Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Disclaimer - Renee Knight - a cleverly constructed maze of a book


From Goodreads:

A remarkable debut in the vein of Before I Go to Sleep—and already an international sensation—Disclaimer is a brilliantly conceived, deeply unsettling psychological thriller about a woman haunted by secrets, the consuming desire for revenge, and the terrible price we pay when we try to hide the truth

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day she became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day . . . even if the shocking truth might destroy her.


My thoughts:

If you like your books convoluted this is one twisty turny tale that won't disappoint.

With secrets galore gradually being unpeeled, layer upon layer and red herrings scattered throughout, it kept me guessing and gasping like all the best of psychological chillers.

This is the story of Catherine, a successful documentary maker, who upon finding a novel beside her bed, reads it, only to discover it is based on her past life - a past she has kept firmly concealed, until now when her secrets threaten to erupt and change her life.

It's also the story of retired teacher Stephen Brigstocke a confused and shambling ruin of a man, dealing with loss and loneliness, their lives collide and cause Catherine to face her demons, but can she maintain her carefully constructed life and how much of it is based on lies?

I loved the storyline, cleverly written beginning with you as the reader not really understanding anything, and desperate to be let in on what it is Catherine has kept hidden and why, then as bits and pieces are revealed about Catherines past, sometimes they provide a lightbulb moment and sometimes a shadowy hint like a badly developed negative with a fleeting shadow cast across it and frequently reavealing something rather different than you expected.

One minute I pitied one character, then my perception changed and I scorned them, my sympathies lay with one person then I doubted my loyalties were in the right place.

Perhaps it was a little difficult to really get inside the characters and feel kinship with them as much as I like in a book, but possibly this is part of the nature of the book based on secrets and concealment. The backbone of the story is after all about hoe keeping something deliberately hidden can have huge consequences almost as great as the thing you were trying to hide in the beginning.

I found it a real attention grabber, which I just wanted to read a little more and then a little more still. Until I was quite suddenly at the end and even the ending didn't disappoint. A satisfying and cleverly constructed maze of a book.

My thanks to Random House publishers and Netgalley for allowing me to be one of the privileged few to read this in advance of publication.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Book of Strange New Things - Michel Faber - an alien environment for me



From Goodreads:

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

My thoughts:

I dithered about whether to read this book or not. The subject matter is so far outside my normal comfort zone I wasn't sure I'd be able to relate to it in any way but I LOVE the authors previous books.

I seldom read science fiction - I am an atheist who is totally incomprehensive of any form of religious belief - I prefer my books to have a female protagonist. This book ticks none of my boxes, its about a Christian man, Peter who flies off to a recently colonised planet, to preach his religion to the alien inhabitants.

When I told my partner a little about this book which was keeping me reading 'til the early hours he shook his head and asked "You gotta be kidding - why on Earth would YOU read something like that???"

I found myself lost in an alien environment - although I could accept the aliens, the setting and the people, I floundered in the dark to understand how anyone can live their life by a belief as strong and pretty unshakeable as this.

So why did I love it? It has to be the authors innate ability to grab your imagination, throw you into a situation you'll never be comfortable with and with a few well placed words make you feel as at home as you do in your own bed.

The narrator of the story, Peter, is a pastor, a reborn Christian who together with his beloved wife Bea, looks after the congregation in their Church in England. Their devoutness shines from them in their longing to convert every soul they meet to Christianity, their piety is equalled only by their love for each other, which is why they feel their relationship will be strong enough to survive a lengthy separation and as we meet the couple, Peter is setting off on a journey of immense proportions. He has been employed by a major Corporation at a very generous stipend, to fly to another solar system and be the preacher to an indigenous population of alien beings.

He relishes this new challenge and discovers upon arrival that the population of "Oasans" not only accept but relish his teachings, calling his Bible "the book of strange new things".

