Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

First by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time-the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy – so far. Her mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn – or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her own reputation -and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book initially as it does seem completely immoral that Mercedes is intentionally sleeping with other girls’ boyfriends. It soon becomes apparent that Mercedes has a lot of issues and has reasons for behaving in this way, and I began to wonder if something had happened in her life that had hurt her and that this plan is all about somehow making things right.

We soon find out that Mercedes’s dad left when she was younger, and her mother has since allowed her to do pretty much whatever she wants. She allows her to dress however she likes and she rarely home to keep an eye on her daughter. I think both females were damaged from the father leaving but this isn’t really explored in the novel and I wish it had been. It feels like Mercedes was a product of many things that happened in her life before she started having sex with lots of boys, not just one thing.

Mercedes has strict rules for her plan that she will only sleep with virgins, that it will only happen once, and it is only for boys who have a girlfriend that they are planning to sleep with. Mercedes is doing this so that the boys can make their first time with their girlfriend perfect and really special. She makes the boys promise that they will keep their time with her a secret and, of course all the boys agree but not all keep their promise.

As you can probably guess the lines around what Mercedes is doing end up getting blurred as she occasionally breaks her own rules and begins to feel confused about the rights and wrongs of what she is doing, especially as she is regularly sleeping with her good friend Zach, who is besotted with her, but she won’t date him. She doesn’t want him to get close to her. It’s at this point in the novel that I started to suspect that Mercedes may have had a bad experience with a man when she was younger and that this scheme of hers was to make sure no other girl had a bad first experience. It’s a twisted logic but for a mixed up teenage girl it’s possible to understand her reasoning. I ended up feeling really sad for her and was willing her on to work out her own issues so that she could move on in her life and leave the past behind her.

This was an interesting novel, it’s an idea that I’ve never read about before in YA fiction and I think it’s an important issue to explore. It’s horrible that a young female character who has issues around sex ends up letting herself be used by boys in an attempt to make herself feel better but having said that I’m sure this is true to life for a lot of people, and in the novel’s case it’s Mercedes’ way of trying to redeem the perceived wrong that she has committed years before so it makes sense within the story, sad though it is to read at times.

This is ultimately a novel about a lost, damaged teenager who struggles to let her guard down but really just wants to be liked. She is different things to different people but it’s all part of her wish to be accepted, and I think just about everyone will be able to identify with this. 

I’m sure most readers, myself included, will open this book having made a judgement on Mercedes’ behaviour but it takes a good writer and a good story to turn how the reader feels about a character right round. I soon felt concerned for Mercedes, and then just very sad and really hoped she would find a way to turn things around for herself.

This is a really good young adult novel that explores important issues in an unflinching way. I rated this 4 out of 5 and would recommend it. 

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Griffin via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Firsts is out now and available from all good bookshops.

Review: Dear Dad by Giselle Green

dear dad by giselle green

I was thrilled when I was recently offered the chance to review this book as I have read and enjoyed previous books by Gisele Green. I knew from the synopsis that this was going to be a really good read but I didn’t anticipate it being quite as incredible as it was or quite so heartwarming.

Adam is a nine-year-old boy who doesn’t have the easiest of lives. He lives with his elderly Nan, who is unable to take care of him – in fact, Adam is taking care of her on his own and as a result is neglected. He is also being bullied at school but has nobody to help them.  One day his nan tells him who his father is so Adam decides to write him a letter thinking that this could be the answer to all of his problems.

Nate is a war reporter who is suffering from PTSD. He has been unable to leave his house for weeks and as a result his life is beginning to fall apart, his job is at risk and as a result so his his home. He doesn’t know where to turn, he doesn’t know how to make it better and he is ashamed to tell anyone he knows what he is going through. Then one day he receives a letter in a child’s handwriting and when he opens it he discovers that the letter is from a boy, Adam, who believes that Nate is his father. Nate is certain that this boy is not his child and feels that he must at least let the boy know that he has the wrong person.

Jenna is a talented tattoo artist who has just returned to the UK following a break up with her fiance. She needs to find a job as soon as possible in order to be able to sign a lease on a flat and while it’s not what she really wants she ends up taking a job as a substitute teacher. On Jenna’s first day at her new school she sees Adam being bullied and steps in, she is immediately concerned about the boy.

The lives of all the three become increasingly intwined from this point on as both Nate and Jenna do their best to help Adam.

The thing that all three of these characters have in common right from the start was that they all had a tendency to run away from their problems: Adam was covering up his neglectful home life and would often run away in the night just to think, Jenna was literally running away from a broken relationship, and Nate was metaphorically running away in the sense that he couldn’t face up to his PTSD.  I think they sensed their similarities in each other and that desire they all had to find a better life, which is why they all bonded so quickly.  Jenna, as Adam’s teacher, has a duty of care to Adam but she soon goes above and beyond to try and help him, and Nate has no duty at all tot he boy but he can’t help but feel for him and wants to try and help him.

I have to commend Gisele on her the way she portrays PTSD in this novel. So often when a novel has a character with this  condition something will happen (e.g. they will fall in love) and the PTSD just miraculously disappears and this makes me so mad. I have personal experience of PTSD and it’s not something that just suddenly goes away but sometimes having someone in your life that gives you encouragement to get better, who understands and supports you, can be the thing that you need to start making changes, and this is what happened with Nate.  His anxiety gradually lessens as the novel goes on but it’s apparent that it’s still there and he’s just learning to control it better. It’s very refreshing to see anxiety being dealt with in this way.

This is such a wonderful novel that is ultimately all about how sometimes the right people will come into your life at the right time and they will make such a difference. It’s about how your problems won’t go away just because you’ve found someone to love you but it might give you the impetus to work on your issues and to leave your past behind you.

I rated Dear Dad five out of five out of five and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s such a beautiful and heartwarming novel, and one not to be missed!

Dear dad is out now and available from Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Good Mother by A. L. Bird

The Good Mother by A. L. Bird

The greatest bond. The darkest betrayal.

Susan wakes up alone in a room she doesn’t recognise, with no memory of how she got there. She only knows that she is trapped, and her daughter is missing.

The relief that engulfs her when she hears her daughter’s voice through the wall is quickly replaced by fear, knowing that whoever has imprisoned her has her daughter, too.

Devising a plan to keep her daughter safe, Susan begins to get closer to her unknown captor. And suddenly, she realises that she has met him before.

I was keen to read this novel from the moment I first saw the great cover image so I was really pleased when my request was approved on Net Galley.

I found that the opening chapters of The Good Mother really hooked me in. It worked very well that when Suze wakes up in the strange room, the reader knows no more than she does. This makes for a very intriguing read and had me guessing along with her about where she might be and what might have happened to her. She senses that her daughter Cara has been taken with her but has no proof of this to begin with. In time she hears Cara in the room next to her and they begin to communicate by passing notes through a grate. The notes are interesting at first because they show Suze’s conflicted state of mind as she frantically tries to think of ways to keep Cara safe but at the same time she needs her to be able to help them try to escape. Cara is understandably terrified and struggles to find the emotional strength needed for the two of them to attempt to get away.

Unfortunately the book fell a little flat for me in the middle section; it felt like I was in limbo just waiting for something to happen. The notes keep being passed, Suze keeps on trying to come up with a plan; it felt a little padded out and I just wanted to see more progression of the story. It soon starts to pick up again though as Suze realises that she knows her attacker from somewhere and slowly she begins to piece together who he is. The novel really begins to gather momentum after this as we see how the kidnapper reacts to Suze’s realisation and we also find out more about what happened to Cara in the run up to the kidnapping; in fact it becomes so fast-paced at this point that I didn’t put the book down again until I’d finished reading it!

I love an unreliable narrator and Suze is certainly that. A protagonist who has been kidnapped and repeatedly drugged is not able to know the truth let alone tell is so it worked very well for this novel.  The Good Mother is told from two perspectives  – Suze is the main voice but we also get the perspective of the kidnapper. This aspect of the book fascinated me because in parts I started to wonder if we were really getting the kidnapper’s viewpoint or whether Suze was imagining what he was getting up to and this is discombobulating in a good way. 

There wasn’t a lot that came as a shock to me in this novel in terms of what was really happening with Suze but even though I was expecting the big stuff, there were smaller elements within the twists that were actually very shocking in terms of behaviours and the way certain characters were treated. I also found the reality of what happened to Suze really quite disturbing. The very end of the novel was properly shocking albeit it made sense in terms of the character in question after what we’d learnt about them earlier in the book, but it was still horrifying. As I could sense what was about to happen it was like being in an accident and everything feeling like it’s going in slow motion and high speed at the same time. I wanted it to be so different for the character because they deserved something better, but sometimes damage done is so great that wheels are set in motion that can’t be altered and it felt like that’s what happened in this book. I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to give any spoilers.

For the most part, this was quite a fast paced, engrossing novel and while there were some parts that didn’t absolutely work for me, overall I rated it 4 out of 5 and I would recommend it.

I received a copy of The Good Mother from Carina via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Good Mother is out now and available from all good bookshops.

Review: The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

It’s summer, and for teachers Ed and Natalie Steele this means six weeks off work with their young daughter Molly. Their lives are predictable and uncomplicated — or at least they were until they meet the Faulkners.

