Friday, 25 November 2016

What Alice knew - T A Cotterell - a moral dilemma

My Thoughts

What Alice knew is a debut novel which I would personally describe as a literary moral dilemma thriller.

It puts the reader in a situation we’d hope never to be in, asking what we would do if we were to discover our partner had done something bad, really bad, and once we knew about it we couldn’t UNknow it. How far would we go to protect our loved ones and what sacrifices would we be prepaared to make?

Alice is a very successful portrait artist, beside her rewarding career she has a great life which many would envy she is married to a successful obstetrician helping families, saving babies, a good, solid man. Living in upmarket suburbia with their 2 children they have it all, but one fateful night, husband Ed doesn’t come home and after this aberration nothing is going to be the same again.

Strange things happen, a phone call, some flowers and a confession that shatters Alices carefully polished veneer and knocks her sideways. A name from the past emerges, things are said, decisions are made and a metaphorical sinkhole begins to open under Alice’s feet.

Alice’s wonderful life begins to crumble into this pit and she has some awful resolutions to make, should she stand by her man, how much can she really trust him and what effect is this going to have on their lives?

We soon wonder who can we trust? Lies aplenty, secrets galore and enough twists to curl your hair.

The book is written in first person narrative in Alices voice, a method which usually ensures I become deeply immersed in the character, but I found Alice almost impossible to empathise with, though I could sympathise greatly with her dilemma. Her motives are hard to accept and my opinion of her kept changing but I never felt deeply connected to her.

I find it a little strange, that the whole book hinges around her desire to protect their 2 children, yet they are portrayed as, at best, shadowy characters firmly at the axis of this story yet who remained separate from it. The author had so much scope for developing their personalities and exploring their feelings, but they were so indistinct I can’t even remember their names, the day after finishing the book.

The suspense builds throughout the book and the goalposts keep moving, what we know of as fact at the end of one chapter becomes skewed by the next one and there are some great twists I didn’t see coming.

The story is very thrilling and tense and the narrator, Alice, often a touch unreliable. The ending is rather a punch in the gut and I had to read it twice as it is easy to misinterpret.

A great debut, very enthralling and sure to be talked about as it raises many discussion points and will also be one I’d recommend for reading groups who want some meaty dilemmas to thrash out.

My thanks go to Becky Hunter at Penguin Random House for my exclusive advance bloggers copy.

The Blurb (taken from Goodreads)

Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

Friday, 18 November 2016

My Husband's son - Deborah O'Connor - tantalising and twisty

My thoughts

My husbands son is one of those books where all the way through I was willing the character (Heidi in this case) not to make that decision and pleeease don’t take that action, to no avail.

Heidi and husband Jason aren’t your average couple, but they have more in common than many. They are united by loss, they met through the shared grief of losing a child. Heidi’s daughter was abducted and murdered, even after 6 years this is THE defining event which shapes her life even though she is holding down a demanding job and expending a lot of her energy in supporting Jason through his on-going ordeal, for his son barney was also abducted but he remains missing and Heidi clings to that hope of a better outcome for the man she loves.

The story begins rather enigmatically with a pastiche of someone grabbing a young boy and taking him away against his will. This sets the tone for the book, it’s a horrible subject and if it makes you uncomfortable thinking about what it would be like to lose a child and know that horrible things have or may have been done to them, this may upset you.

But it’s extremely compelling reading, even more so when I realised it’s set in the North East, my own stomping ground, albeit a North East with a tiny bit of artistic license applied. Some places differing slightly from my detailed knowledge, didn’t spoil it and make it all the more easy to relate to the characters.

Heidi has spent years staring at photos of her husband’s son Barney, and when she spots a young lad exactly the age Barney would now be, then sees Jason’s eyes and expression she knows she’s found his missing son. She’s determined to re-unite them but when she shows the boy to Jason he is equally as certain that this isn’t his son. You’d recognise your own flesh and blood wouldn’t you?

But Heidi’s conviction isn’t quashed by his denial in fact she becomes even more determined to find out if this is in fact Barney grown a little older. But as she begins to carry out her own investigations she makes matters go from bad to worse, she gets herself in some terrible pickles, jeopardises her job, her own safety, her very sanity ... or is that where the problem has lain all along? Is she crazy, has grief unhinged her?

