Monday, 28 November 2011

Before I go to sleep SJ Watson

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Christine wakes up in a strange bed next to a man she can't remember seeing before, as she's only a young woman she thinks she must have had a skinful and ended up so drunk she's ended up in bed with a stranger and is having a blackout. Until she gets up, makes her way to the bathroom and sees a middle aged woman in the mirror instead of the 20 something face she is expecting ...

Welcome to the twilight world of amnesiac Christine to whom every day, waking up brings shocks and confusion. Almost 20 years of her life have been wiped from her memory following a traumatic event she can't even recall - and to make things worse, she's unable to retain any new memories, as what happens to her every new day is completely blotted out as soon as she goes to sleep and on awakening the mystery and puzzlement begin all over again.

This was a very unique and gripping thriller, the author has put a lot of thought into it and managed to keep introducing twists and raising unexpected gasps from me.

I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological chillers that keep you guessing.

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Black Swan rising - Lee Carroll

Black Swan Rising (Black Swan Rising #1)Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I read this book as part of the Transworld book club reading challenge 2011.

I picked this title even though its not normally a genre I'd choose, as I thought it would be more of a challenge than reading 4 books I'd have chosen anyway. Hmm maybe that was a big mistake.

I guess this is what you'd call "urban fantasy" Its about a young woman who lives in New York, designs and makes jewellery for a living (I thought that might give me some common ground as I make jewellery) Her mother died when she was young and her elderly father has got them into debt with some unwise art dealing. She comes across a strange shop where the owner knows of her work and asks her to help open a jewellery box which has been sealed shut.

She later returns home to discover her father has been shot during a robbery. Then weird things begin to happen beginning with her being attacked by a Manticore and rescued by a vampire ....

It goes rapidly downhill from here stretching even my vivid imagination way too far. I found the characters 2 dimensional the dialogue wooden, the coincidences beyond belief and the supernatural element - just plain bonkers as though the authors sole intent was to cram as many mythical creatures in together without any real thought for a credible storyline.

I'm not anti fairy tales - Stardust was one of my favourite reads of all time and young adult fantasy is great when its well done, The Hunger Games and Lirael are amazing books which I adored.

But I'm afraid I fail to see any merit in this turgid, banal story with a heroine who made me want to slap her.

Sorry Transworld that I can't put a more positive spin on this book as I loved the first 2 I read for this challenge, I'm sure there are hundreds of urban fantasy fans who will relish this, its just a challenge too far for me though.



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Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Hangman in the mirror by Kate Cayley

The Hangman in the MirrorThe Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read this book courtesy of Netgalley. I found it an enjoyable and fast paced read, nice and atmospheric and all the more enjoyable for being based on true facts. However it has some flaws too.



It would probably appeal to young adult readers as our heroine is feisty 15 year old Francoise, who lives in poverty in the mid 18th century in Montreal where French settlers struggle to make an honest living.



Francoise in the only surviving child of feckless parents, her ex-soldier father with a love for gambling (but little talent for winning) and her slatternly laundress mother with a fondness for a drop too much alcohol.



The young woman is keen to better herself but unprepared by her parents sees little opportunity to make something of herself, until tragedy strikes and leaves her orphaned and penniless. Deciding to use her wits and her love of words and stories to escape drudgery she manages to become a ladies maid but things still don't go smoothly and she ends up in a worse pickle than she starts in.



This is a nicely written tale but my main gripe is that the main description given by the publishers virtually tell the whole story, as does the title, the part where she has to try and marry the hangman is practically at the end of the book and knowing about it in advance kind of spoilt the story for me. It left little to discover and no mystery. I would have preferred to have been given less information beforehand.



It is extremely predictable too and the only thing which is built up as a kind of mystery is the identity of the would be hangman which is so obvious its almost laughable.



Nevertheless its a nice enough read and pretty well written, reminiscent of books by Mary Hooper, Melanie Gifford and perhaps Libba Bray.







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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Jamrach's Menagerie Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jaffy's adventures. At the beginning of this book I felt it was possibly going to be more of a young adult novel but as it progresses it most definitely isn't. I was a tad disappointed that the story doesn't concentrate more on the animals than it does and was hoping for a water for elephants Water for Elephants kind of feel but was very wrong.

Its a very atmospheric historical story about a young lad living in poverty in the London slums of the mid 19th century who comes across a tiger escaped from a local menagerie, which leads to his gaining employment with the animal keepre and meeting a whole new set of friends which set his life on a different course.

