Monday, 22 August 2016

Saving Sophie - Sam Carrington - gripping psychological crime thriller



My Review - Saving Sophie – Sam Carrington

When I began reading this psychological crime thriller, I soon realised how cleverly written it is, constructed with so many twists and turns you just can’t put it down and the pace builds brilliantly with the author ending every single chapter on a cliff hanger, so you keep thinking, just one more, then end up galloping through it to a cunning and Eek filled conclusion.

Sophie is the 17 year old daughter of Karen and Mike, one Saturday night she goes out with her usual group of friends and is brought home by the police in the early hours, rolling drunk, incoherent and with no memory of how she even got home. Par for the course for a lot of teens.

That’s a pretty bad situation, but things rapidly deteriorate further. The next day when she tries to remember what happened and piece things together it becomes apparent that her friend Amy never returned home and Sophie may have been the last person to see her, so why can’t she remember a thing?

Sophie’s Mum Karen has agoraphobia which throws its own problems into the mix, her best friend is Amy’s Mum and when a body is discovered which turns out to be Sophie’s pal Karen is unable to leave the house to offer comfort to her friend. She never leaves the house at all, following an incident repeatedly referred rather vaguely to as her “attack” some years earlier, about which the details are pretty sketchy.

Even when you possess irrational phobias yourself it doesn’t automatically make you sympathetic to those of other people. Where I might have had empathy with Karen and sided with her, her continual shaking and quaking, nausea and retching at the thought of going outdoors and rapid breathing into a paper bag just exasperated and annoyed me and I really wanted to give her a good slap, especially when it transpires that the attack which triggered this phobia whilst unpleasant doesn’t seem particularly bad.

In fact that’s a bit of an irritation for me with this book, it’s far too sanitised for a gritty psychological thriller. All sexual content is so glossed over I’m never even sure if any has taken place. The group of 7 or 8 lively youngsters barely seem to swear and have conversations like a group of 40 something Mums at a knitting bee. Personally I’d have liked it to be a little more explicit thus creating a touch more realism. But don't let this put you off, it's a really great read.

The story however is gripping, I found it intriguing enough to overlook this niggle, there are lots of diversionary tactics and curve balls to throw you off the scent and send you happily meandering down a cul de sac into a brick wall !

Essentially, following the discovery of young Amy’s body Karen and the police continue their own efforts to unravel the truth behind what happened to Amy and Karen begins to fear that Sophie too is at risk and is determined to save Sophie. Is this another of her unfounded phobic anxieties? Sophie meanwhile tries to piece together what happened that fateful night and worries that her subconscious may hold clues she isn’t sure she really wants to reveal.

One thing is clear – there is a sadistic and twisted mind at work, and a very real threat. One teenager dead, we don’t know why or at the hands of whom and other people at risk. Tantalisingly electrifying with a good dose of “Noooo don’t do that’s” followed by “Ok so you’ve done it, now let’s see you get out of that one”

I received my copy via Netgalley. It's recently been published and you can buy a copy now.

The Blurb

A teenage girl is missing. Is your daughter involved, or is she next?

Your daughter is in danger. But can you trust her?

When Karen Finch’s seventeen-year-old daughter Sophie arrives home after a night out, drunk and accompanied by police officers, no one is smiling the morning after. But Sophie remembers nothing about how she got into such a state.

Twelve hours later, Sophie’s friend Amy has still not returned home. Then the body of a young woman is found.

Karen is sure that Sophie knows more than she is letting on. But Karen has her own demons to fight. She struggles to go beyond her own door without a panic attack.

As she becomes convinced that Sophie is not only involved but also in danger, Karen must confront her own anxieties to stop whoever killed one young girl moving on to another – Sophie.


Follow the publisher @AvonBooksUK on Twitter to join in the buzz that involves #SavingSophie 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Glass Houses - Jackie Buxton - moral dilemmas




My Review

Glass houses by Jackie Buxton is a tantalising literary moral dilemma novel about an accident with far reaching consequences.

The main protagonist 51 year old Toris (Victoria) is a complex and difficult character. The book starts with her in her car in a motorway pile up badly injured. That the accident was her fault is not in dispute, she selfishly texted her husband moments before the crash.

With her, trying to help is Etta, giving a little first aid and comfort until the paramedics arrive.

We next meet Tori in hospital, with no memory of the accident she has been badly injured, it looks as though her life and her families, will never be the same again. Sadly neither will the lives of others caught up in this avoidable tragedy. Deaths have occurred and as Tori gradually begins her slow recovery it becomes apparent that publicity means she has become a reviled character, synonymous with the evils of using a mobile phone whilst driving. Even whilst she lies at deaths door it’s her family members reactions to her involvement and public opinion and outcry which begin to shape the days to come.

