonderful publisher

Monday, 16 November 2015

Follow Me - Angela Clarke - murderously scary

What the Publisher says:


The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.

But this is no virtual threat.

As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.

Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?

Time's running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?


My Review

Follow me is the perfect thriller chiller for the noughties.

This murderously scary, quirky who-dunnit is peppered with larger than life characters with flaws and foibles galore, who make it a pleasure to read.

We start with Freddie a young woman addicted to the internet and Twitter, who hankers to be a renowned journalist. She's making ends meet (just) working in a rail station coffee bar, she hasn't much of a life, home is a sofa bed in a shared flat full of itinerant flat sharers she has little in common with. She has few friends, her abrupt sometimes agressive nature has seen to that. She lurches from drunken one night stand to self reproachful hangover, all the time longing for the BIG journalistic break she dreams of but fears will always elude her.

When she spots her old school pal Nasreen, in her police uniform taking part in some exciting crime busting team event, Freddie makes a spur of the moment decision to take matters in her own hands and inveigle her way into the police investigation and maybe find a breaking story to finally make her name. What she ends up involved with IS life changing, but probably not in the way she's envisaged.

The police are investigating a gruesome murder, soon to be tagged the #murderer as tweets bearing inside knowledge of the murders soon appear on Twitter feeds, and as the public begin to follow whowever is posting them things spiral out of control, a serial killer is on the loose concealed by the anonymity of, yet in plain view on, the internet. The world waits with baited breath, commenting and reacting and helping the murderer go viral.

Running alongside the very fast paced murder investigation is the second part of the story of Nas and Freddies shared past, once bosom buddies they drifted apart and we don't know why, something happened, but is it someting they can put behind them now they are back in touch?

It's inventivelyy written, the twists and turns are masterful, the fact that Freddie probably isn't someone you'd instantly choose as your best mate, actually endeared her to me, she is definitely the underdog, a position she accepts and seem determined to maintain by her aggressive stance and selective failure to sustain relationships of any kind.

All the way through, large parts of the story take place on-line and rely on Twitter interactions to build the pace and shows how quickly internet sensations can build into something massive. It cleverly educates as you go, even as a keen Tweeter myself there are lots of descriptions of how things work, explanations of text speak, acronyms used on Twitter and blogs which I wasn't fully aware of and these are cleverly explained by having a couple of non techy police in the investigation who don't really get the internet and as stuff is explained to them so does the reader who doesn't understand Twitter learn and the one who is familiar feels instantly at home. Whilst reading this novel I was looking over my virtual shoulder every time I tweeted!

The story is a real page turner, I was alternately horrified, frightened, sickened and sometimes amused by the way events unfurl. Theres a deft wittiness threaded through the dark and very tense crimes being committed, the police are almost parodies of themselves, Freddie is so brash and faux tough you could be forgiven for allowing her to annoy you just a little bit too much but it all boils down to a heady mix of murder and mayhem, taking place today in an online world we are all too familiar with.

I think I suspected just about everyone at one point or another, the author places some vividly red herrings at random points throughout the story and I began to mistrust inoocent peoples motives, then felt guilty about it!

When the reveal comes its not what I was expecting and the finale wraps everything up creditably. An exceptionally engaging read and a must for any thriller or psychological chiller lover. 

Pre-order your copy now on Amazon

My thanks go to The publisher - Avon/ Harper Collins, The author Angela Clarke and Netgalley for providing me with an advance ebook copy to read and review at my leisure.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Flowers for the Dead - Barbara Copperthwaite - Perfectly horrific, moving and terrifying

The description from goodreads:

"A chillingly drawn serial killer. Will have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed... Original, gripping, with a deep psychological impact," Sunday Mirror "Enthralling, tense and moving," Real People magazine ADAM WILL DO ANYTHING TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. EVEN IF IT KILLS YOU. Adam Bourne is a serial killer who thinks he is a saviour. When he murders his victims and cuts off the women's lips, he believes he has done it to make them happy. How did he become warped from the sensitive four-year-old who adored his gran and the fairy tales she read to him? What turned him into a monster who stalks his victims? And what is he trying to say with the bouquets he sends? When he meets Laura Weir, Adam weaves a fairy tale romance around them. A tale she has no idea she is part of. As he hatches his twisted plan for their fairy story ending, can anyone stop him before he creates the ultimate sacrifice to love?