Together with his best friend Tim he sets off to sea on a whaling ship with hopes of capturing a fabled dragon creature from a south sea island. The main essence of the story centres around events at sea and the affect it has on his life. Gory and gritty many shocks are contained in this part, yet what could be a boring tale is kept vibrant and exciting by the superb writing and I was captivated from start to finish.



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Teacher, teacher by Jack Sheffield

Teacher, Teacher!Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Sheffield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I read this book as part of the Transworld book group reading challenge 2011. Whildt the first 2 books I read for this challenge justified a full 5 stars and I completely loved them this one failed to impress quite as much and didn't entertain or amuse me as much as I'd anticipated.



It's the memoirs of a newly appointed head teacher in the 1970s in rural North Yorkshire, a place not far from where I hail and with which I am familiar and set in an era which I recall well.



Written in similar vein to the books by James Herriot with nuances of the vicar of Dibley. It's really just a series of short stories strung together and I was quite disappointed in the way he concentrates on the parents and staff more than the pupils and found he seems quite condescending to the locals, tarring them all with a country yokel brush. I didn't really warm to him and even found it pretty annoying the way he'd be telling a story and suddenly mention what was playing on the radio or news so as to give a sense of the period which seemed very contrived.



The writing didn't flow very well and I won't be reading any more by this author, however there are a few redeeming moments which had me smiling.



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Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Secrets Between us - Louise Douglas

The Secrets Between UsThe Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was overjoyed to receive this book to review as part of the Transworld book group reading challenge, as I loved the authors previous book The Love of My Life



This one didn't disappoint even though its quite different to the other one by her I've read, although both are undeniably romantic "The secrets between us" is more of a psychological thriller with a little shiver of spookiness.

Sarah heads off to Sicily to lick her wounds after her partners infidelity brings a long term relationship to a bitter end whilst she is still grieving over the death of her baby through a painful stillbirth.

Recent events having left her vulnerable and uncertain about her future, it seems like a dream come true to be almost swept off her feet by debonair Alexander and his adorable little boy Jamie. They seem to be in a similar situation, Alex's wife Genevieve having recently left them and in the balmy Sicilian sun it doesn't seem unreasonable to Sarah to be asked to move in with hunky Alex, albeit as his housekeeper.

Friends and family think she's crazy to accept and soon Sarah begins to wonder whether they might be right, things in the rambling old house in a rural village are far from what this city girl is used to and not quite as she hoped. There is an air of brooding menace which languidly taunts the reader and makes this a real page turner.

Sensationally well written although it seems to proceed at a gentle pace, each twist and turn are unexpected and the menace builds to a great ending.

Louise Douglas is definitely a name to watch out for and I think would be enjoyed by lovers of authors such as Diane Chamberlain and Rosamund Lupton

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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

AfterwardsAfterwards by Rosamund Lupton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The author took a big risk with the concept of this book - a novel narrated by the spirit of a woman in a coma, whose astral body wanders at will around the hospital in which she lies accompanied by the spirit if her daughter with whom she can converse. I had a few niggling doubts right at the start as to whether it would work - however it did and in style, the authors skilled accomplished writing saw to that.

Grace is Mum to teenage Jenny and 8 year old Addie. At the beginning of the book Grace and Jenny both lie in deep unconsciousness in hospital following a harrowing experience in a fire at the school Addie attends, where 16 year old Jenny is a trainee teaching assistant.

When Grace becomes aware that she is experiencing an out of body experience in the hospital, she starts to examine events surrounding the fire which has left her in a coma and Jenny badly injured and soon comes to the conclusion that it was arson. Who started it? This is the question Grace is desperate to find the answer to for whoever started this terrible fire may also have wanted Jenny dead.

We are introduced to some very real characters and as Grace follows investigations, coming to her own conclusions and speaking throughout, unheard to her husband we are taken on a real switchback ride, until we no longer know who can be trusted and suspect the likely and far less likely culprits in turn.

I found the story a touch confusing especially when Grace keeps addressing her thoughts to her husband and I had to suspend disbelief in the slightly supernatural element, the whys and wherefores of which are glossed over and you just have to accept that its the way things happen in this book. However the unputdownableness of this page turner and its many red herrings which are gradually revealed like layers of an onion being peeled make it a hugely enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Its a hugely emotional novel, focussing strongly on the depth of love surviving beyond consciousness and I can guarantee if you don't shed a tear by the end you have a heart of stone.

I'd highly recommend it to anyone who liked books like The Lovely Bones

and Her Fearful Symmetryand of course Rosamund Luptons previous, debut novel the excellent Sister.

