Thursday, 1 October 2020

Joe Faber and the Optimists - Gill Oliver


Inspired by the author’s experience as a caregiver. Fuel for the heart.

Joe Faber is a funny guy, good with his hands, and great with words – until the stroke which leaves him severely disabled. But this is more than his story. There’s Fran, Joe’s wife, who draws up her manifesto and decides to act like an optimist; she hasn’t planned to be a carer. Their talented daughter Jess, who turns her trouble into music. While Jess’s fiancé Matt, the management trainer, innocent, positive and daft, will do his best to keep them all on target.

Art School training made Joe a close observer of the world, but once he leaves hospital, how does the world see him? And care is erratic. So will Fran have to give up the job she loves? Can Matt’s energetic but insensitive sister be trusted to organise the wedding? There’s heartbreak and absurdity along the way; but humour is the family’s greatest asset in the drive to get Joe back on his own two feet. You’ll hear some wonderful fiddle music, and visit some magical Shetland places. Besides being fiercely honest about a tough subject, Gill Oliver's second novel is marked by a zest for life, and will surprise you right to the end.


What did I think?

I feel fortunate to be able to say that I have never encountered a stroke in my family, although I know about FAST (face, arms, speech and time) to remember the most common warning signs of a stroke.  Although one of the main characters in the book suffers a severe stroke, this is such a wonderful story of a warm and loving family, filled with positivity which of course you can guess from the title of the book.

Joe, Fran and Jess are a fantastic family of three and they are understandably devastated by Joe's stroke.  Jess has just got engaged so she's about to fly the nest which leaves Fran as the sole wage-earner.  I really felt for Fran as she was torn between leaving her job to care for Joe full time and leaving him in the hands of carers so she could earn a wage.  Fran decides that she and Jess could worry and wallow in self-pity or should could take the glass half full approach and be optimistic.  Of course they have their wobbles, but on the whole they embrace the optimistic approach and I could really see how much this helped Joe.

Rather than focus on Joe, Gill Oliver has written a story that encompasses the whole Faber family and we encounter some marvellous characters.  I loved the story about Jess being invited to play in the Shetland Folk Frenzy (it's a real event, google it!) and it really gave Joe something to aim towards, however ambitious the doctors thought it was.  Continuing the strong theme of family, Jess has an auntie and cousins on the isles and what colourful characters they are!  I wish I could say I loved all the characters but the parents of Jess's fiancé, Matt, are a nightmare.  I had to admire Fran's restraint on occasion.

Joe Faber and the Optimists is a wonderfully warm and hopeful story about how one family copes with a stroke.  The thing that really came through loud and clear for me is that although the person may look and sound different after a stroke, we need to remember that they're still the same funny, kind, intelligent, amiable or cantankerous (delete as appropriate) person that we love.

A thoroughly enjoyable read whether or not you've been affected by stroke, Joe Faber and the Optimists really ought to be recommended reading in stroke clinics around the world.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon - Glenda Young


'You deserve more than this, Jess... You deserve to know the truth about the McNallys.'

When a newborn baby girl is found abandoned with nothing but a scarlet ribbon tied to her basket, Ada Davidson, housekeeper of the wealthy McNally family's home, the Uplands, takes her into her care. Sworn to secrecy about the baby's true identity, Ada names her Jess and brings her up as her own, giving Jess no reason to question where she came from.

But when Ada passes away, grief-stricken Jess, now sixteen, is banished from the place she's always called home. With the scarlet ribbon the only connection to her past, will Jess ever find out where she really belongs? And will she uncover the truth about the ruthless McNallys?


What did I think?

I've only recently discovered local Sunderland author Glenda Young and what a fabulous discovery she is.  Living in the North East, it's almost obligatory to have family sagas in your library and I read a fair few in my youth.  I thought my saga reading days were over until Glenda Young hooked me with her proggy mat hook in Pearl of Pit Lane so I was very eager to read her new book, The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon; so eager in fact that I read it in just two sittings over the course of 24 hours.

One of my favourite things to discover in a book is a map and I love the map of Ryhope, Sunderland from 1919 that Glenda Young has included in the front of the book.  They certainly had a lot of pubs in such a small area back then, but with Ryhope being a mining community the men working underground all day certainly deserved a pint or two after their shift.