Suddenly, glamorous Lara Faulkner, a former actress leading an eccentrically lavish lifestyle, is taking Natalie under her wing and the stability of summer takes an exciting turn. 

But are there hidden motives behind this new friendship? And when the end-of-summer party at the lido is cut short by a blackout, Natalie realizes that she’s been kept in the dark all along.

This novel has such a stunning cover that immediately made me want to pick it up and start reading, and once I started this book I didn’t want to put it down! 

Natalie and Ed are happily married with a teenage daughter, Molly. They have a quiet, steady life and have fallen into an easy rhythm within their family unit whereby their lives run very smoothly. The couple are a bit too earnest at times and while this grated on me a bit in the beginning, I came to understand that it was important for the story that the reader really understands how Ed and Natalie view things. Natalie, in particular, is influenced by her good friend’s opinion of her and has often turned to her for advice over the years. Natalie is a very over-protective mum and seems to need reassurance and guidance from her long-standing friend. Molly is aquaphobic after an incident in a pool when she was younger but Natalie seems to have a tight rein on her daughter at all times, not just when she is around water.

One hot summer the local lido re-opens thanks to a campaign by the glamorous Lara Faulkner and Natalie immediately feels drawn to her. The two quickly become friends and Natalie soon begins to imitate Lara and to lose all sense of herself. She spends more and more time at the Lido with her new friend and basks in the attention she gets from being there with Lara. Her relationship with Ed begins to show strain but by this point Natalie is too intoxicated by Lara to care too much.

The stifling atmosphere in the book as the heat rises is so well written. I was reading this book on a cold, dark and rainy day but I could sense the heat emanating from the pages! It gave this book such a claustrophobic feel, and made for a great catalyst for Natalie to temporarily lose who she really was.

There is a simmering tension running throughout this book. The novel goes to and fro in time, mainly throughout the course of one summer in the present day, which really adds to this building sense of foreboding as we gradually learn more about Natalie and her past. I loved how the strands of time built up to form a picture of what led these characters to where they ended up. There are a few chapters mixed in from another hot summer in 1985 when Natalie was a teenager and we slowly learn about what she and her then best friend got up to. It gives a real insight into how Natalie came to be the person she is as an adult and perhaps as to why she is so protective of her daughter. There is tension in these flashback chapters as you wonder how much it relates to the present day; it is apparent to the reader quite early on in this novel that there are secrets being kept by more than one person and that things are slowly building to a big conclusion. The final acts of this novel are so good, and while not everything that happened was a shock to me, it was all so well done that I was still on the edge of my seat.

I rated this novel 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it. This book will make a perfect beach read – just make sure you start it when you have an empty day ahead of you as once started you will struggle to put it down!

The Swimming Pool is due to be published on 5th May 2016 in the UK.

I received a copy of The Swimming Pool from LoveReading in exchange for an honest review. (The review seen here is a longer version of the one I submitted to LoveReading).

Review & Int. #Giveaway: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood

Miss Ona Vitkus has – aside from three months in the summer of 1914 – lived unobtrusively, her secrets fiercely protected.

The boy, with his passion for world records, changes all that. He is eleven. She is one hundred and four years, one hundred and thirty three days old (they are counting). And he makes her feel like she might be really special after all. Better late than never…

Only it’s been two weeks now since he last visited, and she’s starting to think he’s not so different from all the rest.

Then the boy’s father comes, for some reason determined to finish his son’s good deed. And Ona must show this new stranger that not only are there odd jobs to be done, but a life’s ambition to complete . . . 

The One-in-a-Million Boy has been compared favourably to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and that immediately caught my attention as I adored Harold Fry, and have never read another book that even remotely made me feel similar to how that book did. This book deserves the comparison and it is every bit as wonderful.

It’s a remarkable tale of a young boy scout who has been assigned to Miss Ona Viktus to help her every Saturday throughout the summer. Miss Viktus is quick to judge the boys sent to her and often finds them wanting. This boy surprises her and she ends up being very taken with him. However, one day he fails to show up and after two missed Saturdays Ona starts to think she was mistaken and that he is just the same as all the rest. Then, after a fortnight, the boy’s father arrives to do his son’s work and so begins this beautiful exploration of a boy’s life, and a healing process for many of the people left behind.

I have to say that I completely and utterly fell in love with this novel, it is so beautiful. I wasn’t expecting it to be such an emotional read, but it both broke my heart and mended it.

The boy is such a wonderful character, he is only in the book for a short time and yet he is in it the whole way through. He is a larger than life boy who had so much to offer the world, he is often misunderstood but is actually so clever. He sees the world in a slightly different way, and he is obsessed with order and counting but his insights stopped me in my tracks at times.

The boy’s innocence combined with Ona’s age and life experience makes for a wonderful pairing. He gives Ona a new lease of life when he decides that he will find a world record that she can break. It becomes his mission to find one that can be hers and together they embark on this task. The boy also has to write a paper for school and decides to interview Miss Viktus about her life because she is 104 and he is sure that no one in his class will find someone older than her to speak to. There are segments running through the novel of Ona’s recorded interview – but only her side as while the boy was present he didn’t want to speak on tape. This makes for a real insight into Ona’s life but one that really brings you up short at times as the simplicity of the way she says things belies some of the heartbreaking things that she has experienced in her life. It’s possible to read so much into her responses as the boy has obviously whispered a question to her. 

The boy’s father, Quinn, enters Ona’s life in a grudging way, seeing it as both a form of punishment and a way of making up a lifetime of being a mostly absent father. Quinn and On a eventually come to accept each other and become friends of a sort. Quinn is trying to absolve himself of all the things he’s got wrong and Ona, having experienced loss herself comes to understand what has made quinn the way he is.

This is such a well-written novel. It’s so clever how the boy is never named and yet by the end you feel as if you know him, as if he is a real person you know. It’s a poignant reminder that even the more invisible people in society have something to contribute, and something to leave behind when they go.

The novel is beautiful and moving, I was in tears reading the last chapter. The One-in-a-Million Boy really does leave a lasting legacy of hope; it shows how we can overcome grief and tragedy, how we can atone for our sins, and how we can find happiness again when we think it is gone forever. It is a novel that will make you laugh, it will make you think about your own life and your loved ones but it is never mawkish. It is written in the ordered way the boy would have approved off and it manages to avoid the sentimentalism that Ona so disliked. It’s ultimately all about love and loss and redemption.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 and my copy will now have pride of place on my all-time favourites bookcase. I already want to go back and read this novel again, I miss the boy and Ona already!

The One-in-a-Million Boy is published today and available from all good book shops.

GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate this wonderful novel I’m running a giveaway for one brand new hardback copy of The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood; it’s an international giveaway so is open to everyone. Please click the link below to enter:

Giveaway of The One-in-a-Million Boy!

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My March Wrap-Up Post (2016)

Monthly Wrap-Up

Well, March has been a better month reading-wise and also personally. Personal news first, in case you’ve missed it, is that I finally got a stairlift fitted in my home, which means I can now safely go up and down the stairs on my own. I fought against this for so long and the minute it was in I felt like a weight had been lifted off me. It’s brilliant to be able to go downstairs whenever I want to without needing help on the stairs. 

I’ve been reading a lot more again during March, which is such a relief. My reading slump had been going on since the end of December and was starting to feel like it might never end. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to get my pain levels under any sort of control a lot of the time so I still can’t read as fast as before, or for as long a period as I lose concentration much more easily but it is great to be able to lose myself in a book even for just a short while at a time. I tend to spend my days reading a while, blogging a while, resting a longer while and then repeating! My blog really takes it out of me, it’s painful to type and it’s hard to think clearly but it gives me such a sense of having achieved something in my day that I refuse to give it up.

I managed to read seventeen books this month (well, sixteen books and a short story), which is not as many as I would have hoped but is way more than the previous two months when I was going through a major reading slump so I’m pleased at what I read. I’ve managed to review seven of these books so far, the ones I’ve reviewed are at the top of my list and have links so you can click to read them if you’d like to. I hope to review the other books but it’ll depend on time and my health situation.

Time to Say Goodbye by SD Robertson

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington

Quicksand by Steve Toltz

You Sent Me A Letter by Lucy Dawson

Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin

The Missing by CL Taylor

The Stylist by Rosie Nixon

Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay

A Woman in a Million by Monica Wood

The Art of Wearing Hats by Helena Sheffield

A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby

Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

Between You and Me by Lisa Hall 

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

The Good Mother by AL Bird

 

I also reviewed three other books that I read in February but didn’t manage to review until March:

The Silent Girls by Ann Troup 

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis


 

I was very lucky this month that I got to interview four authors on my blog. You can read them all at the links below:

Janet Ellis (author of The Butcher’s Hook)

 

Carol Lovekin (author of Ghostbird)

 

Caroline James (author of Coffee, Tea, The Caribbean and Me) 

 

East of Coker banner (2)

Andy Owen (author of East of Coker)

 


 

Also on my blog I featured a lovely guest post by Elle Turner (author of Tapestry) and took part in a cover reveal for The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs


 

Then to round off what has been a brilliant month of blogging, I wrote a blog post this week about keeping books for the right moment (you can read that here) and it has become one of the most read posts on my blog and is the most liked so I’m thrilled about that. I’m not very confident in writing posts, I usually stick to reviews, so it was really lovely that something I wrote struck such a chord with some of my readers. 