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Monday, 15 August 2011

The Sandalwood tree - Elle Newmark

The Sandalwood Tree: A NovelThe Sandalwood Tree: A Novel by Elle Newmark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I'm reviewing this book as part of the Transworld reading challenge 2011.



I'm so glad I signed up for this reading group challenge as this is a book I might have missed otherwise and what a shame that would have been. I often shy away from historical fiction set in India as its not a period I'm familiar with or particularly drawn to, however this book is so well written and accesible it feeds you a little of the history and feel of India in two periods in the past, the mid 1900s and the mid 1800s.

Beginning in 1947 when British colonization is coming to a tense end and the days of the Raj are crumbling, the story is narrated by Evie who is travelling hopefully from America to India with her husband Martin and their small boy Billy. Whilst she settles into their new home and tries to adapt to a new way of life, resisting becoming an Ex-pat Memsahib, Martin becomes increasing more remote as he becomes absorbed in his research work into Indian politics. Recently returned from active service in WW2 he seems changed and troubled but will not share his concerns with Evie.

In their rented bungalow in the foothills of the Himalayas Evie discovers some letters from almost a century earlier and becomes immersed in her own research, trying to find out what happened to the unconventional characters mentioned in the letters.

All around her whirls the vibrant life of colonial India at a time of huge unrest and the descriptions are detailed and tangible, her marriage is unfurling and she struggles to find a niche in society for herself whilst loving the beauty of India and being terrified by its poverty and troubles. The book is compelling, informative, interesting and a joy to read.

It is made event more poignant by the discovery that the talented writer of this book, Elle Newmark passed away recently and this delightful book is both her swansong and tribute to a personal family member.

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Monday, 8 August 2011

Transworld Book group reading challenge


The other day a forum friend on Read it swap it told me about the Transworld reading group book challenge.

It's the chance for book reviewers and bloggers to receive their choice of 4 lovely new titles, in exchnage for reviewing them and displaying the Transworld logo. It sounds great fun and I received my first book today - the Sandalwood tree by Elle Newman. Watch this space for my forthcoming review as soon as I've read it and if you'd like to take part too you can read more about it by clicking on the logo.




Last letter from your lover

Last Letter from Your LoverLast Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another cracking read courtesy of the kind folk at Netgalley.

Possibly my ebook is a slightly different version than that I've seen reviewed on Goodreads as other readers mention it beginning with the modern day story of Ellie, whereas my copy began in the 1960s with Jennifer coming round in hospital and suffering memory loss. I didn't meet Ellie until I'd read a good two thirds of the book.

Nevertheless this was a poignant and compelling love story mainly set as mentioned in the early 1960s when the main heroine Jennifer is recovering from a perturbing car crash which has left her with amnesia. Returning from hospital to her marital home complete with rather cold husband and thrown into a bewildering social whirl with a group of friends she can't recall. Discovering a series of letters addressed to her helps her begin to remember events before the accident and the mystery whilst unravelling, deepens, creating more puzzles for her to solve.

Much later in the book these same letters come to light in the present day where a young newspaper reporter is trying to hold on to a flagging career and rather one sided relationship. Can these letters help her make sense of issues in her own life?

An unashamedly romantic book, with quite a few twists and turns to keep you intrigued - but be warned a large box of hankies is the pre-requisite accessory to this novel.

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Hotel on the corner of Bitter and sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a truly delightful read this book is. I was blown away by its charm and depth.

Here's a description from Amazon:

1986, The Panama Hotel The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during the Second World War. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel, stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his young heart to, so many years ago. With over a million copies sold worldwide, this captivating debut is a story of the sacrifices one boy makes for love and for his country.

My thoughts ... This is a dual time novel set in 1986 and also in 1940s America during are days of prohibition, mistrust and racial tension. The narrator is elderly Henry, looking back on his youth during the second world war. Born of Chinese parents and aged 13 Henry struggles to maintain his racial identity. His best friend is a black sax player until he meets Keiko, but she is Japanese, part of race being persecuted relentlessly by the Americans.

This is a truly sensational historical statement and a beautiful love story peopled by the most well rounded believeable characters - even the secondary characters will stay with me for a long time. There is so much crammed into this lovely book you'd think it would be complicated but its a real page turner and so easy to love I can't recommend it highly enough.

Slightly surprised to discover that the author Jamie Ford is a "Dude" as he calls himself.

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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Accidents of Providence by Stacia M Brown

Accidents of ProvidenceAccidents of Providence by Stacia M. Brown

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I was kindly supplied with this book by Netgalley to review, I've had some great reads through there and discovered some super new authors. What attracted me to read this one was the description which likened it to Fingersmith and The Dress Lodger both books I really loved. The cover looks enticing and the basic principal of the storyline sounds interesting.

