Monday, 30 November 2015

Looking back

It's coming up to that time of year when I begin to choose my favourite reads of the past year.

Boy is it going to be hard this year! Not because I haven't read any good ones but because I'm fortunate to have read so many delightful new books I can hardly decide which I liked best of all.

I've received and read some truly wonderful books and as I begin to look back I'm finding there are more books this year where I want to shout at the top of my voice "If you haven't read this yet - go out and buy it NOW"

In part this has been helped by my membership of a fabulous book group on Facebook called #bookconnectors started and run by my lovely friend Anne Cater whose fascinating book blog Random things through my letterbox you can find here. This group brings together, keen reviewers, book bloggers, authors, publishers and book publicists ensuring readers are introduced to some amazing new writing talents and get to know a little more about the authors, in fact some of them have now become true friends in real life.

I've also been a more active member of Twitter this year (find me there as @Beadyjan) and am thrilled to now have over 800 followers, most of whom are book lovers and influencers.

I feel I will have to have a top 20 opposed to a top 10 and am still reading so am sure to add a few more by the end of the year.

When I looked through my record of books I've read (I keep track of them on Goodreads, which is an excellent tool for the keen reader and another good place to find recommendations) I felt glad and excited that reading still brings me such unashamed pleasure and sorrowful for those poor folk who have never discovered the joy of books and whose lives must therefore be so much less rich and nurtured as mine feels when I lose myself in a great read.

I'll be posting my list of favourites later in the year - so if you want some excellent recommendations - watch this space!

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Widow - Fiona Barton - a different point of view



My thoughts:

Having been lucky enough to be offered and sent a copy of this already well publicised book in advance of publication for a review, I wanted to be blown away by what is being described as "the ultimate psychological thriller" but I have mixed feelings now I've finished it. I'm sitting on the fence somewhat, because I liked it enough to keep reading and wondering but didn't like it enough to want to shout about it.

On the one hand it kept me reading late into the night, it's a competent page turner and rather cleverly written, jumping about in time, over a few years, there are a few deliberate red herrings and hints at some massive twist coming.

We know at the beginning that Glen Taylor is dead, that’s obvious without even picking up the book, as it’s told in retrospect by his widow Jean. Jean stood by Glen throughout his trial for the abduction of a child and as she prepares to tell her story to the press we are permitted insight to what the past few years have been like for her since little toddler Bella went missing from her Mums front garden and the finger of suspicion begins to point at Glen.

As Jean begins to talk to a reporter about her exclusive inside story, we are taken back in time to just after Bella is abducted, to earlier in Jean and Glen's marriage and a picture of a pretty loveless marriage emerges.

For me it doesn't have the required elements of a psychological thriller. The twists and turns, the great reveal, the OMG moment which are so essential for this type of book to work for me just weren't there. The ending was completely predictable and felt like a real let down. I kept thinking "it's going to be something different" - and it wasn't. It's more or less a straightforward story of a police investigation into a missing child, and the story behind the husband suspected of this crime from the perspective of his wife.

Oh and the characters, they are in the main, bland and shallow and completely unlikeable. Even when the police bungle the investigation, I only become mildly exasperated with them. I'm all for dark, despicable flawed characters the ones you love to hate but I just couldn't summon up enough emotion to care enough about one single character in this story, to be secretly rooting for them despite their flaws, to be appalled or horrified or annoyed by them or feel any sympathy and I still don't grasp their motives. They were just sad little people with even sadder little lives that I got sucked into for a while.

Jean has a few very unpleasant character traits, I almost worked up enough dislike to despise her and at one point felt a smidgeon of sympathy but on the whole I just wanted to shake my head and tell her she was a misguided fool.

However there was something very compelling about being on the wrong side of the fence regarding a missing child, I've read a few books recently which explores this theme from the viewpoint of the family of the abducted child but although we are introduced to Bella's Mum is from the viewpoint of the people on the wrong side of the police investigation.

If you like police dramas and murder investigations you may love this story written from a different viewpoint but don’t expect a twisty edge of your seat psychological screamer because if you do, like me you may feel a little let down by the time you reach the end.

The Official blurb from Goodreads:

We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.


'The ultimate psychological thriller' Lisa Gardner

The Secret by the Lake - Louise Douglas - Blog Tour

I am delighted to take part in the current blog tour for the new book by Louise Douglas as not only is it a stunning read, Louise is a genuine and lovely person.

