Thursday, 29 October 2015

Beside myself - Ann Morgan - dark and compelling

The blurb

Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.

My thoughts:

This dark domestic drama heavily featuring mental illness is going to be quite hard to review without giving too much away, yet I wouldn't really describe it as a thriller, like the blurb makes out.

As described its the story of identical twins Ellie and Helen who when very young decide to confuse everyone by swapping identities and seeing if anyone can tell them apart, but this misfires on one twin when the other refuses to swap back and the other is unwillingly trapped in her twins identity. This continues to have major repercussions in her life and when we meet her in her adult years, she is barely holding on to reality, struggling to cope with life, mentally confused and yet I really warmed to her.

It's rather confusing, written in the main by a person with complex mental health issues, it's disjointed in parts and rather hectic, jumping about and I also found it confusing working out which twin was which to begin with never mind once they played the silly game of swapping identities which has a massive impact on the rest of their lives.

However it's compellingly readable, grabbed my attention and made me want to stick with it all the way and had rather a lot of empathy for "Smudge" the narrator with the obvious problems, its immediately obvious she is one of the twins, but you wonder if what she has become, living a chaotic and sad life has been created by the circumstances surrounding the identity swap or if and what are the underlying issues which have caused this to come about.

Bit by bit the way her life has developed is revealed and it's terribly sad, harrowing in fact and makes for pretty thought provoking reading. However I was expecting some kind of OMG moment, a big reveal, but it's more a series of little events revealed gradually that dismay rather than shock.

I agree with other readers that the twins Mother is a completely despicable person. The whole book is overflowing with flawed and dislikeable people, as is real life. There are a couple of questions which remained unanswered and unaddressed, and something I began to think we would discover had happened which never came to light. Its very well written, albeit in a necessarily manic and confusing way that sets the tone extremely well. As an insight to mental health issues its a must read, for anyone expecting a thriller it may disappoint a little.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Bloomsbury for my advance ebook copy.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Glass Girl - Sandy Hogarth - compelling

The official blurb

Say thank you to your sister for me.
His parting words cause sixteen year old Ruth to flee to Australia in shame and fear, telling her mother, "it's just a year Mum, then I'll be home". But even there her secret drives her to the isolation of the outback.
Seven years later the death of her mother brings Ruth home to England. Now she must confront her sister, Alexis. But there are darker secrets that threaten to tear apart the family she thought she knew and Alexis' betrayals are not over.
Sometimes you can't keep running. In a world of lies and betrayal by the people she loved, is Ruth strong enough?

My thoughts

The Glass Girl is an exceptional read, beautifully written in succinct yet compelling prose.

It's so easy to say about books "I couldn't put it down" but that is true of this one, I became so absorbed in the writing, time just slipped away when I was reading it.

I was asked if I would read this and provide a review and I was a touch apprehensive, debut novels by self published authors can be hit and miss and I'm always wary of holding someones life's work in my hands then loathing it. Well this was a refreshing revelation, it is utterly delectable, individual and uncommonly good.

It tells the story of Ruth who spends her life running away, from commitment and relationships, following a traumatic event in her youth. She escapes the constraints of her childhood home by going to Australia, where she licks her wounds and harbours a huge secret which is about to colour her whole life. We follow her story over the years as she returns to the UK and it's fascinating to see how she develops from teenager through to adulthood.

The book is about keeping things hidden, how decisions made can create ripples which reach far into the future, it's about families and the frailties of human beings. It's chock a block with deeply flawed, very realistic characters (one in particular so hateful, I wanted to scream). Some are damaged by circumstance and one or two are just plain evil, despicable or weak. There are also a couple of likeable characters to balance things out, I was ambivalent towards Ruth, I didn't dislike her but couldn't really relate to her, but I did love Ben and Ruths loyal childhood friend Lucy.

The style of writing really impressed me, literary in qaulity and structure but not highbrow, it's essentially an intriguing family drama, with a clever little twist I didn't work out. It's also very poignant and intensely moving. I shed tears at a couple of points. It's not an uplifting kind of story but it shows how Ruth grows in strength despite setbacks. Its not all hearts and roses it tackles some unpleasant and rather dark subjects. There is a pensiveness which invades Ruth's soul and one could be forgiven for thinking she is chronically unfortunate.

If you're looking for a hearts and flowers romance forget it, however if you're seeking a gritty, authentic, exeptionally well written book do add the Glass Girl to your library.

