Friday, 28 November 2014

Mr Mercedes - Stephen King - evil genius




From Goodreads:

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the "perk" and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
My review

Those friends who know my reading tastes will know and agree with the following summary: I categorically loathe detective stories and murder investigations and what I detest even more are those which form part of a series.

So, when I found out that one of the recent Stephen Kings, Mr Mercedes, was no less than the first in a series of investigative police dramas, featuring a retired cop no less I nearly didn't even start to read it.

I'm so glad I did though - it just goes to show that superb writing style transcends genre prejudice. As usual Kings lithe ability to throw you on a speeding conveyor belt right from the first page, comes to the fore here and what this is is a gripping, taut, apprehension filled whirl.

Right at the start he introduces some characters I was really getting to like, I was rooting for them, thinking yeah its going to be interesting seeing how these guys lives pan out - then BANG! He wipes them out in a horrific and shocking crime spree that is the backbone of the story.

Meanwhile retired cop Bill Hodges sits at home watching daytime tv, getting fat and contemplating the possibility that not just his career but his whole life is over. With nothing much to live for he frets and worries over the one that got away the sick, monstrous perpetrator of one of the most horrifing crimes he ever tried to solve - and failed.

That guy was Brady Hartsfield, Mr Mercedes who ploughed a stolen Merc into a whole bunch of people killing and maiming indiscriminately. Bill doesn't know it was Brady of course he just wonders who could have don ethis and how the sicko could have eluded him and his ex partner for so long. Then a letter arrives that is about to shock Bill out of his apathy. Gradually he discovers he has got something to live for after all - revenge.

We get inside the warped and deluded brain of Brady who makes Norman Bates look like your average sweetheart by comparison. King introduces some amazing characters, who we will in turn, love or loathe but never feel apathy towards. There are his usual wry and witty flashes of laugh out loud humour and above all the tension and horror he excels at, in an out and out thriller that if it had been written by anyone else just wouldn't have worked for me.

Superb, if I loved it diehard thriller fans must surely adore it too. Stephen King you're an evil genius as devious as your characters.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Testament of Vida Tremayne by Sarah Vincent - menacing




From the blurb....

A lonely novelist, A devoted fan, A journal that speaks of unspeakable things… Author Vida Tremayne lies silent in a hospital bed. The forces which brought about her terrifying decline are shrouded in mystery. 


Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Dory is forced to abandon her fast paced city life to be by her mother’s bedside. Dory is resentful. She hates the country and she and her mother were never exactly close. 

Luckily Vida already has a carer, the enigmatic Rhiannon Townsend. A long-standing fan of Vida’s, Rhiannon is happy to take care of the bedside vigil. Dory is free to resume her life. Or is she? 

Then she discovers her mother’s journal. Vida’s chilling testament reveals the trigger for her spiralling into madness. It also reveals the danger that still lurks close by. A danger that will call on Dory’s every reserve of courage if she’s to free her mother, and maybe in doing so, to free herself.

My review: 

I love discovering new authors - I especially love coming across a debut author whose work is so compelling you don't even realise how sucked into the story you've become until you look up and find you've been lost in the book for hours, this is one such book.

In “The testament of Vida Tremayne”, the author has obviously drawn on her own experiences in the world of writing to create this darkly menacing story. It’s deceptive gentle pace belies the sinister under tones and menacing, macabre darkness that seeps into the story like fog.

In this book we are introduced to 3 women, all very different and none of them very likeable, if I’m honest. But you don’t have to like the characters in a book to find what happens to them compelling.

Firstly there is the eponymous Vida Tremayne, a middle aged author who has lost her creativity, it deserted her at about the same time as her husband absconded with a younger woman, and Vida feeling lonely and isolated in her quaint old tumbledown cottage, begins to realise the extent she shut out her own daughter, whilst in her writing heyday.

We are also introduced to her daughter, the impatient, chain smoking, Dory, or Dorothea, living in the city, with a busy career as an estate agent, a string of failed relationships and a desire not to be drawn back into her slightly eccentric Mothers life.