She gets herself into some such terrible scrapes, at one point when she was around the back of a building in a grubby back alley trying to gain access and see inside a property and falls off a bin I rolled around with gleeful horror.

Heidi is a wonderful, slightly unhinged, flaky yet resolute character, I loved her. She wears spindly spiky designer high heels all the time to give herself height and presence, yet they are so impractical and often cost her dearly.

She is like a terrier with a rat in its teeth and just won’t let go of what she thinks is right. Just when you think she's beginning to see sense, she spins off again on a self destruct mission, leaving me gasping and shouting Nooooo, DON'T (but did she listen? Nope, off she goes)

Whether she is right or wrong becomes almost of secondary importance compared with just how far she will actually go to follow her self imposed mission.

And the ending  ..... it’s suitably tantalising, twisty and ambiguous enough to make a shudder run down my spine!

An extremely competent and convoluted psychological chiller to satisfy even the most warped mind.

I apologise to the kind folks at Netgalley and the publisher Bonnier publishing who provided this book which I didn't read in time for the launch.

The Blurb

You'd always recognise your own son. Wouldn't you?

A captivating psychological thriller with a devastating twist, perfect for fans of Apple Tree Yard and Gone Girl 

Heidi and Jason aren't like other couples. Six years ago, Heidi's daughter was murdered. A year later, Jason's son Barney disappeared. Their shared loss brought them together. By chance, Heidi meets a boy she's certain is Barney. But Jason is equally convinced it's not him. Is Heidi mad? Or is Jason hiding something? And can their fragile marriage survive Heidi's newfound quest for the truth . . .

An Almond for a Parrot - Wray Delaney - a Bawdy romp

My thoughts

I fell in love with the wonderful intriguing title and description of this book, I love a quirky historical novel, I adore a feisty female protagonist who is ahead of her time, I don’t even mind lots of sex scenes in the right context. When I discovered the Wray Delaney is no less than the adult nom de plume of wonderful author Sally Gardner whose books for younger readers have already entranced me I wanted it even more. Oh and the cover - isn't it striking!

Then I began to read reviews which compared it to my favourite book of all time “The Crimson Petal and the White” and then liken it to the historical works of Sarah Waters, to say I was excited is an understatement, I nearly wet myself when my request for an advance copy was approved! I just had to start reading it straight away.

Perhaps the hype was a little too much. Maybe I was setting my expectations too high? Because sadly this just wasn’t to my taste as much as I really wanted it to be.

Rather than comparing it to my favourite books mentioned above, I would liken it more to a blend of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the Night circus and Moll Flanders (none of which I liked much) with a touch of 6th sense. It has a lot of magical, mystical happenings which are never really explained and made it all the harder for me to accept. I'm a bit too pragmatic to like magic and fantasy.

It begins in 18th century London where young Tully Truegood, a Dickensian name if ever I heard one, is taken at a tender age by her wicked and drunken father to a place where she is married to a man she has never met. Then her drunken sot of a Father, who teats her like a slave, re-marries and brings into Tullys life a colourful step mother who actually seems to care for her and two step sisters who extend slightly more than the hand of friendship to young Tully and thus begins her education.

But good things never last and her Fathers bride, Queenie disappears to set up a house of ill repute known for some obscure reason as The Fairy House. Tully, at first abandoned, soon ends up there and is trained to become a courtesan, not that she needs much encouraging, she is born to this life as she is obsessed with satisfying the flesh, her greatest talents are fornication and floating!

The book is written in the very tongue in cheek vernacular of the day and although I agree it sets the scene it began to grate on me. There are only so many references to throbbing roots, tight little ladies purses and moist mounds of Venus one can take, and this book repeats and repeats these terms ad infinitum (which did not sit well with me at all). For me this makes everything lewder and cruder and less easy to become immersed in. Although the actual sex scenes aren’t that graphic, they are just frequent, lengthy and rather gratuitous.