But she has grit and determination and despite her injuries and public opinion begins to try and make amends. This is a story of human feelings and reactions and I must admit I was very aware throughout that this was fiction as I found it very difficult to reconcile quite a few peoples reactions to different situations faced in this book.

Etta's life is coming apart at the seams, but does this lie at Tori's door too? She's being blamed for the woes' of the world but what exactly is going on behind Etta's panic attacks and inability to cope with everyday life?

I found this human interest story to be a gripping read, despite not really warming to the lead characters, I find their motives are hard for me personally to understand. But nobody does behave exactly as one would expect in situations, so what makes it hard to believe in some ways also makes it seem more authentic, if you get my gist.

However it’s a real page turner which kept me wondering what was going to happen next as we follow the story of the two women Tori and Etta in the aftermath, both have hidden agendas and neither is finding life simple. This is a book which proves the old adage that women are like tea bags you never know how strong they are until you immerse them in hot water.

There are lots of well rounded secondary characters whose lives become enmeshed, there’s Steve the determined paparazzo who spends his time lurking behind a bush in Tori’s garden waiting for his big break and Tori’s stepfather who provides a little light relief with his serial relationships with unsuitable women, his comb over and dyed hair and terror of growing old.

In fact what sounds as though it could be a thoroughly gloomy book, albeit tackling some gritty and dark subject matter is dealt with using a stroke of human interest humour here and there which reprieves the harshness.

It’s a clever and thought provoking book which entertains and makes you think without being too preachy. Oh, but the ending was a bit of a kick up the butt and really not what I was expecting at all, and I can say no more for fear of spoiling your enjoyment.

I received my copy from the publisher Urbane Publications to review.

The Blurb

Fifty-one-year old Tori Williams' life implodes when she sends a text while driving  and allegedly causes the horrific crash in which three people die. Public and press are baying for her blood, but Tori is no wallflower and refuses to buckle under their pressure and be a pariah. 

Etta, another driver involved in the fatal accident, saved Tori's life at the scene. She's a hero, so why is her life falling apart? Perhaps by saving Etta using any means, Tori can save herself—and in doing so, protect her own future and the future of those she loves. 

This incredibly topical and contemporary morality tale appeals across generations and will find favor with fans of authors such as Liane Moriarty, Marian Keyes, and Kathryn Croft.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Cover Reveal - Inside the Whispers - the new book from A J Waines

Just a quick cover reveal and to let you know you can now purchase for your kindle the new book  Inside the Whispers by the great mistress of the twisty tale A J Waines.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whispers-Samantha-Willerby-Chilling-Thriller-ebook/dp/B01K48MLB8

Doesn't it look and sound terrifying? It's the first in an exciting new series






Where the most Dangerous place – is inside your own head…

Following a London Tube disaster, three traumatised survivors turn to clinical psychologist, Dr Samantha Willerby, for help – but she’s mystified when their stories don’t add up. Her confusion turns to horror when one by one, instead of recovering, they start committing suicide.

When her partner, Conrad, begins to suffer the same terrifying flashbacks, Sam is desperate to find out what is causing them and a mysterious and chilling crime begins to unravel.

Then the flashbacks begin for Sam…

The first book in the Dr Samantha Willerby Series, INSIDE THE WHISPERS is a tense, haunting Psychological Thriller that will leave your nerves in shreds.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Orphans of the carnival - Carol Birch - a frank look at life in a freak show



My review


I think everyone who reads this book should go into it knowing that it’s a novel with its feet firmly based on facts. I did, and it gave me a huge empathy with the main character Julia Pastrana, a woman who really existed, the notorious ape woman of Mexico who toured the world with Victorian freak shows. Just Google her name and you’ll find the original playbills for the carnivals she starred in and her photograph which haunted me throughout the book.

Oh my Gosh, did people really ostracise and revere “freaks” of nature, people with deformities and disabilities to such an extent that they became the celebrities of the day? Pointed at, poked and prodded and oohed and ahhed over, screamed and shrieked at for their horrifying appearance and all the time making a living the only way available to them by making a public display of their otherness, their difference? Yes, you better believe it, they did!

Julia was born in a small mountain village, brought up by friends and relatives after the mother she barely remembers, dies and leaves her orphaned and alone. Bad enough to live in poverty and be orphaned but Julia is an oddity, an ugly ape like countenance, covered almost entirely in fur or hair, with an extended jaw. But she is also a lively child, quick to learn, she is an accomplished dressmaker and eager to please others, she masters the art of languages, singing and dancing to keep people entertained.

A teenager she dances at a local wedding when she is spotted by a showman who offers her the chance of escape and soon she veils her face (the only way she can go out in public without creating a furore) and sets off by train to join a carnival troupe.

