Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ghostwritten - Isabel Wolff

From the publishers blurb ....

A childhood mistake. A lifetime of regrets.

Jenni is a ‘ghost’: she writes the lives of other people. It’s a job that suits her well: still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others rather than dwell on her own.

Jenni has an exciting new commission, and is delighted to start working on the memoirs of a Dutchwoman, Klara. As a child in the Second World War, Klara was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation – she has an extraordinary story of survival to tell.

But as Jenni and Klara begin to get to know each other, Jenni begins to do much more than shed light on a neglected part of history. She is being forced to examine her own devastating memories, too. But with Klara’s help, perhaps this is finally the moment where she will be able to lay the ghosts of her own past to rest?

Isabel Wolff - you made me cry myself to sleep!! What a moving and haunting account of how two women's lives are moulded by tragedy and loss.

I received a copy of this book to review, not knowing a great deal about it apart from the beautiful cover and the blurb above, and am delighted to say it really blew me away. Firstly, it's written in one of my favourite styles - a dual time story where there are 2 parallel stories one in modern day and one in the past which are very closely and cleverly interlinked by the character Jenni, the eponymous ghostwriter (OK the author has something to do with the expertise too)

In fact, its almost a triple time story as we begin it with a short section set around 20 years before the modern day story where children are playing on a beach and one tragedy begins to unfold before our eyes, although the full details are only revealed bit by bit throughout the book.

The parallel storylines are those of Jenni who ghostwrites books for people who have a story to tell, but no skill in writing, she can transcribe other peoples work but has little desire to write or even think about her own experiences and doesn't want her name in lights, she is quite a shy character, somewhat lacking in confidence although she is quite strong in her own way and I warmed to her, gently. She is commissioned to write the memoirs of an elderly lady Klara who has never before told even her own family, fully about her past when as a child she was incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Java, now Indonesia. 

Jenni has accepted this fascinating commission before she realises that in order to take it she must travel to a small resort in Cornwall where she spent childhood holidays and hoped never to return to. I don't think anyone will accuse me of spoilers to say it is easily apparent that her reticence is in some way connected to the childhood event right at  the beginning of the book.

It was with Klara I really connected, possibly because the main story is told in her words and we get more vivid descriptions. Told in the voice of an older woman but in the perspective of a young girl, the beautiful descriptions of life in Java before the occupation and the terrible deprivations in the camps draw you in and are amazingly and deeply realistic and moving, yet with a gentle innocence reminiscent of "The Book Thief" which makes it all the more haunting and harrowing yet never too graphic.

As the relationship between the two women develops as one tells her story and tries to get to know the author to whom she is baring her soul it becomes obvious that there is a kinship between them born of childhood tragedy and little by little the story builds to a rich and rewarding climax.

Readers of previous books by Isabel Wolff will be glad to hear there is just a little hint of romance in the story, but this does really take a back seat to the importance of the story, which deals with some truly harrowing issues sensitively and emotionally.

The joy is in the immaculately researched history this story is enriched with. You live 2 complete lives whilst reading it and if you finish it without shedding a tear or two you're made of harder material than I am.

Stunning and beautiful.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Hidden Girl - Louise Millar

From the publishers blurb ...

Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the Suffolk countryside will promise a fresh start. Hannah, a human rights worker, is desperate for a child and she hopes that this new life will realise her dream. Yet when the snow comes, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village. 

Life in Tornley turns out to be far from idyllic, who are the threatening figures who lurk near their property at night? And why is her neighbour so keen to see them leave? Plus Will's behaviour is severely testing the bonds of trust. Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. 

But as she starts to unbury a terrible crime, she realises she can no longer do that without putting everything she's ever wanted at risk. But if she does nothing, the next victim could be her...

My thoughts

Louise Millar - author of the brilliant The Playdate is back on top form after her second book didn't quite live up to my expectations, a stunning debut is often hard to follow. Well, its third time lucky with this unusual twisty, psychological, mystery thriller set between bustling London and the quiet rural backwaters of Suffolk. I received my copy from Netgalley so I could review it in advance.

Hannah and Will are a young married couple whose happiness depends on them overcoming past problems and Hannah is convinced their only route to this state is to complete their family with a child for which adoption is the only route left open to the former aid worker and her music producer husband.

The start of the book sees them moving to an old house in the countryside, mistakenly believing that quiet rural life in a rambling old Country Pile will be beneficial to their application to adopt.

For a chapter or two this seems like pretty standard fare, young couple buy spooky old house and things begin to go bump in the night .... But it's no ghost which haunts Tornley Hall. The descriptions are great, I felt as if I was there with her working to a tight deadline to get the house ready for a very important visitor and I shared her anguish when things started to go wrong.