Our feisty little tart with a heart, is not only a profligate whore obsessed with satisfying her curiosity about sex but she can see dead people, in fact she can conjure them up at will, Oh and not just people but the ghosts of pets too. Let me see, what else can this enterprising young woman do – she can float!

When she’s not levitating around the room, she is romping around naked with a variety of willing partners, and soon she falls in love. But her unknown husband of her childhood re-appears on the scene and she soon finds herself languishing in Newgate Prison awaiting trial for murder.

The story then begins to weave back and forth in time to reveal the whys and wherefores of how this situation came about.

A lot of readers have commented how engaging Tully is and I think that’s where everything fell a bit flat I didn’t warm to her, I didn’t find her very empathetic and the storyline is so improbable, it just wasn’t quite earthy and gritty enough too ethereal and frilly and, Oh my sir, where are you going to put that big thing! (this is not a quote just an impression)

If you love magical, inexplicable events and a story that’s lusty, quirky and rather different you’ll most likely adore this. It's a tale of sexual enlightenment and fantasy, a coming of age with more coming than age.

I fall back on the old adage “It’s not you – It’s me”. If it’s to your taste, you'll enjoy this novel, in fact thousands of readers are going to adore it. But it left me with a slight sense of disappointment and unrequited desire for a meatier, epic historical tale when I would sum it up as, a Bawdy romp with fantasy and magic.

It's available now in Hardcover and for your kindle.

My thanks go to the publisher Harlequin UK for providing my copy via Netgalley.

The Blurb

I would like to make myself the heroine of this story and my character to be noble – an innocent victim led astray. But alas sir, I would be lying…

Tully Truegood: Orphan, Magician’s apprentice, Whore. In prison, accused of murder, Tully begins to write her life story. A story that takes her from a young daughter-skivvy in the back streets of 18th Century London to her stepmother Queenie’s Fairy House – a place where decadent excess is a must…

Trained by Queenie to become a courtesan, and by Mr Crease – a magician who sees that Tully holds similar special powers to his own – together they make Tully the talk of the town.

But as Tully goes on a journey of sexual awakening, she falls in love with one of her clients and the pleasure soon turns to pain. Especially when the estranged husband she was forced to marry by her father suddenly seeks her out. Now Tully is awaiting her trial for murder, for which she expects to hang…and her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who might be able to help her.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Invisible - Barbara Copperthwaite - a Killer of a thriller

Invisible – Barbara Copperthwaite:

As I review quite a few advance reading copies of new books from Publishers it’s not that often that I feel able to choose a book from my TBR pile purely because I really fancy reading it. But very recently I did just that purely because I just couldn’t wait any longer to get stuck in to Invisible by the wonderful writing talent which is Barbara Copperthwaite.

You may be familiar with the scenario – you have an ever increasing pile of review copies waiting to be read, all clamouring for attention and despite the urgency of some nearing publication date, a few blog tours lurking just over the horizon, you still can’t decide which one to read next.

You open your kindle and riffle through the unread books and suddenly a title catches your eye that you bought a while ago because you couldn’t resist its allure and still you haven’t made time to read it. So you open it, just to read the first page or two to remind yourself what it’s about …. And 50 pages later you’re absolutely hooked and those other books – well they can just sit back and wait!

In fact it didn’t take 50 pages for me to be hooked it was almost immediate.

My review …..

Invisible took me where I hoped “The Widow” by Fiona Barton was going to take me and much further, it immersed me more fully inside the head of a woman whose husband is accused of a terrible crime.

The whole book is written in the format of a diary to whom the main protagonist confesses her innermost thoughts and fears and its clear from the onset that there’s something a little amiss with her relationship with her husband Daryl, a hunky great bear of a man, but she loves him, she always has and even if he sometimes treats her a little domineeringly, behaves crushingly, is jealous of her friendships –  she accepts that it’s all because he loves her and she wants to make an effort to get things back on track, it seems to be working, they’re closer than ever – aren’t they?

They enjoy a nice holiday abroad together, and if one night rather too much alcohol is consumed and they have a little falling out, well that nearly always happens on holiday, right?

But overall things ARE better, he even agrees the time is right to start a family together. She is happy (nearly all of the time!)

