Review - the Upstairs Room - Kate Murray-Browne
A macabre, chilling and unsettling debut novel, The Upstairs Room is a contemporary take on the classic "young couple move into a new home that turns out to have something sinister lurking upstairs".
Eleanor and husband Richard have found their new family home for themselves and their 2 young daughters. They know it will be a struggle financially to buy in a desirable area of London so they settle for an older property that "needs a bit doing" well frankly it needs quite a lot of renovation and redecoration but they're young and enthusiastic and it can be a project for them to enjoy together.
Bit it becomes more of a money pit than they imagined, and in order to keep their heads above water they rather reluctantly sub-let the basement to a young woman lodger and into the periphery of their lives comes Zoe. However living in this gloomy and outdated home soon makes Eleanor in particular begin to feel distinctly uneasy, in fact she begins to be frequently ill and fears its the house affecting her health.
Plans to renovate are soon shelved and even redecorating the dark and outdated decor is beyond their means and the rooms remain gloomy and the unnerving scribble which adorns in particular an unused attic bedroom with the name Emily scrawled repeatedly together with disquieting drawings has to remain. Eleanor begins to find this writing concealed elsewhere in the house too.
Whilst Eleanors life crumbles and Richard grows ever more distant, obsessed with planning and pointlessly plotting the elaborate restoration project which seems doomed to never happen. Their lodger Zoe's life seems to be taking a turn for the better, she gets a new job, OK it's not very stimulating and her lodgings aren't quite the chic city apartment she dreamed of but when a new man enters her life and romance seems likely, she feels quite settled ... or does she? Is the house somehow influencing everyone who lives there?
It certainly seems to be having an adverse effect, even on the little girls, whose increasingly difficult behaviour becomes almost the final straw for struggling Mum Eleanor.
All the way through the book is a creeping sense of unease and terror and the puzzle of whether it is in fact the house to blame, or the people within it?
Its creepy and scary and gives you that lump in your throat which gulping hard just can't quite shift.
I did consider the ending a little rushed and not quite as explosive as I hoped but the whole book is filled with creeping menace and subtle insinuations and its a real page turner that's sure to entertain and really makes you think how you'd react in some of the situations. The subtly flawed characters and the macabre location combine to create an engaging work of psychological horror.
Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners – including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.
Friday, 23 June 2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
My review of He Said, She Said by Erin Kelly
Wow - wonderful twisty read, blew my socks off.
It's not often that I finish a book and can't really find words to write a review straight away. But I loved this book so much I had to take a step back and examine what I thought or just babble away senselessly.
Its delightfully different and darkly convoluted. It actually took me a little while to get into it at the beginning as it's deliberately written in several voices from different viewpoints and jumps back and forth several years and it does take a while to get into the rhythm, but when you do boy does it grab you and just won't let go!
We begin our tortuous journey by being introduced to a young couple, Laura who is pregnant and her partner Kit who is heading off across the seas to witness an eclipse. For that is what this young couple do as a hobby, they are eclipse chasers and travel all over the world joing festivals and celebrations and watching eclipses. They've always travelled together but heavily pregnant Laura is staying home this time whilst Kit goes off. It's immediately apparent that something untoward has happened in their past to make them distrustful of strangers, paranoid and both trying to keep a very low profile.
As we whip back and forth over about 15 years, we discover that at one such festival the pair witnessed a shocking and unpleasant event in addition to the eclipse. They stumble across a degrading and violent sex attack and Lauras determination to ensure justice is brought to bear makes her act somewhat rashly and utter words that are set to haunt her.
Back and forth in time we go whilst the noose tightens, events grow more complicated. I began to mistrust folk, then evidence is presented that made me change my mind, again and again until I didn't know who I could believe any more.
This is an extremely clever psychological twister and illustrate that when everything hinges on what he said and what she said, just a few tiny words can make a vast difference to how we perceive things.
There are so many smoke screens and distractions I didn't see a couple of things coming til they smacked me in the face and even then when I thought smugly I'd sussed everything out along comes another curved ball for me to deftly duck.
Clever, crafty and conniving, a terrific heart stopping novel tackling taboo subjects and with some delightfully unreliable narrators and a final kick up the bum that has my cheeks still smarting!
In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack. She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim's life that is changed forever. Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear, and while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something, and someone, is always in the dark.
Monday, 12 June 2017
BLOG TOUR - The Lucky Ones by Mark Edwards
I'm thrilled to kick start the blog tour for this brilliant book with my review.