I wanted to love this too, I really did - but sadly it missed the mark completely. Its a historical account of an investigation into a dead baby found buried in the 17th century when concealing the death of an illegitimate child was classed as murder.

I failed to engage with the heroine Rachel Lockyear, in fact all the characters were 2 dimensional, the story line is disjointed and dull and the writing style is turgid and difficult to get into. There are a few bald Americanisms thrown into this story supposedly set in 1600s London, and I got absolutely no sense of place or time both of which could have been painted so descriptively.

It was pretty darned awful in every way and the nauseatingly sentimental and lengthy scenes of alleged romance and love failed to stir my passion, leaving me yawning and longing for a mug of cocoa.

I fail to see how anyone could even loosely mention it in the same breath as the 2 aforementioned books to which its compared as there truly is NO comparison.

By the way if you did enjoy Fingersmith and the Dress lodger - and want a good recommendation of something similar let me urge you to try

Slammerkin

I'm so disappointed not to be able to give this a great review and feel sure it will appeal to some readers - just not readers who will be expecting something on the lines of Fingersmith as I was.

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Gallows girl by Melanie Gifford

The Gallows GirlThe Gallows Girl by Melanie Gifford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this so much more than The Spaniard's Daughter which I felt was a light and fluffy regency romance.



This book however is a much darker and deeper tale of revenge, gripping and quite tense, apart from the fact that you have to suspend disbelief in quite a few places as a few of the things she does would have been difficult if not impossible.

Its the story of a young woman, Rachel who has been brought up with her parents and sister in an 18th century coaching inn, and when a new turnpike road is planned which will bypass the Inn and ruin their business a horrific and far reaching chain of events is set in motion which change the course of Rachels life forever.

I felt the descriptions and feel for the era, what it would be like to try and run a coaching inn in those days were evocative and real, the heroine is feisty and flawed and not always likeable.

For me the book bore similarities to Slammerkin and The Book of Fires and although its far from perfect it was a jolly good read for anyone who liked these books.



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Monday, 30 May 2011

The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

The Gallows CurseThe Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Oh my goodness - Wow isn't nearly a good enough superlative for what this author does.



Having LOVED her first 2 books I was a touch nervous starting The Gallows curse in case it didn't live up to my very high expectations ...



But it exceeded them. I just cannot fault this lady's writing, she brings the dark ages to life in the most believeable ways, her use of modern language in conversation heavily peppered with atmospheric curses, makes it even more accessible and easy to read yet the meticulous research and vast amount of facts and folklore she manages to cram in, make you feel you've experienced her stories not just read them.



We follow the story of Elena, a Villein, plucked from village life and called to the manor to perform a simple task which has horrific repercussions in her life and those whose lives touch hers.



Tricked by Raffaele, the main male character, returned from the crusades, bearing guilt and a desire for revenge which taint his life.



In part the story is narrated by a mandrake and is steeped in witchcraft, myth, magic and superstition. To say much more might spoil the spell which will be cast over you when you journey back to the early 13th century and wallow around the marshes of Norfolk.



Fantastic, enjoyable, atmospheric writing. I really battled between picking the book up and cracking on with it as I was desperate to know what happened next and leaving it a while as I so dreaded it coming to an end. Well all good things must come to an end.



If you haven't read anything by Karen Maitland yet please do give her books a try, she is rapidly rising to the very top of my favourite authors list.



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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Don't Breathe a word by Jennifer McMahon

Don't Breathe a WordDon't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It's a sheer pleasure to review this exciting new book kindly provided by Netgalley


QUOTE: From Goodreads;

On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn’t fear the dark and doesn’t have bad dreams—who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam’s hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed—a promise that could destroy them all.



Reading the publishers blurb might lull you into thinking this is a teen fantasy fairy romance - well think again, this is no cozy bedtime tale.

What it is however, is a thrilling, tense, psychological chiller abounding with rollercoaster twists and turns. It grips you by the throat with sharp pointy little teeth and shakes you until you want to scream!

The storyline zips back and forth between the present day where Pheobe and her husband Sam are settling nicely into middle aged married life together and events in their childhoods 15 years earlier where dreadful catastrophes affected them and their families.

Dark family tragedies happened in Sams childhood and in Pheobes too, hardly surprising then, that Sams young sister Lisa wants to believe in the fairies who live at the bottom of the woods.