Until one night her (your, my) worst imaginable nightmare comes true. Armed police appear in the couples bedroom, he is arrested and she spends the worst night of her life locked in a grim police cell.


Can you imagine? She loves this man, he’s a big gentle teddy bear, he couldn’t possibly have done the dreadful things he’s being accused of (despite some of her friends finding him scary, freaky, threatening)

But this is only the start of how bad things can get.

Her life in tatters, she makes it her raison d’etre to help prove his innocence, to support him and she waits, for the day everyone will realise he couldn’t have done what he stands accused of, she KNOWS this, she was with him, she is his alibi, she will be vindicated.

Oh dear me!

I worry a bit about this author – she gets right inside the mind of a serial killer like no other author I have even known, how does she DO this so well?

I adored her novel Flowers for the dead, in fact I couldn’t STOP tweeting about it, praising it, loving it. So this one, written earlier than that couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations – Don’t be silly, of course it could! It BLEW MY SOCKS RIGHT OFF. Look at my freezing cold toes.

This is a KILLER of a thriller. It’s shocking, its dark, it’s so scary it made me feel sick (in the best possible way of course) and it’s utterly believable.

Read it, but preferably not when your husbands off working nights, or I guarantee you’ll be quizzing him about work just that little bit more than usual when he gets in.

At time of writing this book is available for your kindle at the scarily silly price of just 99p.

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Witchfinders Sister - Beth Underdown

My Review

I love a good meaty literary historical novel with a strong female protagonist and the Witchfinders sister ticks every box for me. It is a stunning and highly accomplished literary debut, a most wonderful atmospheric read which will stay with me long after I close the pages.

We meet Alice Hopkins in 1645 when she is returning home to stay with her younger brother, after she has been suddenly and tragically widowed. Relationships with her brother have been somewhat strained since she left home to marry for love, beneath the status expected of her, a marriage to the adopted son of a former servant of her family.

The book made me really think about how limited the choices were for women several centuries ago when without a man to protect them they would be reviled and penniless. Thank goodness I was born in the present day, for all my passion for history and reading about the past, time travel through books like this is the closest I want to be to ever being in as helpless a situation as Alice finds herself.

Alice is desperate to avoid becoming completely homeless, she is carrying her late husbands child, a final reminder of the love they shared, but it’s difficult for her to even tell her sibling as she finds her shy and diffident younger brother Matthew greatly changed, both in the company he keeps and the secretiveness of his business and his manner and attitude towards her (and other women). She must do all she can to placate him and smooth things over between them just to keep a roof over her head.

Like when they were both children, he still keeps a journal but now he doesn’t record childish hopes and dreams and he no longer wants a big sister to protect the scarred and fearful child he once was. The man he has become is writing things about the neighbourhood women, recording their details and blaming them for ills which have befallen menfolk. The quiet clergyman is no more and a vengeful and obsessive Matthew expects his dutiful sister to support him in his quest.

Alice befriends Grace, a maid in the household and tries to keep her head down whilst Matthew pursues his ever widening witch hunt from which no woman seems to be immune. Her unease turns to dismay when she finds even her own mother in law is on Matthews radar.

Alice is a fabulous character, with whom I had huge empathy, yet at times I almost began to dislike her, until I made myself wear her shoes, think like her and realise, that some of her choices, although difficult to understand weren’t even options, much of the time she was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

This is a novel with its feet firmly embedded in factual events. The story of the notorious witchfinder general is haunting and harrowing and completely unputdownable. 

The viewpoint of watching this horror unfold from the point of view of a helpless bystander, herself at risk from the man who is grown from her beloved little brother is jaw dropping.

My heart ached for Alice and the dilemma she finds herself in and there is a bone juddering, brilliant line right at the end of the book that made my blood run ice cold!

Don't let the subject matter fool you into thinking this is a ya fantasy type book about witches, its much more authentic and compelling than this and is a superb book about the persecution of women and their place (or lack of it) in 17th century Britain and a man who became corrupt and fanatical.

This book isn't due out until March 2017 and I think it's going to be one to watch and wait with bated breath for. Pencil it in your diary for next year.

