Friday, 26 February 2016

No Longer Safe - A. J. Waines - psychologically brilliant

No Longer Safe - A. J. Waines

My thoughts:

Every now and again a book comes along that's impossible for me to resist. As a book blogger I am offered lots of books to read and although I find it very hard to say no thanks, that's what I do have to say fairly often as I just don't have enough time to read as much or as often as I'd love to.

But a while ago I was contacted and asked if I'd like to read a new twisty psychological thriller called No Longer Safe by A. J. Waines and as I have so many books waiting on my tbr I sadly declined but as this is a genre I love, I featured a short article by the author about writing psychological thrillers.

An e-copy of the book arrived nonetheless, just in case I'd like to read it for pleasure at some point, well, want to and be able to are often 2 very different things but I popped it on my kindle anyway.

Several books later and looking for my next read, I browsed through my unread titles, came across No Longer Safe and made the fatal mistake of thinking I'll just read the first page ... and I did and I got hooked right into this book and here we are several days later and I'm thinking WOW, that one sure packed a punch!

It's everything the perfect psychological thriller should be - several complex characters you get to know rather well yet don't really like as they are all deeply flawed. A compelling storyline with various plotlines and subtexts going on and a ruddy great shocker of a twist near the end!

We are introduced to the main narrator, Alice at the beginning when she receives out of the blue a completely unexpected invitation from an old college friend Karen to get together and spend some time together having a winter break at a rural holiday cottage in Scotland where Karen is helping her baby daughter Mel recuperate from a stay in hospital. She accepts despite a little trepidation not having seen Karen since their university days but she has had a lot going on and feels a break might be just whats needed to cheer her up. The story alternates between her voice and that of Karen, about whom it soon becomes obvious has some ulterior motives to her invitation.

On arriving Alice is disappointed to find the holiday cottage is a rather run down place and to her chagrin discovers that Karen has invited 2 more old college pals, whom Alice was rather glad to have seen the back of. Into the bleak location and chilly winter setting are woven parallel storylines, a child has gone missing nearby, something seems not quite right with the other 2 houseguests, snide Mark and needy Jodie, and a sudden death threatens to unhinge everything.

Despite the rather remote location there is still the opportunity to meet new folk and Alice finds a new friend Nina and even has the chance of romance when she meets an attractive and attentive stranger but she finds Karen changed and wary, Mark and Jodie as flaky as pastry and she doesn't know who she can trust, neither does the reader, you will be suspicious and disbelieving and not know who has done what and to whom and why but all will fall into place and I defy you not to gasp at the audacity of the outcomes.

Underneath everything is an air of mystery and deceit and lots of things that just aren't right, skewed motives, people being dishonest and hiding things and some really strange and unlikely decisions being made. This is exactly what makes a credible and exciting psychological chiller. If everyone was credible and likeable it wouldn't be half as exciting.

A brilliant read I wholeheartedly recommend if you like twisty tales with shocks throughout and chilling surprises towards the conclusion.

Thankyou to the author for allowing me a copy and for writing such an enjoyable and tense novel.

The Blurb - from Goodreads

She was your best friend. Now she’s your deadliest enemy – and there’s nowhere to run…

When Alice receives an invitation from Karen, her charismatic University friend, to stay in a remote cottage in Scotland, she can’t wait to rekindle their lost friendship. But two more former students arrive – never friends of Alice’s – and as the atmosphere chills, Karen isn’t the warm-hearted soulmate Alice remembers. Barely is the reunion underway before someone is dead and the fragile gathering is pushed to breaking point.

As the snow cuts them off from civilisation and accusations fly, Alice finds herself a pawn, sinking deeper into a deadly game she can’t escape.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Little Shop of Happy Ever Afters - Jenny Colgan - sweet romance

My Review

Lovely sweet romantic story, the first I've read by this author, but probably not the last as it was sheer feel-good reading bundled up in a delightful romance in a setting most book lovers will find magical.