My blog is still growing, which is brilliant. I’ve been blogging for about seven months now and enjoy it so much, I couldn’t imagine not being a blogger now!

Over the course of the next month on my blog I want to make a new blog header, and to make some new headers for my posts. My husband is much better at taking photos than me so he’s very kindly agreed to take some pics of my favourite books so that we can make them into some nicer headers. I’m looking forward to getting that done. I do keep pondering about changing my WP theme as I’ve never really liked this one, but I know how to make changes in this theme and how to keep it up to date so I’m reluctant to mess about with that just at the moment. Hopefully a new header will at least brighten things up a bit!

 


 

So, that was my month! How was your March? Has it been a book-filled month for you? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or to leave a link to your own March Wrap-Up post.

Review: The Stylist by Rosie Nixon

The Stylist by Rosie Nixon

When Amber Green, a shop assistant in an exclusive London boutique is plucked from obscurity and mistakenly offered a job working with Mona Armstrong, the infamous, jet-setting ‘stylist to the stars’, she hits the ground running, helping to style some of Hollywood’s hottest (and craziest) starlets.

As awards season spins into action Mona is in hot demand and Amber’s life turned upside down. Suddenly she catching the attention of two very different suitors, TV producer Rob and Hollywood bad boy rising star Liam. How will Amber keep her head? And what the hell will everyone wear?

The cover of The Stylist is gorgeous and is what initially caught me eye, and then once I’d read the synopsis I knew I had to read this book. I have absolutely no idea about fashion but this book just called to me!

Amber Green is working in a boutique in London and is coasting along in life until one day she attracts the attention of stylist Mona Armstrong and before she knows it she is being whisked away to LA to style the stars during awards season! Amber has to hit the ground running and hope she can keep it together so that no one realises that she really doesn’t know what she’s doing.

This novel reminded me a little of the Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series with the ditzy, but lovable, character who stumbles into one situation after another which is beyond her capabilities but then manages to turn it around in the nick of time. Amber Green is a great character; she was completely out of her depth as a stylist but somehow managed to make it work for the most part. 

I have to be honest and say that while I loved the first part of the book, it did begin to drag a little in the middle as Amber lurched from one drama to another. I really wanted to see her grow into this new role and that didn’t really happen; it felt like when she did do something well it was by chance rather than her knowing what to do. I wish we could have seen her develop a little more but having said that I couldn’t help but like her and I never stopped willing her on to succeed.

All-in-all I did enjoy this novel. The Stylist is one of those great pick-me-up reads that won’t fail to make you smile and so I would recommend it.

I rated it 3.5 out of 5.

I received a copy of The Stylist from Mira UK via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Stylist is out now and available from all good book shops.

Review: The Missing by C. L. Taylor

The Missing by C. L. Taylor

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them.

But should you…?

When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinson’s are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.

Claire is sure of two things – that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.

A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it?

Sometimes those closest to us are the ones with the most to hide…

I loved C. L. Taylor’s previous thrillers, The Lie and The Accident, they were both incredibly gripping and Cally is now one of my automatic must-read authors! I’ve had The Missing on pre-order since I first heard it was coming out but in the meantime I had the chance to get a review copy from Net Galley and couldn’t resist (I do still have a print copy on pre-order and am looking forward to adding it to my bookcase)! As soon as I found out I’d been approved I downloaded The Missing and started reading! 

I was hooked from the beginning of this novel right until the end. The harrowing experience of a child going missing is one all parents must dread and to be trapped in a nightmare for months and for there to be no real leads must be a living hell. This is captured so well in this novel, I could really feel this family’s pain and the way they were slowly falling apart. I liked the fact that Billy was a teenager, as it made this novel a bit different and gave more scope for what might have happened to him – as with a younger child he could have been kidnapped –  but he also may have chosen to run away from home and could be hiding out with friends or living rough somewhere. As a reader, it made the chance of him still being alive more realistic and so I was desperate to keep reading and find out where Billy actually was and what had happened to him.

The fugues that Billy’s mum Claire began to have were fascinating to read about, I was so curious about where she was finding herself and how she had got there. I couldn’t decide if she had perhaps killed her son and her brain was blocking it out, or if she knew who had killed him and her mind couldn’t cope with it, or whether she was just so distressed by his disappearance that her brain was switching off for periods of time. I found it completely believable as I have experience of PTSD, which I know is a different condition but it can cause periods of absence whereby the sufferer loses chunks of time and can come to not knowing how they got to a particular place or how much time has passed. I can see how it would interest a writer and it certainly makes for a very interesting and very unreliable narrator (and I do love an unreliable narrator!). The suspense that came from not knowing everything Claire was doing while in a fugue state really kept me hooked.

This novel is more of a psychological mystery novel than a thriller but it’s still a very intense read and one that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happened to Billy! I had my suspicions about who might know things about his disappearance but I didn’t manage to work it all out – I love it when a novel has an ending that I wasn’t able to figure out beforehand.

I rated it 4.5 out of 5 and definitely recommend it – The Missing is such an intense and fascinating novel, it’s one you absolutely won’t want to miss! I’m now already eagerly anticipating C. L. Taylor’s next novel… 

I received a copy of this book from Avon via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Missing is due to be published on 7th April in the UK and is available for pre-order now. 

Blog Tour | #Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin ~ Q&A and Review

Today I am thrilled to be on the blog tour for Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin and I’m happy to be able to share my review of this fabulous novel and I also have a lovely Q&A to share with you. 

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Hi Carol, please tell my blog readers a little bit about yourself.

My home is in the beautiful countryside of West Wales. I share a small flat with a small cat. She and I look out over the hills where, some mornings, when the mist overlays the view, I could imagine the Avalon barge emerging through the mist. When I’m not writing, I’m generally reading; I swim twice a week and love walking. I’m a committed feminist and like most writers, a nosy-parker and always carry a notebook! One of my dear friends is my co-conspirator: we are the only members of the smallest writing group in Wales. We meet once a week to brainstorm and share our writing progress.

How did you first come to be a writer?

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the myth of the ‘tortured artist’ who is incomplete without her writing; I do know it’s an activity I’d find hard to set aside. As a child I was an early free-reader as opposed to one able to handle her numbers. (I still have to take my shoes off to count to eleven!) Words made far more sense to me than figures and making things up, the way the writers of the books I read did, seemed like a lot more fun. Writing is one of the ways children learn to express themselves and how we all start out. 

There are dim drawers in my study inhabited by dusty spiders who guard the remnants of my previous efforts and who are tasked with never letting them see the light of day. They’re part of my process but in the early days I adopted a somewhat laissez-faire approach to my writing; maybe because I thought there was plenty of time. It wasn’t until I was considerably older and a lot wiser that I decided to treat my writing with more respect and aim for publication. 

What is your book Ghostbird about?

It concerns, Cadi Hopkins, a young girl in the dark about her past. No one will tell her the truth about her father or her baby sister, both of whom died just before she was born. Her mother deals with her grief in a state of isolated silence; her aunt is caught in the middle. The myth of Blodeuwedd – a character from the ancient Welsh legend, The Mabinogion – runs through the story. When Cadi begins her search for the truth, the ghost of her little sister wakes up and old secrets surface.

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

Via the word birds? Inside my head, aided and abetted by the landscape I live in? From my dreams? All of the above and who knows where else. Inspiration comes from all manner of sources and if you conflate inspiration and ideas it becomes an impossible question to answer albeit a fascinating one to ponder! Inspiration and an idea never comes from nowhere. It can be as simple as a name or an image, a line from a song, an old memory or a half-forgotten dream. I sometimes forget to be honest, and it doesn’t matter. Once the idea is there, the inspiration is irrelevant. What matters is, something is working and the story follows.

What is your writing routine?

I’m an Aquarian, Hayley, and I like a good plan! I aim to be at my computer by ten o’clock and to work for four hours minimum. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t manage this. Not writing is a thing I never refer to as writer’s block. If the writing stalls, I edit; or I walk and think, lie in the bath and think (a good place for light bulb moments!) Or I read a book and pretty soon, I’m writing again.

What’s your favourite book that you’ve read this year?
It’s been a brilliant year for new books thus far. I can’t, in all honesty confine my answer to one. I began the year reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters which for personal reasons was very special. Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary blew my mind and Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull impressed me more than I can say. I was fortunate to be sent a proof copy of This Must Be The Place by the astonishingly talented Maggie O’Farrell who is one of my favourite authors. If you push me, I’ll say that one. 

What are you reading at the moment?

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. I read her first book, When God Was a Rabbit and loved it; my expectation for this second one was high. I am not being disappointed.

Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?

That in itself is a great question! People always ask writers what they write and rarely why they do. The clichéd answer is a variation on, ‘It’s who I am’ but it’s the easy one and a given, surely? The flippant answer is I write because I can’t juggle or play the tuba. The more serious one is, I’m not done yet and I’d like to leave something attached to whatever exists after I’m gone. And also, because when I tested myself and discovered I could write, it felt like a precious gift. 

How can people connect with you on social media?

Blog: carollovekinauthor.com

Twitter: @carollovekin

Facebook

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.


 

Synopsis

Someone needs to be forgiven. Someone needs to forgive.

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made. But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up. None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them.