I'm fairly certain that if I start my review by saying Mark Edwards has a truly warped mind, he would take this as the huge compliment it is intended to be!
How he dreamt up this twisty thriller I can't imagine. He gets deep inside the malformed psyche of a devilish serial killer to take the reader on a vivid and skin crawling journey of terror.
Let me briefly introduce you to the authors work, whose page you can find here. He writes brilliantly different and terrifyingly unorthodox psychological thrillers, which have included Because She loves me, Follow you home and The Devils work. You can follow the links to read each of my reviews of his previous work and you just might come away with the idea that I'm already a big fan of this talented writer and you wouldn't be far wrong. So its always with a sense of worried anticipation that I open the pages of a new work by an author I've consistently praised - Like, "Wow I'm looking forward to this" Coupled with "OMG what if I really hate this one?"
I shouldn't have had any doubt, I really shouldn't. This cunning and capricious thriller enthralled me as much as his previous novels have.
Meet Ben Holland, you can probably relate quite well to him, he's just an ordinary bloke, a newly single Father of an eleven year son and things just never seem to go quite right for him. We've all had that feeling, right? That if only things could improve a little, life would be loads better? But they never seem to, they only seem to get worse.
Of course his marriage breaking down was probably the catalyst for Ben, finding your wife in your own home shagging another bloke is just never going to have a happy ending. Ben needs a clean break so he takes himself and his beloved boy Ollie away from city life and back to the sleepy Shropshire village of Ben's childhood. Only things are never quite the same when we try to go back are they? He moves into a rented house and ends up with the neighbours from hell. His attempts at freelance work don't take off as hoped, he has money worries, his Mum is terminally ill, he no longer has a soulmate and he's lonely, his relationship with Ollie seems to be floundering, he feels as though his life has, quite frankly, turned to shit.
But things are about to suddenly improve! Yayy, Ben IS one of the lucky ones after all.
Gradually his problems disappear, one by one. The turning point is finding work, he is so lucky to be offered some well paid freelance work that gives him the chance to feel in control of his life again. Then his noisy and aggressive neighbours from hell are no longer his neighbours and things are gradually and subtly looking up for him.
But maybe it's not all down to karma. Perhaps "not so divine" intervention is taking place. It's almost as though a guardian angle is watching over him. Well someone certainly is!
Meanwhile police investigator Imogen Evans is transferred from the Met to, usually tranquil, Shropshire tasked with finding a warped serial killer who is targetting seemingly random victims.
As Imogens case develops and Ben's life improves we are treated to glimpses of a warped mind at work and it becomes evident that Ben is on the radar of something dangerous and deadly and things speed up, so much that I was flicking the pages so fast they nearly caught fire.
This terrifying and gripping story is the perfect blend of gritty crime thriller and psychological chiller to delight readers of both genres. Read it, love it, but pray that you're not one of "The Lucky Ones".
The Lucky Ones by Mark Edwards is published by Thomas & Mercer on 15 June 2017 as an £8.99 paperback original.
It was the happiest day of her life. Little did she know it was also the last.
When a woman’s body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer—a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.
A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What’s more, the bullies who have been terrorising his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky.
But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben.
Friday, 9 June 2017
Exquisite – Sarah Stovell – Review and Blog tour
I’m so chuffed (do people still SAY chuffed these days?) to be part of the blog tour for this truly exquisite book!
Certain to appeal to all keen readers and budding writers because its two lead characters are both authors, and absolutely guaranteed to enthrall those discerning folk who do pick it up and read it owing to the wonderfully sublime writing and clever characterization within the pages.
Bo is the first woman we meet. In her forties, she is already a successful, popular, published author with a string of books to her credit. Living in the tranquil and idyllic Lake district with her older husband and their two daughters, she is self-assuredly living the dream every fledgling writer fantasizes about. Every now and then she holds a creative writing course to help new talent emerge.
Isn’t she just the perfect role model for a struggling, younger, would be author to admire?
That emerging writer turns out to be Alice. She hasn’t yet had the breaks Bo had, she is stuck in a dead end job, living in a grotty Brighton flat shackled to a kind but feckless, would be artist, boyfriend, whose talents as a painter are obscured by a haze of drugs and alcohol as he fritters his life and parties his days away.
When the two women, both so very different but with a strong shared passion for writing, meet, a spark ignites between the two and they seem destined to become unlikely but inevitable best friends. Something smoulders from that spark and the conflagration which follows is sure to mean someone will get burnt, but who?