The main character of Jess is such an outstanding character; I felt very protective of her possibly due to the reader being there at her birth in 1903.  Left on the steps of the McNally house in a basket with a scarlet ribbon attached to the handle, Jess is taken in by housekeeper, Ada.  Jess has such a happy life with Ada, despite James McNally's attempts to erase her existence, until Ada dies and Jess suddenly finds herself homeless and alone at 16 years old.  I really felt for Jess but she shows that she's made of stronger stuff and that horrible James McNally better watch out for the whiplash of karma.

Although very character driven, and what wonderful characters they are, the writing is so vivid that I felt as if I was walking through Ryhope village myself.  I certainly felt like I was on the beach in one particular scene with Glenda Young's evocative writing giving me goosebumps.  I love the little elements of Sunderland history that Glenda includes in her impeccably well researched novel, namely Sunderland's famous Vaux beer and the heartbreaking Victoria Hall disaster.

Glenda Young is an extraordinarily talented storyteller and The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon is a wonderful story from beginning to end; it's more heartwarming than a roaring coal fire.  Superbly written, the storyline is compelling and surprising with characters that are so vivid they virtually leap out from the page.  I absolutely loved it and wholeheartedly recommend it.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.




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Saturday, 26 September 2020

INSTAGRAM TOUR: The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman

 

THE FIRST BOOK IN THE #1 BESTSELLING THURSDAY MURDER CLUB SERIES BY TV PRESENTER RICHARD OSMAN

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it's too late?


What did I think?

This has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated debuts of the year, due to Richard Osman already being a household name.  Although we're used to seeing him on our screens rather than his name on books, he's certainly proven that he can write with his clever, witty debut, The Thursday Murder Club.

Richard Osman has written a fabulous murder mystery, peppering his prose with clues for us readers to gather as we join in the sleuthing with this colourful cast of characters.  Setting the story in a retirement village is so much fun as we all know how naughty the older generation can be, especially when they're full of cake and vodka.  Elizabeth is the ringleader of this merry quartet who meet up on a Thursday to try to solve the unsolvable.  When a murder happens close to home they can't help but stick their noses in, much to the exasperation of the local police force.  Only ex-London policewoman, PC Donna De Freitas sees how useful the club can be but she isn't on the murder case...yet.

Hugely entertaining with an intriguing storyline, a colourful cast of characters and plenty of giggles, The Thursday Murder Club is a fabulous debut from Richard Osman.  It's great to have an older cast of characters for a change and I'm delighted that this is the first of a new series.  I felt quite sad to turn the final page so I'm already looking forward to revisiting my new friends at Coopers Chase Retirement Village.

This is a book that is already topping the charts and I'm sure that it's going to be there for quite some time.  It's a sharp and entertaining debut that's well worth a read and I'll certainly be recommending it to murder mystery fans.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon




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Friday, 25 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: Where the Edge Is - Gráinne Murphy

 
As a sleepy town in rural Ireland starts to wake, a road subsides,trapping an early-morning bus and five passengers inside.  Rescue teams struggle and as two are eventually saved, the bus falls deeper into the hole.

Under the watchful eyes of the media, the lives of three people are teetering on the edge. And for those on the outside, from Nina, the reporter covering the story, to rescue liaison, Tim, and Richie, the driver pulled from the wreckage, each are made to look at themselves under the glare of the spotlight.

When their world crumbles beneath their feet, they are forced to choose between what they cling to and what they must let go of.


What did I think?

I have to start by saying that Where the Edge Is is so beautifully written that I was surprised to find that it is Gráinne Murphy's debut novel.  The emotive writing really drew me into the story and brought the characters' feelings to life.  I found it a very easy book to read and even though it wasn't as tense and gripping as I perhaps expected, it certainly held my interest.

Although the bus accident happens at the start of the book, Gráinne Murphy focuses on the characters around the scene rather than the people inside the bus.  This might come as a surprise to readers who are expecting a survival story of characters whose lives are passing before their eyes as the bus plunges deeper into the earth.  It is a survival story in a way as two of the main characters, Nina and Tim, find a way to live each day after a devastating event tore them apart.

Nina is the reporter on the scene and Tim is the firefighter liaison; they used to be married so it's difficult for them to be in such close quarters, especially when it opens up old wounds.  I found Nina and Tim's story extremely heartbreaking but I loved how Gráinne Murphy showed things both from a male and female perspective.  I don't really want to say what happened to them as it's a bit of a spoiler but I've never considered how hard it must be for a man to take a back seat and hover on the periphery in certain situations.