The people she meets, fellow freaks and monsters accept her for what she is, there are the armless and legless girls, a rubber man, an enormously fat lady and not least, Cato a pinhead, with a tiny egg shaped skull, a huge wide grin, little bent legs that make him always remain childlike, an irrepressible boundless energy and the inability to speak but to constantly vocalise his feelings in loud shrieks. Between little Cato and Julia grows a firm bond, and she mothers him to the extent that she feels a deep affection for him like a sibling or the son she longs for.

She soon becomes well known and is approached by Theo, an enterprising and ambitious young man who nevertheless proves to be feckless and impulsive. She allows herself to be coerced by him into allowing him to manage her and he takes her off on a whirlwind tour of first the US, then Europe, Russia and worldwide.

This book follows her life, as in the spotlight as a life can possibly be yet she can never walk alone outdoors for fear of exposure and ridicule and the one time she sets off to have a little adventure ends dreadfully in discovery and disaster. The medical profession long to examine her origins but are unable to concur why or how she is quite so very different to the norm.

All Julia wants is a normal family life, loving friends who aren’t using her and she daren’t even voice the thought that she longs for a loving relationship with a man., as she knows this is as unlikely as the hope that one day she will wake up and have a smooth fair skin with no coarse hair covering it.

I followed her life and relationships in this book as intimately as if I was there, I felt hurt on her behalf when she is used and abused by others, It is brutal, honest and frank, I found parts disturbing and some of the practises, so distasteful I balked.

Meanwhile there is a modern thread running alongside Julia’s story. We are introduced to Rose in the 1980’s she is a modern woman and seemingly completely unconnected to Julia’s story in any way at all. Rose is a hoarder of junk, she is hard to warm to, she has an erratic lifestyle, various failed relationships and in her own way is as much of a misfit to society as Julia was. There seems no point to this thread, at times wondering why has the author included it? But that does become clear and provides a poignant and harrowing finale.

There is an island of broken dolls which Rose dreams of visiting and amongst her hoarded junk is a broken and ugly damaged doll she rescues from a skip. She calls it Tattoo and won’t be parted from it. When I discovered the secret of Tattoo, it broke my heart and I urge anyone reading it to remember that this is also based around fact.

Crikey, parts of this book did upset me, I cried bucketloads and am shedding a tear now as I write my review. I have used terms which are anathema to me, freak and monster, as they are used in the book as they were used to Julia’s face in real life, but don’t think this comes easy to me – it really doesn’t because what Julia is, is NOT a monster but a charming, astute and lonely young woman crying out to be loved and I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her the one thing that nobody ever seemed capable of doing during her life “You’re not a monster, you’re lovely”

I have read a few books by Carol Birch, the wonderful Jamrach’s menagerie, the compelling Scapegallows and more. She has the knack of searching out the unusual, embroidering it with her own unique style, embellishing fact by turning it into fiction and peopling it with larger than life rumbustious characters so you are sucked into a world which is far removed from everyday life yet ethereally authentic and satisfying.

Orphans of the Carnival is a wonderful, yet harrowing, atmospheric read, portraying what it’s like to be truly different and chronicling a life spent making the best of what you’ve got.

I received my advance copy from Netgalley for review and my thanks go to the author Canongate books for making it available.

The Blurb

A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden

Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor's ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women. 

But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? 

In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Local Girl Missing - Claire Douglas - secrets by the sea



My Review

The cover drew me to this book, isn't it great? It really sums the brooding and secretive feel of this dark thriller about secrets from your past coming back to haunt you.

Local Girl Missing is a title that sounds like a newspaper headline and that's what it was, when 18 years ago Teenager Sophie leaves a nightclub in a small seaside town and disappears leaving no trace but a trainer at the end of the pier she becomes the notorious "Local girl - missing" that nobody ever forgets about years later.

Her childhood friend Francesca, now known as Frankie and living in London successfully working in boutique hotels, receives an unexpected phone call from the past, Sophie's brother Daniel is calling to say at last Sophie's body has been washed up and begs her to return to Somerset to help him find out once and for all just what did happen that night on the pier and help him lay Sophie's ghost to rest.

The book captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of small town living, it has a spooky feel and there are lots of unanswered questions. The story is told in alternating time lines of now when Frankie is back in Oldcliffe-on-sea and back in the past when the girls were teenagers and harks back to even earlier which is narrated by Sophie. It's clear there are a lot of people who might have been involved in her disappearance and lots of red herrings to beguile us and lead us up the wrong track.

Its also apparent that Frankie is covering something up and soon we discover that she's been keeping Mum about what happened earlier in the 2 girls lives to a mutual friend called Jason. She is proven to be good at keeping secrets has she been hiding something else? She keeps seeing and feeling strange things, are they real or is she losing her sanity, or is someone deliberately taunting her and why?

