Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Under your skin - Sabine Durrant - Didn't see it coming!


From the publisher via Goodreads .....

Gaby Mortimer is the woman who has it all. But everything changes when she finds a body on the common near her home. She's shaken and haunted by the image of the lifeless young woman, and frightened that the killer, still at large, could strike again.

Before long, the police have a lead. The evidence points to a very clear suspect. One Gaby never saw coming . . .

Full of twists and turns, this is a dark and suspenseful psychological thriller that will make you second guess everything. Because you can never be too sure about anything, especially when it comes to murder.


My thoughts ...

I recently read and loved Remember Me This Way and enjoyed the authors' style and storytelling so much that when I came across her previous novel, Under your skin, in my local library I grabbed it (despite having a teetering TBR pile the size of Blackpool Tower). That I took it home and immediately dove into it and barely put it down until I'd finished pays testament to the authors' skill at grabbing, and holding your attention from the outset.

We meet the narrator Gaby right at the start when she stumbles across a dead body when she is out for her usual morning run and we are treated to the full gamut of human emotions as we watch her life unravel as result, when she unwittingly becomes a suspect for the womans' murder. Gaby has a great job as a tv presenter, a nice life in middle class suburbia, a successful husband, a nanny, cleaner and a couple of good friends, all of whom one begins to harbour suspicions against at one point or another. We are also introduced to a couple of police officers investigating the murder, a journalist or two and led to wonder who Gaby's mysterious stalker might be. I really felt for Gaby who is incredibly real, and I couldn't help putting myself in some of the positions she found herself in and feeling her angst and anguish.

It's the kind of classy, convoluted, psychological chiller that always gets me intrigued, plus it's a classic who-dunnit of the best kind. The author presents several possible culprits all totally plausible and scatters the most delicious little morsels of red herrings all along the journey, yet unlike most books of this ilk where I usually congratulate myself on doing the detective work quicker than the police investigators, I must honestly admit - I DIDN'T SEE THIS ONE COMING!

Bravo Sabine Durrant, for a genuinely gripping story with a mind blowing ending.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The cold cold sea - Linda Huber - Dark domestic drama


From the publisher via Goodreads: 
When three-year-old Olivia disappears, her parents are overwhelmed with grief. Weeks go by and Olivia's mother refuses to leave the cottage, staring out at the turbulent sea and praying it didn't claim her precious daughter's life. Not far away, another mother watches proudly as her daughter starts school. Jennifer has loved Hailey for five years, but the child is suddenly moody and difficult, and there's a niggling worry of doubt that Jennifer cannot shake off. As she struggles to maintain control there are gaps in her story that even she can't explain. Time is running out for Maggie at the cottage, and also for Jennifer and Hailey. No-one can underestimate a mother's love for her child, and no-one can predict the lengths one will go to, to protect her family.

My thoughts:

The book begins with a family on a beach, a little girl wanders away from her mother and down to the sea, where the unthinkable happens and she is suddenly out of her depth in deep water.

A chilling, dark, domestic drama set in Cornwall, it's tense and scary, but its also about peoples reactions to tragedy and things people will do when dreadful events take over their lives. Emotional and involving with great twists and touches of "Oh no, don't do that"

The story continues in several different perspectives, those of Maggie whose little girl Olivia went missing on the beach, at first she longs for her daughters return, then as weeks pass and the search grows futile she only longs for closure, her feelings of guilt for not preventing this occurring place cracks in her marriage.

There is also Phillip who is abroad caring for his terminally ill grandmother, aware that his wife Jennifer struggles to cope alone he is keen to get back to her, meanwhile she makes plans for their future but finds it hard to relate to her little girl Hailey who has become sullen and uncommunicative.

Finally we meet Katie a newly qualified infants teacher, keen to make a real difference to her young pupils starting school for the first time, when little Hailey joins her class she tries to get the reluctant child to open up, but can't quite put her finger on whether the little girl is just difficult, or if there are problems at home.

As the story unfolds things become clear that I don't want to reveal as you'll uncover them when you read it, theres no great mystery as to what has happened, you'll be able to work that out yourself, but the twists and turns lie not in what, but why and how and the consequences and repercussions of peoples decisions.

There are a couple of pretty unreliable narrators and though we know their viewpoint is skewed its hard to work out quite how things are going to end. You'll really dislike the way a couple of them behave, but there are also situations where you will think, what would I do? How would I cope? It twists at your heartstrings and then slaps you in the face.

This is a clever, character driven story and it's also about emotions, and reactions to those emotions and how events outside our control can have far reaching repercussions. There are a couple of characters whose actions are quite hard to stomach, although you can still have sympathy for them.