When two survivors are pulled out of the bus, people are more suspicious than joyous as one of them is Muslim.  I loved the character of Alina; it felt like she wasn't Muslim enough for her family and not Irish enough for everyone else.  Her husband really annoyed me though, especially when he kept trying to speak for her and if I thought he was annoying, his mother was even more so.  I was so mad that Alina's faith made people suspicious of the other survivor, bus driver Richie, and he was hailed as a hero by some people but vilified by others.

Gráinne Murphy really knows how people tick and Where the Edge Is completely captures the many foibles of human nature; it's a very character driven story and the bus crash kind of lingers in the background as the main story plays out on the page.  Thought-provoking and emotive in a way I didn't expect, Where the Edge Is is a superb debut from a very talented new writer.  
 
I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon




About the author:

Gráinne grew up in rural west Cork, Ireland. At university she studied Applied Psychology and forensic research. In 2011 she moved with her family to Brussels for 5 years. She has now returned to West Cork, working as a self-employed language editor specialising in human rights and environmental issues.

Twitter: @GraMurphy











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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: People of Abandoned Character - Clare Whitfield


He is my husband.
To honour and obey.
Until murder do us part.

London, 1888: Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes. His behaviour becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets.

Lonely and frustrated, Susannah starts following the gruesome reports of a spate of murders in Whitechapel. But as the killings continue, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time her husband stays out late, another victim is found dead.

Is it coincidence? Or is he the man they call Jack the Ripper?


What did I think?

As one of England's most famous murderers, Jack the Ripper still continues to fascinate us over 130 years later.  His identity remains unknown and Clare Whitfield has chosen to base her amazing debut novel around this, with Susannah Lancaster suspecting that her husband is the Whitechapel murderer.  I have to say that I absolutely adored this book; I raced through it faster than I have ever read historical fiction, devouring every single perfectly crafted word.

Susannah Chapman, a nurse at The London Hospital, is the envy of her peers when she marries dashing Dr. Thomas Lancaster, who is 5 years her junior.  Forced to give up her job as a nurse now that she is married, she finds herself lady of the house with servants and a creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Wiggs.  The creepy, sneaky character of Mrs. Wiggs really creeped me out, it felt like she had eyes and ears everywhere watching Susannah's every move.

Thomas soon loses interest in Susannah and often doesn't come home at night, leaving Susannah bemused and lonely.  When a murderer starts terrorising Whitechapel, Susannah becomes obsessed with reading as much as she can about it in the press but she soon notices that each murder coincides with Thomas's disappearances.  To add authenticity to the story, Clare Whitfield has included a small piece on each victim and even recreated newspaper excerpts - I absolutely loved this touch, especially the use of the term 'outraged corpse' which brought very vivid (and slightly amusing, if I'm honest) images to mind.  I presume Clare has written the excerpts, although they are so authentic they may very well be real.

Clare Whitfield has very ingeniously turned the Jack the Ripper story on its head and created an astounding piece of cross-genre fiction; it's certainly historical fiction but it's also mystery, thriller, crime and contemporary fiction, thereby appealing to a wide range of readers.  Clare's accomplished writing weaves a rich tapestry that recreates all of the sounds, smells and sights of Victorian London; a London whose streets may be the dark and dangerous hunting ground of a murderer yet remain filled with revelry and debauchery.

Chilling, compelling and intensely atmospheric, People of Abandoned Character is an absolute masterpiece; there are many strands to this wonderful story and I loved every single one of them.  Clare Whitfield's exceptional debut definitely scoops all the stars; an unreserved 5 star read and very highly recommended.




About the author:

Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. Clare nurtures an obsession with female characters that are as much villain as hero, and enjoys lurking in the blurry landscape between perception and reality. She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a small benign dictator and relies on her dog for emotional stability. Previously Clare has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer and a mediocre weightlifter. People of Abandoned Character is her first novel. 

Follow Clare on Twitter @whitfield_riley and Instagram @clarerileywhitfield.








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Monday, 21 September 2020

You Could Make a Killing: Short Story Collection Book 2 - Simon Bewick

 

You Could Make a Killing is a collection of 14 twist-in-the-tale mystery tales by Simon Bewick, author of Basement Tales.

