Monday, 29 January 2018

The Reunion by Samantha Hayes: Review

On a hot summer’s day in 1996, Claire’s younger sister Eleanor - a particularly vulnerable thirteen-year-old, very young for her age - disappears without trace after going alone to get an ice cream. Twenty years later there is still no clue as to what happened to Lenni - her family have never quite given up hope, but she is widely assumed to be dead.

Claire is now married - to surgeon Callum - and still lives close to her parents’ farm, but father Patrick is now descending into dementia. In hopes of helping his cognitive state Claire decides to organise a reunion of their childhood friends, to whom Patrick was like a second father. Claire’s brother Jason; his heavily pregnant wife Greta; and old friends Maggie (complete with troubled teenage daughter Rain) and Nick all gather once more at the farm. But right from the start, the reunion doesn’t go at all according to plan. And someone knows more than they are telling about Lenni’s fate.

The main narrative is interspersed with non-chronological snippets from Lenni’s viewpoint. It’s apparent that she has been held captive, but the who, why, and indeed where remain elusive, and poor Lenni’s confused perceptions shed little light.

(I did develop an inkling of who might be responsible - though with no idea of whether I was right and, if so, why and how.)

The Reunion is a top notch psychological thriller - intriguing, compelling and at times heartbreaking. Particularly near the end there are some very emotional moments which are well handled by the author.

If I have any criticism to make it’s perhaps a certain unwillingness to go to the police when it would seem to be the obvious course of action. But that’s a very minor point (and hardly unusual in the genre!).

The characterisation is really well done -the portrayal of Lenni is particularly memorable. One character proves to be truly awful. But it’s not till the end that their full heinousness is revealed.

Ultimately there’s a sense that (some kind of) justice has been or will be done, though it’s hard to imagine how the characters will cope with everything that has happened.

An excellent read which I couldn’t wait to get back to every time I put it down. Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Clean by Juno Dawson: Review

Seventeen-year-old Lexi Volkov is the daughter of an absurdly wealthy hotel-owning Russian family; a club and party-hopping socialite, frequently appearing on the gossip pages; and a heroin addict. When she collapses one night her brother Nikolai, much against her will, checks her into an exclusive rehab clinic - the Clarity Centre - on an island off the South Coast of England. The book follows Lexi’s subsequent journey towards becoming “clean”.

The Lexi we meet at the beginning is not likeable - her voice is that of an entitled, spoilt princess, name-dropping with abandon and utterly in denial that she has any kind of a problem. She anti-Semitically abuses her doctor (to be fair, she’s mortified and does apologise.) She wants only to get back to her party-hopping life and boyfriend Kurt - who it’s obvious from the start is not a good influence in her life. (I know that makes me sound like a mum. But I am!)

But as the layers are gradually peeled away it becomes clearer who the real Lexi is and just how she ended up where she did at seventeen years old.

Can Lexi really get... and stay... clean?

I’d vaguely heard of Juno Dawson (though for some reason I thought she was American, which she isn’t) but had never read any of her books. I’m not exactly the target audience, having not been a young adult for quite a few years *cough* and many of the celeb-culture references were lost on me. Juno does a great job though of portraying Lexi’s world - both the privileged bubble of her London life (where all the girls are called things like Florentine and Antonella) and her in some ways equally privileged but far more challenging experience at the clinic. All the characters are convincingly drawn, especially Lexi herself and her fellow residents at the clinic, with their various addictions and issues.

Although I wasn’t sure about it at the start - due to the initial unlikeability of the main character and the whole “celeb” thing which does nothing for me - ultimately this was an excellent, thought-provoking read. It doesn’t gloss over some very difficult and challenging issues but is also never less than highly readable and enjoyable.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

BLOG TOUR! Forget Her Name by Jane Holland

The book...

Rachel’s dead and she’s never coming back. Or is she?

As she prepares for her wedding to Dominic, Catherine has never been happier or more excited about her future. But when she receives an anonymous package—a familiar snow globe with a very grisly addition—that happiness is abruptly threatened by secrets from her past.