As Will commutes back to London Hannah is left in the isolated spot to mull over their decision and as snow begins to fall, the house proves to be in much worse repair than anticipated and the locals prove unfriendly and some downright sinister she struggled to cope with her usual efficiency and calm. As secrets are uncovered and cracks begin to appear not just in her new home, but in her marriage Hannah battles to hang on to her sanity. 

At first you are led to think there's not really that much going on in the story, it seems almost gentle but don't be lulled into relaxing, the tension is gradually cranked up until you realise that what seemed like minor annoyances are in fact something much more sinister, and as the alarm bells begin to sound, like Hannah you've got far too involved in what's going on in Tornley to back away, deep in the countryside no-one can hear you scream.

This is a sinister and creepy psychological tour de force with so many little twists it really keeps you turning the pages until late in the night and makes you want to check the doors are firmly locked before you do lay your head down to sleep - don't you just love a book which does that?

When the mystery is finally revealed in a crescendo of brutal intensity it really wasn't what I was expecting and made me peer back at some of the things which had happened and see them in a different light. The loose ends are neatly tied up in a satisfactory climactic ending.

Louise has returned to revealing the hidden nastiness which lies beneath seemingly ordinary domestic life and shows that you never really know which of your neighbours you can trust. If you liked the Playdate you'll enjoy this. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Beautiful day - Kate Anthony

From the publishers blurb -

Rachel is looking for her beautiful day. She's worried about everything: being a good mother, money and starting a new job.

Philip is a lost soul in the world and he could do with a friend.

They are just about to meet and when they do everything will change. Rachel and Philip don't know it yet, but they each have what the other needs. They can save one another, and not in the way you might expect.

This is a story about finding happiness and love in all their forms. And how sometimes you can find them in the most unlikely of places.

My Thoughts

Beautiful day is a beautiful read, in fact it's a beautiful offering altogether from Penguin with a delightfully pretty cover and the sheer readability which grabs you from page one.

I read a couple of reviews for this by bloggers whose judgement I trust and whose reading tastes I share, so I was delighted when my request to Netgalley for this debut novel was approved and rather than consigning it to my to be read pile to wait its turn I opened it immediately and began reading - I finished it in 2 sittings I just couldn't put it down. 

The description made me think it was going to be slightly similar to the poignant and heart wrenching Me Before you by the lovely writer Jojo Moyes, however, what it actually resembled more closely in style is the other great book by the same Ms Moyes - One plus One. I don't make this comparison lightly Jojo Moyes is one of my very favourite authors, a very accomplished writer with many best sellers to her name so to compare a first time novelist to her is praise indeed.

Kate Anthony has taken the mundane and everyday and made it sparkle and scintillate. This is the all too common story of a modern young mother whose husband has left her for a younger model, struggling to pay the bills and cope with 3 lively children, add to that her need to return to work after years away from the workplace, taking on a job some might view as undesirable and you have the bones of the storyline. But it's the beautiful writing style which makes this just impossible to put down. Rachel is a heroine I could instantly relate to and her children are brilliant, so real that I genuinely felt I knew them all personally. Rachels job involves working as a care worker in a residential home for adults with special needs and having done this as a volunteer myself, I felt I recognised the slightly run down care home with its quirky residents all with their own distinct personalities the staff varying from the careworn but caring to the harassed to the couldn't care less who personify the word careLESS!

Rachels life is chaotic to say the least and she really finds it difficult to manage despite doing her best life seems to be against her. Her ex-husband is a complete tosser - but then aren't all EXes? She really wants to make a difference in her new job and when she is given personal responsibility for a vulnerable new resident Philip she is determined she will do everything she possibly can to ease his transition into care home life after a life spent with his frail elderly Mum misguidedly shielding him from harm and from life! But the great law of Sod plays a blinder and as her own life descends into chaos so does the situation at work.

To say much more might spoil the joy I know you're going to get from reading this superb book which deals with quite deep subjects yet is never grim or dark. It's very easy to read but its not light and fluffy, it's just stunningly written and deliciously readable. 

As a keen reader who enjoys reviewing books I've read, I sometimes feel inadequate to the task of explaining exactly why I have enjoyed a book as much as I have, I'm not an author and never could create realistic characters and storylines which absorb the reader completely like this. Full marks from me and my heartfelt thanks to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to be one of the first folks to experience this great new author whom I am sure will write many more wonderful books and whose future work I will eagerly await.

The Crimson Ribbon - Katherine Clements

From the publishers blurb
England 1646. The Civil War is raging and society turned upside down.