Featuring all-new stories that will keep you guessing until the last line, delve into You Could Make a Killing for twisted tales about killers and victims, cops and robbers, the good and the bad and some things in between that might just blur the line…

Read the new collection from Simon Bewick, and find out why readers have called him, ‘reminiscent of M.R. James’, ‘the new voice in horror’ and ‘one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction’.

Look inside and discover:
•A man who won’t take any more when he’s pushed too far, only to discover that speed really can kill

•A teenage boy living in the aftermath of his best friend’s murder…who may be the next target in the killer’s sights

•A bedtime story that is anything that could just be your worst nightmare

•Two veteran killers who will do whatever it takes to train up their new apprentice

And much, much more…


What did I think?

I don't read many short stories as I find them a bit flat and unfulfilling but Simon Bewick has certainly changed my opinion after reading You Could Make a Killing.  I found his stories gripping, intriguing, intelligent and clever; they are certainly full of surprises.

Just putting the stories aside for a moment, I absolutely loved the section at the end of the book where Simon Bewick includes a note on each story; his inspiration behind the story, his research and his personal thoughts on the piece.  It's like getting into mind of an author and it really made me think how some mundane, everyday things can be turned into a gripping and intriguing story if you have the writing ability.

Now on to the stories and I would say they are quite varied but one thing they have in common is that they are most definitely on the dark side.  The writing has quite an American feel to it and feels heavily influenced by The Sopranos as there is more than one gangster-style tale but there's nothing wrong with that; it all fits the theme of the story perfectly.

I can't possibly review all 14 stories, but I can certainly pick out a few of note.  My absolute hands-down favourite is The Drive In which went in such an unexpected direction that I couldn't contain my gasp of surprise at the end.  Doctor Death could have been an episode in The Sopranos and I bet the writers are kicking themselves that they didn't think of it.  Another one of note is Bedtime Story which simultaneously horrified me and pulled at my heartstrings.  To be honest, there isn't one that I would say I didn't like.

You Could Make a Killing is an excellent collection of short stories that will shock, surprise and horrify the reader.  The quality of writing is excellent and the storytelling is punchy and intriguing; it's a cracking collection of dark and disturbing tales to read by the fireside on a cold, dark night.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday, 19 September 2020

In The Dying Minutes - J.A. Baker


Everyone has their secrets, some are more deadly than others.

What is she running away from?

When Leah is involved in a train crash, she goes to a therapist, Will. He attempts to help her through the trauma but whenever Leah is in his presence, strange things occur. She suffers from hallucinations that include visions of her dead brother, Ellis. 

As Leah reveals to Will that her friends Jacob and Chloe wronged her, further flashbacks of her childhood and parts of her life she would sooner forget begin to surface, troubling Leah even more.

But what is actually bothering her and what led Leah to be on that train? 

Nothing is as it seems, and soon she will learn the heart-breaking truth… 


What did I think?

Well this was a psychological thriller with a capital P.  I love J.A. Baker books and In The Dying Minutes feels much darker than her previous books; it's tense, creepy and disturbing which makes it a goosebumpy page turner.

Leah is such a complex character that you can't tell what is real and what is in her head.  Losing her boyfriend, her job and her home in quick succession has sent her on a downward spiral with devastating consequences.  It's not a spoiler to say that Leah is involved in a train crash and I just have to mention that J.A. Baker's writing of this scene was absolutely sublime.  It's not something I ever want to experience but I felt and heard unimaginable things through J.A. Baker's powerful writing.  I don't want to go into any details but there's one thing that stuck in my mind just before the crash and it's one of those sliding doors, what if moments.  I love this sort of thing, like the twist of fate and the possibility that everyone ended up where they were supposed to be.

Although I've focused on the train crash, the story is so much more than that.  It's a deep delve into the psyche of Leah, not just through her therapist but through her own actions.  Leah is so obsessed with her ex-boyfriend, Jacob, that she stalks him and his new girlfriend, Chloe.  I really enjoyed seeing inside the mind of a stalker: the delusions, the obsession and the disturbing mental health.

What really stands out for me is the way that the format of the book seems to mirror Leah's mind.  It jumps around a bit but rather than feel confusing, it just added to the authenticity of Leah's state of mind.  There are quite a few layers of the story as we unearth Leah's past and you can't help but feel sorry for her and think how things could have been different if she'd had counselling at an early age.  The story of Leah's brother, Ellis, really got to me and I loved the final thing that linked him and Leah - I just can't say what it is!!!

