Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Pact by S. E. Lynes: Review

Toni has been a single mother to fifteen-year-old Rosie since the death, years earlier, of their beloved husband and father. Toni’s a little - OK, a lot - overprotective of her daughter. But when you learn what she’s been through in her life, it’s not surprising. Equally unsurprisingly, Rosie is starting to kick against the restrictions her mother, with the best of motives, imposes.

Auntie Bridget lives there too, the third point in their triangular family. It’s different, but it works. Whatever’s going on, there are always two people to support the third.

Toni and Bridget went through hell in their youth and made a promise to always be there for each other - and not to involve outsiders.

Toni is determined to protect her daughter at all costs from the risks she experienced. But the most protective parent is no match for a teenager set on deceit, and the heart-wrenchingly vulnerable Rosie’s secrets lead her unknowingly into terrible danger.

As the mother of a not quite (but definitely heading in that direction) teenage girl, this made harrowing reading. I was entirely gripped as the story unfolded, both afraid to read on and unable to look away, almost shouting at the characters at times for their naivety or iniquity (“Noooo, don’t do that!” “Oh, you utter bastard!” etc). At other times I was in tears. And by the end I was emotionally wrung out.

The characters are so brilliantly drawn, especially auntie Bridget who I would love to have as a friend. (She’s awesome.) As a parent I could relate to Toni too - although her behaviour was excessive and misguided at times it was also somewhat understandable in the circumstances. 

I loved this book -  beautifully written, incredibly compelling and with several twists in the tale. But parents of daughters: be warned, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

 Out now.

Monday, 26 February 2018

BLOG TOUR! Nothing Bad Happens Here by Nikki Crutchley

The book....

She looked away from his face and took in the clear spring night, full of stars. Her last thoughts were of her mother. Would she finally care, when one day they found her body, and a policeman came knocking at her door?

The body of missing tourist Bethany Haliwell is found in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, where nothing bad ever happens. News crews and journalists from all over the country descend on the small seaside town as old secrets are dragged up and gossip is taken as gospel.

Among them is Miller Hatcher, a journalist battling her own demons, who arrives intent on gaining a promotion by covering the grisly murder. 

Following an anonymous tip, Miller begins to unravel the mystery of the small town. And when another woman goes missing, Miller finds herself getting closer to the truth. But at what cost?

Purchase from Amazon: http://a.co/7y5bFY8 

The review...

How on earth could I resist a novel set on the coast of Coromandel? I’m ashamed to say that I never realised until now that it’s a real place and not an invention of Edward Lear. Anyway, there’s no sign of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, but there’s plenty else going on in the small seaside town of Castle Bay, New Zealand, despite the locals’ frequent and increasingly unconvincing assertions that “Nothing bad ever happens here”.

When the body of a young backpacker is discovered, months after her disappearance, nobody wants to believe there’s a genuine connection to Castle Bay - surely, one of the many summer visitors must be responsible for Bethany’s murder. Surely, there can’t be a monster living among them, in their safe and picturesque little town.

As local police officer Kahu Parata and out-of-town journalist Miller Hatcher investigate, dark secrets begin to emerge which certain people would rather keep hidden. And another, less pleasant side of Castle Bay gradually becomes apparent.

Nothing Bad Happens Here is an excellent small-town murder mystery which I really enjoyed reading. The story is told largely from the perspectives of Miller and Kahu and they are both likeable and relatable characters with their own issues - Kahu dealing with his wife’s illness and the couple’s inability to have children, Miller grieving the recent death of her mother, struggling with her alcohol use and under pressure from her boss to deliver a great story. Other characters, including Delta and Oprah (yes, really!) at the Haven wellness retreat where Miller stays, are also very well drawn, as indeed are certain less likeable characters...

An atmospheric sense of place pervades the story, the idyllic surroundings of Castle Bay contrasting sharply with some very sad and unpleasant events therein. 

I found Nothing Bad Happens Here to be a great read and a very impressive debut novel from Nikki Crutchley, who I'll definitely look out for in future. Many thanks to the author and Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to read it and to be part of the blog tour!

The author...

After seven years of working as a librarian in New Zealand and overseas, Nikki now works as a freelance proofreader and copy editor. She lives in the small Waikato town of Cambridge in New Zealand with her husband and two girls. Nikki has been writing on and off her whole life and recently has had success in flash fiction. She has been published in Flash Frontier, Flash Fiction Magazine and Mayhem Literary Journal, and has also had a story published in the Fresh Ink Anthology. Crime/thriller/mystery novels are her passion. Nothing Bad Happens Here is her first novel, set on the Coromandel Coast of New Zealand.