But Vida becomes ill, nobody knows quite what is wrong with her, Dory is summoned to her aid and upon returning to Vidas home, The Gingerbread house, she is surprised and somewhat relieved to find Vida has a friend staying there, the rather hippy, dippy Rhiannon, who seems prepared to take some of the pressure off Dory’s shoulders whilst Vida lies in hospital. Catatonic and unresponsive, has Vida had a nervous breakdown? Is there any hope for her recovery? Can Rhiannon help or has she an ulterior motive?

The story is told in part by Dory and the remainder in the form of Vidas diary notes, which begin to go some way to throwing a little light on what has happened, who the Rhiannon is and where she came from and it becomes obvious sinister forces are at play, with an enigmatic large cat like creature we keep catching glimpses of.

I have read comparisons made, to Stephen Kings Misery and I would also say there is an element of The Thirteenth tale by Diane Setterfield, (although very loosely), the main characters share the same first name Vida, and are authors. I think this will appeal to people who enjoyed the aforementioned book.

This creepy and menacing psychological chiller, looks at difficult family relationships, loneliness, stress and mental health frailties. The settings are painted beautifully, especially the Long Mynd in Shropshire and the Gingerbread house which plays a large part and almost has its own personality. An intensely disturbing yet very engrossing tale and I look forward eagerly to any future work by Sarah Vincent.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A trick of the mind - Penny Hancock - flawed characters in a flawless story


From Goodreads: 

Have you committed a crime ...or are you the victim of one?

Driving down to the cottage in Southwold she's newly inherited from her Aunty May, Ellie senses she is on the edge of something new. The life she's always dreamed of living as a successful artist seems as though it is about to begin. So excited is she that she barely notices when the car bumps against something on the road.

That evening Ellie hears a news flash on the radio. A man was seriously injured in a hit and run on the very road she was driving down that evening. Then Ellie remembers the thump she heard. Could she have been responsible for putting a man in hospital? Unable to hold the doubts at bay, she decides to visit the victim to lay her mind to rest, little knowing that the consequences of this decision will change her life forever.

My Review

I loved this book, it was everything I look for in a twisty tale, with hidden secrets from the past emerging at every turn, flawed characters who turn out not to be everything they at first appear to be and a story that keeps you turning the pages. What more could you possibly want in a book? A cute loveable dog perhaps - it has that too in the ever present canine companion Pepper.

Like Penny Hancocks earlier novel, Tideline, the author draws on her own obvious connection with the river and her own experiences in life, working as a teacher to name just one, to ensure the settings and characters are strong and believeable.

In a Trick of the mind we meet Ellie as she is driving to the cottage she has inherited from her recently deceased Aunt, momentarily distracted whilst driving she bumps a tree branch, it's only upon her arrival at the cottage, when she hears on the news about a hit and run accident on the very stretch of road she has just driven, that she starts to believe it could have been her that caused the accident, knocked somone over in fact and things seem to begin to point the finger at this having been the case her wing mirror is smashed, she distinctly remembers a thud, a tree branch in the road - or was it? Is this just a trick of the mind?

However its also at this point we begin to view Ellie as being of a nervous disposition, she is a worrier and has little nervous quirks like always checking over her shoulder, three times, she is easily distracted and quite imaginitive, not a strong person its almost possible to wonder if she is quite right in the head.

As Ellie sets out to discover whether she has in fact been involved in a hit and run, we too wonder di she or didn't she? As she uncovers more about the evening in question it brings a new man into her life, Patrick. Recently out of a relationship herself her needy side comes even more to the fore, as does her need to atone and nurture and she finds herself falling in love.

As her life begins to change in many ways we see her make increasingly rash and foolish decisions and its only when the past begins to reveal the effects events have on shaping a persons personality that we realise the depths people can sink to.