Shocking, disturbing and outstanding, In The Dying Minutes is so full of surprises that I feel like I need to read it again to pick up all the nuances that J.A. Baker has woven into her exceptional story.  An intelligent and imaginative story that is highly recommended.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Thursday, 17 September 2020

The Power of Conviction (The Prime Series Book 1) - Catrin Russell

 

The Darkness was closing in over the Midlands, with the Priesthood being the only one daring to stand up against its terrifying presence.

Trained in the arts of the Light, the priests walked a bloodied path through the scores of demons, seeking to rid the world of their unholy presence. But the fight against demonkind was becoming increasingly perilous, and danger rose to threaten the Priesthood’s very survival.

The priestess Anaya stands resolute in her conviction. Despite the dangers she must endure along her dedicated path, her unwavering faith in the Goddess and Her divine supremacy doesn’t falter. She’s set on following the orders of her High Priest, no matter how gruesome.

Until one day, when all her beliefs are challenged…

A fateful meeting with the elusive demon Samael opens the doors to doubt and Anaya begins to question the very path of the Priesthood and of all those steadfast in the preachings of the Goddess.

Were they wrong about demonkind? Was her purpose in life truly for naught?

The Prime Series contains subjects and scenes that depict violence, torture, consequences of prolonged sexual abuse, emotional scars and suffering, as well as mature language and steamy scenes. It is therefore intended for a mature audience.

The Prime Series is perfect for readers who enjoy High and Epic Fantasy with dark undertones and a touch of romance.


What did I think?

Fantasy is a new genre for me but The Prime Series was recommended to me by an author whose opinion I respect, Karen Crawford.  I do like to escape into books and The Power of Conviction is the perfect escape from the real world; I couldn't help but be drawn into the dark, powerful and magical world that Catrin Russell has created.

I loved Anaya's story; how she came to be a respected member of the Priesthood and her interactions with Samael, a demon that she has been taught to destroy.  Anaya is confused by her feelings for Samael and the more she gets to know him, the more she questions everything she has been taught.  The development of their friendship into love was beautiful to behold as dark met light and sparks almost shot out of my kindle.  There are some steamy scenes but I wouldn't describe them as graphic or erotic so they shouldn't offend more sensitive readers; it's definitely a book for adults though.

Aside from the burgeoning romance between Anaya and Samael, there are many battles with demons and I found these scenes so very vivid and exciting.  With so much death and destruction around, it's very well described without being too gory or bloodthirsty.  I was also very intrigued by the High Priest who sends his priests out to hunt demons; it becomes evident where his motivation to destroy demons has come from but I wondered how much of his instructions were fuelled by revenge.  

The Power of Conviction is an excellent start to a series; it has built up enough mystery and intrigue to fuel my interest to read further books and I have to say that I was quite disappointed to reach the end of the book.  Catrin Russell is a very talented writer and she has certainly left this reader thirsty for more!  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth - Matson Taylor


July, 1962
 
Sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?
 
The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine.
 
If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.  
 
Moving, inventive and richly comic, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is the most joyful debut novel of the year and the best thing to have come out of Yorkshire since Wensleydale cheese.  


What did I think?

What a fantastic debut!  Oh I have my fingers crossed that this is the start of a new series starring 16 year old, tall as a tree Yorkshire lass, Evie Epworth.  I just knew that I was going to love Evie from the very first page when she is flying (literally) on her milk delivery round.  What caused her to fly nearly made me choke on my tea, it is SO funny.

The wit just keeps on coming as we find out more about Evie's life.  Her quiet dad, Arthur, who is a widower has been caught in the net of the creature from the pink lagoon, aka Christine.  Christine and Evie don't get on at all so Evie spends a lot of time with her neighbour, Mrs Scott-Pym who was friends with Evie's mother, Diana.

It must've been so hard for Evie growing up without her mother and Arthur doesn't talk about her very often.  Any time Diana is mentioned by someone, Evie's whole world lights up and the way Matson Taylor depicts this really made my heart sing.  In between each chapter there are little interludes of Arthur and Diana's life and I absolutely loved the way this 'past' storyline was set out.