Monday, 19 October 2015

After You - Jojo Moyes - a humorous follow up

The Official synopsis

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates. Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected.

My Thoughts

This is quite a difficult book for me to review, as like so many readers I was utterly blown away by Me Before YouMe before you which was deeply emotional and mind blowingly wonderful. I was excited and apprehensive about this follow up especially as one of the leading characters from the first book is no longer present, and I felt his absence yet was really keen to take up with Lou again.

After You follows the life of Lou, after the end of the first book, she finds herself alone and bereft and unable to fully move on after the ending of her intense and quite unusual relationship with quadruplegic Will.

Her story is interesting and engaging and sweeps you up right from the start and I continued rooting for her all the way through as she struggles to overcome her grief and find her place in the world whilst working in a really crappy job and finding it hard to build new relationships or resume old ones.

The first book was very emotional with deft touches of wry humour and thats what worked best for me. Book 2 is essentially a comedy with some emotional moments so it reads very differently for me. I love every book by Jojo Moyes that I've read (and I've read most of them) and this is no different. It's a hugely engaging read with great characters and a storyline that flows like silk, but, and there is a but, Me mefore you is such a huge and hard act to follow I feel the author has tried just a little too hard to inject humour into this book and what should be sweet and amusing at times occasionally spills over into farce, especially the storyline about Lou's parents, and the grief counselling support group.

I've given After You 4 stars rather than 5 as it is a really enjoyable piece of chick-lit but just not quite in the same calibre as it's predecessor. I'd say you do really need to have read and loved Me before you to appreciate this one, it just wouldn't work as a stand alone as you need to experience the depth of emotions in the former to understand Lou's motivation in the second book.

If you loved Me before you - you must read this one it doesn't spoil the former in any way, but do read them in order and be aware that they are very different. I didn't shed one tiny tear in the second book whereas I wept copiously throughout the first.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Secret by the Lake - Louise Douglas - romantic mystery

The Blurb

Amy's always felt like something’s been missing in her life, but as a nanny for the Laurent family - Julia, Alain, Viviane - she feels complete.

So Amy wouldn’t think of leaving them when a sudden tragedy forces them to move from France to the small lakeside cottage in the isolated Somerset village where Julia grew up.

But there’s something strange about the cottage by the lake. This is where Julia spent her childhood. But she used to have an older sister, Caroline, whom she rarely speaks about...

Who disappeared at just seventeen...

Who has a secret the whole village wants kept hidden for ever...

My thoughts

This haunting, romantic mystery beguiled me throughout, it has everything the discerning reader could wish for in a captivating and intriguing new novel.

Brimming with hidden secrets, family tension, and the overwhelming sense of something nasty lurking underneath the surface this book is narrated by Amy, with a patchy childhood herself she has always sought to belong and when she landed a job as nanny with a wealthy family in France it became not merely a job but a whole new life and family to belong to and cherish.

Returning home to the UK to visit her ailing father out of a sense of duty more than familial love, she doesn't hesitate when she receives an urgent summons from her former employer Julia to whom tragedy has befallen. She drops everything to join Julia and young daughter Viviane in a tumbledown cottage overlooking a lake where Julia lived as a child with her hapless, misfit sister Caroline, an upbringing no more love filled than Amy's own.

What Amy finds is a fractured family living in near poverty in a dilapidated house where a young woman once lived and died in mysterious circumstances and a close knit rural community reluctant to let go of the past.

She also finds love and her own inner strength as she tries to uncover the truths about what really happened to Caroline.

Set mainly in the 1960s it captures the essence of buried small town secrets, the closeness of a rural community and a creeping sense of apprehension, desolation and imminent

The whole book simmers with mysteries, camouflaged secrets and deeply shrouded unpleasantness that has been buried for years, as Amy begins to peel away the layers, the messages which are revealed are about to release unexpected corruption and depravity.

I loved the progressive sense of malignance and the ethereal quality of the brooding lake and the spectral brooding presence of the much maligned Caroline.

I'd like to add my thanks to Louise Douglas and her publishers Black Swan for providing me with an advance copy to read and review. (less)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The girl with no past - Kathryn Croft - hidden secrets

The blurb

Leah Mills lives a life of a fugitive – kept on the run by one terrible day from her past. It is a lonely life, without a social life or friends until – longing for a connection – she meets Julian. For the first time she dares to believe she can live a normal life.