As we discover snippets of both womens pasts, it’s clear they are both damaged goods, with a theme of failed Mother/ daughter relationships blighting both their pasts, yet this is something else which binds them ever closer.
The storyline is sinuous, weaving gently around the reader then tightening its grip. I was lulled into a sense of security then gradually realized everything wasn’t as it first appears to be and there is something pretty sinister going on, which in turn scared me, made me angry and then made me wonder if I’d misinterpreted everything!
As the story of this toxic relationship develops it’s clear that someone is manipulative and can’t be fully trusted and my sympathies veered between Bo and Alice, although I found I related much more closely to one than the other. Which one will YOU empathize with I wonder?
The story is narrated first by one woman, then the other and at the outset it seemed as though I was reading the same chapters twice as events are told by Alice then Bo, until suddenly tiny discrepancies creep in and its grows clearer that one of these voices is somewhat unreliable …. and then the shit hits the fan … and the OMG moments become almost too much to bear!
A stunning and immaculately fragmented tale of twisted perfection.
Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it? Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Another terrific twisty tale from the writer who is becoming my go to author when I want to be certain of a damn good chilling read and a guaranteed shiver down my spine.
A different take on the psychological thriller with two unique viewpoints and so many smokescreens to blind me to the truth I could smell the smoke on my clothes.
Melanie waves goodbye to her young teenage daughter Beth one evening as she heads to her best friends house, little knowing that a living nightmare is about to begin and the next time she holds her daughters hand she will be in a coma, following a brutal attack which left Beth for dead lying in the dark and lonely fenland of Lincolnshire. Why on earth was she even there at the dead of night?
There are so many mysteries surrounding this crime its almost difficult to keep track of them but the authors skill makes the story flow so deliciously you hardly notice you’re being sucked deep into the story until you’re so wrapped up in it, it feels as though you’re living it.
The remote watery location of the Lincolnshire fens is full of atmospheric description this is where Beth has birdwatched and enjoyed the scenery all of her young life. It soon becomes evident that everyone, but EVERYONE in this close knit community has secrets. In a series of flashbacks it’s immediately apparent that Beth has been hiding something. Then we hear Melanies voice as she speaks to her unconscious daughter and watch her crumble and stumble towards self destruction in her desperation and grief.
There is husband and Father, Jacob, what is he hiding? Many, many characters, childhood friends and neighbours and amongst them there is nobody Mel feels she can really trust, she begins to harbour suspicions as she takes on a quest to uncover her daughters attacker and unwittingly uncovers a whole can of squirmy worms
as she jumps to conclusions, lets her grief blur her judgement and make ill advised rash decisions.
Threaded through the book is a dark voice, an unnamed nasty character, who keeps piping up and you just know they have more to hide than anyone but you don’t know who – or even why!
The author delves deeply inside the mind of a grieving, angry and confused mother and takes us on a journey we never want to go on! And surprises the reader, over and over again and just when you think you’ve had that OMG moment, along comes another!
A wonderful thrilling read, very original and different, exciting and scary.
I recently took part in the blog tour for this fab book and you can read the first chapter here.
Monday, 5 June 2017
Review - Broken Branches M. Jonathan Lee
This is a sinister psychological chiller with an eerie creeping sense of stomach turning unease.
I thought it was going to be your traditional "couple buys spooky old house" story but it goes somewhat deeper than that.
We certainly have a young family, living in a creepy old cottage known as Cobweb cottage, overlooked for centuries by a huge old tree. Ian and his wife Rachel with their little boy Harry moved into the home owned by Ians family for generations, following a family tragedy.
It soon becomes clear that the tragedy which brought them here is not the only bad thing that's happened, but quite where the rot began is yet to be uncovered.
Ian and Rachel are barely speaking any more. His work from home is beginning to suffer and his days are structured around waiting for his beloved son's return from nursery and the energy and love he injects into this rather glum and morose household and his rather frantic and disorganised, desperate research into his family history and attempts to uncover what is behind rumours of a curse.
Things are increasingly disjointed, Ian's actions grow ever more hectic and the couples relationship falters and all the time it's very clear there is an underlying factor we are as yet unaware of. Is Ian losing his mind? or is Rachel?
Are the broken branches the threads of his past woven into his family tree or are they the actual branches of the tree which overshadows all events in this creepy old cottage? Or are they perhaps the threads of insanity threatening to overwhelm Ians mind? You'll have to read this book to find out.