Nina is a rather shy 29 year old librarian, living in Birmingham in a rather grotty flat share with her best mate Surinda. In a theme many readers will relate to she is facing the closure of the library where she works at the job she adores, helping other people find the perfect book, and possible redundancy.

This comes into her life like a bombshell, she is pretty devastated to say the least. Never one to takes risks or even do new things, she makes a sudden decision to try and act on her dream of owning a bookshop and thinks of using her redundancy money to buy a van to turn into a mobile bookshop. But the only van she sees which she can afford and might suit her purposes is up in the wilds of Scotland. Here begins the life changing stuff!

Her spontaneous trip to Scotland to view the run down old vehicle, introduces her to a more laid back way of life, tranquil scenery and a host of small villages and farming communities all crying out for access to books since their libraries have all closed.

Fate has a habit of intervening and this opportunity sees her relocate to a converted barn, meet some interesting folk and find the possibility of romance.

There are some really great characters, lots going on and a wonderful book themed setting and we see Nina grow and develop into a more determined character which is smashing, oh and there are several, romantic hunky fellas around, some of them in kilts!

It’s all just lovely, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But I have 2 little niggles. She finds it SO darned easy to get this unrealistic and unlikely business up and running and customers come swarming at her, that just frankly couldn't happen in real life (or I'd be doing it by now) My second niggle is that nearly all the books she offers to people and talks about in her mobile bookshop aren't real! She describes in detail several books which I wanted to read only to look them up and find they don't exist!

My thanks go to Netgalley and the publisher Sphere books for my review copy.

Description from Netgalley

Given a back-room computer job when the beloved Birmingham library she works in turns into a downsized retail complex, Nina misses her old role terribly - dealing with people, greeting her regulars, making sure everyone gets the right books for their needs. Then a new business nobody else wants catches her eye: owning a tiny little bookshop bus up in the Scottish highlands. No computers. Shortages. Out all hours in the freezing cold; driving with a tiny stock of books... not to mention how the little community is going to take to her, particularly when she stalls the bus on a level crossing...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Butcher's Hook - Janet Ellis - a hair rasing tale

 The Butchers Hook

I really enjoyed this debut offering from Janet Ellis (of Blue Peter fame) I heard quite a loud buzz about this, as one of THE books to read in 2016 and spotted it on a few favourite lists, so I was eager to read it before it becomes over hyped.

I was hoping it would completely blow my socks off and it did captivate and entertain me to a large degree. None of the characters in this historical setting are very likeable, they are all just a teeny bit larger than life, charicatured with an almost Dickensian tongue in cheek. The story is dark and quite surprising, beginning like a Regency Romance, building into a bit of a bodice ripper becoming quirky and twisted then ending with a rather shocking climax!

The main protagonist Anne Jaccob, is a young woman whom, the story tells us, has her innocence stolen at a tender age by a slightly paedophilic tutor who gets a touch too close for comfort. It's my belief that this completely amoral and immoral young lady has a thread of corruption running through her right from the start and has little virtue to steal.

Hardened by the death of a baby brother she had lavished affection of only to be left bereft at his sudden death, she deliberately erects a shell of callosity around her allowing no-one close. Her Mothers attention is claimed by a newborn daughter, and she gets no paternal warmth (like father like daughter, in my opinion)

She avoids closeness and overtures of friendship, yet craves love and passion and she develops a fixation on the butchers boy Fub who delivers meat to the family household. Anne takes it upon herself to pursue this young fella, despite her father arranging a mutally beneficial engagement for her to the foppish, pernickety and decidedly slimy Simeon Onions.

Deciding to take her future in her own hands she sets off on a destructive path, with no thought for any of the consequences.

I found that this manipulative little madam managed to contrive a remarkable amount of freedom for a girl from a middle class background in the 18th century, however I admired her single mindedness and resourcefulness. I SO couldn't warm to her though, she is dissolute, profligate and quite licentiously repellant.