 

My Review

Ghostbird is one of the most exquisitely beautiful books that I’ve read in a really long time. It is written in such a way that I wanted to read it as slowly as I could savour every aspect of the story and to make it last as long as possible, I never wanted it to end. 

This novel has an almost dream-like quality to it and the writing is so evocative, I could feel the dampness in the air and I could smell the rain as it was falling in the novel. I feel like I’ve been to the Hopkins’ family home and to the lake, I can picture them so vividly in my head. I can’t remember another novel that I’ve read in recent times where I felt like I was actually inside it, feeling everything. It is as if the magical nature of the novel has cast its own spell over me.

The complex relationship between the three females in this novel is fascinating. The idea of secrecy between two out of three and whether it’s ever okay to keep the secrets, and whether it’s ever okay to share someone else’s secret. 

‘It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. We’re all in it now: dancing the same old dance, tripping over each other’s bloody red shoes’

The dynamic between Lily, Violet and Cadi was so believable; it was at times very tense to the point it radiated off the page and at other times, particularly between Lily and Cadi, the strong bond between them was clear. Relationships between women are often very taut, and especially so in this instance when Violet and Lily are sisters-in-law, not blood relatives, but still stuck living next door to each other, and Cadi who is Violet’s daughter but the relationship between them is strained and Cadi feels closer to her Aunt Lily. The past is haunting the three of them – two are haunted by what they know and one by what no one will tell her. 

I adore Lovekin’s turns of phrase throughout this novel. She is very creative with how her sentences are put together and with the words she uses. The writing has such a poetic and lyrical quality.

‘She smelled of roses and secrets…’ 

I love the idea that a person can smell of secrets, that they are holding a feeling inside them that you sense so strongly it’s as if you can smell it. Wonderful!

‘She possessed a look of otherness, as if her eyes saw too far.’

This line resonated so strongly with me. It’s incredibly moving the idea that someone sees too far, that they are so trapped by how haunting the future feels that they can’t fully embrace living in the now.

I had to pause many times whilst reading this book to re-read a sentence or two because I really wanted to make sure I absorbed the wonderful language used. There are so many sentences and passages in this novel that I highlighted because they were simply beautiful and I never want to forget them. The following line genuinely made me feel very emotional and it’s one of my favourite sentences in the novel:

‘…in August, when it rained so hard the drains overflowed, good dreams were washed away and no one could tell if you were crying’.

I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. As I said at the start of my review it is exquisitely beautiful – there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it; it’s simply a book not to be missed!

Ghostbird will now have pride of my place on my all-time favourites bookcase, both on my blog and in my home. My words cannot express how wonderful this novel is, but I can honestly say that it is a book I will treasure and one I all absolutely re-vist time and time again!

Book Links

Amazon UK

Goodreads 

Honno

 


About the Author

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©Janey Stevens

Carol Lovekin was born in Warwickshire. She has Irish blood and a Welsh heart, and has lived in mid Wales for 36 years. She has worked as a cleaner, a freelance journalist, a counsellor, a legal secretary and a shop assistant. She began writing with a view to publication in her late fifties has published short stories, reviews and is a prolific letter writer. She has been blogging for over nine years. Ghostbird is her first traditionally published novel.


 

 

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Review: You Sent Me A Letter by Lucy Dawson

you sent me a letter

At 2 a.m. on the morning of her fortieth birthday, Sophie wakes to find an intruder in her bedroom. The stranger hands Sophie a letter and issues an threat: open the letter at her party that evening, in front of family and friends, at exactly 8 p.m., or those she loves will be in grave danger.

What can the letter possibly contain?

This will be no ordinary party; Sophie is not the only person keeping a secret about the evening ahead. When the clock strikes eight, the course of several people’s lives will be altered for ever.

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A few weeks ago I received a wedding invitation in the post and it completely baffled me for a minute or two as I racked my brain to think of who Sophie and Marc were. It slowly dawned on me that it must be a marketing campaign for a book and I was excited to see what happened next. A few days later I received You Sent Me A Letter in the post and all began to come clear!

Be warned that once you start reading this book you will not be able to put it down! I picked it up on Saturday afternoon while waiting to watch the football on TV with my husband and I got so engrossed in the book that I missed the match completely! 

The novel opens with Sophie waking up to find an intruder in her bedroom; he gives her a letter and tells her she has to open it at 8PM at her 40th birthday party. Sophie is immediately panicked about who would want to frighten her in this way.

I loved how this book was very linear – it follows Sophie throughout the course of this one day leading up to her birthday party but even though the story stays with her, the tension ramps up nicely and the story never waivers and never falls flat. There are many layers to this novel, and it’s so well put together. I suspected quite early on that who Sophie believed was behind the letter was probably not really the culprit but I wasn’t sure about who it was until shortly before it was revealed. 

Lucy Dawson has made this whole novel believable when it could easily have become far-fetched. Sophie has a very eventful day where lots of things happen but because it was all in the lead up to her birthday party/secret wedding it made sense within that plot. Those days are always stressful and it does become hard to think clearly, and once you add the scary intruder into the mix it’s easy to understand why Sophie isn’t always rational in her behaviour. I was completely engrossed in Sophie’s story and felt like I was right there with her. 

This was the first novel I’ve read by Lucy Dawson but I’ll absolutely be buying her previous novels and excitedly awaiting her next! You Sent Me A Letter is fast-paced, engaging and thrilling! I rated this novel 4 out of 5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Corvus in exchange for an honest review.

You Sent Me A Letter is out now and available from all good book shops.

Review: The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

Anne Jaccob is coming of age in late eighteenth-century London, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When she is taken advantage of by her tutor — a great friend of her father’s — and is set up to marry a squeamish snob named Simeon Onions, she begins to realize just how powerless she is in Victorian society. Anne is watchful, cunning, and bored.

Her saviour appears in the form of Fub, the butcher’s boy. Their romance is both a great spur and an excitement. Anne knows she is doomed to a loveless marriage to Onions and she is determined to escape with Fub and be his mistress. But will Fub ultimately be her salvation or damnation? And how far will she go to get what she wants?

Dark and sweeping, The Butcher’s Hook is a richly textured debut featuring one of the most memorable characters in fiction.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Butcher’s Hook to review and began reading it as soon as it arrived. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this historical novel but it hooked (no pun intended!) me in from the first few pages.

This novel really felt like it had two distinct halves. The first half is very much about how repressed Anna Jaccob’s life is. She is living in a household that oppresses her, the family meals are often eaten in silence and there’s very little conversation to be had with anyone the rest of the time. Anna’s mother is very distant having suffered a series of lost babies and she’s recently given birth to a daughter; Anna struggles with her feelings towards the new baby and this further isolates her from time with her mother. The desire that Anna has for something to happen, to break free of this repression emanates off the page and you really get a sense that something is building in her.

Later in the novel Anna falls for the butcher’s boy and from that moment on her life changes dramatically. She becomes quite obsessed with this budding romance and will stop at nothing to get the boy. I was not expecting the novel to build in the way it did but it becomes quite the bawdy romp and very difficult to put down. I think I preferred the first half of this novel but the second half is impossible to look away from so it really does keep you turning the pages. The denouement of the novel is unexpected, but so good for that.

The style of The Butcher’s Hook reminded me a little of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White with that real mix of period detail but the openness about sex and desire that you often only see in more modern set novels –  the Georgian  era of Jane Austen this is not! Anna seems like quite a modern girl trapped in a world that wasn’t yet ready for all she wanted, and indeed expected, out of her life. She is intensely frustrated that she can’t just do what she wants when she wants and that she has to surrender to what her father wants for her. I loved the nods to Dickens with little touches like the slimy man that Anna’s father choses for her to marry, who is named Simeon Onions.

I was torn in how I felt about Anna. In the first half of the novel I had moments where I felt sorry for her – I wanted her to experience some lightness in her life and some freedom from the oppressive home she’d grown up in. However, there were then moments where she behaved so horribly that I was brought up short and unsure what to make of her. Anna’s increasingly twisted logic and behaviour as the novel progresses seems to suggest that she always had a wicked side. She’s certainly a memorable character though and one that has lingered in my mind since I finished reading the novel.

All-in-all I loved this novel – it’s a deliciously dark and twisted novel that became something that I wasn’t expecting and it’s wonderful to find a novel that surprised me so much. I already can’t wait to read Janet Ellis’ next book!

I rated this novel 4 out of 5 and highly recommend it.

I was lucky enough to do a Q&A with Janet Ellis for the blog tour for this book, you can read that HERE if you’d like to.

I received a copy of this book for review from Two Roads Books via Book Bridgr.


 

As an aside I absolutely loved the cover artwork and the end papers in this book, they are stunning.

 

I thought it looked a little familiar and then discovered that the company that designed the book’s artwork are called Timorous Beasties, who also designed the artwork on the Kate Bush concert tickets that we kept from when we saw her in 2014. I now so badly want to own some art by them so I’m saving up!

Kate Bush tickets!

Kate Bush ticket

 

 

Blog tour | Review: Quicksand by Steve Toltz

 

 

Today I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for Quicksand by Steve Toltz!

Quicksand PB

 

Wildly funny and unceasingly surprising, Quicksand is both a satirical masterpiece and an unforgettable story of fate, family and friendship.