The Blurb:

'Do you believe in the devil? Not so long ago I too would have scoffed. Now - now I am not so sure.'

1645. Alice Hopkins returns in disgrace, husbandless and pregnant, to her brother Matthew's house in the small Essex town of Manningtree.

When she left, Matthew was an awkward boy, bullied for the scars that disfigure his face. But the brother Alice has come back to is like a different person. Now Matthew has powerful friends, and mysterious business that keeps him out late into the night. Then the rumours begin: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which Matthew is gathering women's names.

Just how far will Matthew's obsession drive him? And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My Sisters bones - Nuala Ellwood - full of nightmares

My thoughts

Two sisters, brought up by an alcoholic father and an abused Mother, hardly surprising one of them should turn to drink, Sally the younger one, the one who appeased her fathers’ drunken rages, has become alienated from her daughter and is pushing her husband Paul away and drowning her sorrows in a wine bottle and a haze of blurred reality.

Not so her sister Kate, clever Kate, successful Kate, she has a successful career as a war correspondent writing for a leading National newspaper. She is resilient and she has escaped her past – or has she?

Following the death of their Mother, Kate has to come back home, to the small seaside town of her upbringing where she is forced to confront a family tragedy which shaped all their lives and still haunts her. Kate is haunted not only by her distant past but by more recent events in war torn Syria where death surrounded her.

When she is awakened night after night by childrens’ cries, she’s sure what she hears is real, but her grasp on reality is slipping could she be plagued by nightmares or is it all caused by PTSD aftermath of the traumas of war? One thing is for sure – we have an unreliable narrator, the book begins with a death – but whose and how?

We are treated to a series of interviews between Kate and a Psychotherapist to whom she is speaking reluctantly. Reeling from a broken relationship, numbed by bereavement and confused by recent events, as we watch her life spiral out of control it’s hard to know what is fact, what is imagined and what are fractured memories of past events.

Terrifically well written it deals with many dark subjects, in fact there’s not much lightness anywhere in the story, it in turn horrified and shook me to the core, yet enthralled me and I could not stop reading, so desperate was I to know what happens. Is there a little boy who needs help? What is the mystery surrounding the woman next door? Is Kate going crazy or are more sinister forces at play? Just who can be trusted - can anyone?

By the time the harrowing and unforeseen (for me) conclusion arrived I was wrung out emotionally and shaken to the core. This is one emotional roller coaster written with great panache and plenty of cunning revelations to make the reader shudder.

In places this reminded me of “Who are you” by Elizabeth Forbes, both dealing with different aspects of post war zone traumatic stress.

My thanks go to Annie Hollands at Penguin Random House for sending me an advance copy to review.

The paperback is to be released in January 2016 but you don’t have to wait until then to read it as you can obtain an advance ebook copy for your kindle right now.

The Blurb (from Goodreads)

Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She's the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn't. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it's just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she's not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it...and make it out alive? 

'A gripping rollercoaster ride of a thriller. Intense and harrowing, with a quite unstoppable, thrilling momentum that keeps you in there right to the last page' Christobel Kent, author of The Loving Husband

'A dark, intense, multi-layered thriller that twists and turns until the last page' Tammy Cohen

'A stunning book. I was drawn in by Nuala Ellwood's hypnotic, haunting and elegant prose. Compelling, unsettling and powerful this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.' C. L. Taylor

'With an elegant and deft touch Nuala Ellwood has created a tale that is gripping, engrossing and surprising at every turn. I loved it' Rowan Coleman

'An accomplished and page-turning thriller. It twists and turns in so many directions it's impossible to guess where it's going next' Nicholas Searle, author of The Good Liar

'Loved I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors? My Sister's Bones is guaranteed to be this year's most twisty and twisted read - you'll never see what's coming!' Ava Marsh, author of Untouchable

'Ellwood's protagonist Kate is a female hero in the best sense, flawed but brave. Very quickly you are sucked into her fragile, damaged world, and no longer know what is real or imaginary' Helen Callaghan, author of Dear Amy

'Gripping and beautifully written, My Sister's Bones is a tense, atmospheric, deliciously dark story' Amanda Jennings, author of In Her Wake

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...