Meanwhile back at home, Bea is struggling without Peter, her rock. The world is going through a series of disaster after disaster, which compare sufficently with events that we have witnessed to be believable but which become so frequent and so intense that society begins to crumble. Her letters to Peter become more desperate and cynical but he feels so removed from everything he can hardly imagine what she's going through. He tries to share with her the wonders he is experiencing but fails to be able to put it into words.

What happens to a relationship, when the one abiding concept which brought you together becomes the thing which is now driving you apart?

I did struggle with the religious aspect of the book, I knew I would, unlike the aliens I am unable to just accept, I don't get religion at all and never will. But what I did love were the aliens themselves. The way they speak, the descriptions of their homeland and the workers at the USIC base from where Peter is based were all painted so beautifully I was there!

Michel Faber is immaculate at creating vivid characters and placing them in situations you'd never before considered yet being instantly at home there - as in The Crimson Petal and the White, which paints a graphic picture of Victorian prostition yet was so intensely real to me. I grieve for some of the characters still, 5 years after reading it, now thats what I call skilled penmanship!

Above and beyond everything in the book of strange new things, is the story of a long distance relationship, a situation I could relate to and the resultant crisis of faith, which I couldn't, and it was the picture of this happening from both sides in the couples correspondence with each other that really grabbed me.

The details of the world we know falling apart so quickly was so intense and horribly believable that I almost wanted to find it was all in Beas imagination, sadly it isn't and one of the things which happens which eventually causes her to turn away from religion was so harrowing, I almost stopped reading the book at that point, not far from the end.

When Peter uncovers the Oasans enigma, my heart broke for these small gentle, accepting and trusting alien people.

If you, like me, aren't sure about the religious aspect but something about this book, or my review, tempts you I'd recommend giving it a go, it's well worth the effort (the actual reading is effortless) it's left me with lots of questions and is still in my mind 3 days after I finished it, I felt I needed some time to reflect before reviewing, but overall I'm SO very glad I read it it's good to break free from the mould and succumb to something different once in a while and this was a really great book to round off my reading for 2014.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Girl in the Red Coat - by Kate Hamer - haunting and ethereal



From the publisher

Kate Hamer's stand-out debut thriller is the hugely moving story of an abduction that will keep you guessing until the very last page. Carmel has always been different. Carmel's mother, Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter's strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own. When she takes eight year-old Carmel to a local children's festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own, with a man who believes she is a saviour.
My thoughts ....

Oooh, what a fabulous debut novel this is. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy just before I went on my pre-Christmas holiday (I was also most unfortunate to come down with a bad dose of flu at the same time which meant the first half of my holiday in the sun, was spent lolling around, recuperating and gave me plenty of time to read)

This haunting and ethereal psychological chiller, the story of a missing child and her Mothers search for her, is written in the voices of 2 of the most compelling fictional characters I've come across in some time.

Narrated in turn by Mother and daughter both experiencing the same event over a lengthy period, from 2 very different viewpoints. Beth, recently abandoned by her husband, single Mum of 8 year old Carmel, a dreamy, slightly fey, bookish and bright. yet completely adored daughter. Still stressed by her husbands betrayal, Beth battles to put her own hurt aside and make quality time with Carmel. One day they head off together to a story tellers festival. In this exciting and lively atmosphere Beth tries to stave off panic attacks and make sure Carmel has a day to remember, but her pre-occupation and momentary lapses of concentration lead to the unthinkable and in a split second her daughter is missing, abducted for a special reason - but by whom and why?

What follows is the story of guilt and self recrimination of a devoted Mum who blames herself for her daughters absence and her conviction that they'll be re-united. Even more compelling is Carmels tale, spanning continents and told in the voice of an 8 year old, the book reminded me slightly of Room [book:Room|7937843] Carmel is special, unique and utterly believeable. Almost a coming of age story we watch Carmel grow, and discover how her life progresses without the maternal love she craves. There is an other wordliness to the telling and the feelings and thoughts which swirl around Beths mind and impeccably written, as is the destiny of a growing girl with exceptional potential.