I'm very selective about which blog tours I take part in, because they can take over your time so much you end up with no time to read or write reviews. But this is one I felt I couldn't say no to.

Mr review was publsihed a few weeks ago so here is a reminder and some more information about Louise and her book The Secret by the Lake.




My Review


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.

About the Book:

A FAMILY TRAGEDY
Amy’s always felt like something’s been missing in her life. When a tragedy forces the family she works for as a nanny to retreat to a small lakeside cottage, she realises she cannot leave them now.

A SISTER’S SECRET
But Amy finds something unsettling about the cottage by the lake. This is where the children’s mother spent her childhood – and the place where her sister disappeared mysteriously at just seventeen. 

A WEB OF LIES
Soon Amy becomes tangled in the missing sister’s story as dark truths begin rising to the surface. But can Amy unlock the secrets of the past before they repeat themselves?


Author Links:

About the author:
Louise was born in Sheffield, but has lived in Somerset since she was 18.  She has three grown up sons and lives with her husband Kevin.  The Secret By The Lake is Louise’s sixth novel and she currently writes around her full time job. 

In her spare time, Louise loves walking with her two dogs in the Mendip Hills, meeting up with her friends and she’s also an avid reader.




Friday, 20 November 2015

The Day of Second Chances - Julie Cohen - wonderfully absorbing




The publishers description

Can you imagine keeping a secret so devastating, you couldn’t even tell the people you love?

Honor’s secret threatens to rob her of the independence she’s guarded ferociously for eighty years.

Jo’s secret could smash apart the ‘normal’ family life she’s fought so hard to build.

Lydia’s secret could bring her love - or the loss of everything that matters to her.

One summer’s day, grandmother, mother and daughter’s secrets will collide in a single dramatic moment.

Is it too late for second chances?




My thoughts

I've read some lovely books recently and this is another brilliant read which blew my socks right off!

It's difficult to praise a book I loved without resorting to cliches and overuse of superlatives, so I won't even try and avoid them. I found it to be incredibly enjoyable, terrifically captivating and wonderfully heart warming.

It's an absorbing and moving story of relationships, and love and secrets. Focussing on the interconnected lives of 3 women, 3 generations, 3 very different secrets. Theres a lot of warmth and love and hugely believable relationships yet there are a few gritty issues faced by the characters keeping it firmly grounded in realism.

Between these pages we meet Jo, she's 40 with 2 marriages behind her and 3 children, a teenage daughter and 2 lively, loveable, handfuls of toddler Oscar and Iris around whom her whole world revolves.

Jo is so ordinary, so normal and so very special! When life offers her a glimpse of happiness for her alone she finds it hard to put herself first for once. We meet her when she is struggling onto a busy bus, overladen with shopping, a buggy and 2 very lively toddlers, this scene paints her life so realistically I was there on the bus with her and despite never having been in this situation myself I could SO feel her frustration, exhaustion and desire to remain smiling. She deserves some happiness.

Lydia is her teenage daughter, bright, with a great future ahead of her, many friends including her bff Avril, exams are looming and her secret threatens to spill over, she battles to keep it hidden despite the fact its almost killing her not to reveal it. She is a typical angst ridden teenager whom Jo finds it increasingly bewildering and difficult to deal with, her sweet loving little girl is rapidly growing into a woman concealing a life altering awareness she can't bring herself to face head on.

Into this family comes Honor, Jo's Mother in law from her first marriage the 2 women have never seen eye to eye in fact they can barely tolerate each other. When Honor falls downstairs she is reluctant to ask for support, but having been completely alone for many years Jo is the person she is forced to turn to. Honor is feisty, intractable, irascible and fiercely independent, she's not a warm cuddly Nana, isn't used to children and likes her own company, so it's unthinkable that she could fit in with Jo's noisy slapdash household.

Honor is the character I most closely related to, when she is first introduced to a noisy family meal with toddlers screaming and a sulky teenager I cringed with her.

The lives and pasts of these 3 incredibly real women are so stunningly written, believable and incredibly moving, that what could be an everyday family drama is transformed into a page turner I just couldn't put down. I was so deeply immersed in their lives, I emerged at the end, blinking and wondering who and where I was!

By featuring 3 women equally each of a different generation the book will assuredly appeal to women of any age from Teen, to Mum to Grandmother so if you're a woman - I think you'll relate more to one character than the others but I'm certain you'll love them all.