Her older sister, Rachel, died on a skiing holiday as a child. But Rachel was no angel: she was vicious and highly disturbed, and she made Catherine’s life a misery. Catherine has spent years trying to forget her dead sister’s cruel tricks. Now someone has sent her Rachel’s snow globe—the first in a series of ominous messages…

While Catherine struggles to focus on her new life with Dominic, someone out there seems intent on tormenting her. But who? And why now? The only alternative is what she fears most.

Is Rachel still alive?

The review...

Rachel is dead and gone. She can’t hurt you anymore.

Or can she?

Catherine’s sister Rachel died when they were children, but nobody has ever told her the details of what happened... and strangely, nobody has ever talked about her since. Catherine’s memories of Rachel are not good; Rachel’s behaviour was often extremely cruel and disturbed. But she’s gone, and Cat’s future with fiancĂ© Dominic looks bright. Cat volunteers at a food bank, much to the mystification of her wealthy parents, and Dominic works as an A&E nurse. But as Cat prepares for her wedding, someone is tormenting her... in ways very reminiscent of Rachel.

Why does nobody seem to believe her, and who can Cat really trust... her husband? Her parents? Herself?

This is a very intriguing, thought-provoking and unpredictable read which kept me guessing throughout as to what was really going on... though my theories were constantly changing! Every time I thought I knew what was going on, the rug was pulled right out from under me... I guessed the first major twist, but only seconds before it was revealed. Particularly towards the end of the story, the twists and turns come thick and fast and the book is very hard to put down. 

The plot is very ingenious and cleverly constructed. I did worry near the beginning, due to something that happens early on, whether the story was going to be too grisly for me. But thankfully that proved not to be the case. 

Definitely a recommended read. Thanks for the opportunity to read the book and to be part of the blog tour!

Buy it now from Amazon UK or Amazon US

The author...

Jane Holland is a Gregory Award–winning poet and novelist who also writes commercial fiction under the pseudonyms Victoria Lamb, Elizabeth Moss, Beth Good and Hannah Coates. Her debut thriller, Girl Number One, hit #1 in the UK Kindle Store in December 2015. 

Jane lives with her husband and young family near the North Cornwall/Devon border. A homeschooler, her hobbies include photography and growing her own vegetables.

Social Media Links... 


Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Confession by Jo Spain: Review

It’s the first spray of my husband’s blood hitting the television screen that will haunt me in the weeks to come.

The Confession opens in shocking fashion: Harry and Julie McNamara are watching TV at home one evening when a strange man enters the house and brutally attacks Harry with a golf club. Harry's traumatised wife Julie, frozen in shock, is the only witness.

Some time later John Paul Carney walks into a police station, still covered in his victim's blood, and confesses to murdering a stranger during a temporary psychotic episode.

There's no doubt that JP is Harry's attacker. But neither he nor Julie are telling the whole story.

DS Alice Moody isn't convinced the case is quite as open-and-shut as it appears. Harry is a well-known figure - a wealthy banker recently cleared of fraud charges in a high profile court case. Is it really plausible that JP's attack was as random as he claims?
Where does the truth lie?

I found The Confession to be an incredibly intriguing and compulsive read. (I stayed up far too late trying to finish it!) In unravelling the truth we delve back into the complex history of Harry and Julie's marriage, and the troubled past of JP. Despite constant speculation, even by close to the end I had no real idea where the story was going... but was desperate to find out. 

It’s undoubtedly a gripping psychological thriller - but also a compelling portrayal of the damage people can unintentionally inflict on one another.

Highly recommended - this was my first book by Jo Spain, but I'm sure it won't be my last.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

BLOG TOUR! The Second Cup by Sarah Marie Graye

The book…

Would your life unravel if someone you knew committed suicide? Theirs did.
Faye's heart still belongs to her first love, Jack. She knows he might have moved on, but when she decides to track him down, nothing prepares her for the news that he's taken his own life.
With the fragility of life staring them in the face, Abbie finds herself questioning her marriage, and Faye her friendship with Ethan. And poor Olivia is questioning everything - including why Jack's death has hit Beth the hardest. Is she about to take her own life too?