My thoughts


What a chilling and scary look into the mind of a serial killer. In Flowers for the dead, we are taken deep into the psyche of Adam, he is the main protagonist of this killer thriller. There is never any element of who dunnit, we know he did it, we know who he did it to and we are pretty darn sure we know who he's going to do it to next!

Given that the other part of the storyline focusses on the life of Laura who has had a really tough time of things, it's evident that her and Adams paths are going to cross. Laura has lost her entire family in a tragic accident which has left her struggling to cope, when she begins to feel she is being stalked, by of all things someone unknown who is doing kind but scary things in her home and for her, she wonders if she is just plain going bonkers We as reader know who's doing it, and bit by bit we find out why.

What this cunning and twisted tale does is reveals Adams past bit by bit and I really don't think I'll be alone in saying, I was actually rooting for this guy, despite being appalled at his terrible, dreadful, actions he is such a tragically damaged guy and underneath it all lurks a nice bloke but so deeply hidden his nice side emerges in horrific ways, when he undertook one particular unspeakable act it actually made me want to cheer, I was thinking I don't blame you mate, I don't blame you one little bit. Is that sick? I don't know. I felt mildly ashamed of myself.

I also thought when we found out more about Laura, even though I knew Adam was the most twisted and sick mass murderer, I did think for a brief time "Oh my she's PERFECT for him" then I realized, by even thinking this I was virtually condemning her to death!

Oh and I cried - near the end - and not for the reason I thought I was going to be mourning - did anyone else cry?

The most perfectly horrific, moving and twisted story one could possibly imagine, done with the most impeccable panache by talented author Barbara Copperthwaite. Bravo!

(Did I mention I loved this book?)

I received a free copy of this book to read and this has not influenced my review - I'd have loved it regardless.

You can buy a copy on Amazon

Friday, 6 November 2015

A Brief Affair - Margaret Leroy - terrific ww2 atmosphere

The tagline:

Reminiscent of classic films like Brief Encounter and The End of the Affair, this is a stunningly captured story of a woman finding herself whilst the world is at war

The Blurb:

September 1940. England is a war once again and London has become an ever-fragile place for widowed Livia Ripley and her two young daughters, Polly and Eliza. When Livia meets charismatic publisher Hugo Ballantyne, she is hopeful that her life is about to change for the better. But as clouds gather in the clear autumn sky, the wail of the siren heralds the arrival of the Luftwaffe.

As the raids intensify, Livia volunteers to be a warden at the invitation of enigmatic Justin Connelly. Here she experiences the true reality and despair of war, a contrast to the world of comfort and cocktails provided in fleeting afternoons at the Balfour Hotel with Hugo. And ultimately, Livia discovers a strength she never knew she had that will give her the power to save those she loves. For when you don't know what tomorrow may bring, there is no choice but to live for today.

My thoughts

Wow this was a real eye opener, turned out to be one of the most atmospheric, dramatic and readable world war 2 books I've read. I was expecting a light read, a saga, but what I found between these pages is gritty, eloquent and authentic and captures the feel of being a young widowed Mother struggling to find her identity and forgive herself for her own past, beautifully.

Livia is bringing up 2 young daughters alone in her childhood home, having been widowed and is trying to launch herself as a photographer, in fact her pictures have been accepted by a London publisher and the heightened emotions of war building and loneliness encroaching lead Livia into a passionate and ill advised affair with the charimatic, and married Hugo.

Meanwhile bombs rain down on London and her daughters Polly and Eliza seem to be growing apart, with Eliza in particular seeming affected by the war and behaving out of character.

Livia is haunted by past events, a sister who died when they were both children, even her husbands death, hold elements which cause her to question her own role in everything that happens she blames and punishes herself for things she has no control over.

When she is presented with a chance to give something back by helping others in the war effort she fears she isn't brave enough but we see her develop and grow.

The descriptions of being in air raid shelters and going through the Blitz are gutsy, sombre and in parts intensely harrowing, reminiscent of The Night Watch The book has a haunting, ethereal quality and Livia is a fantastically substantial character, I did like her, despite being slightly flawed she is very believeable.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, the perfect winter pastime is to curl up in the warmth with a beguiling book like this.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Beside myself - Ann Morgan - dark and compelling

The blurb

Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.