Author Julie Cohen has already written 2 previous fabulous novels which I loved, the Richard and Judy choice Dear Thing and the wonderful Where Love Lies which I just heard today has won a prestigious award Best Romantic Read 2015. Very well deserved, congratulations Julie. I have no doubt in my mind that this, The Day of Second chances will be as great a success.

My thanks go to the super https://www.netgalley.com/ for providing my copy to review and the wonderful publisherhttp://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/

Monday, 16 November 2015

Follow Me - Angela Clarke - murderously scary



What the Publisher says:


LIKE. SHARE. FOLLOW . . . DIE

The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.

But this is no virtual threat.

As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.

Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?

Time's running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?

ONLINE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM …

My Review

Follow me is the perfect thriller chiller for the noughties.

This murderously scary, quirky who-dunnit is peppered with larger than life characters with flaws and foibles galore, who make it a pleasure to read.

We start with Freddie a young woman addicted to the internet and Twitter, who hankers to be a renowned journalist. She's making ends meet (just) working in a rail station coffee bar, she hasn't much of a life, home is a sofa bed in a shared flat full of itinerant flat sharers she has little in common with. She has few friends, her abrupt sometimes agressive nature has seen to that. She lurches from drunken one night stand to self reproachful hangover, all the time longing for the BIG journalistic break she dreams of but fears will always elude her.

When she spots her old school pal Nasreen, in her police uniform taking part in some exciting crime busting team event, Freddie makes a spur of the moment decision to take matters in her own hands and inveigle her way into the police investigation and maybe find a breaking story to finally make her name. What she ends up involved with IS life changing, but probably not in the way she's envisaged.

The police are investigating a gruesome murder, soon to be tagged the #murderer as tweets bearing inside knowledge of the murders soon appear on Twitter feeds, and as the public begin to follow whowever is posting them things spiral out of control, a serial killer is on the loose concealed by the anonymity of, yet in plain view on, the internet. The world waits with baited breath, commenting and reacting and helping the murderer go viral.

Running alongside the very fast paced murder investigation is the second part of the story of Nas and Freddies shared past, once bosom buddies they drifted apart and we don't know why, something happened, but is it someting they can put behind them now they are back in touch?

It's inventivelyy written, the twists and turns are masterful, the fact that Freddie probably isn't someone you'd instantly choose as your best mate, actually endeared her to me, she is definitely the underdog, a position she accepts and seem determined to maintain by her aggressive stance and selective failure to sustain relationships of any kind.

All the way through, large parts of the story take place on-line and rely on Twitter interactions to build the pace and shows how quickly internet sensations can build into something massive. It cleverly educates as you go, even as a keen Tweeter myself there are lots of descriptions of how things work, explanations of text speak, acronyms used on Twitter and blogs which I wasn't fully aware of and these are cleverly explained by having a couple of non techy police in the investigation who don't really get the internet and as stuff is explained to them so does the reader who doesn't understand Twitter learn and the one who is familiar feels instantly at home. Whilst reading this novel I was looking over my virtual shoulder every time I tweeted!

The story is a real page turner, I was alternately horrified, frightened, sickened and sometimes amused by the way events unfurl. Theres a deft wittiness threaded through the dark and very tense crimes being committed, the police are almost parodies of themselves, Freddie is so brash and faux tough you could be forgiven for allowing her to annoy you just a little bit too much but it all boils down to a heady mix of murder and mayhem, taking place today in an online world we are all too familiar with.

I think I suspected just about everyone at one point or another, the author places some vividly red herrings at random points throughout the story and I began to mistrust inoocent peoples motives, then felt guilty about it!

When the reveal comes its not what I was expecting and the finale wraps everything up creditably. An exceptionally engaging read and a must for any thriller or psychological chiller lover. 

Pre-order your copy now on Amazon

My thanks go to The publisher - Avon/ Harper Collins, The author Angela Clarke and Netgalley for providing me with an advance ebook copy to read and review at my leisure.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Flowers for the Dead - Barbara Copperthwaite - Perfectly horrific, moving and terrifying



The description from goodreads:

"A chillingly drawn serial killer. Will have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed... Original, gripping, with a deep psychological impact," Sunday Mirror "Enthralling, tense and moving," Real People magazine ADAM WILL DO ANYTHING TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. EVEN IF IT KILLS YOU. Adam Bourne is a serial killer who thinks he is a saviour. When he murders his victims and cuts off the women's lips, he believes he has done it to make them happy. How did he become warped from the sensitive four-year-old who adored his gran and the fairy tales she read to him? What turned him into a monster who stalks his victims? And what is he trying to say with the bouquets he sends? When he meets Laura Weir, Adam weaves a fairy tale romance around them. A tale she has no idea she is part of. As he hatches his twisted plan for their fairy story ending, can anyone stop him before he creates the ultimate sacrifice to love?


