Review: Looker by Laura Sims | @ljsims50 @annecater #RandomThingsTours

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About the Book

The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like.

The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night.

There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?

 

My Thoughts

Looker is an incisive portrayal of a woman who becomes fixated on an actress who lives across the street from her. She sees in her everything she needs to make herself happy and she wants to be closer to that life!

I loved this book from the very beginning. I really enjoy books where we’re in the protagonist’s head for the duration of the novel. The Professor was successful at work, she was married to a man she loved and they were trying for a baby. She was on the cusp of having everything she wanted but then she miscarries and her fertility journey becomes fraught and heartbreaking. She closes herself off and then her husband leaves her. The book begins at this point but we get bits of her back story as we start to fill in the pieces to really get who this person is.

She obsesses over the actress. She watches her, she watches her home and she sometimes drifts off into fantasies about what might happen if she met her or her husband. The actress leaves unwanted things outside her house and the Professor squirrels these things away into the empty spare room of her apartment.

I began to feel that perhaps the Professor’s obsession with filling up her spare room was really her trying to fill her very empty life, and perhaps her empty uterus. She clearly has psychological problems, and really who wouldn’t after all the pain and heartbreak she has endured. The obsession with the actress is taking things to another level though and yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She’s clearly lonely and has fixated on the actress as she believes she has a perfect, happy life. The Professor isn’t a particularly likeable character but she’s sympathetic at the same time. I very much appreciated that Laura Sims doesn’t go down a predictable route of the bitter woman who can’t get pregnant, instead it’s an incredible exploration of what happens when everything you wanted is slowly stripped from you and you’re left with no one and nothing left to lose.

Looker is a novel that creeps up on you. I was enthralled from the start but I gradually felt more and more uneasy about how the protagonist was behaving to the point that I was completely on edge because you just know something is going to happen. You can’t work out what or when or where but you know it’s coming. I thought when I picked up this book that it was going to go a particular way and I was so glad that it didn’t, instead Laura Sims keeps you wondering and that makes it so much more unnerving than if the Professor behaved in the way you believed she would!

This isn’t a full-on fast-paced psychological thriller and yet it’s a book that’s to be devoured in one sitting. It’s a psychological study of a character and the thriller element is knowing that she may only have developed her obsessive nature because of what she’s been through, and that means she could easily be you or someone you know!

I have to mention how perfect the title of this book is. It obviously refers to the protagonist and her obsessive watching of the actress, but the more of the novel I read the most I began to get a sense that I was the looker, that I was also intruding into the professor’s life and wanting to know more and more about her. It’s an uncomfortable realisation to suddenly feel for a moment that you might just understand the obsession, the wanting and needing to know about someone else’s life!

Looker is a brilliant, incisive and disturbing psychological novel and I loved it! I couldn’t put it down, and even now I’ve finished reading I keep thinking about it. I already want to go back and read it all again. I highly recommend this one!

Many thanks to the Tinder Press for my copy of this book and to Anne of Random Things Tours for my blog tour invitation. All thoughts are my own.

Looker is out now in ebook and available here. It’s due to be published in paperback on 25th July and can be pre-ordered at the same link.

 

About the Author

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Laura Sims is the author of four books of poetry, and LOOKER is her debut novel. She lives in Brooklyn.

 

 

You can find the rest of this tour at the following blogs:

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#BookReview: The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden | @LumsdenRich @TinderPress #RandomThingsTours @annecater #BillyBinns

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About the Book

At well over a hundred years old, Billy Binns believes he’s the oldest man in Europe and knows his days are numbered. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time.

As he looks back at the relationships that have coloured his life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a lifetime of hope and heartbreak.

This is the story of an ordinary man’s life, an enchanting novel which takes you on an epic yet intimate journey that will make you laugh, cry, and reflect on the universal turmoil of love.

 

My Thoughts

The Six Loves of Billy Binns is the story of 117 year old Billy as he begins to look back over his life, and the people he’s loved over the years. His life is nearing its end and he wonders whether he can truly remember the feeling of being in love one more time.

This novel is beautiful! I was immediately taken from the opening of the novel when Billy lists who his loves have been and a little about them. I really wanted to know more about these people and from that moment on I barely put the book down!