Revealing many layers beneath the surface just like the river portrayed in one of Ellies paintings of water this book is perfect for the mystery lover who can suspend their belief that because they would never do something foolish nobody else would, the psychological chills are great and it never failed to enetertain me and keep me guessing. A real page turner with flawed characters in a flawless story. My grateful thanks to the folks at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy to review - thus keeping me up until the early hours, reading just one more page!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Invention of wings - Sue Monk Kidd - slavery and racism in the Deep South



From Goodreads:


Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.


As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review:

The invention of wings is a historical novel based around the lives of two women, one of them a factual character, Sarah Grimke a revolutionary female rights campaigner.

In the book we are introduced to Sarah on her 11th birthday when the gift she is presented with is a slave Hetty, a little girl known as Handful who is to be Sarahs maid. Thus begins a lifetime of opposition to slavery in the Deep South of USA where slavery is a fact of life and white folk rule and anyone who dares to oppose this is considered a pariah in society, especially if that person is a woman.

The book is an epic tale of early female emancipation and looks rather brutally at the lives of slaves and how their mistresses are no more free than they are, bound by rules and respectability to live a life not of their own choosing. It is also a story of friendship beyond the boundaries of acceptable society.

The book will appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Help, which, by the way I intensely DISliked. I actually preferred the authors previous book The Secret Life of Bees and found it a slightly easier read.

This is a much harsher and harder book to read, however it is superbly researched and told, and perfect for anyone interested in the history of slavery and rascism in the Deep Southern states of America.

I was kindly provided with a copy through Bookbridgr to read and review.








Our Zoo - June Mottershead - full of animal magic


From Goodreads:

Until I brought friends back from school I didn't realise that most people didn't have baby lions in their bedrooms when they were sick, or bring parrots into the house so they wouldn't catch cold.'

Chester Zoo is counted among the top 10 zoos in the world and, with over 11,000 animals and 400 species, it is the most visited wildlife attraction in Britain. Unlike other zoos that owe their existence to philanthropists, explorers or big game hunters, Chester Zoo was the brainchild of one working-class man with a dream he had nurtured since he was a boy: to build a zoo without bars.

June Mottorshead was four years old when her father, George, moved his family to Upton, two miles out Chester, to begin the process of turning his dream into a reality. With no other children around to play with - her sister Muriel was 10 years older - June's friends became the animals. Her closest companion was an orphaned chimpanzee which her sister hadshe hand reared, and for six years the two were inseparable. June soon became the poster girl for Chester Zoo and photographs of her cuddling lion clubs, head-butting a goat or opening the beak of a pelican soon graced the front pages of British newspapers. She was 13 when war was declared on 1939 and, with the backbone of the staff headed for the front, it fell to June to take over as head keeper. Keeping the zoo running while the war waged was no easy task. Despite rationing the animals had to be fed and all of them - penguins, elephants, leopards, tigers, lions, kangaroos and polar bears - needed to be moved into secure locked quarters inside as soon as the air raid siren sounded.

June, now in her eighties, is the guardian of her family's legacy.

My review:


I loved the tv series based on this book. When I was offered a copy to review through Bookbridgr I thought it would take over where the tv series left off, however it's quite different to the dramatisation which I now realise was rather loosely based on the events around the creation and building of Chester zoo.

This book narrates the true memoirs and reminiscences of June Mottershead, youngest daughter of the zoo family who was only 4 years old when the family moved to Upton to turn a run down staley home and its grounds into what developed into Chester zoo.

Most of it is based around what family life was like when you share your home with a menagerie of wild creatures and the difficulties faced by the family and presented by the breakout of world war 2. Obviously the early memories are a little sketchy as June was so young when it all began. 

Although the story takes us forward chronologically from the beginning, it is narrated exactly as if the author is reminiscing about her past talking to us, occasionally she gets sidetracked and sometimes she doesn't explain fully who everyone is or how things came about but as a 4 or 5 year old she probably doesn't remember the early stuff too clearly. Her sister Mew (Muriel) was the main zoo keeper, whilst June was going about the business of growing up in a very unusual set up.

Its a lovely, gentle read, perfect for animal lovers and people who like memoirs set in WW2 and would make an ideal christmas gift for anyone who liked the TV series.