The review…

First things first... I think the cover of The Second Cup is just beautiful -  gorgeously evocative, and for me at least, really drew me towards the book.
The story follows four friends - Faye, Beth, Olivia and Abbie - and the impact on them of learning that Faye's ex-boyfriend, Jack, has committed suicide. It's an intense and emotional story told with sensitivity and compassion. Beth is the hardest hit and her story makes painful reading at times.
Sarah Marie Graye writes very well and deploys some, at times, arresting imagery which stays in the mind. I was particularly struck by Beth's image of air pockets - where "the light is different, maybe hazy, and the air tastes bitter, almost metallic" - caused by the voids left by people who have departed the world.

The little "tea-related" snippets scattered throughout - the Japanese tea ceremony, the Mad Hatter's tea party, the tea moth - are interesting in themselves, relate back to the characters and add a further dimension.
I wouldn't describe this as an easy read either in terms of content or writing style; the subject matter is often quite dark, and you do need to concentrate to keep a grasp on what's happening. There are switches from first to third person and back again, and from past to present, with glimpses into the childhoods of the characters, which take a bit of getting used to and keeping track of. However it is a book which will reward careful reading.
Jack himself bookends the story but remains somewhat elusive throughout - it's the effect on others which is the heart of the book rather than the man himself, and the ending is somewhat ambiguous. It's the women here, and the intensity of their experiences, who are at the centre of the story.

The author….

Sarah Marie Graye was born in Manchester, United Kingdom, in 1975, to English Catholic parents. One of five daughters, to the outside world Sarah Marie's childhood followed a relatively typical Manchester upbringing... until aged 9, when she was diagnosed with depression.
It's a diagnosis that has stayed with Sarah Marie over three decades, and something she believes has coloured every life decision.
Now in her early 40s, and with an MA Creative Writing from London South Bank University (where she was the vice-chancellor's scholarship holder), Sarah Marie has published her debut novel - about family, friendships and mental health.
Follow Sarah Marie on Twitter

The giveaway....

Win!  3 x Signed copies of The Second Cup by Sarah Marie Graye (Open Internationally)

Many thanks to Sarah Marie and Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to be a part of this blog tour.

Monday, 15 January 2018

BLOG TOUR! What She Left by Rosie Fiore: Review

The book....

Helen Cooper has a charmed life. She's beautiful, accomplished, organised - the star parent at the school. Until she disappears.

But Helen wasn't abducted or murdered. She's chosen to walk away, abandoning her family, husband Sam, and her home.

Where has Helen gone, and why? What has driven her from her seemingly perfect life? What is she looking for? Sam is tormented by these questions, and gradually begins to lose his grip on work and his family life.

He sees Helen everywhere in the faces of strangers. He's losing control.

But then one day, it really is Helen's face he sees...

My review....

Everyone knows a Helen - she’s the one who’s always at the centre of everything. The school mum who’s turned it into a career. Always perfectly organised, always smiling, always in control, with the most well turned out children, the most immaculately beautiful house, the best cakes and costumes for school events.

Helen has to be the best at everything, so when she disappears - just walks out of her home one day without warning - she does it completely and untraceably. Helen’s the best at disappearing, too.

But what happens to the people she’s left behind?

As the title implies, that’s really what this story is about - husband Sam, children Miranda and Marguerite and fellow school mum Lara are all affected in different ways by the disappearance of Helen. Clearly, her immediate family are the most devastated - and the plight of the children who have experienced so much loss is heartbreaking -  but the ripples from what Helen has done spread further. We hear the story from the points of view of Sam, Lara and also snippets from nine year old Miranda. I was wondering quite a lot if we were going to hear from Helen to shed some light on where she’d gone and, most importantly, why. So do we? - well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself!