Due to be released in March 2015 this is definitely one to watch for and already destined to be one of my favourite reads.

Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen - quirky and shrewd


From the Publishers blurb

I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there'll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out .

But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?


My thoughts ...

I was hearing a lot of praise for this book, theres a real buzz about it on-line with blog tours and promotions and reviews popping up with comparisons to Gone Girl Gone Girl and some of my favourite authors and most respected reviewers are saying - read this - it's great! Theres nothing quite like this kind of rumble in the web jungle to pique my interest and also make me a little nervous about reading a book, high expectations can mean an even greater disappointment if it doesn't live up to the hype!

It almost did for me what others promised, but just failed to completely blow me away by the sheer amount of disbelief I needed to suspend in order to accept the storyline. However it's an excellent, well written, chilling, Christmas themed read, and if you're looking for something to read over the holidays you could do a lot worse than curl up with Dying for Christmas.

Our journey begins with Jessica Gold narrating the story of her Christmas, she's stressed as hell, doing her Christmas shopping and takes a break in a busy cafe. Brilliant start - who couldn't relate to that? But this familiar scene rapidly slips into nightmare territory with her unwise acceptance of a lift from an intriguing stranger, Dominic, a brief dalliance to flatter her ego that turns into a kidnap scenario, with many alarming and disturbing angles.

We are held captive, with Jess, as Dominic is revealed to be a hugely disturbed individual, who keeps her locked in his apartment, presenting her, daily, with a range of increasingly bizarre and unsettling Christmas gifts which all reveal a bit more about his own disturbed psyche and unsettling background. 

Then theres - part Two ....

The blurb says Jessica has a secret and no, I didn't guess it, but when her mystery is revealed halfway through the book, thats when things get cunning and even more complex and to call it twisty is like calling molten lava warm.

There is also the parallel storyline of Kim the police officer, struggling to further her own career and to hang on to family life.

Jess is the archetypical unreliable narrator, the characters are all highly unlikeable and I'm growing used to reading books with whom I fail to find an empathy with any character at all, but with this book I increasingly felt the greatest of contempt for every single character created by Ms. Cohen even Kim who I think was possibly created in the hope of having one character we might relate or warm to but I wanted to slap her selfish face too.

Original and quirky, entertaining and shrewd but possibly tries just a little too hard to shock and surprise, following the Gone girl formula from the brief and intriguing synopsis to the highly formulaic cover of a women in red running away in the snow. Does it succeed? theres only one way to find out - you'll have to read it to have an opinion.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans - atmospheric WW2 drama



From Goodreads: 

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she's unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel's mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war's thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she's never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.

On her own, she's a disaster. With Noel, she's a team.

Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life.

But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn't actually safe at all… 

My Review:

A completely captivating and utterly charming read. Set amidst the uncretainty and struggle of world war 2 it tells the story of young orphan, Noel, an unprepossessing lad who has few friends, sticking out ears and a love of books and an extensive vocabulary which can make him come across as pompous.

Noel has spent his formative years being brought up by his revered Aunt Mattie an opinionated ex suffragette. Watching her slide into senile dementia is a step too far for Noel and he becomes even more insular, meaning that when he is evacuated from London, he is one of the least likely youngsters to be placed in a warm and caring home. He ends up being billeted with the disorganised and brash Vee who always has an eye for making a penny or two (not always strictly above board) and her willingness to accept Noel into her home initially stems from an idea for a money making scam.

In this none too homely billet live Vees mother, with selective mutism who spends her days writing lengthy letters to people in power criticising the war efforts, and including irrelevant facts about her life.

Also her son Donald, thoroughly unlikeable, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and he too has his eye on the main chance - to profiteer from the war.

Vee and Noel thrown together form a formidable duo and when they combine efforts they begin to have a grudging respect for one another.