Follow Nikki on:

Website: www.nikkicrutchley.com

Thursday, 22 February 2018

BLOG TOUR! Hiding by Jenny Morton Potts

The book...

A gripping psychological thriller with chilling twists, from a unique new voice.

Keller Baye and Rebecca Brown live on different sides of the Atlantic. Until she falls in love with him, Rebecca knows nothing of Keller. But he's known about her for a very long time, and now he wants to destroy her.

This is the story of two families. One living under the threat of execution in North Carolina. The other caught up in a dark mystery in the Scottish Highlands. The families' paths are destined to cross. But why? And can anything save them when that happens?

Purchase from Amazon UK

The review...

One peculiar day, Primmy said, "It's no use hiding. Life will still be here when you get back."

An orphaned ten year old girl, growing up with her grandparents and siblings in a chilly sandstone mansion in the Highlands of Scotland. On the other side of the Atlantic, an angry young man plotting revenge. A bank heist gone horribly wrong. A prisoner on Death Row.

Clearly there are connections between these disparate elements, but the true picture will emerge only gradually in a darkly intriguing and compellingly written story.

Hiding is a theme throughout. Rebecca has had the truth hidden from her all her life and is herself a determined liar. Keller is hiding many things including his true identity. ("Hiding" also has another connotation in terms of his youthful exploits.) Ultimately, when the truth is finally revealed, the title has a hard hitting resonance and poignancy.

The characters are complex and brilliantly drawn. I loved Rebecca, who we meet first as the imaginative ten-year-old "Youngest Brown" and follow her development into a young woman building a career. Keller is a complicated but not entirely unsympathetic character - as one person observes, there is or was a goodness in him. It's hard to avoid speculating about how people end up where they are and what could have been different.

Other characters - particularly Rebecca's grandparents, the disapproving Primmy and long-suffering Ralph - are also wonderfully described and Primmy in particular I could picture so clearly. Some others (such as the cowhand Murdo, who Rebecca at one point says she loves more than all of them put together) could perhaps have been given more detail... but the story does not lose anything as a result

There are some great scenes - I particularly enjoyed the stand-up comedy descriptions. Elsewhere, the story can become very dark and, at times, distressing.

I was very impressed with Jenny Morton Potts' novel, which I found to be intelligent, original, nuanced and complex. It's a book which repays close attention, as I found myself confused at times particularly in the earlier parts, but all gradually becomes clearer as the differing elements knit together satisfyingly. Finishing, I immediately wanted to read the whole thing again, to see how it all fitted.

The only bit I was not quite sure about was the very end, which felt perhaps a little abrupt after a tremendous and nerve-shredding build-up. As Keller observed, it's the hardest part... but I want to know what happened afterwards!

Many thanks to the author and Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to read "Hiding" and to be part of the blog tour. I loved it and look forward to seeing what Jenny Morton Potts does next.

The author...

Jenny is a novelist, screenplay writer and playwright. After a series of "proper jobs", she realised she was living someone else's life and escaped to Gascony to make  gĂ®tes. Knee deep in cement and pregnant, Jenny was happy. Then autism and a distracted spine surgeon wiped out the order. Returned to wonderful England, to write her socks off.

Jenny would like to see the Northern Lights but worries that's the best bit and should be saved till last. Very happily, and gratefully, settled with family.

She tries not to take herself too seriously.

Social media links...

The giveaway...

Win! 3 x e-copies of Hiding by Jenny Morton Potts (Open internationally)

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Girl in the Green Dress by Cath Staincliffe: Review

 Eighteen-year-old Allie Kennaway and her friends are off to their school prom, all dressed up in their finery and excited at the prospect of an evening of fun and dancing. But the evening ends in tragedy when Allie’s body is found in a street near the venue, the victim of a brutal attack. Allie happens to be transgender - is she the victim of a hate crime?

DI Donna Bell and her keen young DC Jade Bradshaw are charged to investigate the murder and begin to close in on their suspects. But someone very near at hand has powerful reasons for not wanting them to get to the truth...

Will justice be done for Allie and her grieving family? 

This was a brilliant read which packed a heavy emotional punch. I constantly moved between sadness, anger and hope. I thought Allie’s trans identity was handled very well - she has had her issues to contend with of course, but with a loving and supportive family and friends, her future seemed bright. The tragedy of her senseless death and the effect on those left behind is never glossed over. As Allie’s death occurs right at the start it would perhaps have been good to have another, not-dead trans character to mitigate the risk of a “trans = tragic victim” message. But I think Cath Staincliffe has tried hard to avoid any such message anyway.