This was a wonderful read - it always feels like a slight risk volunteering to review an unfamiliar author, as you’re never sure what you’re going to get, but What She Left is very well written, engaging and often surprising. I was engrossed throughout and really did not know how it was going to end. The main characters, including the children, are fully realised and non-stereotyped. Lara in particular I found a very engaging character. Maybe more minor characters such as Lara’s mum could have been more fleshed out - but I’m only saying that because I really liked Lara’s mum!

All in all a very interesting and thought provoking exploration of an unusual situation: a woman who disappears not due to abduction, not fleeing terrible abuse, but by choice. (The scenario of a man walking out on a family, never to be seen again, is a slightly more familiar one, if no less devastating for those left behind.) While there is certainly a significant element of mystery here surrounding Helen's past and her reasons for disappearing, the main focus is firmly on the consequences of that disappearance, and it makes for a fascinating read.

The author.....

Rosie Fiore was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazines, advertising, comedy and the corporate market.

Her first two novels, This Year's Black and Lame Angel were published by Struik in South Africa. This Year's Black was longlisted for the South African Sunday Times Literary Award and has subsequently been re-released as an e-book. Babies in Waiting, Wonder Women and Holly at Christmas were published by Quercus. She is the author of After Isabella, also published by Allen & Unwin.

Rosie’s next book, The After Wife (written as Cass Hunter), will be published by Trapeze in 2018, and in translation in seven countries around the world.

Rosie lives in London with her husband and two sons.

What She Left is available now in paperback and Kindle formats.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan - Review

I was really looking forward to reading this - while I didn't know a great deal about it, what I did know sounded right up my street. I do love a good courtroom drama, and if there's a current political angle, so much the better. All of that is certainly there, but we also have a nuanced portrait of a marriage and a thoughtful depiction of thorny issues of rape and consent.

In the present day, we follow dedicated barrister Kate, prosecuting sexual offenders but feeling increasingly frustrated at the difficulty in gaining convictions. Meanwhile, there's Conservative junior minister James Whitehouse, handsome, charming and tipped for success -  a close personal friend of the Prime Minister (who's called "Tom" but is hard not to picture as David Cameron). Then there's James's adoring wife Sophie, in some ways a typical Tory wife but with much more depth in her portrayal than that might imply.

In a further strand, intelligent but under-confident Holly starts at Oxford in 1993, fresh from her Liverpool state school and feeling out of place among the mainly privately educated students who have no conception of life outside their privileged bubble. Among the most privileged of all is James, who belongs to a group of equally arrogant, entitled and frankly obnoxious young men called the Libertines: a not even thinly disguised Bullingdon Club, even down to that notorious photograph on the steps. And while thankfully no pigs are involved, what they do get up to is no great improvement.

As the strands intertwine and sometimes collide, this is a fascinating, enthralling and often thought-provoking read.

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor: Review

"History itself is only ever a story, told by those who survive it."

The Chalk Man opens shockingly, with a grisly discovery in the woods. The subsequent story moves between 1986 - when narrator Eddie is twelve years old - and the present day. In 1986, Eddie and his friends - Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky - roam around the town and countryside of Anderbury on their bikes. When the  idea of secretly communicating with each other via stick people, drawn in chalk, is suggested to them they embrace it with alacrity. But the chalk men will lead them to a sinister discovery.

In the present day, Eddie - now a 42-year-old teacher, single and still living in the same house he grew up in, still socialising with the same friends - has in many ways not moved on that much from his childhood self. The past will never quite stay buried and when Eddie receives a letter with a picture of a stick man and a piece of chalk, it's clear that whatever happened then is not yet over.

Although this is categorised as a thriller there is a definite vein of horror running through it. At certain points I was strongly reminded, in a good way, of Stephen King - having read some other reviews subsequently, I see I'm far from the only one to make that comparison. I'd like to explore this further but that's difficult to do while avoiding spoilers! Certain aspects of setting (the fairground, the woods), character (Mr Halloran, Sean and others), plot and style were at times very reminiscent and this was especially so in some "dream" sequences.  The concept of the chalk men as a central theme is brilliantly effective.