My thoughts:

This dark domestic drama heavily featuring mental illness is going to be quite hard to review without giving too much away, yet I wouldn't really describe it as a thriller, like the blurb makes out.

As described its the story of identical twins Ellie and Helen who when very young decide to confuse everyone by swapping identities and seeing if anyone can tell them apart, but this misfires on one twin when the other refuses to swap back and the other is unwillingly trapped in her twins identity. This continues to have major repercussions in her life and when we meet her in her adult years, she is barely holding on to reality, struggling to cope with life, mentally confused and yet I really warmed to her.

It's rather confusing, written in the main by a person with complex mental health issues, it's disjointed in parts and rather hectic, jumping about and I also found it confusing working out which twin was which to begin with never mind once they played the silly game of swapping identities which has a massive impact on the rest of their lives.

However it's compellingly readable, grabbed my attention and made me want to stick with it all the way and had rather a lot of empathy for "Smudge" the narrator with the obvious problems, its immediately obvious she is one of the twins, but you wonder if what she has become, living a chaotic and sad life has been created by the circumstances surrounding the identity swap or if and what are the underlying issues which have caused this to come about.

Bit by bit the way her life has developed is revealed and it's terribly sad, harrowing in fact and makes for pretty thought provoking reading. However I was expecting some kind of OMG moment, a big reveal, but it's more a series of little events revealed gradually that dismay rather than shock.

I agree with other readers that the twins Mother is a completely despicable person. The whole book is overflowing with flawed and dislikeable people, as is real life. There are a couple of questions which remained unanswered and unaddressed, and something I began to think we would discover had happened which never came to light. Its very well written, albeit in a necessarily manic and confusing way that sets the tone extremely well. As an insight to mental health issues its a must read, for anyone expecting a thriller it may disappoint a little.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Bloomsbury for my advance ebook copy.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Glass Girl - Sandy Hogarth - compelling

The official blurb

Say thank you to your sister for me.
His parting words cause sixteen year old Ruth to flee to Australia in shame and fear, telling her mother, "it's just a year Mum, then I'll be home". But even there her secret drives her to the isolation of the outback.
Seven years later the death of her mother brings Ruth home to England. Now she must confront her sister, Alexis. But there are darker secrets that threaten to tear apart the family she thought she knew and Alexis' betrayals are not over.
Sometimes you can't keep running. In a world of lies and betrayal by the people she loved, is Ruth strong enough?

My thoughts

The Glass Girl is an exceptional read, beautifully written in succinct yet compelling prose.

It's so easy to say about books "I couldn't put it down" but that is true of this one, I became so absorbed in the writing, time just slipped away when I was reading it.

I was asked if I would read this and provide a review and I was a touch apprehensive, debut novels by self published authors can be hit and miss and I'm always wary of holding someones life's work in my hands then loathing it. Well this was a refreshing revelation, it is utterly delectable, individual and uncommonly good.

It tells the story of Ruth who spends her life running away, from commitment and relationships, following a traumatic event in her youth. She escapes the constraints of her childhood home by going to Australia, where she licks her wounds and harbours a huge secret which is about to colour her whole life. We follow her story over the years as she returns to the UK and it's fascinating to see how she develops from teenager through to adulthood.

The book is about keeping things hidden, how decisions made can create ripples which reach far into the future, it's about families and the frailties of human beings. It's chock a block with deeply flawed, very realistic characters (one in particular so hateful, I wanted to scream). Some are damaged by circumstance and one or two are just plain evil, despicable or weak. There are also a couple of likeable characters to balance things out, I was ambivalent towards Ruth, I didn't dislike her but couldn't really relate to her, but I did love Ben and Ruths loyal childhood friend Lucy.

The style of writing really impressed me, literary in qaulity and structure but not highbrow, it's essentially an intriguing family drama, with a clever little twist I didn't work out. It's also very poignant and intensely moving. I shed tears at a couple of points. It's not an uplifting kind of story but it shows how Ruth grows in strength despite setbacks. Its not all hearts and roses it tackles some unpleasant and rather dark subjects. There is a pensiveness which invades Ruth's soul and one could be forgiven for thinking she is chronically unfortunate.

If you're looking for a hearts and flowers romance forget it, however if you're seeking a gritty, authentic, exeptionally well written book do add the Glass Girl to your library.