One of the main characters is a little girl you will hold close to your heart and you'll keep turning the pages, hoping beyond hope that her story at least can have a happy ending - but can it? You'll have to read this excellent tangled tale to find out.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Fair Fight - Anna Freeman - Fabulous historical fiction


From the Publishers description (via Goodreads)

For fans of Sarah Waters and THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, a vibrant tale of female boxers and their scheming patrons in 18th-century Bristol.

Some call the prize ring a nursery for vice . . .

Born into a brothel, Ruth's future looks bleak until she catches the eye of Mr Dryer. A rich Bristol merchant and enthusiast of the ring, he trains gutsy Ruth as a puglist. Soon she rules the blood-spattered sawdust at the infamous Hatchet Inn.

Dryer's wife Charlotte lives in the shadows. A grieving orphan, she hides away, scarred by smallpox, ignored by Dryer, and engaged in dangerous mind games with her brother.

When Dryer sidelines Ruth after a disastrous fight, and focuses on training her husband Tom, Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition. As the tension mounts before Tom's Championship fight, two worlds collide with electrifying consequences.

THE FAIR FIGHT will take you from a filthy brothel to the finest houses in the town, from the world of street-fighters to the world of champions. Alive with the smells and the sounds of the streets, it is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention and fighting your way to the top.

My thoughts ...

Oh my goodness what a tantalizingly excellent read this was. 
I'm always a little wary of books which profess to be "perfect for fans of ..." any of my favourite books, and as both The Crimson Petal and the White and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters are firmly in my top ten of all time I was excited, yet a touch sceptical about reading this brand new debut title.

I was swept into 18th century Bristol immediately by the authors consummate writing skill. The book's written in first person from the alternating viewpoints of Ruth the female fighter, or pugilist, brought up in a brothel, known as the convent, with her very dissimilar sister Dora, who quickly turns to the life of prostitution which Ruth will do anything to avoid, including climbing into the boxing ring to be punched almost senseless by a man twice her size! 

We also follow the life of George, whose tale begins at boarding school when he begins a lifelong, lamentable relationship with the rather needy Perry, whose life we also follow. Narrated by his sister Charlotte, scarred by smallpox and my favourite character by far. Watching her evolve and develop fortitude was rewarding and brilliant and there was one action she took where I literally cheered out aloud - read the book and I bet you'll give her a round of applause too.

I was a little worried that I wouldn't like the focus on female pugilism, but far from it, the topic was unique and original - something difficult to come across in historical fiction and made me want to rush out and begin thrashing the living daylights out of some poor soul !!

I'm delighted to admit the way the book is written does bear strong similarities to the Crimson Petal, in the sheer readability and deep sense of involvement, coupled with the gritty authenticity of the contrast of life for those living at the lower end of the social scale and those deemed "respectable" by society.

As already mentioned, I loved Charlottes character, there are some excellent, likeable secondary characters, Henry and Tom, to name just a couple and even the highly disagreeable people are likeable in their realism and are almost Dickensian caricatures, with quirks, flaws and foibles, the despicable Dora made me quake with rage and I wanted to shake Perry out of his self pity.

I rapidly became deeply involved with the lives of these disparate characters brought together against normal odds, I was immersed in the 18th century world of pugilism, gambling, immorality, loneliness and greed. I held my breath so many times I'm surprised I can now breathe without the aid of an oxygen tent.

And the ending, sheer perfection, although I actually turned the page expecting a few more words, then turned back re-read the last sentence and thought - BRILLIANT. Bravo Anna, this is an epic work of historical fiction I loved reading.

My grateful thanks to Orion books who published it and for making it available through Netgalley who provided my review copy.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Where love lies - Julie Cohen


The publishers description ...

Lately, Felicity just can't shake a shadow of uncertainty. Her husband Quinn is the kindest person she knows and loves her peculiarities more than Felicity feels she deserves. But suddenly it's as if she doesn't quite belong.

Then Felicity experiences something extraordinary: a scent of perfume in the air which evokes memories that have been settled within her for a long time, untouched and undisturbed. As it happens again and again, the memories of a man Felicity hasn't seen for ten years also flutter to the surface. And so do the feelings of being deeply, exquisitely in love . . .

Overwhelmed and bewildered by her emotions, Felicity tries to resist sinking blissfully into the past. But what if something truly isn't as it should be? What if her mind has been playing tricks on her heart?