I loved the way that major events are touched upon in this novel as we move throughout Billy’s Life, it really brings it home just how old he is and how much life he has lived.

The loves in Billy’s life are often fleeting, and some – one in particular was heartbreaking – I had to put the book down for a moment while I composed myself as it did make me cry. There’s a real delicateness to the writing at times that really makes you pause, it’s stunning. It’s apparent that some of the difficult times in Billy’s life are things he has brought on himself but at the same time there’s an awareness that we were all young once and did silly things. He never meant the pain he sometimes caused to others.

Billy’s memories are interspersed with his life now in the old people’s home, and you can see how muddled he gets. He’s not always sure what is now and what was then, and he remembers things differently at different times. I found it really emotional seeing how Billy had clearly imagined other outcomes to get himself through the really difficult periods in his life, and now as an old man he muddles his real memories with the imagined stories. It was heartbreaking when I found myself smiling at a happy memory and then later realising what had actually happened, but in the end there was real solace in the fact that Billy remembered the imagined happy outcome over the most tragic loss. It was as if his forgetfulness was protecting him in the end, I found that so comforting.

I read this novel around the anniversary of my mum’s death and was worried it might be too much for me but actually it was a really good book to read. My mum never got to be even half Billy’s age but she had her share of heartbreak, and it makes me so sad to think of the loneliness she suffered from being divorced in the last years of her life. There was solace in reading Billy’s story though and the sense that in the end there is peace with who we are and how we ended up where we are.

I was expecting this novel to be a love story and it was, just not the way I was expecting. It was a very real story of love – it shows true love in all its complicated and messy ways. The person Billy loved the most was part of the relationship he messed up the most but the love he had for that person never wavered over the years. That is so true of how life can be. Even when you find the one it’s not always smooth sailing. I loved Billy’s ability to keep going though – even when things go wrong and he’s on his own dealing with loss and heartbreak he isn’t afraid to try again, to look for someone new.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns is a story of resilience; of finding a way to go on after the worst has happened. It’s a wonderful look at a very human man – one who has made mistakes but has learnt lessons from the people he’s loved and lost along the way. There is real beauty in this book and I adored it!

Many thanks to Anne of RandomThingsTours and Tinder Press for my copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns is out now and available here.

 

About the Author

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Richard Lumsden has worked as an actor, writer and composer in television, film and theatre for 30 years. As an actor his films include Downhill, Sightseers, Sense & Sensibilityand The Darkest Hour, as well as numerous television shows and theatre productions. THE SIX LOVES OF BILLY BINNS is his first novel.

 

 

 

You can find the rest of this tour at the following stops:

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#BookReview: The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola | @Anna_Mazz @TinderPress @annecater

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About the Book

From the author of The Unseeing comes a sizzling period novel of folktales, disappearances and injustice set on the Isle of Skye, sure to appeal to readers of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites or Beth Underdown’s The Witch Finder’s Sister.

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach, and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother many years before.

 

My Thoughts

Audrey Hart is a young woman who has left London to travel to Skye to work collecting folk tales from the local area. Her late mother had also been interested in folklore and had traveled to areas nearby so she is also wanting to know more about her. She moves in with Mrs Buchanan, the lady who she’ll be collecting the tales for, and begins to settle in. Soon after her arrival she finds a body on the beach and from this point on real life begins to blur with the folklore for Audrey.

The Story Keeper is a fantastic novel. The writing is wonderful and so atmospheric. I felt the oppressive atmosphere in a small place where people are very insular and don’t want to share their lives and their stories with incomers.

Audrey is a great character. I was in awe of her travelling from London to Skye on her own in a time when this would have been a scary and courageous thing for a young woman to do alone. I felt for her at the lack of a mother in her life, I know what it’s like to lose your mum and could see how lost she was and how at the root of everything she was looking to find a sense of her mum somewhere. As Audrey began to get more and more drawn into the folklore and to see some of the happenings that the islanders spoke about I was really hoping that she was going to be okay. I was rooting for her to be able to make a home and a life, and to feel settled again.