Monday, 19 October 2015

After You - Jojo Moyes - a humorous follow up

The Official synopsis

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates. Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected.

My Thoughts

This is quite a difficult book for me to review, as like so many readers I was utterly blown away by Me Before YouMe before you which was deeply emotional and mind blowingly wonderful. I was excited and apprehensive about this follow up especially as one of the leading characters from the first book is no longer present, and I felt his absence yet was really keen to take up with Lou again.

After You follows the life of Lou, after the end of the first book, she finds herself alone and bereft and unable to fully move on after the ending of her intense and quite unusual relationship with quadruplegic Will.

Her story is interesting and engaging and sweeps you up right from the start and I continued rooting for her all the way through as she struggles to overcome her grief and find her place in the world whilst working in a really crappy job and finding it hard to build new relationships or resume old ones.

The first book was very emotional with deft touches of wry humour and thats what worked best for me. Book 2 is essentially a comedy with some emotional moments so it reads very differently for me. I love every book by Jojo Moyes that I've read (and I've read most of them) and this is no different. It's a hugely engaging read with great characters and a storyline that flows like silk, but, and there is a but, Me mefore you is such a huge and hard act to follow I feel the author has tried just a little too hard to inject humour into this book and what should be sweet and amusing at times occasionally spills over into farce, especially the storyline about Lou's parents, and the grief counselling support group.

I've given After You 4 stars rather than 5 as it is a really enjoyable piece of chick-lit but just not quite in the same calibre as it's predecessor. I'd say you do really need to have read and loved Me before you to appreciate this one, it just wouldn't work as a stand alone as you need to experience the depth of emotions in the former to understand Lou's motivation in the second book.

If you loved Me before you - you must read this one it doesn't spoil the former in any way, but do read them in order and be aware that they are very different. I didn't shed one tiny tear in the second book whereas I wept copiously throughout the first.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Secret by the Lake - Louise Douglas - romantic mystery

The Blurb

Amy's always felt like something’s been missing in her life, but as a nanny for the Laurent family - Julia, Alain, Viviane - she feels complete.

So Amy wouldn’t think of leaving them when a sudden tragedy forces them to move from France to the small lakeside cottage in the isolated Somerset village where Julia grew up.

But there’s something strange about the cottage by the lake. This is where Julia spent her childhood. But she used to have an older sister, Caroline, whom she rarely speaks about...

Who disappeared at just seventeen...

Who has a secret the whole village wants kept hidden for ever...

My thoughts

This haunting, romantic mystery beguiled me throughout, it has everything the discerning reader could wish for in a captivating and intriguing new novel.

Brimming with hidden secrets, family tension, and the overwhelming sense of something nasty lurking underneath the surface this book is narrated by Amy, with a patchy childhood herself she has always sought to belong and when she landed a job as nanny with a wealthy family in France it became not merely a job but a whole new life and family to belong to and cherish.

Returning home to the UK to visit her ailing father out of a sense of duty more than familial love, she doesn't hesitate when she receives an urgent summons from her former employer Julia to whom tragedy has befallen. She drops everything to join Julia and young daughter Viviane in a tumbledown cottage overlooking a lake where Julia lived as a child with her hapless, misfit sister Caroline, an upbringing no more love filled than Amy's own.

What Amy finds is a fractured family living in near poverty in a dilapidated house where a young woman once lived and died in mysterious circumstances and a close knit rural community reluctant to let go of the past.

She also finds love and her own inner strength as she tries to uncover the truths about what really happened to Caroline.

Set mainly in the 1960s it captures the essence of buried small town secrets, the closeness of a rural community and a creeping sense of apprehension, desolation and imminent

The whole book simmers with mysteries, camouflaged secrets and deeply shrouded unpleasantness that has been buried for years, as Amy begins to peel away the layers, the messages which are revealed are about to release unexpected corruption and depravity.

I loved the progressive sense of malignance and the ethereal quality of the brooding lake and the spectral brooding presence of the much maligned Caroline.

I'd like to add my thanks to Louise Douglas and her publishers Black Swan for providing me with an advance copy to read and review. (less)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The girl with no past - Kathryn Croft - hidden secrets

The blurb

Leah Mills lives a life of a fugitive – kept on the run by one terrible day from her past. It is a lonely life, without a social life or friends until – longing for a connection – she meets Julian. For the first time she dares to believe she can live a normal life.

