Friday, 28 September 2018

Blog tour: The Victoria Lie by Sarah Marie Graye

The book...

When is a lie a lifeline? To Tori, lies are everything.

Zoe wants to end her life. But she can’t just leave a note. She needs to say goodbye to boyfriend James and best friend Alison.

Tori is waiting in the wings to fill the space Zoe will leave behind, wanting to claim both James and Alison for herself.

But with Zoe still alive and Alison’s childhood friend Ruby now on the scene vying to fill the gap, Tori realises she has her work cut out.

Just what lengths is Tori willing to go to in order to claim Alison and James for herself?

(Trigger warnings: Suicide, depression, IRA bombings, ADHD, Autism, manipulative characters.)

The review...

The Victoria Lie opens in disturbing fashion. A young woman, Zoe, boards a London tube train one day and spends hours travelling back and forth on the Victoria Line; only gradually over this opening section are her motivations - her carefully-laid plans - revealed. This scene stirred up powerful feelings for me, perhaps especially in Zoe’s apparent certainty, calculation and lack of doubt about her chosen path. Let’s just say this is a case where I think the “trigger warning” is entirely justified.

It’s a very unusual and original premise and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it before. Is there any way back for Zoe?

Like Sarah Marie Graye’s first novel, however, the focus is also on the people around Zoe... literally, in this case, gathered around her hospital bed. In the previous book, The Second Cup, a character who has committed suicide is the catalyst but the story is mainly about the ones left behind and the effects on them. Here, Zoe is still alive, but although she is a central character there is equal focus on her friend Alison, boyfriend James (well, maybe not him so much) and other characters Ruby - Alison’s childhood friend - and Tori, Alison’s work colleague.

I did get confused sometimes about the interactions between these characters, and some of the subtleties about cups of coffee and who said what to who were, at times, lost on me. I had to keep reminding myself who was who and how they knew each other, though this did settle down as the story progressed. 

I do have to say that I did feel a bit uncomfortable with what seemed at one point like constant references to Ruby’s skin colour - it seemed like her “difference” was always being pointed out, both by herself and others, and this didn’t feel entirely natural to me. Again though this did settle down as the characters became more established/

It was nice to see characters from the previous book (Faye and Beth) popping up. And I liked the (fourth wall breaking?) bit at the end where someone, presumably the author, interviews the characters - an original way of rounding things off.

Sarah Marie Graye has clearly thought deeply about her characters, their feelings and motivations and the story is carefully and insightfully crafted with a keen eye for detail, both practical and emotional. It’s a challenging but often rewarding read about - among other things - friendship, lies, neurodiversity and mental health.

The author...

British writer Sarah Marie Graye is the author of The Butterfly Effect series, which looks at suicides and those left behind. The Second Cup, the first book in the series, was published in July 2017, and this Blog Tour is to celebrate the launch of the second book in the series, The Victoria Lie.

Social media links...

The giveaway...

Win 3 x signed copies of The Victoria Lie by Sarah Marie Graye (Open to UK only)

Terms and conditions - UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified via Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Blog Tour: A House Divided by Rachel McLean

The book...

Jennifer Sinclair is many things: loyal government minister, loving wife and devoted mother.

But when a terror attack threatens her family, her world is turned upside down. When the government she has served targets her Muslim husband and sons, her loyalties are tested. And when her family is about to be torn apart, she must take drastic action to protect them.

A House Divided is a tense and timely thriller about political extremism and divided loyalties, and their impact on one woman.

The review...

When I read the synopsis and author bio, I knew immediately that this was a book I wanted to read. A political thriller touching on some very current issues of terrorism, Islamophobia and political intrigue, focusing on a woman MP? Sounded right up my street.

In the first of a trilogy, Jennifer Sinclair, a junior minister in a future Labour government, finds herself at odds with the party leadership as increasingly repressive measures are imposed in the name of security... and has difficult and far-reaching decisions to make as a result. But neither she nor anyone else could have predicted quite where things are headed, as the political climate takes on a definitely dystopian flavour. While the likes of Trump and Brexit aren't directly referenced, their shadow definitely looms large.

Amid an atmosphere of escalating terror threats, far-right activity and increasingly toxic political rhetoric, Jennifer finds danger coming terrifyingly close to home. 

I liked Jennifer’s voice which felt original and compelling, with her roles as a Government minister, Birmingham constituency MP and wife to Yusuf (and mother to Samir and Hassan) providing her with a unique perspective as matters unfold, and also a perfect way of illustrating the very real impact of government policies on people’s lives.