I like Vee, I thought she had a hard life and was making the best of things. The wartime descriptions seem accurate and very atmospheric, I really felt as though I was there in the public air raid shelters and creeping about in the blackout with my barely there torch.

I shed a little tear towards the end and for me, even though its a quick read it had something of the Book thief about it, I've also seen it compared to Goodnight Mr Tom and I agree if you enjoyed that book you'll probably love this also - I did and will be looking for more books by this, hitherto unknown to me, author.

My thanks to Netgalley for feeding my E-reader with this review copy.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

My Favourite reads of 2014

Its coming to the end of the year and as I'll be away on holiday for a large part of December I've decided to compile my top 20 books of the year.

My tastes are leaning more towards the psychological thriller genre, but I've also read a few cracking historical books and some lovely family drama/ romantic novels. Not surprising that 17/20 are female authors as I make no bones about often being able to relate far better to characters created by women. Anyway all these 20 got a roaring 5 star review from me and I can highly recommend them all.

Top reads of 2014


Top 3 

One to watch out for in 2015...
The Girl on the train, Paula Hawkins
My favourite read this year is a book which most readers have yet to discover as it's not due for publication until later in 2015. You lucky things!
If you like tangled tales, unreliable narrators, apprehension and tension in your stories look no further. The Girl on the train is waiting to blow your mind - go for it!

Beautiful day, Kate Anthony
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.

Keep your friends close, Paula Daly
This rollercoaster of misplaced trust, hidden pasts, secrets, betrayal and psychological mayhem grabs you by the short and curlies from paragraph one.

All the others in no particular order

Who are you, Elizabeth Forbes
It is merciless and barbaric and yet heart wrenching too, it plays with your mind and gets in your head and is as twisted as anything I've ever read.

The Accident, CL Taylor
It's the story of Sue who's teenage daughter Charlotte lies in a coma after an accident. You won't know whether to trust everything Sue tells us, you'll begin to doubt her reliability as a narrator, but you will just have to keep on reading to find out the awful truths in this gripping and haunting novel.

Her, Harriet Lane
A creeping cliffhanger

A trick of the mind, Penny Hancock
A real page turner with flawed characters in a flawless story

Remember me this way, Sabine Durrant
Twisted and devious with a menacing feel which creeps up on you

The hidden girl, Louise Millar
A twisty, psychological, mystery thriller set between bustling London and the quiet rural backwaters of Suffolk

The Testament of Vida Tremayne, Sarah Vincent
This creepy and menacing psychological chiller, looks at difficult family relationships, loneliness, stress and mental health frailties

The memory book, Rowan Coleman
A truly epic novel that will remain in my memory for years after I have forgotten how to use my front door key and how to put on my shoes!

Little mercies, Heather Gudenkauf
A family drama which was like taking part in an unfolding tragedy I could do nothing about but cheer from the sidelines and hold my breath when things got to their very worst

Ghostwritten, Isabel Wolff
A moving and haunting account of how two women's lives are moulded by tragedy and loss.

Where love lies, Julie Cohen
A romantic read with a little darker twist to it

The gilded lily, Deborah Swift
Historical fiction set in grimy, 17th century, restoration London

The vanishing witch Karen Maitland
Historical drama set amidst the peasants rebellion in medieval Lincolnshire where superstition rules.

The Fair Fight, Anna Freeman
Set in 18th century Bristol this is the story of Ruth a pugilist, brought up in a brothel, gritty and realistic iits a fabulous piece of historical drama.

More than this, Patrick Ness
Written for the YA reader yet the adult themes, feelings and emotions make it a must read for any age.
Mr Mercedes, Stephen King
Evil genius from the master of thrills.

The extraordinary life of Frank Derrick age 81, JB Morrison
You'd have to read this book to appreciate its humour and poignancy yet in many ways I found it unbearably sad. It's about old age, loneliness and the importance relatively small kindnesses assume to someone who is alone.