The book completely sucked me in and I was enthralled by the story and kept riffling through the pages at a fair old pace. It's a hectic and hair raising tale, a coming of age story for adults. Read it, love it, but don't be taken in by dear Anne who is like an aniseed ball, hard and deceptive with any sweetness well tempered by the curious bitterness of flavour and the darkness of licorice.

My gratitude goes to Bookbridgr and the publisher Two Roads from Hodder and Stoughton for my review copy.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Look at me - Sarah Duguid - family ties

My thoughts

This is another very accomplished, enjoyable, debut novel about a fractured family and difficult relationships.

Lizzy lives with her Dad and her brother Ig, following their Mums death a couple of years earlier. The fury she feels on discovering the existence of her father's daughter to another woman, knows no bounds and she recklessly contacts her half sister, allowing her to enter their lives - and create havoc!

The family have always had a very hippy dippy love and peace, drugs and rock and roll kind of set up and Ig in particular has followed in their lead and has a slightly off the wall personality. Lizzy is an angry young woman feisty, yet soaked in ill concealed grief.

When she invites Eunice into their midst she is only too eager to accept and Lizzy is reluctant to admit the repercussions this is having by unsettling the equilibrium. Eunice turns out to be a very complex character and not the sweet, innocent sister she at times appears to be on the surface and her presence creates explosive tensions and more hidden secrets to rise to the surface.

I always find it quite difficult to relate to bohemian lifestyles, perhaps as my family was so old fashioned and straitlaced. Yet the characters are so well created I still found them believeable.

It's a story of family and loss and grief, quite a quick read as it's not overlong and very well written.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys family drama and strong characters.

I received my copy in advance of publication from the publisher Tinder press in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Blurb - from Goodreads

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Ballroom - Anna Hope - blog tour

I'm honoured and thrilled to be part of the blog tour for the wonderful new book by Anna Hope - The Ballroom.

I enjoyed this wonderful, moving book so much I couldn't wait to write about it and one or two people will have already heard my squeals of anguished delight after I finished reading it.

This is a book which has moved many readers and it certainly makes a huge impact and remains in your heart and mind for a long time after putting it down.

It will be published on 11th February and joins a recent glut of wonderfully enjoyable historical fiction. I have no qualms in saying this WILL feature highly in my top reads of 2016 as no matter what else I read in 2016 nothing will detract from this book which touched my very soul.

Please read my full review here and order your copy now

You can follow the blog tour here by visiting these wonderful book blogs:

I'm delighted to be in such distinguished literary company.....

Monday 8th February

Tuesday 9th - Oh that's today and its me :) (Please follow my blog to keep up with my reviews)

Wednesday 10th February

Thursday 11th February

Friday 12th February

Saturday 13th February

Monday 15th February

Thursday 16th February

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Song of the Sea Maid - Rebecca Mascull - Enchanting

My Thoughts

What a treat this delight of a novel was to read.

So much, well, bigger than I imagined it would be. It tells the story of a young orphan, separated from her only sibling when he is captured by a press gang and she is left alone to fend for herself on the mean streets of 18th century London.

Trying to make a crust for herself at the tender age of perhaps 4 or 5 years of age it’s hardly surprising she soon comes a cropper, but fortunately the gent she tries to rob becomes her saviour, taking her to an orphanage where she is named after said gentleman, given the name of Dawnay after his surname and she is provided with a roof over her head and scant victuals.

It soon becomes apparent that young Dawnay has a somewhat exceptional mind as she sets out to educate herself, learning her letters by candlelight in the dead of night.

Unconventional to say the least, she absorbs knowledge like a sponge, is helped in her education by the Matron of the orphanage home and as she grows manages to win the approval of another elderly gent who becomes her guardian and benefactor helping her realise her ambition to be educated in science.

It becomes her burning ambition to travel, not just for travels sake but to explore ancient civilizations, discover the secrets of the past even though defying convention in her blasphemous thoughts, if what she believes in is true, then God cannot possibly exist.