All the characters were very well drawn. I could definitely relate to Donna, balancing work and family but with her partner acting as the main carer (I’m also in this position and it’s not often reflected in fiction). Jade was a particularly unusual and interesting character, who clearly has a significant back story which is only hinted at here. She has huge potential as a police officer but is volatile and sometimes acts in ways which can only lead to trouble. I’d definitely like to read and learn more about Jade.

Allie’s family, father Steve and little sister Teagan, are also really well depicted (as are the extended family) and their feelings and reactions as the investigation progresses are very believable.

There is not a huge amount of mystery here - the perpetrators and their motivations are established relatively early on. The story, and the tension and doubt, mainly comes from the fight to bring those responsible to justice, when there is a real threat of the investigation being seriously derailed. 

The Girl in the Green Dress is an excellent police procedural with its heart firmly in the right place. I loved it.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Home by Amanda Berriman: Review

Four-year-old Jesika, the narrator of Home, lives with her mummy Tina and little brother, Toby, in a flat which her mother calls, accurately, a “dump”. It’s the only life Jesika knows, though, and she’s mostly happy, even though Mummy gets cross when she touches the black spots on the walls or goes near a discarded needle in the stairwell.

Things change when Jesika makes a new friend, Paige, at her preschool, whose mother Lorna happens to be an old friend of Tina, though they’ve been out of touch for years. But Paige has a big secret, and it’s not a good one. When Jesika’s mummy and Toby are admitted to hospital, life becomes alarmingly more dangerous for Jesika.

Everything is seen through Jesika’s eyes and because she’s only four, she doesn’t understand most of it. As readers, though, we understand all too well and it makes for very difficult reading at times.

Home is an incredible emotional rollercoaster which had me in tears on several occasions , and on one occasion I had to actually put the book aside because I just couldn’t cope with the tensioning . Jesika’s voice is powerfully compelling, loveable and heartbreaking - her vulnerability is terrifying. The end was both tear-jerking and satisfying.

Reading Home, I was initially reminded of Sara Gethin’s (also excellent) Not Thomas, which is also written from the perspective of a young child - Tomos - in very difficult circumstances. But Jesika’s mummy is very different from Tomos’s and as a result, Jesika’s situation is far more hopeful, because we can trust Tina to at least try her hardest to do the right thing. My heart went out to Tina who has endured a lot of adversity and is under tremendous stress, but continues determinedly doing her best for her children and actually does a pretty amazing job, even if she needs to learn to sometimes accept help when it’s offered. 

There are some great supporting characters too - Nandini and Emma from the launderette, Ade from the corner shop, Jesika’s teachers from preschool and more.

A powerful story which will stay in my mind for a long time. I loved it.

Monday, 5 February 2018

BLOG TOUR! Unconvicted by Olly Jarvis

The book...

Junior barrister Jack Kowalski is crushed. His client Timothy Smart appears to have committed a monstrous crime while on bail – a bail application Jack fought hard to win.

When a high-profile Polish footballer is charged with rape and demands a fellow countryman represent him, Jack must overcome his guilt and get back to work. Before long he takes on a second case, a GBH for instructing solicitor Lara Panassai, who Jack remains desperate to impress. But neither case is what it seems, and Jack will face an extraordinary uphill battle to see that justice is done…

The second Jack Kowalski novel, Unconvicted is a gripping courtroom drama written with the expert insight of a practicing criminal barrister, perfect for fans of William L. Myers, Deborah Hawkins, and Scott Turow.

The review...

I hadn’t heard of Olly Jarvis before being asked on the blog tour, but I do love a good legal drama, and was delighted to find Unconvicted definitely lived up to my hopes!

It’s Olly's third book, and the second in a series featuring Jack Kowalski, a young Manchester-based barrister of Polish origin. You don’t have to have read the previous book to enjoy this newest instalment, but it’s probably better to read them in order - while it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the plot, I probably missed some nuances in the relationships between the characters.

Jack is a likeable and sensitive young man who often struggles with the harsh realities of his role as a defence barrister, not to mention his undeclared love for solicitor Lara Panassai. When Jack succeeds against the odds in winning bail for a client, what happens subsequently hits him very hard  - but Timothy Smart’s story doesn’t end there.