Aldo Benjamin may be the unluckiest soul in human history, but that isn’t going to stop his friend Liam writing about him. For what more could an aspiring novelist want from his muse than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, a life-long love affair, an eloquently named brothel, the most sexually confusing evening imaginable and a brief conversation with God?

Quicksand is quite the meta-novel. It’s about Liam, a failed writer turned police officer who decides to write a book about his best friend, Aldo. The novel flits from being from Liam’s point of view, to being from Aldo’s viewpoint as written by Liam, to what appears to be Aldo from his own point of view but the reader can never be sure if it is genuinely Aldo or whether it’s more of Aldo seen through Liam’s eyes. It’s never clear what is real and what is imagined, and it becomes increasingly blurred for the reader. The fact that we don’t know the real Aldo, only the one Liam tells us about, makes it all the more interesting because although the book is about Aldo, we learn so much about Liam and the cracks in their friendship. The first chapter of this novel is entitled ‘Two Friends, Two Agendas (one hidden)’ and that sums up the novel. It pays to remember this title as you progress through the book to the end as it gives much to ponder over regarding what Liam’s purpose was in writing this book about his friend, but also why Aldo wanted the book written – assuming he really knew about it, and also assuming that Liam hadn’t just made Aldo up to deflect his own anxieties and failures in life.

The opening chapter contains a whole section of Aldo spewing out one-liners that Liam is frantically trying to write down. I found it quite amusing and wondered whether Steve Toltz himself was making a point about great novels and how a one-liner can often be at the expense of plot and structure. I actually loved that it felt like an aside to camera, as if Toltz had briefly placed himself inside his own novel.

Some of the observations and ideas that Aldo has are truly hilarious, I honestly found myself laughing at times whilst reading about his ideas for businesses and reflections on life. His self-diagnosis of ‘clinical frustration’ is so brilliant as is his pondering over why clinical depression gets to be a disease but clinical frustration doesn’t. It’s amusing to read given what we know about Aldo but I couldn’t help thinking at the same time that there is a serious point in there about how people become so tied up in their frustrations about their life that it affects their ability to function.

I love the parts of the book that became self-referential particularly Aldo’s obsession with Mimi’s book The Fussy Corpse and how it has echoes of how Aldo’s own life would become. Some of the situations he got himself into were really quite mortifying but then his having to be carried whilst often shouting or demanding he be put down somewhere became quite cringe-worthy and led him to almost become the fussy corpse himself. Aldo’s increasingly frequent ideas about death and his requests for help mirror the little boy in the book too. 

I didn’t know too much about this book before I started reading but I was expecting a darkly comedic novel, which this is, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an impact this book would have on me. There are aspects to this novel that are similar to my own life (I would imagine everyone who reads this book will recognise something of their own life in some of the observations Liam and Aldo make) and I have to admit that I found some of it quite difficult to read for this reason but I still couldn’t stop reading. It’s so utterly refreshing to read a book that is at times absurd, bordering on the ridiculous; it’s laugh out loud funny, and yet so utterly true to life at the same time!

On a personal note for me, having recently been told that my paralysis is permanent a couple of paragraphs really stood out to me and actually gave me a wry smile about my situation. It’s remarkable writing when you can feel the depths a character’s despair at his situation and recognise something of yourself in it, but still see the humour and laugh!

Aldo ‘caught phrases from the doctors such as ‘incomplete paraplegia’ and ‘crushed T5 and 6’ and ‘the absence of motor and sensory function’… while my own thoughts were actual… The blind get great hearing, the deaf a super sense of smell. What do the paralysed get again? And, does paraplegia every just, you know, blow over?’

 

‘Everybody weighed in. Everyone looks on the bright side for you. They’re really positive about your situation. Nobody feels under qualified to offer medical advice. The preposterous suggestions they’re not ashamed to make! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to torture someone with an incurable illness or a permanent disability is easy. Name the most ludicrous, disreputable remedy imaginable – eg. bamboo under the fingernail therapy – and swear it fixed a friend of yours. The dying or disabled patient, sick in heart and soul with desperate feeling that he hasn’t tried everything to restore himself, will quick smart reach for the bamboo. They will also tell you about exceptional individuals who did exceptional things even with exceptional limitations. This is in no way relevant to my case’.

There is so much sadness and loss throughout this novel, but so much humour too. I’d expected this book would be very surreal, and it is at times, but actually it’s a very honest exploration of friendship, and of life in general. This is such a unique novel; it was one of those reading experiences where I didn’t want to put the book down for a second because it was so good, but then I didn’t want to get to the end too soon for the same reason! It’s an incredible book.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Toltz but I loved it so much that I’m definitely going to buy his previous novel, A Fraction of the Whole, and I can’t wait to read it.

I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it!

Quicksand is out now.

I received a copy of this book from Sceptre in exchange for an honest review.

My review is part of the Quicksand blog tour, please visit the other stops on the tour.

 

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Review: Time to say Goodbye by S. D. Robertson

Time To Say Goodbye

Is there ever a right time to let go?

HOW DO YOU LEAVE THE PERSON YOU LOVE THE MOST?

Will Curtis’s six-year-old daughter, Ella, knows her father will never leave her. After all, he promised her so when her mother died. And he’s going to do everything he can to keep his word.

What Will doesn’t know is that the promise he made to his little girl might be harder to keep than he imagined. When he’s faced with an impossible decision, Will finds that the most obvious choice might not be the right one.

But the future is full of unexpected surprises. And father and daughter are about to embark on an unforgettable journey together . . . 

The synopsis for Time to Say Goodbye doesn’t give much away about the plot at all but from tweets that I’d seen I had my suspicions about what the book might be about and I was right. In a nutshell this is a novel about a man who has promised his young daughter that he will never leave her. Ella has already lost her mum and so this promise is incredibly important but sadly promises are sometimes broken despite our best efforts.

Will has no choice in the end about leaving Ella because he is killed in a road accident. He finds himself outside of his body and he knows he simply has to find a way to get through to his little girl, to comfort her. The problem is whether this is going to be a good thing for Ella in the long run, or should she be left to adjust to life without her dad.

I love the premise of this book, I seem to be quite drawn to novels like this and have read a few now that are in a similar vein. I really wanted to fall in love with these characters and their stories but it just lacked a little something for me. I was expecting this book to be a real tear-jerker but, while there are moments that are incredibly emotional, it didn’t quite get there for me. I did love Ella and Will but I wanted to be focused on them and it felt like there were just a few too many elements to the sub-plots that kept me away from the main story for too long, and this stopped the emotional connection that I wanted to have with Ella and Will.

Having said that, there are some very moving moments throughout the novel. I adored the moment when Will finds Ella in a dream, it was such a special scene and really did get to me. I treasure the dreams I have of my late mum as they are the only times when I can hear her voice, in real life I can’t remember it anymore so the days when I wake up and just for a fleeting second I can hear her are wonderful. I felt such a fluttery, happy feeling when Ella finds Will on that beach, it’s an incredible moment and it seemed so real and believable.

Some of the scenes with Will and his father were beautiful and very emotional too. I’m sure so many people wish they could have just one more minute, or wish they had the chance to tell someone they loved them just one more time but in real life once someone is gone, they’re gone and there are no do overs.

Will’s anguish and distress about whether he should stay as a spirit with his daughter was heart-renching to read. To know that leaving Ella all over again could likely cause real emotional damage to her but to stay having seen the potential future she would have left Will with such a terrible dilemma. I could feel Will’s pain radiating off the page and was so hoping that he’d find a way to have peace and for his daughter to be ok.

My issue with this book is purely down to the fact that I wish there hadn’t been so much going on alongside the main story with Will and Ella. I know sub-plots are there to move the main story along and to maybe add in the odd twist but in a book that relies so much on the emotional dilemma of the main character, too many distractions away from that just watered down the experience a little bit for me. The moments that I loved in the book were absolutely wonderful, and so believable – I just wanted more of them.

On the whole this is a good debut novel, and I’m looking forward to reading S. D. Robertson’s next book! I rated this 3.5 stars.

I received this book from Avon via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Time to Say Goodbye is out now.

Review: Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington

One hot August night, Rachel Power gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him? The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .

As soon as I read the synopsis for Sisters and Lies I was keen to read it, and it did not disappoint. Evie has been in a car crash and is in a coma; her sister Rachel is just back from an overseas book tour when she gets the call about Evie. Due to Rachel having been away for a while she isn’t fully up to speed about what has been happening in Evie’s life of late and so when she arrives at Evie’s flat, having visited her at the hospital, she doesn’t know what to make of finding a man there claiming to be her sister’s boyfriend. Immediately I was hooked because there is suspicion straight away over this man and I wanted to know more. 

The novel is told alternately by Rachel, in the present day, and through Evie’s thoughts, who whilst in a coma is finding her memories are beginning to come back to her from a few months previously and she’s trying to piece together to work out what happened to her. 

I felt drawn both to Rachel and Evie and really empathised with the way they behaved because they had recently lost their mother. In the face of such pain it can make siblings close off from each other if they have different ways of coping so it was entirely plausible to me that Rachel would have no idea about her sister’s life while she was off on a book tour on the other side of the world. There were some small aspects of this book that didn’t feel completely plausible but often with thrillers you do need to be prepared to suspend disbelief to a degree – all I want to get swept up in a great story when I’m reading and this book does just that!