The characters in The Miseducation of Evie Epworth are more colourful than a rainbow.  I loved straight talking Mrs Swithenbank and fabulous Mrs Scott-Pym as much as I detested gold-digger Christine and her long-suffering mother, Vera.  Of course, it is Evie who is the star of the show and you can't help but love her.  I loved the 1960's setting, I loved the characters, I loved the whole book!  It is just the tonic I needed to be able to leave 2020 behind for a few hours and be transported to 1960's Yorkshire.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is tea-splutteringly hilarious; obviously a strong cup of tea is the best accompaniment for a book set in Yorkshire but don't read and drink at the same time as your tea is liable to come whooshing out of your nose at Evie's exploits.  I may or may not have learnt this the hard way...

Laugh out loud hilarious, charming and heartwarming, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is a superb debut from Matson Taylor.  It's hugely entertaining from beginning to end; I can't imagine anyone not loving this book.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

 
Between life and death there is a library.

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?


What did I think?

I think Matt Haig has written one of my favourite books of all time.  I am struggling to find the words to review The Midnight Library as it is so completely beyond exceptional that any words I use seem to fall short.  This is a book that everyone needs to read at least once; I know I will be reading it many more times.

Although I have read his Christmas books, I am ashamed to admit that this is my first adult Matt Haig book (so many books, so little time and all that) but what a book to start with.  The Midnight Library is about Nora Seed who is so unsatisfied with her life that she decides to die, nobody will miss her after all.  Caught between life and death, Nora finds herself in a magical library that contains her Book of Regrets along with every volume of her life and all those sliding door moments: the possibilities of lives she didn't choose to live.

Like a cross between Mr. Benn and It's a Wonderful Life, Nora tries out the other lives she could have lived and sees the snowball effect of decisions she made in her root life.  You can't help but think about your own life while you're reading The Midnight Library; what if I'd done this or what if I hadn't done that but unfortunately we can't rewind time and we're stuck with the life we're leading, for better or worse.

There is a veritable banquet of food for thought in The Midnight Library and every reader will take something different away with them after they finish reading.  One thing is for sure, The Midnight Library will remain in my mind forever.  I read an ebook version but now that I've seen the library card in the front of the hardback, I have to get a physical copy too.

Beautifully written, extraordinarily inventive and completely unique, every bookshelf should have a copy of The Midnight Library.  Believe the hype; this is one bandwagon you most definitely want to jump on.  5 stars just aren't enough for The Midnight Library, it deserves every single star in the universe to show how truly magnificent it is.  Extremely highly recommended.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday, 11 September 2020

Anatomy of a Crime - Sibel Hodge


Gripping, unpredictable, and chilling, Anatomy of a Crime takes readers on a dark journey that's perfect for fans of Serial.

On the summer solstice in 2017, two girls walk into Blackleaf Forest.
Only one comes out alive.
Dubbed as the Sleeping Beauty Killer, and surrounded by rumours of witchcraft, Caris Kelly is sentenced to life in prison for murdering her best friend during a ritualistic thrill kill.
Although Caris insists she is innocent, no one believes her.

Then three years later, investigative journalist Lauren Taylor looks into the murder for her true crime podcast. She becomes convinced there's more to the flimsy witness testimony, sinister coincidences, and sensational press coverage and probes into the case. As prejudices are revealed, lies are uncovered, and secrets are blown wide open, a single question remains... is there really one truth about what happened that night? Or are there only different versions of the same story? 


What did I think?

Sibel Hodge has written some amazing books but she has completely outdone herself with Anatomy of a Crime.  Written in the form of a podcast, it is fresh, current and totally gripping.  I read it in one sitting as I just couldn't put it down.  Yes, it's THAT good.

I did listen to a few episodes of the Serial podcast many years ago and although I found it intriguing I was never hooked, unlike reading Anatomy of a Crime where I was hooked so much that I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page.  I love the way it is written as if you're listening to a podcast and there are even comments from listeners that make it feel so realistic.

Lauren Taylor leaves no stone unturned in her true crime podcast as she investigates the death of 18 year old Flora Morgan, believed to have been killed by her best friend Caris Kelly in a ritualistic witchcraft murder.  With unreliable witnesses who saw someone else in the forest that night being disregarded, all of the evidence points towards Caris who maintains her innocence.  Lauren asks the questions that weren't asked at the trial and digs even further into the case to find out the shocking truth.

Anatomy of a Crime is absolutely brilliant; it's gripping, intriguing and completely addictive.  I didn't even have to convince myself to read 'just one more chapter' as nothing could stop me from reading the whole book in one go!  I do hope that Sibel Hodge decides to make this into a series as I love the podcast format; it really seems to add another dimension to the story.  