Rachel McLean has drawn an alarming - and in many ways alarmingly plausible - picture of a near future with some disturbingly Orwellian overtones. At the same time I found this a very enjoyable read, particularly the scenes in Parliament which had a definite ring of truth about them, and I was desperate to know how it would all end up. (Spoiler: it’s a massive cliffhanger! The second book promises to be a cracker!) While I don't think the politician characters were necessarily based on real current figures (let's face it, some of the real ones are far too unlikely to ever be believable as fiction...), they were always easy to visualise and I felt I was getting a real insight into behind the scenes at Westminster.

An intriguing - and often alarming read - which links personal and political in a compelling way. Many thanks for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

The author...

I’m Rachel McLean and I write thrillers and speculative fiction.

I’m told that the world wants upbeat, cheerful stories - well, I’m sorry but I can’t help. My stories have an uncanny habit of predicting future events (and not the good ones). They’re inspired by my work at the Environment Agency and the Labour Party and explore issues like climate change, Islamophobia, the refugee crisis and sexism in high places. All with a focus on how these impact individual people and families.

You can find out more about my writing, get access to deals and exclusive stories or become part of my advance reader team by joining my book club at

Social media links...

Saturday, 8 September 2018

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica: Review

Set adrift by the death of her beloved mother - lost in grief and unable to sleep - Jessie’s life is thrown into turmoil. As Jessie travels further into sleep deprivation, things get rapidly stranger. And then stranger still. Is Jessie really the person she has always believed herself to be?

Twenty years earlier Eden, a young married woman, yearns for the baby it seems she can’t have. Eden knows she will do anything, whatever it takes, to have a child. 

The story gradually unfolds both from the increasingly distorted viewpoint of Jessie - the unreliable narrator to end all unreliable narrators - and Eden as she tells her own story in journal form. As things for Jessie become increasingly bizarre I was occasionally reminded of another great unreliable-narrator story, Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans.

The ending has come in for criticism, even anger in some quarters, and in some ways I can see why, but in fact it was so well done that I thought it was okay. I kind of suspected earlier on where things were going - there were a couple of perhaps too obvious giveaways - though not completely. In fact I found the ending both moving and satisfying with a real sense of redemption and hope after the often dark and even sinister tone of earlier. 

When the Lights Go Out was an enthralling and very compelling read.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Blog Tour: Sleeping Through War by Jackie Carreira

The book...

It is May 1968. Students are rioting, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, and war is raging in Vietnam. For three ordinary women in Lisbon, London and Washington life must go on as usual. For them, just to survive is an act of courage. How much has really changed in 50 years?

Purchase Links...

The review...

In 1968 (that’s the year I was born!) three very different women are, in their own very different ways, surviving in the face of adversity.

A young Portuguese widow, Amalia, is struggling to bring up her young son and make ends meet as best she can in post-colonial Lisbon.

Far away in London, Rose, a nurse from St Lucia, works in a care home and deals with casual prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis. (For context, Enoch Powell has just made his notorious Rivers of Blood speech.) With people protesting in the streets against immigration, how much has really changed?

Still further away in Washington DC, a mother writes heartfelt letters to her son fighting a faraway war.

Told alternately in the third person (Amalia), the first person (Rose) and in the form of letters from Washington (I don’t think we’re ever told “mom’s” first name?), we are drawn into the lives of the three women, who are unconnected and whose lives are very different yet who share much. All the characters were marvellous - and in many ways heartbreaking - but I think Rose was my favourite. I loved her voice, and her friendship with her young neighbour, Brenda, was hugely moving. 

Amalia’s story was equally moving and filled me at times with horror, rage and helplessness as I felt the impossibility of her situation. Yet all three women show great bravery, resilience and compassion.

Interspersed with the narrative are news reports which impart a flavour of the time and cast light on the context of the era in which the women are living, and the broader social and political forces which affect how their lives are experienced.

With a delicate and sensitive touch, through these deeply personal stories Jackie Carreira depicts the reality of women’s lives then and now. A lovely read

Many thanks to the author and Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to be part of the blog blitz.

The author...

Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of QuirkHouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. She mostly grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London, but spent part of her early childhood with grandparents in Lisbon's Old Quarter. Her colourful early life has greatly influenced this novel. Jackie now lives in leafy Suffolk with her actor husband, AJ Deane, two cats and too many books.

Social Media ...

FACEBOOK: @SleepingThroughWar

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Blog Tour: Cold Fire (Shakespeare’s Moon) by James Hartley

The book...

Set in the magical boarding school of St. Francis’, Cold Fire centres around a group of teenagers who become involved in the tale of Romeo and Juliet in this contemporary re-telling of the classic story. Meanwhile, four hundred years earlier, a young teacher from Stratford-upon-Avon arrives at the school. His name is Will...