Then, on the fourteenth anniversary of that day, she receives a card. Someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed the life Leah has created.

But is Leah all she seems? Or does she deserve everything she gets?

Everyone has secrets. But some are deadly.

My thoughts

I was rapidly swept up into this psychological chiller. It begins with a car crash but you don't know who it's happened to or when its taken place so this sets the tone of mystery and concealment very nicely.

We are then allowed a glimpse of life as Leah, in her late 20's she leads a rather solitary existence, she lives in a rather grim, bare little apartment, has no friends, a tense relationship with her Mother, all that keeps her going is her job in a library as she buries herself in books when her own life becomes too bleak. She is hiding from some cataclysmic event in her past, has obviously been hurt by other people and, in flashbacks to her childhood we are given glimpses of her past but it's not until almost the end of the book that any reasons are revealed and things really begin to make sense.

We're not told why she lives the life of a hermit and why she can't trust anyone but it's obvious she can't build relationships easily. But we see her begin to emerge from her shell a little bit, reaching out to a few people, but who is really to be trusted? Someone doesn't want her to forget the past, but who is it and what do they want from Leah?

The tension builds to a nail biting climax and I was kind of waiting for a big let down, but the reveal when its comes is pretty darned shocking and not really what I was expecting. I loved the little teasers, the red herrings and the many surprises along the way and a very easy style of writing which made the book a pleasure to read and easy to enjoy.

My thanks to Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this competent and quirky thriller to review.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Perfect Daughter - Amanda Prowse

The blurb

Wife. Mother. Daughter. What happens when it all becomes too much?

Jackie loves her family. Sure, her teenage children can be stroppy. Her husband a little lazy. And providing round-the-clock care for her Alzheimer's-ridden mother is exhausting. She's sacrificed a lot to provide this safe and loving home, in their cramped but cosy semi with a view of the sea.

All Jackie wants is for her children to have a brighter future than she did. So long as Martha, the eldest, gets into university and follows her dreams, all her sacrifice will be worth something... won't it?

My Thoughts

I was quite surprised at just HOW much I loved reading this delightful novel. For me it turned out to be the perfect Autumn read, I put on my snuggly sweater and curled up with this book and a mug of hot chocolate and lost myself in the pages and the life of Jackie (Jacks) I fell into her world with a bump and was instantly there, living her life and to be honest I found it a little depressing to begin with, she doesn't have it easy, yet there were feelings I could really relate to and a deft touch of lightness to lift the gloom which made it sing.

A caring daughter, loving wife and devoted Mum to two kids, Jacks lives a life of what-ifs, her life hasn't turned out that bad, but she often feels she could have done so much MORE with her life - and who can't relate to that? (If you're the one who never thinks this, I take my hat off to you as you're very lucky)

She spends her days struggling to make ends meet, caring for her discontended, alzheimers-ridden Mother and feeling taken for granted, often annoyed by her husband and frustrated by her kids and the monotony which has become her daily routine, and she daydreams about how things might have been if she'd ended up with a different man, the childhood sweetheart, the one that got away.

She has a wonderful, loyal friend Gina who injects a few moments of bright humour into the proceedings but the real sparkle in her eyes is provided by teenage daughter Martha on whom Jacks is pinning all her hopes. Martha is bright, does well at her studies and is going to do all the things Jacks blew the chance at doing and Jacks is planning to experience success vicariously, through the achievements of Martha - the perfect daughter.

The whole story is set in Weston Super Mare, a place I've never visited but through the book I felt I knew it, it has that small town "Broadchurch" ffeel and in my mind (possibly erroneously) the characters spoke with similar burring accents to the families in this popular tv drama.

What delighted me most is the beautifully compassionate and descriptive writing. This is a romantic novel about everyday life that is SO wonderfully believeable and deliciously readable I galloped through it and felt bereft at the ending - all the signs of the perfect read. I will most certainly be reading more by this author who I'm delighted to have discovered.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Apologies if you've tried to offer me books!!

A humble apology to people who have tried to contact me via email through this blog - there was an error in my email address, oops my bad, sorry!

I dread to think how many people have tried to contact me before I was alerted and checked it out.

The error is now rectified and I'm happy to hear from book publicists, accept review requests and blog tour invitations etc.

Publishers and authors please email me with review requests.

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...