Sisters and Lies starts off as more of a mystery novel but the tension builds so fast that by the second half I found myself racing through the pages wanting to know what was going to happen and to find out if I was trusting the right people! The red herrings along the way did cause me to doubt myself on more than one occasion about who they bad guy might be.

Sisters and Lies is a brilliant debut novel – it’s thrilling, it’s twisty and it doesn’t disappoint! I rated it a solid 4 stars and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what Bernice Barrington writes next!

Sisters and Lies is due to be published on 24th March and can be pre-ordered now.

I received this book from Penguin Books via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

Synopsis:

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

My Review

I loved this book and once I started reading it I honestly couldn’t put it down. I’ve been in a major reading slump for weeks but this book just caught my imagination and I devoured it. I’ve stuck sticky notes all over the book, not just to remind me of things I wanted to make sure I referred to in this review but also for me to look back on myself. The passages about grief in this book were so poignant and really captured what grieving for a parent is like.

Lizzy and Ig are both adults but still live within the family home they grew up in, and in many respects they have remained child-like. The day Lizzy finds out she has a sister that she’d known nothing of she immediately reacts and sends a letter off to the mystery woman without ever stopping for a moment to consider the possible consequences; it’s an immature reaction but an understandable one. 

Eunice then arrives in their lives; she is very girly and inquisitive, immediately wanting to see all of the family home and speculating about where she would have fit in if things were different. She is very perceptive and this isn’t particularly noticed by Julian, Lizzy or Ig and it allows Eunice to get under their skin and to find a way to really insert herself into their lives. Lizzy becomes increasingly discomfited by Eunice’s presence and often wonders how she can be rid of her yet, even though they are all adults, she never actually just has the conversation with Eunice about when she is likely to leave; ultimately she’s partly intimidated by her and partly still so mired in grief that it all takes too much energy and thought to deal with.

I couldn’t help but empathise with Lizzy over the pain she felt at the loss of her mother, at times it was visceral and it brought back the pain, and the strange sense of bewilderment – those moments of being somewhere but not really being fully present – that I felt at losing my own mum. Duguid demonstrates Lizzy’s grief so poignantly and I felt so sad for her, yet at the same time I was never sure how much I could trust Lizzy, she seemed to be telling the truth and yet she felt like an unreliable narrator. We mainly see Eunice through Lizzy’s eyes, which meant the reader’s view is tainted by what Lizzy sees, or wants to see, in her. It makes for a brilliant dynamic in the novel and although I knew from the prologue that something terrible was going to happen, I never predicted exactly what, or who, that incident would involve. 

I found Eunice exhausting to read about, she is ever present and always trying to be right in the centre of everything that happens. She wants to make her newly discovered family revolve around her. I could feel the increasingly stifling atmosphere closing in around the three original members of the family; it made me feel quite claustrophobic at times. I did ponder over the way that it felt like Eunice as a character was a metaphor for the way grief enters your life so suddenly and with no guidebook, it turns everything on its head, it makes you view your whole life in a different way and from a  completely different angle. And eventually the raw, disturbing nature of it goes away and what is left is a sense of peace but everything is still forever changed.

This is a short novel but it packs one hell of a punch. I actually finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it now. I was very lucky to receive an advanced reading copy of this novel but I loved it so much that I treated myself to a finished copy to put on my favourites bookcase. Not many books make it onto there but this one absolutely deserves its place, I know it will be one that I read again and again over the years. 

Look At Me is disturbing and beautiful, and is so honest and raw; a stunning debut that you absolutely won’t want to miss!

I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and can’t recommend it highly enough!

Look At Me is out now and available from all good bookshops. 

I received a review copy from Tinder Press in return for an honest review.

Blog Tour | Review: The Silent Girls by Ann Troup

The Silent Girls banner

Today is my stop on The Silent Girls blog tour!

Synopsis

What if everything you knew was a lie…

This house has a past that won’t stay hidden, and it is time for the dead to speak.

Returning to Number 17, Coronation Square, Edie is shocked to find the place she remembers from childhood reeks of mould and decay. After her aunt Dolly’s death Edie must clear out the home on a street known for five vicious murders many years ago, but under the dirt and grime of years of neglect lurk dangerous truths.

For in this dark house there is misery, sin and dark secrets that can no longer stay hidden. The truth must come out. 

Finding herself dragged back into the horrific murders of the past, Edie must find out what really happened all those years ago. But as Edie uncovers the history of the family she had all but forgotten, she begins to wonder if sometimes it isn’t best to leave them buried.

My Review

I started reading The Silent Girls without knowing too much about it and by the time I’d read the prologue I was hooked!

The prologue is set in 1964 and describes a convicted murderer being hanged and a murder taking place on the same day. The novel then moves to thirty years later where Edie’s Aunt Dolly has died and Edie has come to clear out her house. Almost immediately she walks into the middle of a group on a murder tour and being told all about the gruesome murders that had happened on the Square all those years ago. Edie shrugs it off but I was immediately on edge, yet unable to wait to find out more about this infamous Square.

Edie soon meets Sophie, a homeless young person in need of a safe place to sleep, and the two start to become friends. I loved Sophie’s character. Edie is in a vulnerable place, she is going through a divorce and is dealing with the death of her aunt, and it seems that some of the people around her on the Square might not be all they appear to be, so when Sophie turned up it felt like Edie might finally have someone on her side.

The atmosphere in the novel is so claustrophobic and stifling; at times I really felt like I was inside Number 17 with Edie. Troup is such a great scene setter; I read a lot of this book during the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and I swear I could smell the damp and rot – I could feel the sinister atmosphere and I really did feel very unsettled by some of the things in that house. The story of the house continues to unfold in such an unnerving way that I was honestly actually sat on the edge of my seat at some points!

It seems like just about everyone on Coronation Square is hiding something, some secrets being more horrific than others. I enjoyed the mystery aspects of this novel and the gradual reveal of who knew what and when. I also liked that the novel isn’t really about whodunnit so much as it’s a look at a mix of characters and the pasts they are trying to keep hidden, it felt refreshing and different.

This was the first book I’ve read by Ann Troup but I’ve already bought her previous novel and plan to read it very soon. I’m definitely now a fan and will be looking out for her next novel!

I rated this novel 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it.

Thank you to Jenny at Neverland Blog Tours for sending me a copy of the book to review as part of this blog tour.

The Silent Girls is out now, you can find it here:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B015QM8AP8/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_uk-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28441057-the-silent-girls?ac=1&from_search=1

The Silent Girls book cover

About the Author

Ann Troup

Ann Troup tells tales and can always make something out of nothing (which means she writes books and can create unique things from stuff other people might not glance twice at). She was once awarded 11 out of 10 for a piece of poetry at school – she now holds that teacher entirely responsible for her inclination to write.

Her writing space is known as ‘the empty nest’, having formerly been her daughters bedroom. She shares this space with ten tons of junk and an elderly Westie, named Rooney, who is her constant companion whether she likes it or not. He likes to contribute to the creative process by going to sleep on top of her paperwork and running away with crucial post-it notes, which have inadvertently become stuck to his fur. She is thinking of renaming him Gremlin.

She lives by the sea in Devon with her husband and said dog. Two children have been known to remember the place that they call home, but mainly when they are in need of a decent roast dinner, it’s Christmas or when only Mum will do. She also has extremely decent stepchildren.

In a former incarnation she was psychiatric nurse, an experience which frequently informs her writing. She has also owned a cafe and an art/craft gallery. Now she only makes bacon sandwiches as a sideline, but does continue to dabble with clay, paint, paper, textiles, glue…you name it. Occasionally she may decide to give away some of these creations (you have been warned!).

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/TroupAnn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anntroupauthor/

Website: https://anntroup.wordpress.com/

 

Blog Tour | Q&A with Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher’s Hook

 

 

Today I am thrilled to welcome Janet Ellis to my blog for a chat about her debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook.

How did you come to be a novelist and how long have you been writing for?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My desk drawer (and more besides) is full of jottings, poems, beginnings of stories  and snatches of prose. But The Butcher’s Hook is the first book I finished. So the answer is really :- for ever and quite recently!

What is your writing process?

I try and write daily, but not always at the same time or with the same word count. I often write  scenes that I know I want to include somewhere, then store them – it’s like having  a mood board of episodes and characters waiting to be placed in the narrative.  I read everything aloud, too, as I think it’s a great way of discovering if the tone is consistent- and avoiding repetition. Of course, that includes dialogue (my poor neighbours). 

The Butcher’s Hook is historical fiction but seems modern too, not least due to the way that Anne Jaccob’s sexual awakening is described. It reminded me a little of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White in the sense of it being historical mixed with more modern elements. What inspired you to write this novel, and in this particular way?

Thank you for the comparison, that book’s a favourite. I’m driven  by the idea that, although they wore different clothes, saw different sights and were influenced by different things, people of any past time, however distant,  experienced emotions as we do. We feel everything from love and  hate, or envy,  greed and sorrow just as our forbears did. Reading diaries- which illustrate this perfectly- was a big source of inspiration. Confirmation, too, of the fact that no matter what is happening around us in historical terms, we’re all mostly concerned with ourselves. My teenage diaries certainly bear this out.