Her benefactor helps her get a place on board a ship traveling to Portugal where she lives a hermit like existence on a small island, discovers wondrous historical artefacts and makes a few unlikely friends, Disaster strikes in the form of a cataclysmic earthquake and event she miraculously escapes from relatively unscathed. Perhaps the God she fails to put her trust in looked after her after all?

Dawnays whole life is extremely unorthodox which is what makes her such a quirky and fascinating character. I didn’t always completely understand or agree with her motivations but she never failed to entertain me and kept me glued to every page.

What I thought might be a rags to riches orphan makes good saga, proved to be anything but, it’s a clever and intriguing look at the difficulties of being a woman in the 1700s with a bright and enquiring mind and an unorthodox upbringing. The story encompasses scientific research, paleontology, a lot of time is spent on board ship so there is quite a bit about naval life, natural disasters are covered in immense detail yet throughout is the ongoing search of a lonely child for love and friendship and the myths and legends surrounding the ethereal existence of mermaids.

Enchanting storyline, beguiling characters and exceptionally competent writing combine to make this book, one you don’t want to miss.

I seldom say this as I don’t usually like sequels but this book left me aching to know what happens after the book finishes.

Song of the sea maid is available in paperback from 11th February 2016 and is quality historical romantic fiction at its absolute best.

My thanks go to Bookbridgr and the publisher Hodder and Stuoghton for my advance copy to review.

The Blurb

As a child living on the streets of London, then in an orphanage, Dawnay Price grows up determined not to let her background stand in the way of her ambitions.

In an era where women rarely travel alone, especially for scientific study, Dawnay sets sail aboard The Prospect to the beautiful Iberian Peninsula. Amid rumours of mermaids in the sparkling waters, she makes some unexpected discoveries, including what it means to fall in love.

Having fought hard against convention, Dawnay is determined to put her career above all else. Yet as war approaches she finds herself divided by feelings she cannot control.

Told in Dawnay's words, from the author of THE VISITORS, this is an unforgettable story about what it takes to achieve your dreams, even when they seem impossible.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

No longer Safe - A J Waines - psychological thriller

I'm delighted to welcome to the blog today author A J Waines writer of several acclaimed psychological thrillers.

She has sold over 100,000 books worldwide and topped the UK and Australian Kindle Charts in 2015 with her number one bestseller, Girl on a Train. Following fifteen years as a psychotherapist, she is now a full-time novelist with publishing deals in France, Germany (Penguin Random House) and USA (audiobooks). 

In 2015, she was featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Times and was ranked in the Top 20 UK authors on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). She lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

I love a good psychological thriller and have been eagerly awaiting publication of her latest new book No Longer Safe on 4th February.

She has written this interesting article about writing psychological thrillers:

" Writing Psychological Thrillers seems an obvious choice for me, having spent fifteen years as a Psychotherapist! In the past, I’ve been privileged to work with ex-offenders from high-security institutions in the UK, as well as with ‘ordinary’ individuals, like you and me, who make mistakes, tell lies or keep secrets - with disastrous consequences. All in all, my experience has given me an amazing insight into what drives people to commit crimes - and even to kill someone…

So what makes a Psychological Thriller?

For me, the jeopardy in the story comes from the ‘inside-out’, rather than from the ‘outside-in’, so that the characters are exposed to danger on a mental level, rather than (or as well as!) a physical one. The plot usually centres around the  hidden unreliability or instability of characters in the story, with tortuous situations threatening either themselves or others. This kind of mystery allows the reader to get right inside the minds of key players to try to anticipate how they might handle certain dilemmas and tempts the reader towards trying to figure out what the true motives are.