From the author of The Invisible Hand comes the second book in the spellbinding Shakespeare’s Moon series.

The review...

Having read the synopsis, I was very intrigued to learn more about this book and indeed series. As I haven’t read the first in the Shakespeare’s Moon series, The Invisible Hand, I had very little idea of what to expect but it sounded, at the very least, like an original concept - not just in the re-telling of a classic Shakespeare play but the way in which it is done.

What I found was a highly creative and often fantastical take on the story of Romeo and Juliet - or Gillian, in this case - set in a very unusual boarding school and populated by a cast of characters (with a diverse range of multinational literary names: Sol Kerouac, Alain Verne, Miss Tartt and many more, including some far more obscure).

The school itself was a fascinating mix of the mundane (normal teenagers doing normal things) and the mysterious, magical and faintly sinister (the Magistrate, the Writers). It took me a long time to reach any kind of understanding of the nature of the school... had I read the first book, this would presumably have been slightly easier, but I actually didn’t mind at all as it generated an enigmatic atmosphere which sent my mind frequently spinning in all directions.

While Gillian, Kizzie, Angela, Zak and the rest deal with baffling events in the present day, the story is intercut with scenes from over four hundred years earlier, when a young writer undergoes some deeply strange experiences of his own (meeting a certain dark lady in the process)... and indeed past and present aren’t always so far apart....

There are a lot of literary references here and I quite often found myself heading off to Google in order to better understand certain things. I like that in a book.

Cold Fire was an unusual, absorbing and very thought-provoking read. Many thanks to the author and Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Purchase from Amazon UK or Amazon US

The author...

James was born on the Wirral, England in 1973 on a rainy Thursday. He shares his birthday with Bono, Sid Vicious and two even nastier pieces of work, John Wilkes Booth and Mark David Chapman.

His mother was a hairdresser with her own business and his father worked in a local refinery which pours filth into the sky over the Mersey to this day. They married young and James was their first child. He has two younger brothers and a still-expanding family in the area. As an Everton fan he suffered years of Liverpool success throughout the seventies and was thrilled when his father took a job in Singapore and the family moved lock, stock and two smoking barrels to Asia.

He spent five years growing up in the city state before returning to the rain, storms, comprehensive schools and desolate beauty of the Scottish east coast. Later years took him and his family to baking hot Muscat in Oman, and a Syria that has since been bombed off the surface of the planet.

James lives in Madrid, Spain with his wife and two children.

Social media links...


Terms and conditions: Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the link above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners' information. \This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Perfect Liars by Rebecca Reid: book review

Three friends are forever bonded by something terrible that happened fifteen years earlier at boarding school - something which is destined to come back to haunt them in the present day. So far, so standard psychological thriller territory. 

Except Georgia, Nancy and Lila aren’t bonded at all, or at least not in any kind of remotely positive way - in fact, they seem to thoroughly hate each other. Their “friendship” is about as dysfunctional as it’s possible to get, characterised by passive-aggressive oneupmanship, barbed remarks and carefully crafted put-downs.

(“Were all friendships like this?” Georgia ponders at one point. “Were all failings and confessions seen as weaknesses to be exploited? Or were there actually people who could tell their friends something embarrassing or sad without knowing it was bringing them joy?”)

These three appalling women gather for dinner at Georgia’s house, accompanied by their equally horrible husbands. Only Brett, Nancy’s new man, seems to bear any relation to an acceptable human being (and is clearly far too good for Nancy).

Despite - or perhaps because of - the irredeemable awfulness and apparent moral emptiness of nearly all the characters, I loved this book and found it a brilliant read. Yes, the “gradually revealed awful thing in past” plot is a standard, but here it feels fresh and very well executed.

The story alternates between “now” (the dinner party from hell) and “then”, with the girls still being evil, but hating each other slightly less, at their pricey boarding school, where Lila and Nancy kindly overlook scholarship girl Georgia’s terrible handicap of not being rich. Rebecca Reid excels in portraying the rarefied world of these girls, who never step outside their own privileged bubble and seem to see anyone not like them as literally another species. (“Working-class women always got big after they had children, apparently”, observes present-day Lila.) Their present-day husbands are no better, their unreconstructed, unquestioned and unquestioning attitudes forensically laid out for our perusal... it’s all quite alarming, but also sadly believable.

As the toxic trio tangle with a new teacher and a vulnerable classmate, it’s clear that it will somehow end in tragedy, but how, why and when?

I really can’t find much negative to say about this book. Well, maybe the cover. I’m so sick of back views of women in brightly coloured trenchcoats. It seems like the only thing women on book covers ever wear. But that’s it.

Hugely compelling, darkly enjoyable and an all round great read.