I found Anne fascinating – at times I really liked her and wanted her to find love and happiness and then at other times she had quite a selfish, self-absorbed streak which made her harder to like. I really enjoyed this about her though, she was in my head all the time when I wasn’t reading as I tried to weigh her up and I miss her now I’ve finished reading the novel. How did her character and personality come about, and did you enjoy creating her?

How lovely to hear that.  I loved creating her. She really is a character apart, she isn’t me! And I often felt the same ambivalence  about her behaviour.  I toyed with a different , rather happier , ending but realised she’s her own worst enemy, and enjoyably so. There’s a kind of twisted logic in how she behaves, everything happens for a reason as far as she’s concerned. I hope she’s funny, too, as my favourite people have a sideways take on life that I enjoy. I’ve got friends whose behaviour is sometimes exasperating -but I love them. I know that  -apart from her often terrible actions- I feel the same about Anne.

Finally, is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked and how would you answer said question?

Do you mean apart from ‘How did you get to be so fabulous? (Answer: I have NO idea!)? This is a great question… I haven’t ever met a question that I thought was too awful to be answered, and nothing’s off limits, but maybe there’s something about what my parents would have thought  – they’re both dead now- that I’d like to mull over.  But I can’t come up with the question myself , as it makes me weepy to even think about it. 

 


 

Synopsis of The Butcher’s Hook

Do you know what this is?’ 

He holds a short twist of thick metal, in the shape of the letter ‘S’, sharpened at both ends. I shake my head.

‘A butcher’s hook,’ he says, testing the tip of his finger against each point. ‘A perfect design. Whichever way up you use it, it’s always ready. One end to hook, the other to hang. It has only one simple purpose.’ He stands on a stool and fixes it over the bar above him. It waits there, empty.

He climbs down. ‘Pleasing, isn’t it?’

GEORGIAN LONDON, IN THE SUMMER OF 1763.

At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him.

The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub.

But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.

A vivid and surprising tale, The Butcher’s Hook brims with the colour and atmosphere of Georgian London, as seen through the eyes of a strange and memorable young woman.


 

About the Author

Janet Ellis trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes. 
She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. The Butcher’s Hook is her first novel.

You can find Janet Ellis at:

janetellis.com

twitter.com/missjanetellis

instagram.com/missjanetellis

The Butcher’s Hook is published by Two Roads; it is out now and available from all good book shops.


 

I’ll be sharing my review of The Butcher’s Hook on my blog very soon so please look out for that. In the meantime, you can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

The Butchers Hook Tour Poster

My February Wrap-Up Post

Monthly Wrap-Up

 

I can’t believe that it’s the last day of February already! I decided to do a wrap-up post even though I’ve not been up to doing much reading or blogging this month as it seems a good chance to write a general update as well as a bookish one!

So, in terms of reading I’ve managed to read ten books this month and have only reviewed one of them so far but I have prepared reviews for three more of these books so will post them in the next week or so. I am making a real effort to get better balance in my life and it’s beginning to pay off as I’m starting to enjoy reading again and can concentrate for a few minutes at a time so it’s progress!

Here are all the books that I read during February:

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

I’m very excited to share my Q & A with her as part of the blog tour on my blog tomorrow and I’ll be reviewing the book later this week. I can tell you that it’s a fab read and one I highly recommend.

The Silent Girls by Ann Troup

I’m on the blog tour for this tomorrow too and can’t wait to share my review, it’s a book that really helped get me back into reading ad I just didn’t want to out it down!

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald 

My review is here if you’d like to read it.

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

I adored this book, it was one of those that I was hooked on from the first page and couldn’t put down. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and still find myself thinking of the characters. I haven’t managed to type my notes up into a review yet but I hope to do it soon so look out for a review on my blog in the next couple of weeks.

A Baby at the Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the books in the Beach Cafe series, so I couldn’t resist reading this one, which was published as part of the Quick Reads collection this month. It wasn’t my favourite of the series but it was still a great read and I would recommend it.

Psychedelic Suburbia: David Bowie and the Beckenham Arts Lab by Mary Finnigan

I spotted this one on Kindle Unlimited so decided to download it after seeing Mary Finnigan talking about the book on the news. Some parts of the book were really interesting but other parts just fell a little flat. I’d still recommend it to people who want to read more about this era.

Aaliyah: More Than a Woman by Christopher John Farley

I’ve had this book on my TBR for absolutely ages and yet despite being a massive Aaliyah fan I’ve never got around to reading it until this month! I quite enjoyed reading it, it was interesting to read more about her early life and the writing and recording of her albums. It’s definitely one her fans will enjoy.

5,742 Days by Anne-Marie Cockburn

Scotland’s Shame by John Ashton

Adequately Explained by Stupidity? by Morag G. Kerr

 

My reading mojo still hasn’t returned – a lot of the books I read this month were shorter reads otherwise I wouldn’t have got through as many as I have. I’m still drawn more to non-fiction than fiction so I’m just going with it because reading anything is better than reading nothing. It’s just a little stressful as most of my review books are novels so they’re all sitting looking at me making me feel guilty but I figure that anything that gets me enjoying books again is good as it will hopefully transfer to me being able to concentrate on novels again soon. Fingers crossed anyway!

I’m still trying to find better life balance but it’s not easy. I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon last week and he showed me my previous MRI & CT scans and explained that I’m not going to make any recovery as the damage to my central nervous system and spinal cord is too severe. It was very hard to hear that but I had the feeling that this was what he was going to say and had steeled myself for hearing it. Of course I wish I was going to get better, being permanently paralysed down the whole of one side of my body and having permanent severe, and as yet impossible-to-control pain is not what I wanted but living for months and months with wait and see has been very hard. We couldn’t make any plans because there was always that slim chance that I would improve. Now we know it’s not going to happen we can start making adaptations to our home and lifestyle to make things easier. We’ve already made enquiries about a stairlift, which will open up the downstairs of our home to me again (I’ve lived upstairs since June during the hours my husband works as I can’t get up and down stairs on my own). I’m waiting to see a couple of different pain specialists and am hoping they will have a suggestion that hasn’t already being tried for managing my pain. 

I’ve had some real down periods in recent weeks, wondering what was going to happen to me and feeling like I couldn’t cope with the pain and the level of disability anymore but weirdly now I know it’s permanent I feel ready to throw myself into finding any and all ways of making life better and easier. I think not knowing is often harder than having to face the reality head on.

I’m hoping that once we start to get the changes made in our home and we find ways of making life easier that I will begin to have more energy to concentrate again so I can get back to reading every spare second and writing lots of blog posts again. Reading is such a big part of who I am that I feel so lost when my reading mojo disappears, I just need to get through this next stage of changes and I feel sure it will come back though.

Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me while my blogging has been so sporadic, it really means a lot to me that you’re still here and reading the few things that I am able to post.


How was your February? Has it been a book-filled month for you? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or to leave a link to your own February Wrap-Up post.

 

Review: Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

 

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

 

So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.

When Leah Oliphant Brotheridge and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Ruth Oliphant Brotheridge, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?

Viral is a very modern thriller, and a cautionary tale for the social media age we now live in. I think that for teenagers and young adults today it must be so tough growing up in the social media age, where everything that you do and everything that happens is posted online instantly. This novel is an extreme example of what can happen to young women when they let their guard down and someone takes advantage in more way than one by filming the situation.

Su-Jin is the adopted daughter of Ruth and Bernie; she is the apple of her mother’s eye as she is very academic, and has recently been accepted to a top university to study medicine. Su’s sister Leah has always been jealous of Su seemingly due to all the attention that she gets from their mother. However, when Su and Leah go on holiday to Magaluf life begins to unravel for Su.

The opening line of this book is shocking; it actually made me pause for a second to wonder what kind of book I was reading! The shock factor really works though because it gets the reader into the mindset of the shock that Su feels on not only what happened to her, but how it’s gone viral so quickly. It seems like the whole world is watching the distressing video of Su in the nightclub.

Over the course of the book we get to see things from different points of view and the picture is gradually filled in about what happened leading up the video being filmed. I was quite sure from the beginning that Leah had had a huge part to play in the horrible incident but actually my views on her changed as the book went on because we get to understand more about why she is the way she is.

The way Ruth behaves is possibly the most shocking thing in the book because it is as if she has lost her mind in the way she decides to avenge what happened to her daughter. There is an element of black humour running through some of her sections of the novel, which simultaneously lighten the book, and make what she’s doing seem so much worse.

As the book neared its end, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would all end but I never figured out how it was going to turn out. I love that it kept me in the dark until I actually read the final scenes. It all gets tied up so brilliantly.

I did find some of the things that happened in this book a little hard to believe at times but once I suspended my disbelief I raced through the book. It’s very fast-paced and hard to put down.

The novel is such a brilliant mix of seediness, black humour and revenge. I rated it 4 out of 5.

Viral is out now and available from Amazon.

Many thanks to Sophie at Faber and Faber who sent me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour | Review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Chimes PB cover

 

My Review

The Chimes is set in a dystopian future where the written word is banned, and the people are unable to form new memories or retain old ones. The population are controlled by The Order who are using the Carillon to play Chimes to make people forget: ‘In the time of dischord, sound is corrupt. Each one wants the melody; No one knows their part’. The people have learnt to communicate through memorised music and some try to remember by linking their memories with objects that they carry with them. Simon arrives in London with a bag of objectmemories but he soon loses his memory for why he is there and what he was searching for. He meets a group of people called Five Rover and begins to discover that he has a secret gift that could change everything.