My thoughts:

Having read and enjoyed the authors previous novel, "Dear Thing" I was delighted when her latest book, due to be published at the end of July was made available for review on Netgalley. I was even more delighted when a fellow book blogger whose tastes are similar to mine posted a rave review, this accolade alone made me keen to read it.

I wasn't disappointed one bit. This is an easy romantic read with a little darker twist to it. The authors skill lies in creating very real characters and putting them in a mixture of both familiar and "what if" situations. She bares their flaws as well as their strengths and makes both traits part of what you love about them.

Felicity and Quinn are a happily married young couple, despite very different backgrounds. She is a dreamy, artistic soul who was brought up by her rather unreliable but hugely talented artist Mother. Quinn her devoted husband, is a pragmatic businessman with a close and caring tight knit family. They are still settling into married life when memories of an early love affair return to haunt Felicity and make her begin to question whether what she feels for her husband is the real thing or if she could possibly still be in love with Ewan her lover of 10 years earlier.

The scent of Frangipani brings back long lost feelings of her time with him and causes the foundations of her marriage to begin to shake. She needs time to sort out her feelings but will it really help?

The book is beautifully written it draws you into their lives and you just can't put it down until you know what happens next making it quite a quick read for me.

I kind of guessed where it was going but wasn't sure how everything would pan out and must confess, I knew I was hankering for an ending that just could never be. What does happen to the characters is very authentic and real, you feel their hurt and bewilderment at the turns of events and you share the joy and heartache of love and loss.

Superb women's fiction by an immensely talented author, definitely one to add to your tbr (to be read) list. It's the perfect holiday read too, so pack it in your case with your bikinis and sundresses.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Ace King Knave - Maria McCann


What the publisher says:

Behind doors is another story. Behind doors you can do what you like.

Sophia - rational, demure, and hiding a 'little weakness' - has recently married the charismatic Mr Zedland. But Zedland has secrets of his own and Sophia comes to suspect that her marriage is not what it seems.

In cramped rooms in Covent Garden, Betsy-Ann shuffles a pack of cards. A gambler, dealer in second-hand goods, and living with a grave robber, her life could not be more different to Sophia's - but she too discovers that she has been lied to.

As both women take steps to discover the truth, their lives come together through a dramatic series of events, taking the reader through the streets of 1760s London: a city wearing a genteel civility on its surface and rife with hypocrisy, oppression and violence lurking underneath.


My thoughts:

This book owes a lot to Harris's list of Covent garden ladies (of ill repute) it's a bawdy, atmospheric trip back in time to the grimy days of 18th century London, when women had two choices, marry for respectability or eke a living ANY way open to you. Between these pages we meet two women, one from each end of the social scale.

Sophia, eager to fall in love has found the man of her dreams and joy of joy, this handsome and rich suitor has proposed, her parents are delighted with this virtually arranged marriage and to her relief haven't put him off by warning him of the shameful little habit she feared would prevent her from ever sharing a marital bed.

Betsy Ann is her social opposite, living amongst thieves and gamblers in the seediest part of Covent Garden she is a country girl brought down by circumstances, she is an ex-prostitute, living with a grave robber, dealing in rotgut gin and practising sleight of hand with cards.

Titus is a young black slave, serving in the household of Edward, Sophias intended. Loyal to his master he resents the new mistress almost as much as she is appalled by his seeming insolence and sloppy, unfortunate speech impediment.
We are also introduced to the Bawdy house run by Kitty Hartry.

These lives come together in a clash of cultures amidst the seething morass of London which contains the seediest of low lifes and those striving to achieve and maintain respectability. Sophia's husband is the lynch pin who holds this disparate bunch together and he proves to be a multi layered character.

This book is provided with an extensive glossary of 18th century terms which are scattered throughout the dialogue like dried up raisins and bitter candy peel in a rich plum pudding. They made it rather difficult reading for me as I just had to keep checking and re-checking to see what they all meant, many of them were coarse and vulgar, they really helped make the narrative seem authentic yet at times I felt the author had used just one or two "dimber cove" too many.

The story unfolds into a lavishly descriptive rollicking bawdy romp through the brothels and gambling dens of Covent Garden. A hugely enjoyable peep through a keyhole so degenerate you'd have to pinch your nose as you lowered yourself to peer through.

It's a vivid and pungent tale told with panache and showcasing the skill of the detailed historical research undertaken.

I must admit to a slight disappointment with the ending, such a boisterous novel seems worthy of somehow a touch more than it finally delivers, but this is just nit picking as the overall story really is gratifying in its own right. A superb celebration of bawdiness and deception.

My thanks to www.Lovereading.co.uk who kindly provided my review copy.