What should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn and Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a deserting soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

My thoughts

I won a copy of this from Goodreads early reads and took it away on holiday, where it kept me entertained and turning the pages.

It was really rather good ! Set in England during the Civil war and the times of Oliver Cromwell it is based around the life of a girl, Ruth whose Mother is accused of witchcraft and hanged in front of her. This undoubtedly has an effect on Ruths's ability to form normal friendships and trust people and she mistrusts the deeply troubled Joseph whom she encounters on her flight to London despite him having her best interests at heart.

She throws her lot in with the Poole family who agree to house and employ her and she soon becomes infatuated and obsessed with the rather enigmatic and unconventional Lizzie Poole into whose life she becomes inextricably entwined. Full of historical detail and lots of twists and turns this is an exciting work of fiction based around a real character (Lizzie Poole) and events imagined and real combine to create a gripping and entertaining story.

Fractured - Dawn Barker

From the publishers blurb

An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother's worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn't coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They'd come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?

But Anna hasn't been herself since. One moment she's crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she's just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong...

My thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book it explores the effects of a tragedy on a family. However, from the blurb I expected there might be more of a mystery thriller aspect to it, but it was more of just a look at human emotions and regrets.

Anna and Tony are a young married couple with a new baby Jack. Tony arrives at work ready to fit a busy meeting into his hectic schedule when a phone call from his worried Mum alerts him to the fact that she has turned up at home to help Anna to find Anna has inexplicably gone missing - with Jack.

She's probably just nipped out is his first thought until doubts begin to niggle at him and he begins to admit what he's been trying to put to the back of his mind - since the birth Anna has been acting very strangely and he is actually rather worried about her.

It turns out that he has good reason to be concerned and what follows is a story that we can all be glad hasn't happened to us. All that characters are very well drawn if pretty flawed and we begin to see their faults and foibles as the book slips back and forth over events in the couple and their families lives. 

A very readable and enjoyable book set in Australia - the writing style reminded me immensely of [author:Liane Moriarty|322069] . I did find the ending a touch abrupt, the only reason I've given it a 4/5 instead of 5.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Keep your friends close - Paula Daly

From the publishers blurb:

Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty’s oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears – just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France – Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home.

Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty’s husband has fallen in love with Eve. He’s sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over.

With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself.

And then she receives the note.
Eve has done this before ......

Having read, enjoyed and reviewed this authors debut novel Just what kind of Mother are you I was impatient to get stuck into this one, her second offering. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request for an advance ebook copy to review.

Brand new this year and already receiving great accolade, this rollercoaster of misplaced trust, hidden pasts, secrets, betrayal and psychological mayhem grabs you by the short and curlies from paragraph one and compels you to keep turning the pages until the dead of night when your eyes feel like charcoals and your heart is hammering.

Narrated by Natty a busy working mother of 2 much loved teenage girls, who runs a hectic and successful hotel in the Lake District with her husband Sean, (who turns out to be a weak and spineless little toad I wanted to strangle)

Their frantically busy life is a success story, even if it means they sometimes have to forfeit a little "me time" in favour of work and Natty in particular finds herself torn between being an excellent Mum, a conscientious hotelier and a good wife. Things are going well when - BAM, onto the scene arrives sophisticated Eve, Natty's oldest friend and confidante from back at University, paying a visit following the break up of her own relationship and fresh off the plane from the USA.

How fortunate she is there and able to step into the breach when the unthinkable happens and Natty needs to jump on a plane herself to rush to the hospital bedside of her youngest daughter, taken ill on a school trip. One worry is eased from her shoulders as Eve offers to stay for a day or two and care for the other daughter. And off goes Natty unaware that her carefully constructed life is about to be crumbled like a stock cube between the elegant and conniving fingers of Eve who deliberately sets out to seduce the weak and unresisting Sean and get her feet firmly under Nats table.

By the time she comes back home, life as she knew it is gone, stolen by Eve and spiralling into a pit of despair, anger and hurt Natty struggles to come to term with her feelings and how to cope with her despair.

This is where I began to love Natty, she is very human and perfectly flawed, instead of being stoical and brave or acting the weak and helpless female she copes in the best way she can, loses her temper, gets angry, swears a lot and behaves as unpredictably as I would in a similar situation (God forbid) Her inconsistent reactions contrast beautifully in comparison to the usual predictable moods of most wronged protagonists.

There are some fabulous characters, beautifully constructed and incredibly real including a reappearance of Policewoman Joanne Aspinall and her Aunt Jackie from the authors first book. Like Natty's lovely dope smoking Dad and her mother in law who suggests a way for Natty to cope with losing her life her home, husband and hotel Management job might be to volunteer for a few hours a week in a lovely little charity shop!