Then, on the fourteenth anniversary of that day, she receives a card. Someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed the life Leah has created.

But is Leah all she seems? Or does she deserve everything she gets?

Everyone has secrets. But some are deadly.

My thoughts

I was rapidly swept up into this psychological chiller. It begins with a car crash but you don't know who it's happened to or when its taken place so this sets the tone of mystery and concealment very nicely.

We are then allowed a glimpse of life as Leah, in her late 20's she leads a rather solitary existence, she lives in a rather grim, bare little apartment, has no friends, a tense relationship with her Mother, all that keeps her going is her job in a library as she buries herself in books when her own life becomes too bleak. She is hiding from some cataclysmic event in her past, has obviously been hurt by other people and, in flashbacks to her childhood we are given glimpses of her past but it's not until almost the end of the book that any reasons are revealed and things really begin to make sense.

We're not told why she lives the life of a hermit and why she can't trust anyone but it's obvious she can't build relationships easily. But we see her begin to emerge from her shell a little bit, reaching out to a few people, but who is really to be trusted? Someone doesn't want her to forget the past, but who is it and what do they want from Leah?

The tension builds to a nail biting climax and I was kind of waiting for a big let down, but the reveal when its comes is pretty darned shocking and not really what I was expecting. I loved the little teasers, the red herrings and the many surprises along the way and a very easy style of writing which made the book a pleasure to read and easy to enjoy.

My thanks to Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this competent and quirky thriller to review.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Perfect Daughter - Amanda Prowse

The blurb

Wife. Mother. Daughter. What happens when it all becomes too much?

Jackie loves her family. Sure, her teenage children can be stroppy. Her husband a little lazy. And providing round-the-clock care for her Alzheimer's-ridden mother is exhausting. She's sacrificed a lot to provide this safe and loving home, in their cramped but cosy semi with a view of the sea.

All Jackie wants is for her children to have a brighter future than she did. So long as Martha, the eldest, gets into university and follows her dreams, all her sacrifice will be worth something... won't it?

My Thoughts

I was quite surprised at just HOW much I loved reading this delightful novel. For me it turned out to be the perfect Autumn read, I put on my snuggly sweater and curled up with this book and a mug of hot chocolate and lost myself in the pages and the life of Jackie (Jacks) I fell into her world with a bump and was instantly there, living her life and to be honest I found it a little depressing to begin with, she doesn't have it easy, yet there were feelings I could really relate to and a deft touch of lightness to lift the gloom which made it sing.

A caring daughter, loving wife and devoted Mum to two kids, Jacks lives a life of what-ifs, her life hasn't turned out that bad, but she often feels she could have done so much MORE with her life - and who can't relate to that? (If you're the one who never thinks this, I take my hat off to you as you're very lucky)

She spends her days struggling to make ends meet, caring for her discontended, alzheimers-ridden Mother and feeling taken for granted, often annoyed by her husband and frustrated by her kids and the monotony which has become her daily routine, and she daydreams about how things might have been if she'd ended up with a different man, the childhood sweetheart, the one that got away.

She has a wonderful, loyal friend Gina who injects a few moments of bright humour into the proceedings but the real sparkle in her eyes is provided by teenage daughter Martha on whom Jacks is pinning all her hopes. Martha is bright, does well at her studies and is going to do all the things Jacks blew the chance at doing and Jacks is planning to experience success vicariously, through the achievements of Martha - the perfect daughter.

The whole story is set in Weston Super Mare, a place I've never visited but through the book I felt I knew it, it has that small town "Broadchurch" ffeel and in my mind (possibly erroneously) the characters spoke with similar burring accents to the families in this popular tv drama.

What delighted me most is the beautifully compassionate and descriptive writing. This is a romantic novel about everyday life that is SO wonderfully believeable and deliciously readable I galloped through it and felt bereft at the ending - all the signs of the perfect read. I will most certainly be reading more by this author who I'm delighted to have discovered.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Apologies if you've tried to offer me books!!

A humble apology to people who have tried to contact me via email through this blog - there was an error in my email address, oops my bad, sorry!

I dread to think how many people have tried to contact me before I was alerted and checked it out.

The error is now rectified and I'm happy to hear from book publicists, accept review requests and blog tour invitations etc.

Publishers and authors please email me with review requests.

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.