It’s a fascinating concept in this novel that music is being used to control the people but at the same time people are finding ways to use music to communicate and to memorise where places are and who their group is so that they can function in their lives. As soon as I first read the synopsis of this book I knew I was going to adore it, and I was absolutely right.

From the very first chapter of this novel I was utterly captivated; the descriptions are so lyrical and poetic and very beautiful, I would have kept reading just on this basis alone but the story is completely wonderful too. I could feel Simon’s longing to know about his past, and his wanting to understand what was happening to him, emanating off the page.

The use of language is incredible. Smaill uses words that sounds like our language – prentiss for apprentice etc but also other words that I initially thought were made up but when I looked them up in the dictionary a lot of them are actual musical terms. I loved that it all made sense and yet left me feeling a little discombobulated at times when I wasn’t sure what these words meant, it gave me a sense of how the characters in this world must feel. I would highly recommend looking up some of the words you might not have heard of before, I learnt new things from this novel that heightened my understanding and love of the book.

I loved the word play throughout this book too. The characters are always searching for mettle for the Pale Lady (palladium); obviously the Palladium is a famous London building, and also a metal resembling platinum. I also enjoyed the references to childhood nursery rhymes like London Bridge is Falling Down; this was used so cleverly through the novel.

The world-building in this novel is excellent. We are thrown into the world Simon inhabits immediately on the first page but because it references famous places in London, albeit in a new context, it helps the reader orientate themselves very quickly. I could envision the Carillon so clearly and when Simon and Lucien set off together to find out more I felt like I was with them on their journey.

The idea of The Order burning books and some of the people trying to preserve texts (or code as it is in this novel) really appealed to me and it reminded me a little of one of my favourite books, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which is also set in a dystopian future where books are banned but a disparate group of people eventually find each other and find a way to keep their stories alive despite the fact that the powers that be are trying to suppress them. ‘Burnt books, burnt words. Memories that move in flames through the night sky’. There is something so moving in this line (and so many others in the novel), and it left me feeling uplifted knowing that people will always find a way to hold on to their stories, and those of others and society as a whole.

This novel really explores the idea of memory, of how and why we want to hold on to what has happened to us, and to wider society. Even though this is a dystopian future, I could really identify with the characters who were trying to hold on to their memories. I think we all carry an equivalent of a memory bag with us through life – there are certain belongings that we’d never be persuaded to part with because they are linked to times of our lives that were important. I felt such a connection with Simon for this reason and could feel his heart break when he had to hand them over in order to more forwards. I think the vast majority of us have treasured possessions that are kept because they bring memories of times past to the forefront of  our minds in a way that just thinking alone doesn’t always do. So much that happens in this dystopian novel is grounded in a reality that we all know; these characters feel how we do and that is why it’s so easy to fall in love with this novel.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough, it’s just so incredible. It’s going to be getting a place on my favourite books of all-time shelf (on my blog and in reality) and I don’t put books on there very often, they have to be very special to merit their place. I know the story in this novel will stay with me for a long time to come and that this will be a book that I will re-read again and again.

I rate it 5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Ruby at Sceptre for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The Chimes is out now in paperback and available from all good book shops.

 

Synopsis

Anna Smaill has created a world where music has replaced the written word and memories are carried as physical objects.  Memory itself is forbidden by the Order, whose vast musical instrument, the Carillon, renders the population amnesiac.  The Chimes opens in a reimagined London and introduces Simon, an orphaned young man who discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever. Slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember – to wake up.  He and his friend Lucien will eventually travel to the Order’s stronghold in Oxford, where they learn that nothing they ever believed about their world is true.

The Chimes is a mind-expanding, startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.  A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthral and inspire.  It was published in hardback in 2015 to critical acclaim and much rapture.

 

About the Author

Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill, 34, left formal musical training to pursue poetry and in 2001 began an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) at Victoria University of Wellington. Her first book of poetry, The Violinist in Spring, was published by Victoria University Press in 2005. She lived in London for seven years where she completed a PhD at UCL with Mark Ford and lectured in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter, and supervises MA students in Creative Writing for the IIML.

 

 


 

Look out for the rest of the blog tour:

chimes_twitter_post

Review: Survival of the Caregiver by Janice Hucknall Snyder

Survival of the Caregiver

I spotted this book on Net Galley a while ago and it jumped out at me as a must read. I have been a carer for a terminally ill family member and at the time I didn’t know were to turn for help and I was offered very little support. Since that time I’ve remained interested in books of this type because friends often come to me for advice now and I like to know which books are worth recommending.

This book is set out in an A-Z format with advice and tips on how to help your loved one, and how to make time for yourself as a carer.  Janice writes about all the practical things you need to know, but also about how to take care of you, and the person you care for, emotionally as well as physically. This guide is like having a really good friend, who has experienced all that you’re now experiencing, by your side helping you though. It’s a practical guide that offers real reassurance. Survival of a Caregiver is a no-holds barred book, Janice doesn’t shy away from any topic, which is what makes this such an invaluable resource.

Survival of the Caregiver is an American book, although it is available in the UK on Amazon, so some of the sections on medical insurance and hospice care are different in the UK. Otherwise all of Janice’s advice is universal and is sure to be invaluable to carers worldwide.

Janice cared for her husband who had multiple medical problems and although she refers to his disease and what they went through, she does always widen out the advice so it’s really applicable to people caring for someone with any disease. The fact that she refers to her own life made me feel like I was in the hands of someone who knew what they were talking about because she has also lived through it.

I think this book would also be useful for people who have a family member or close friend who is a carer because it really highlights how much strain carers can be under and how sometimes they need you to offer to give them a break, even for an hour, so they can do some shopping or have a shower etc. I don’t think society in general has any idea of how much strain some carers are under.  I know that had this book have been out when I was a carer that I would have found it useful. I literally didn’t leave my mum’s side for seven months; I didn’t know that it was okay for me to ask for help or to ask for a break and I know that my case is far from unique.

Survival of the Caregiver is an great resource that can be read from beginning to end and then easily dipped in to as and when the information needs to be referred back to. I recommend this book to carers but also to family and close friends of carers.

I rate it 4 out of 5.

Survival of the Caregiver will be published in the UK on 15th January 2016 by MSI Press and is available from Amazon. I received a review copy from the publisher via Net Galley.

*EDIT 17th February*

There is now a website linked to this book with further information, please check out the link here: Survival of the Caregiver

Review: The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

I loved Alex Marwood’s previous novels, particularly The Wicked Girls, so I was thrilled to win a copy of The Darkest Secret last month. This is the first novel I’ve read in 2016 and what a way to start a new year… all the other books I read this year now have a lot to live up to!

The Darkest Secret is a dark and, at times, very claustrophobic novel about the secrets a group of friends keep. The novel is told over two weekends – one in 2004 and one in the present day. Over the course of a summer bank holiday weekend in 2004, a group of friends gather for Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday and by the end of the weekend his daughter is dead. In the present day, Sean has been found dead and some of his remaining children and all of his old friends from that holiday weekend gather together for his funeral.

This novel is brilliant; it’s a real character-led novel, with multiple narrators – all of whom seem very unreliable and most of them are deeply unlikeable. The way these adults behave and the things they do is vile and selfish, but it’s such a compelling novel that although you at times want to look away, you just can’t. I enjoy novels where I don’t like the characters because it takes you completely away from anything you know as in real life as you would never associate with people you hate; I also love unreliable narrators as they add to the unsettling atmosphere in a novel.

This novel isn’t so much about trying to work out whodunit, it’s more a novel of how people behave and why they did the things they did. For me, it was refreshing because this novel wasn’t trying to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller; it is, as Alex Marwood’s novels tend to be, a very disturbing look at the levels people will go to in order to get what they want or to cover up what they’ve done, and it’s brilliantly written.

Maria Gavilla was the most unnerving character for me. The way she coldly and calmly stage-managed all of her friends throughout the novel; she was always at the centre almost conducting events to suit her own ends. Maria appears friendly and caring but everything she does is in her own interest. I found it strange how she worried about her step-daughter Simone attracting the attention of the leery member of their group of friends and yet everyone else, including Simone’s peers, knew that she had a crush on Sean and yet Maria never said a word about that. There was something monstrous about her; I felt very disturbed by her.

Sean’s daughter, Mila, from his first marriage, and Ruby, from his second (twin to the missing Coco) are the only likeable characters in the book, but the damage done to them is telling. Mila doesn’t get close to people, and Ruby is kept a virtual prisoner by her overprotective mother. The redeeming aspect of this novel, although in no way due to the adults, who remain despicable, is that it felt like these two half-sisters had begun to form a relationship with each other that would last, I like to think that they would begin to heal from the damage together over time.

The Darkest Secret is incredibly intense, and the level of horror at the way these people behave just keeps being ramped up as the novel goes on. I couldn’t put this book down and I highly recommend it.

I rated this novel 5 out of 5.

I received a copy of this book from Little Brown via Net Galley and also won a proof print book from Sphere.

The Darkest Secret is out now in ebook, and is out in print on 7th January. Available from Amazon.