It's the characters and wry twists of subtle humour which help a book with a dark and twisted story about the blackest and most appalling topics readable and amazingly enjoyable. I don't think I can really put into words quite how brilliant this book is, I loved it and highly recommend it to anyone who loves psychological thrillers and gritty family dramas. I can't say too much more about the story as you'll have to read it to discover what a devious cow Eve actually is, what secrets are hidden beneath the veneer of tranquil Lake District life.

It ends on a bit of cliff hanger which left me screaming to know just a little bit more, about what happens afterwards. I wonder if the author, having successfully introduced characters from her previous novel into this one, may, in her next book brush lightly on this story to tie up a few tiny wisps of loose thread left dangling in the breeze? I for one will be at the front of the queue to read it regardless.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Before You Die - Samantha Hayes

From the publisher's blurb....

"Oh God, please don't let me die.

It has taken nearly two years for the Warwickshire village of Radcote to put a spate of teenage suicides behind it.
Then a young man is killed in a freak motorbike accident, and a suicide note is found among his belongings. A second homeless boy takes his own life, this time on the railway tracks.

Is history about to repeat itself?

DI Lorraine Fisher has just arrived for a relaxing summer break with her sister. Soon she finds herself caught up in the resulting police enquiry. And when her nephew disappears she knows she must act quickly.

Are the recent deaths suicide - or murder?"

Having read and enjoyed the authors previous novel "until you're mine" I was thrilled to find her new title available for review on Netgalley. It's certainly a good read and keeps you guessing right to the end, but I did find I wanted to give quite a few of the characters a darned good shake and I mistrusted their motives quite a lot. There are quite a lot of characters to get to know and the author makes it difficult to know who to trust which is a clever move as it begins to read like a who dunnit and first you suspect one person and then another and this helps keeps the story moving quickly.

The main characters are Lorraine and her sister Jo and their families, Lorraine has teenage daughters and Jo a teenage son Freddie, then there is another family who run a homeless hostel and we are introduced to quite a few of the workers and homeless folk and there were just a few people too many for me to get my head completely clear around who was who at first although the characters are well created with enough personality to begin to be recognised individually.

The storyline is strong, centreing around teenage angst, cyber bullying, infidelity, homelessness and skirting around mental health issues theres a lot going on and if you like your thrillers fast paced this will suit you. We met DC Lorraine Fisher and her husband, also in the police in the authors aforementioned book. Poor soul she can't take some much needed leave without things all kicking off around her and her stay with her sister is no different, a spate of teenage suicides close to home means she is soon in the midst of the mysteries surrounding these deaths and feels compelled to investigate as she begins to have doubts as to whether they are actually suicides

Overall I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first in this series, feeling it couldn't quite decide whether to fall in the realm of psychological thriller which I love or detective novel which I don't. In my opinion they are 2 separate genres. Having said that its probably only because the first book was so good that this one found it a hard act to live up to and it is still a really entertaining read with lots of twists. You don't need to have read the first title to read this as although it shares some characters it would read equally as well as a stand alone, but I would recommend reading "Until you're mine" just because it's a great book.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Spilt milk - Amanda Hodgkinson

From the Publishers blurb ...
The eagerly anticipated new historical novel from the author of 22 Britannia Road: a novel about sisterhood, motherhood, and secrets that cannot be laid to rest.

1913. Unmarried sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh live an impoverished existence in a tiny cottage on the banks of the Little River in Suffolk. Their life is quiet and predictable, until a sudden flood throws up a strange fish on their doorstep and a travelling man who will change them forever.

1939. Eighteen year old Birdie Farr is working as a barmaid in the family pub in London. When she realises she is pregnant she turns to her mother Nellie, who asks her sister to arrange an adoption for Birdie's new born daughter. But as the years pass Birdie discovers she cannot escape the Marsh sisters' shadowy past - and her own troubling obsession with finding her lost daughter will have deep consequences for all of them...

My thoughts

I enjoyed this book which covers quite a large span of time in the lives of the Marsh family beginning with sisters Rose, Nellie and Vivian living in a tumbledown cottage and struggling to live almost hand to mouth, it follows events as floods hit the area they live in, death touches them and passion is almost their undoing.

The book continues to follow their lives into old age, however it introduces an awful lot of characters and I did find myself getting a little confused myself as to who was who and who was guarding which secret and why but that's probably testament to my weak powers of concentration rather than a fault in the writing.

It's a gentle bucolic tale which meanders like the river they live beside, thundering beginning, building to a powerful ending yet a little too rambling in the middle to gain a perfect score from me.

Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour

Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour Hello blog readers and book lovers. Today I am joining in t...