In No Longer Safe, nothing is what it seems… There are twists and turns along the way, blindsiding the reader with actions and behaviours pulled out of the bag by various characters. A big shock at the end is pretty much de rigueur in psych thrillers. I love to knock my readers sideways – and there’s certainly a delicious sting in the tail in this novel!! "

What Advance Reviewers are saying about No Longer Safe:

‘…a disturbing psychological thriller that will resonate in your mind for many days to come. You will not forget this novel! It is that good.’ 5 stars, Sue Leonhardt, Goodreads

‘With tight and tense characters, No Longer Safe is a "Hair Standing on End" thriller that pushes the boundaries of deception and fear!’ 5 stars, Jennifer Giradin, Goodreads

‘I don't know how this authors does it, I don't know where she dreams up her stories, but she really does entertain me for hours.’ 5 stars, Sue Ward, Goodreads

Here's the blurb which has got me really excited ....

She was your best friend. Now she’s your deadliest enemy – and there’s nowhere to run…

When Alice receives an invitation from Karen, her charismatic University friend, to stay in a remote cottage in Scotland, she can’t wait to rekindle their lost friendship. But two more former students arrive – never friends of Alice’s – and as the atmosphere chills, Karen isn’t the warm-hearted soulmate Alice remembers. Barely is the reunion underway before someone is dead and the fragile gathering is pushed to breaking point.

As the snow cuts them off from civilisation and accusations fly, Alice finds herself a pawn, sinking deeper into a deadly game she can’t escape.

NO LONGER SAFE is a chilling Psychological Thriller that delivers a delicious sting in the tail.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Ballroom - Anna Hope - haunting and captivating

May I give this book 6 out of 5? Yes it WAS that good. 

I actually finished reading my advance copy just before Christmas but decided to wait until a little nearer publication before writing my review. Now, this can be a mistake with some books, my memory’s pretty poor – so, leave a couple of weeks between finishing a book and writing about it and frequently I’ll have completely forgotten the storyline let alone my thoughts about it. Not this little beauty though – despite a hectic Christmas and New Year and a two week trip abroad, this book remains on the periphery of my memory haunting me like a beautiful but melancholic apparition. It gripped me like Velcro as soon as I started it and I was soon so deeply immersed in the storyline I couldn’t hear or see anyone around me for days! 

It has everything I love about a book, a strong historical setting - An asylum in Yorkshire in the early 1900s. A wistful nostalgic feel and a shadowy sense of unease, plus a doomed love story at the heart. In 1911 when men and women could end up incarcerated in an asylum for little more than making their feelings known, an outburst which would seem quite commonplace and reasonable could very easily be seen as signs of insanity …. Object to your working conditions girls and woe betide you, read too many books and everyone knows it will turn your brain to mush!!

Yet as asylums go, Sharston is perhaps less cruel than many of the era, at least on the surface. Men and women are kept separately, though men are allowed to work outside enjoying the fresh air and women may form friendships amongst themselves. Add to this a young doctor whose love of music leads him to experiment with helping the patients by holding a weekly dance in the ballroom where men and women may dance together and it seems it may be a not too unpleasant place to spend your days. 

Ella who broke a window in a moment of hysteria, in the factory where she worked long hours under appalling conditions meets John, depressed following a bereavement and both begin to look forward to their weekly dance sessions. Outside, an unprecedented heatwave rages helping emotions simmer unguarded. 

Doctor Charles Fuller, about whom my feelings completely did an about turn part way through the book, battles his own demons and struggles to maintain a grip on his sanity and as the heat builds and passions left buried threaten to rise to the surface, events are about to take a life changing turn. 

I became instantly and deeply involved with the superb characters and the storyline is emotional and poignant. I raged and gasped and squirmed in turn as the lives of these characters played out with me as an observer and above all I FELT every emotion with them and was completely wrung out by the end. 

Although the scope is perhaps not quite as epic as “A Place called Winter” by Patrick Gale which was one of my favourite reads of last year, the style of storytelling and the feel of the book remind me very much of this superb and very classy historical novel and I loved reading this equally.

My thanks go to Netgalley and the publisher Random House uk for my advance copy to review.

The Blurb (taken from Netgalley)

By the acclaimed author of WAKE:

Where love is your only escape ....

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

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...