Anatomy of a Crime is a book I'm going to be raving about for a long time; it's an absolute must read and so very highly recommended. 

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: A Ruined Girl - Kate Simants

 

TWO BOYS LOVED HER.
BUT WHICH ONE KILLED HER?

On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob's younger brother and Paige's confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children's homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her.

Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren's obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart...


What did I think?

Part way through I thought I had A Ruined Girl all worked out; a few minutes from the end, I was just doing a celebratory dance around the ring when Kate Simants landed a right hook and a knockout blow that wiped the smug look off my face.  A Ruined Girl is an absolute cracker of a novel; it's fast-paced and gripping with a dark and gritty storyline that grabbed me from the start and didn't let go until I had turned the final page.

The story opens with a girl being buried in the woods by a boy and a man.  The boy is so tender with the body that it is clear that he has deep feelings for the girl.  Of course you then wonder why he killed her, or helped to kill her.  Why else would he be burying her in the woods?

Rob is a prisoner eligible for the Community Atonement Programme, whereby he meets and apologises to those affected by the crime that saw him sent to prison.  Rob and Paige, a young girl from a care home who later disappeared, were seen on CCTV after breaking into a house and stealing a valuable bracelet.  Rob went to prison and Paige has never been found.  Wren Reynolds is Rob's probation officer and she has the unenviable job of taking Rob to meet his victims.  With what happened to Paige being the big question on everyone's lips, Wren can't help digging into the past even when it puts a strain on her family life.

Switching between 'Before' and 'Now' we get glimpses into the past where Rob's brother, Luke, is in the same care home as Paige.  Luke is obsessed with Paige, watching her movements and buying her gifts, and it's much more than a harmless teenage crush.  It tells you in the blurb that two boys loved her and one of them killed her, but I couldn't decide between Rob and Luke.  A burglary gone wrong or hormones gone crazy?

Both the before and now storylines had me absolutely gripped.  I wanted to find out about events leading up to Paige's disappearance but I also wanted to put together the pieces of the puzzle with Wren.  I loved Wren's character; she makes so many mistakes that I felt like slapping my forehead every time she did something stupid, I even hissed through my teeth and said 'noooooo' on one occasion.  Her emotions are running high with taking on such a high profile case while her partner is about to give birth.  She does seem to have bitten off more than she can chew and if she's not careful she might end up losing her job as well as her family.

Perfectly plotted, A Ruined Girl is dark, disturbing and completely compelling.  Kate Simants is definitely one to watch and I can't wait to read more of her books.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon




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Monday, 7 September 2020

BLOG TOUR: Only Human - Diane Chandler

 

Every betrayal has a consequence... One family... one summer... one woman...

Anna Bond is floundering. Tiger mum to tricky teen Sophie, now slipping through her fingers, and loyal wife to big sociable Ollie, whom she no longer trusts, what does she do next with her life? Once a confident career woman, after so many years at home and the school gate, Anna now finds her mind is chattering and her soul is searching - for what matters. Then Jack walks into their lives. Sophie’s first boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for the whole family, and Anna gradually discovers new purpose for herself. But when deceit creeps in, tensions surface, and she finds herself propelled through a tangled web of secrets and lies towards a devastating climax.


What did I think?

Now and again a book comes along that is so special you want to shout about it from the rooftops; Only Human is that book for me.  So here I am up on the roof trying to find the words to review this utterly breathtaking novel.  I absolutely adored Diane Chandler's novel, Moondance, so I couldn't wait to read what she wrote next.  Only Human is a sublime read from beginning to end and I have never been so engrossed in a book outside of the crime genre.

From the first page the reader is launched into the midst of a Bond family drama: Anna has just discovered that her husband, Ollie, is having an affair.  Wanting to keep Ollie's indiscretion hidden from their daughter, Sophie, they attempt to maintain a united front.  Beneath the surface though, Anna is in turmoil and she searches for a way to find herself again.  I feared that the sticking plaster they put over their marriage would come unstuck at some point as once the trust is gone, it's so difficult to get it back.

The focus shifts from their marital problems when Sophie gets her first boyfriend.  Jack is welcomed into the Bond's home and becomes one of the family, but teenage love doesn't last forever.  It is often said that women are attracted to men who are like their father, and Jack may be more like Ollie than Sophie realises.  You really feel the mother daughter bond being stretched to the limit when Anna tries to speak to Sophie about Jack.