Then Lisa disappears without trace and the youngsters memories of events are intertwined with fairy stories and a dark mysterious shadow man calling himself Teilo king of the fairies.

However when childhood events begin to have repercussions in the present day the adult Sam and Pheobe are forced to consider whether dark folk tales and the land of fairie might hold the answers, or whether someone wishes them ill and wonder who they can trust.

With multiple twists and turns, lies and promises and secrets reappearing to haunt the couple, never knowing who to trust, sometimes wondering if the Grimmest of fairy tales can come true.

You will begin to wonder if the slight movement you sometimes catch in the corner of your eye is an evil fairy creature and whether childhood nightmares about the bogeyman under the bed aren't so childish after all.

I think this book should appeal to anyone who can suspend a little supernatural disbelief and who enjoys psychological thrillers like

These Things Hidden
or
Sister
I'll certainly be searching out the authors backlist to read.

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Monday, 18 April 2011

Belle by Lesley Pearse

BelleBelle by Lesley Pearse My rating: 4 of 5 stars Theres something very intriguing about the seedier side of Victorian London. Belle is set in a brothel in a rat infested court in Seven dials, London. She is a remarkably innocent young woman considering her upbringing, having been shielded from the activities in the cat house, owned by her mother, where she works below stairs, cared for and protected by Mog, maid of all work. Lifes looking pretty good when Belle meets a new friend, street wise young Johnny, but things are about to take a downwards spiral when she witnesses the brutal murder of one of the prostitutes in the brothel, together with a rude awakeing as to what the trade really involves which has been going on above her head, day and night. All too soon Belle is to experience the degradations of enforced prostitution herself, when she is kidnapped by the murderer and shipped to France to begin a horrific ordeal of captivity and rape. We follow her journey from France to New Orleans and meet the namy characters who shape her life, many cruel and unpleasant, most fascinating and a few kind. This is the first part of a soon to be published trilogy and (as another reader has pinted out, it ends rather abruptly) The author has left the story open enough for us to want to continue reading about Belles life, yet concludes this chaper satisfactorily. A jolly good yarn, with some gritty, quite explicit scenes, I'm delighted to say Ms Pearse is back on form with Belle after having disappointed this reader somewhat with her last offering Stolen View all my reviews

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Runaway wife by Susy McPhee

The Runaway WifeThe Runaway Wife by Susy McPhee My rating: 4 of 5 stars The cover suggests this is light and frothy chick-lit but what you find inside the covers is some really deep and unthinkable subject matter, treated with wry humour. Following a period in Marions life where the worst that can possibly happen has - she has buried her beloved only daughter killed at just 9 years old by a hit and run driver. Marion wants to die too, her life is no longer worth living and we begin the book as she prepares for her suicide attempt. But things go from bad to worse, when on her way to the chemist to collect her prescription for the anti depressants which are her way out of this life and offer a freedom from the pain of loss, a mugger attacks her with a knife offering her an alternative way of dying ... This misfires and we see Marion thwarted in her suicide bid lurch from crisis to crisis, trying to come to terms with her loss, apportioning blame to others and herself until it seems as though there will never be any light at the end of her tunnel and she is on a course to self destruct regardless. This book is about finding the strength to cope and getting through the worst times in your life, and there is a thread of humour which runs through it in some of the things which happen, and things our heroine says and thinks which will have you laughing into the already soggy tissues. I enjoyed this book enormously its very compassionately written and extremely real. I love that its set in Yorkshire - mostly Harrogate, which I am familiar with. I think it will appeal to anyone who enjoyed One Moment, One Morning View all my reviews

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Midwifes confession by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife's Confession (MIRA)The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was fortunate to receive a pre publication copy of this wonderful book to review from Netgalley

In this page turner of a book we are drawn into the lives of three friends, Noelle the Midwife of the title, Tara recently widowed and battling to gain a closeness with her Teenage daughter Grace, and Emerson, mother of Graces closest friend Jennifer.

The three women have been devoted friends since college and secrets gradually being revealed threaten to blow apart their friendship and loyalty. Its a powerful look at womens friendship, relationships and secrtes and the dangers of keeping things hidden.

There are quite a lot of characters to get to grips with but they are all beautifully constructed and the book jumps about in time back and forth from the present day to the womens past, however the author does this so seamlessly the story flows deliciously and makes you want to keep on reading.

It leaves you wondering how an author can convey such strong emotions with mere words, and create so many twists and turns throughout the book that the storyline never ceases to surprise.

This is just the second book I've read by this author but it won't be the last I will be working my way through her back catalogue and awaiting more titles.

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