The storyline is full of teenage jealousies and desires, friendship and betrayal. The setting is ominous and unsettling and there are lots of twists and turns, yet for all theres lots going on it can feel sluggish and morose but sucks you in nevertheless.

If you liked Broadchurch this has a similar brooding, insular feel and as many characters you will mistrust and dislike. I did feel the characters lacked a certain depth which stopped me investing a great deal of emotion into the book, yet its a riveting and nostalgic thriller with a rather tense and shadowy feel and an intriguing finale.

My thanks go to Netgalley for my advance copy.

The Blurb

FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE SISTERS - ONE OF THE BEST SELLING DÉBUTS OF 2015 - COMES A TENSE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER RIPPED STRAIGHT FROM THE HEADLINES ...

Twenty years ago 21-year-old Sophie Collier vanishes one night. She leaves nothing behind but a trainer on the old pier - and a hole in the heart of her best friend Francesca. Now A body's been found. And Francesca's drawn back to the seaside town she's tried to forget. 
Perhaps the truth of what happened to Sophie will finally come out. 
Yet Francesca is beginning to wish she hadn't returned. Everywhere she turns are ghosts from her past. 
The same old faces and familiar haunts of her youth. But if someone knows what really happened to Sophie that night then now's the time to find out - isn't it? 
Except sometimes discovering the truth can cost you everything you hold dear - your family, your sanity and even your life . . .

Monday, 1 August 2016

Nina is NOT ok by Shappi Khorsandi - raw and shocking



My Review

Oh My Goodness! This is one very powerful and thought provoking book which had me gripped by the throat all the way through. It left me reeling.

I find it difficult to believe this is a work of fiction and feel the author must have some personal experiences to draw on which made this no holds barred story of teenage alcoholism so damn realistic.

It hits hard, way below the belt and is shocking, brutal and very sad. It paints a very realistic story of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in thrall to drink, using it as a prop, knowing time after time the lure of getting drunk is going to suck you in and spit you out vomiting and shame filled.

Nina is a 17 year old student, her late Dad was an alcoholic whose death was drink related. She has some good friends, a loving Mum and an adorable little sister Katie whom she loves to bits, she gets good grades at college and she likes to party. But when she parties, boy does she let rip, when the drinks in the wit’s out so they say and she gets into some truly awful situations because she’s just far too blotto to be sensible.

The first true love of her life has recently dumped her and she’s in bits. But its ok ‘cause she can go out and get drunk and have a good time and forget all about Jamie. Trouble is she forgets all about common sense, safe sex and what’s appropriate and what’s not and she ends up blind drunk getting thrown out of a nightclub for giving a total stranger a blow job in public. A few hours late she finds herself half-conscious in the back of a taxi, her knickers in her hand, vomit all over herself and spunk in her hair. She has practically no recollection of what happened after leaving the club. The next day overwhelmed by shame and remorse she swears she’ll never drink again ….. but of course she does!

There are some graphic sex scenes, lots of swearing and its down and dirty and shocking and I think it should be essential reading for any young person who’s ever drunk so much they can’t remember the night before, or who is likely to.

That’s probably more than you’d think! I’m a 50 something woman who, horrifyingly, can relate far too closely to some of the awful things that take place in this book and I could relate to Nina so well I felt 17 again reading it, though not always in a good way. It took me right back to my teenage years when alcohol was my prop, and I felt every bit of shame and embarrassment that Nina felt, in fact it took me back to a very dark place I thought was far behind me and brought some deeply buried memories to the fore.

Believe me you never forget stuff like this and you don’t want to carry it around with you all your life you really don’t, This is a trip down memory lane it would be far better to never have to take. So please don’t let yourself get in this situation. I was crying when I read parts of this book and I’m saying please Nina, please don’t. But she did, I knew she would, she’s an alcoholic just like her Dad and really she just can’t say no.

If you’re in your teens or 20s and like a drink, read this book. If it helps save one single young person from getting in a similar situation it will be great, if it doesn’t stop them perhaps it will give a few good pointers as to how they can break this terrible cycle of self destruction. Oh and it’s a blindngly brilliant read too. There are some laugh out loud funny bits, even in the midst of all the drama and vomit spattered sex scenes and the characters are all so wonderfully real.

My thanks go to the publishers Random House (Ebury Publishing) for my free copy in exchange for a review via Netgalley.

The Blurb
Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t?

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all.

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend.

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

A dark and sometimes shocking - coming of age novel from one of the UK’s leading comedians. NINA IS NOT O.K. will appeal to fans of Caitlin Moran and Louise O'Neill.