There is so much mystery in this novel and I loved how it was possible to find yourself believing that there must be something in the folklore as the horrible things happening on the island were so similar to the stories, whilst at the same time the rational side of your brain is thinking that there must be another reason for the coincidences and odd happenings.

I got so absorbed in this novel and felt really jolted when real life brought me back to where I was. It’s not often that a novel captures me to that degree and it was wonderful to be so enthralled. The Story keeper is a brilliant, atmospheric and utterly gripping novel and I highly recommend it!

Many thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours and the publisher for my copy of The Story Keeper and the invitation to be on the blog tour. All thoughts are my own.

The Story Keeper is out now in hardback and ebook, and can be pre-ordered in paperback here.

 

About the Author

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Anna is a writer who, due to some fault of her parents, is drawn to peculiar and dark historical subjects. Her novels, which have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime, explore the psychological and social impact of crime and injustice. Anna’s influences include Sarah Waters, Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood.

 

You can follow the rest of this tour at the following blogs:

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#BookReview: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt @TinderPress @PublicityBooks @IKillNovel

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About the Book

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

 

My Thoughts

I was beyond thrilled when I won a copy of See What I Have Done in a giveaway on twitter around Christmas-time. I read the book in a couple of sittings soon after it arrived but have held off posting my review until now so as to be closer to the release date.

This book is incredible. I knew a little about Lizzie Borden before reading the novel but this book really brought the case to life. The novel is told from the perspective of multiple narrators, who each add another layer to the story. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion – it opens with the murders having occurred and then goes back and forth from the days preceding the murders to the day of, and then the time that follows. I love the layering, the way each chapter adds a little more knowledge, and sometimes more questions, about the motivations of the characters.

I think the character I most cared about was Bridget – the maid who had travelled from Ireland to make a better life for herself and ended up in this cold and slightly strange family. Lizzie is the most memorable of characters though – she is never likeable, her manipulative side shows through from the start and she doesn’t seem to care who she tramples over to get what she wants. I was intrigued by her though. Sometimes it felt that Lizzie was much younger than the grown woman she was, but then there were flashes of a really calculating streak that showed her for the woman she was. Knowing from the start that it is she who is suspected of killing her father and step-mother with an axe, I was paying close attention to how she behaved before and after the killings.

The murders are gruesome and utterly horrific. It seemed impossible that a young woman could have physically done this to the large man her father was and yet her character traits made it seem absolutely possible. It made me uncomfortable that I believed it of her because of her being such a cold character, but then taking a step back it seemed she was the most likely culprit.

There are other suspects in the novel, and it seems likely that at least one of them is a plausible suspect. It’s strange that a man who is something of a wrong-un, who is asked to go to the house on the night of the murders by the Uncle of Lizzie and her older sister Emma, felt less likely to have done it than Lizzie.

The detail in the writing is stunning and so evocative – I swear I could smell the mutton broth on the stove in the kitchen as I was reading, and I felt like I could taste the pears from the trees in the garden. The stomach upset the family were suffering from was described in such a way that I ended up feeling very queasy as I was reading. There is a really stifling atmosphere around this house, it made me feel really claustrophobic and like the air in the room was pushing down on me at times and yet I still couldn’t stop reading. I love when the writing in a novel is so brilliant that it keeps you hooked even when you can hardly bear to read the unsettling, uncomfortable descriptions on the page.

I finished reading this book months ago now and yet it remains so vivid in my mind. I still think of the characters and what happened, it’s one of those books that really gets under your skin. I’m certain that this will be in my top ten books of this year – a book that makes you think, and one you can’t forget simply has to be up there in the best of the year list. I highly recommend this book. It’s due to be published on 2 May and you can pre-order it now.

I won a copy of this novel in a Twitter giveaway and have chosen to review it. All thoughts are my own.

The gorgeous proof copy that I was lucky enough to win has an interactive cover just like the one in this video: See What I Have Done blippar I’ll be buying a finished copy of the book but this is a proof that I will also be keeping in my my collection.

 

About the Author

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After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional writing and editing), a Master of Arts (Creative Writing), and a Graduate Diploma of Information Management, Sarah currently works as a Reading & Literacy Coordinator (read: a fancy librarian) at a regional public library.

See What I Have Done is her first novel.

(Bio and author photo taken from here)