My thoughts

Ohh FANTASTIC read!

What a chilling and scary look into the mind of a serial killer. In Flowers for the dead, we are taken deep into the psyche of Adam, he is the main protagonist of this killer thriller. There is never any element of who dunnit, we know he did it, we know who he did it to and we are pretty darn sure we know who he's going to do it to next!

Given that the other part of the storyline focusses on the life of Laura who has had a really tough time of things, it's evident that her and Adams paths are going to cross. Laura has lost her entire family in a tragic accident which has left her struggling to cope, when she begins to feel she is being stalked, by of all things someone unknown who is doing kind but scary things in her home and for her, she wonders if she is just plain going bonkers We as reader know who's doing it, and bit by bit we find out why.

What this cunning and twisted tale does is reveals Adams past bit by bit and I really don't think I'll be alone in saying, I was actually rooting for this guy, despite being appalled at his terrible, dreadful, actions he is such a tragically damaged guy and underneath it all lurks a nice bloke but so deeply hidden his nice side emerges in horrific ways, when he undertook one particular unspeakable act it actually made me want to cheer, I was thinking I don't blame you mate, I don't blame you one little bit. Is that sick? I don't know. I felt mildly ashamed of myself.

I also thought when we found out more about Laura, even though I knew Adam was the most twisted and sick mass murderer, I did think for a brief time "Oh my she's PERFECT for him" then I realized, by even thinking this I was virtually condemning her to death!

Oh and I cried - near the end - and not for the reason I thought I was going to be mourning - did anyone else cry?

The most perfectly horrific, moving and twisted story one could possibly imagine, done with the most impeccable panache by talented author Barbara Copperthwaite. Bravo!

(Did I mention I loved this book?)

I received a free copy of this book to read and this has not influenced my review - I'd have loved it regardless.

You can buy a copy on Amazon

Friday, 6 November 2015

A Brief Affair - Margaret Leroy - terrific ww2 atmosphere



The tagline:

Reminiscent of classic films like Brief Encounter and The End of the Affair, this is a stunningly captured story of a woman finding herself whilst the world is at war

The Blurb:

September 1940. England is a war once again and London has become an ever-fragile place for widowed Livia Ripley and her two young daughters, Polly and Eliza. When Livia meets charismatic publisher Hugo Ballantyne, she is hopeful that her life is about to change for the better. But as clouds gather in the clear autumn sky, the wail of the siren heralds the arrival of the Luftwaffe.

As the raids intensify, Livia volunteers to be a warden at the invitation of enigmatic Justin Connelly. Here she experiences the true reality and despair of war, a contrast to the world of comfort and cocktails provided in fleeting afternoons at the Balfour Hotel with Hugo. And ultimately, Livia discovers a strength she never knew she had that will give her the power to save those she loves. For when you don't know what tomorrow may bring, there is no choice but to live for today.

My thoughts

Wow this was a real eye opener, turned out to be one of the most atmospheric, dramatic and readable world war 2 books I've read. I was expecting a light read, a saga, but what I found between these pages is gritty, eloquent and authentic and captures the feel of being a young widowed Mother struggling to find her identity and forgive herself for her own past, beautifully.

Livia is bringing up 2 young daughters alone in her childhood home, having been widowed and is trying to launch herself as a photographer, in fact her pictures have been accepted by a London publisher and the heightened emotions of war building and loneliness encroaching lead Livia into a passionate and ill advised affair with the charimatic, and married Hugo.

Meanwhile bombs rain down on London and her daughters Polly and Eliza seem to be growing apart, with Eliza in particular seeming affected by the war and behaving out of character.

Livia is haunted by past events, a sister who died when they were both children, even her husbands death, hold elements which cause her to question her own role in everything that happens she blames and punishes herself for things she has no control over.

When she is presented with a chance to give something back by helping others in the war effort she fears she isn't brave enough but we see her develop and grow.

The descriptions of being in air raid shelters and going through the Blitz are gutsy, sombre and in parts intensely harrowing, reminiscent of The Night Watch The book has a haunting, ethereal quality and Livia is a fantastically substantial character, I did like her, despite being slightly flawed she is very believeable.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, the perfect winter pastime is to curl up in the warmth with a beguiling book like this.