As if Anna doesn't have enough going on, she volunteers at Old Friends where she meets the most wonderful octogenarian, Fred.  Oh Fred is such a marvelous character, he's like everyone's favourite Grandad and it's so heartbreaking to see his health decline.  Diane Chandler's beautiful words paint such a poignant picture of Fred and shows how we try to turn a blind eye and pretend everything is fine rather than admit that our loved ones are failing.

Only Human is an outstanding novel of a family in turmoil filled with so much betrayal, revenge and drama that I could hear the dramatic EastEnders drum beats in my head as pivotal moments played out on the page.  Diane Chandler writes from the heart and tells such a marvellous story of human nature that I experienced a wealth of emotions whilst reading.  

From humour (I'll never be able to look at an M&S carrier bag without laughing) to heartbreak, Only Human is an exceptional book and one I will never forget.  I could read it again right now, I enjoyed it so much.  Only Human is a book that deserves so much more than 5 stars to really show how awesome it is; I can't recommend it highly enough.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon




About the author:

Diane Chandler worked first as a political lobbyist in Brussels. Then at the European Commission, where she managed overseas aid programmes in Ukraine just after the fall of communism. Ukraine became the subject for her prize-winning first novel. Diane lives in west London and is available for interviews, events and feature-writing commissions. She is the presenter of the Chiswick Buzz TV Book Club – Words With Wine in W4.







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Thursday, 3 September 2020

SOCIAL MEDIA BLAST: A Girl Made of Air - Nydia Hetherington


This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived...

Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus.

Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child... But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again?

Beautiful and intoxicating, A Girl Made of Air brings the circus to life in all of its grime and glory; Marina, Manu, Serendipity Wilson, Fausto, Big Gen and Mouse will live long in the hearts of readers. As will this story of loss and reconciliation, of storytelling and truth. 


What did I think?

As soon as I saw the absolutely stunning cover of A Girl Made of Air I knew I had to read it.  It is Nydia Hetherington's debut novel and it is so haunting and atmospheric that I got goosebumps several times whilst reading it.  I have to say that it is quite a strange book, with the story being told through journals, letters and folktales, so it took me a little while to get into it but it is well worth persevering if you struggle to connect at first.  It's also a lot darker than you might expect, so you might be disappointed if you're expecting something along the lines of The Greatest Showman; it's more like what The Greatest Showman might have been like if it was a Tim Burton film.

Although the sparkle and shine of the circus is depicted on the front cover this is a dark and terribly sad tale of an unnamed main character, known only as Mouse.  Mouse is the daughter of Marina, who dazzles the crowd by swimming with crocodiles, and Manu, the animal trainer.  Mouse might as well be invisible as far as Marina and Manu are concerned and the only affection she is shown is from the animals until flame haired funambulist Serendipity Wilson takes Mouse under her wing.

Serendipity Wilson's tales of folklore from the Isle of Man were one of my favourite parts of the book; they reminded me of the film Darby O'Gill and the Little People, although Serendipity Wilson's tales had a much darker edge to them.  Some of the stories that Mouse tells are heartbreaking and disturbing and I was so pleased that she had Serendipity Wilson looking out for her, but everything changes when the circus loses one of their own: a young child named Bunny.

Mouse leaves the circus and travels to New York in search of Bunny and when she reaches Coney Island, it really did feel like she had fallen down the rabbit hole with all those rabbity allusions.  For me, this part of the book really stood out and it seemed like Nydia Hetherington's writing became more vivid, lyrical and dreamlike as she painted such a colourful picture of a bleak and dilapidated place.  It made my heart sing to see Mouse evolving into the strong, confident woman she was always meant to be.  

Dark and disturbing in places but completely mesmerising, A Girl Made of Air is a stunning debut from Nydia Hetherington.  I think this is a book that will benefit from a re-read to fully experience all the nuances of the story and it's definitely worth picking up a hard copy for that beautiful cover alone.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon




About the author:

Originally from Leeds, Nydia Hetherington moved to London in her twenties to embark on an acting career. Later she moved to Paris where she studied at the Jacques Lecoq theatre school before creating her own theatre company. When she returned to London, she completed a creative writing degree at Birkbeck. Nydia is based in London. 

Follow Nydia on Twitter: @NydiaMadeofAir










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