The characterisation is very strong. Eddie and his little gang of friends have their own distinct personalities which clearly emerge, and other townspeople are similarly convincing. The unusual character of Mr Halloran, the faintly sinister "Pale Man" from whom the idea of the chalk men originally came, was wonderfully depicted and I could visualise him so clearly. (The David Bowie comparison didn't hurt.) Eddie himself I found to be a largely sympathetic character, even if there was always a certain element of doubt about his reliability as a narrator...

This was a terrific read: hauntingly dark, deceptive and unpredictable yet with moments of humour and humanity. I think it will be deservedly successful.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Daughter by Lucy Dawson: Review

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve read a lot of books lately which I know next to nothing about. I read the synopsis, request the book, then by the time I get approved and get around to reading it, I’ve generally forgotten what the synopsis said. This has been quite refreshing as I’m a lot more unspoiled than I would otherwise be, not knowing even the basics of what a story is going to be about.

This was perhaps a mixed blessing in the case of The Daughter, as I was unprepared for the very emotionally distressing first part of the book. It’s very well written and really quite devastating. Readers should be aware that the story hinges on a very difficult topic, the death of a young child. This could have gone badly wrong but thankfully is portrayed with sensitivity and compassion.

I liked the character of Jessica, who at the start of the story is a young mother who feels somewhat out of place among the affluent, mainly older parents at her daughter’s private school. Jess is a devoted mum who wants nothing more than to keep her little girl safe. When something terrible happens to Beth, the consequences not only for Jess and her husband Ben but for others too will echo down the years... Seventeen years later Jess has rebuilt her life to some extent, but while the past will never go away, it’s now coming back to haunt her in ways she could never have expected.

I certainly didn’t predict the ending - though in true psychological thriller tradition, I had suspected absolutely everyone at some point - as the author no doubt intended. Lucy Dawson has constructed her plot very ingeniously and it really does keep you guessing. When the reveal came it was one of those “Oh, I should have guessed” moments.... but I didn’t.

There are some troubled people in this book who can act in bizarre ways, and I did find some of the behaviour of one character in particular hard to understand. Actually more than one when I think about it! 

A great read which I would highly recommend, but do be prepared for some emotionally distressing moments.

Review will also be posted on NetGalley and on my blog. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Published on 24 January 2018 by Bookouture.

Lucy Dawson lives in Devon with her husband and children. The Daughter is her seventh book.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Birthday Girl by Sue Fortin: Review

When Joanne invites her three friends - Andrea, Zoe and Carys - to help celebrate her fortieth birthday, she promises “an adventure weekend, full of mysteries and surprises, the like of which you can’t imagine”. She’s not lying.

The three women are whisked away in fairly cloak-and-dagger fashion to a remote croft in the Scottish Highlands, where Joanne has carefully laid plans for a weekend none of them will ever forget. But no one could have predicted how it would eventually turn out...

It’s difficult to say much more without spoilers, which would be unfair as this book is really best approached knowing next to nothing.

This was a really gripping and enjoyable read right from the off, with - at least for a while - a distinct flavour of the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None. A group of people, all with something to hide, all brought together for reasons unknown.

But who is the hidden hand orchestrating events? I considered everyone it could possibly be, and constantly changed my mind and my theories, but never had any real conclusive idea regarding who was ultimately responsible - and why. The denouement is both surprising and disturbing. Indeed the whole thing is really quite dark.

The story is narrated by Carys, who gives her account of events, but again it’s never entirely clear how reliable her narrative is - she has her own secrets. I enjoyed the “outdoor adventures” element of the plot which added a refreshingly original dimension to a tale of four women on a birthday weekend.

Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Sue Fortin is the author of four books. She was born in Hertfordshire but had a nomadic childhood, moving often with her family, before eventually settling in West Sussex. She is married with four children, all of whom patiently give her the time to write, but when not behind her keyboard she likes to spend time with them, enjoying both the coast and the South Downs between which they are nestled. Sue is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.