In another plot strand Jack is hired to defend Gustaw Nowak, a high-profile young Polish footballer accused of rape, who wants a fellow Pole to represent him. There’s clearly more to the case than meets the eye, but is Gustaw really guilty... or has he been set up? At the other end of the social spectrum, Gary Dixon, a teenager with a history of petty crime, is accused of attacking an elderly man during the course of a burglary. It looks like an open and shut case. But of course it’s not that simple either.

There are a few different storylines running concurrently here but Olly Jarvis manages them deftly and the story never becomes confusing.

I’ll admit, I was a little concerned to learn that the plot involved a possibly false allegation of rape, with the main character defending the alleged rapist. This subject could have been fraught with difficulty in the wrong hands, but thankfully, Olly Jarvis deals with it very well.

The book is a very fast and easy read, courtesy of what are often very short chapters - perhaps a little too short at times (some are only a page long).

All in all I found Unconvicted to be a really engaging and enjoyable read, and will definitely seek out Olly's previous and future books

Thanks to Canelo and Olly Jarvis for the opportunity to read, review and participate in the blog tour!

The author...

Olly Jarvis is a writer and criminal defence barrister, originally from London but now working in Manchester. Drawing on his experiences, he writes both fiction and non-fiction with a particular understanding of the pressures and excitement of life in the courtroom. He wrote the highly acclaimed Radio 4 drama Judgement, and wrote and presented the BBC documentary Mum Knows Best. He is also the author of Death by Dangerous. Olly has two children and lives in Cheshire

Follow Olly on Twitter @ollyjarviso.

Links to Book:

Amazon (UK)

BLOG TOUR! The Promise by Sally Jenkins

The book...

A man has been stabbed. A woman is bloodstained. The nightmares from her teenage years have begun again for Olivia Field - just as she is preparing to marry.

Ex-convict, Tina, is terminally ill. Before she dies the care of her younger, psychologically unwell brother, Wayne, must be ensured.  So Tina calls in a promise made to her thirty years ago in a prison cell. A promise that was written down and placed with crucial evidence illustrating a miscarriage of justice in a murder case.

Tina believes Olivia is perfectly placed to provide the care Wayne needs, but to do so, Olivia must be forced to cancel her own wedding and wreck the lives of those close to her. Tina’s terrible blackmail demands put Olivia’s entire future and, ultimately, her freedom under threat.

The Promise is a fast-paced psychological thriller told from several third person viewpoints. The novel explores the lengths to which people are prepared to go to protect those they love and the impossibility of ever fully escaping our past actions.

The review....

Many years ago Tina made a promise to her mother - to make sure her vulnerable younger brother, Wayne, was always taken care of. Now, though, Tina is dying and Wayne’s future looks very insecure. It’s time to call in another promise - one made in prison, long ago. When Tina’s gone, Wayne will need the trappings of a stable and secure life - money, a job, a wife - and Tina is prepared to go to any lengths to make sure he gets them.

Olivia is looking forward to her wedding to Mark. She’s tried hard to put the past behind her, but it still haunts her in dreams. Now though, her past actions are about to come back to haunt her in more tangible form.

From this basic premise, Sally Jenkins has woven a dark tale of murder, blackmail and retribution.  As the plot thickens it’s hard to imagine where it will all end for the characters caught up in a web of intrigue and deceit.

There is a diversity of characters, with the most likeable for me being Mark’s teenage daughter Suzanne and Olivia’s friend, Joanne, both of whom I found to be quite engaging. Tina’s actions are reprehensible but ultimately born out of love for her brother, and it is possible to have sympathy with the predicament she finds herself in, even while the measures she goes to are far too extreme.

There’s perhaps some over reliance on coincidence - it’s a remarkable stroke of luck for Tina not only to find a letter from her ex-cell-mate Audrey at a crucial time, but also that a handwritten, signed statement of inestimable value had somehow been inadvertently attached to that letter. I’d have liked to have known more, too, about the background to the situation - Audrey’s marriage, and how things turned out the way they did.

The Promise is an intriguing and well constructed psychological drama which ends on a note of uncertainty - it would be good to know what happens next...

Many thanks to Sally and to Rachel of Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to review The Promise and participate in the blog tour!

Purchase from:

The author....  

Sally Jenkins lives in the West Midlands. She is a member of a Speakers’ Club, a volunteer library reading group co-ordinator and a church bell ringer. Sally’s first psychological thriller, Bedsit Three, won the Ian Govan Award.

Follow Sally on: Facebook ; Twitter ;