There isn't much light in this book, like the branches of the oppressive tree which shadows Cobweb cottage, it is dark and destructive and peppered with grief and tragedy.
It is sad and shocking and when I stumbled upon one concealed truth which left me reeling, close to the ending I thought that was what had been lying in wait to shock me, then the author throws one final curved ball on to the playing field and blew my head to bits! A gripping, slow burning, shocker which left me with a lump in my throat.
Find out more about the book here
'Family curses don't exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don't think so.'
A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.
There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.
Monday, 29 May 2017
Today I'm thrilled to welcome Author Anne Goodwin to Beadyjans books for a return visit. Her latest novel Underneath, is out on 25th May. I read and reviewed Sugar and Snails her moving and original debut novel which you can read about on my blog.
"Underneath" is Anne's breakthrough into writing thrillers and psychological chillers for those who like to genrify books (I think I just invented that term) and Anne has kindly written this article about changing genres, I hope you'll find it as fascinating as I did.
Over to you Anne:
My second novel began with an image of an unhappy little boy, seated at the bottom of a carpeted staircase, who popped into my head at the end of the country walk. At the time, I was struggling with what was to become my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, but this little boy had no place there. So I pushed him out of my mind, until he reappeared as the child version of the narrator of what has now become my second novel, Underneath.
Poor Steve. Just as I couldn’t make space for him when he first arrived, neither was his mother able to give him her full attention as a baby. She was still grieving for her husband – his father – who’d died before he was born. No wonder he was sad.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, and in reflecting on my own beginnings, I’d been curious about the impact and experience of early emotional neglect. I wondered if there was a way of describing it from the baby’s perspective: the terror of total dependence on someone who doesn’t seem to have one’s needs in mind. Fortunately or unfortunately, I recognised quickly I wasn’t equipped to write something readable from the point of view of a baby. But perhaps there’d be a parallel situation that I could evoke in words.
Then along came the gruesome real-life stories of women kidnapped and locked up in sealed-off rooms. Might that soul-destroying experience might be akin to that of the neglected baby who cries and no-one comes? But I had reservations about appropriating someone else’s horror story, and woman imprisoned in cellar didn’t strike me as my kind of book.
But I couldn’t stop wondering. Would it be my kind of book if I shifted the focus from the captive to the criminal? Could I write convincingly from the point of view of the unhappy little boy who grows up to be a jailer? Might he, even though he holds the keys, feel as helpless as his prisoner, the way a depressed mother feels trapped by her baby’s demands?
I didn’t set out to write a thriller, and I still don’t think I have. But a book must have a genre, something to signify what readers can expect. So ...
Underneath gets classed as a literary thriller, or psychological suspense novel; with qualifying adjectives that for some readers might make it more than the traditional thriller while for others it might seem less. Literary thriller writer Sanjida Kay, author of Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child, described it as “A dark and disturbing tale of a man who appears ordinary on the surface, but is deeply damaged.” I’m fine with that.
As my debut was not a thriller, have I switched genre? While Underneath has more jeopardy, and a more troubling protagonist, than Sugar and Snails, they do have some overlapping themes. Whereas Diana, in Sugar and Snails, strives to keep her past identity a secret, Steve must safeguard the secret of the woman in the cellar. Whereas Diana hides her vulnerability behind an aloof personality and professional persona, Steve denies his completely until it’s too late. Both have felt misunderstood as children, with emotionally or physically absent fathers; both face the threat of relationship breakup as adults. Both characters have significant blind-spots that could be their undoing. Both my novels address social issues, although this is less direct in Underneath than in Sugar and Snails. Both have an element of mystery, surprise and suspense.
One of the many advantages of being published by small independent press is that there is little pressure to remain within an allotted pigeonhole. And, although genre matters, it doesn’t indicate what I care about most as a reader, which is that of book should be well-written with psychological depth. But, until the book world approves “what came out of Anne’s head” as a legitimate literary classification, I accept the charge of genre hopping. At least until I find out what the majority of readers think of what I have produced.
Monday, 22 May 2017
Widdershins by Helen Steadman
‘Did all women have something of the witch about them?’
Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.
From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.
Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.
I am inexorably drawn to stories of witchcraft and the notorious Witch trials of the 17th century and this one in particular called out loudly to me, especially as it is set in the North East of England, as am I. It is based on factual events that will quite frankly make any womans blood run cold!
Narrated in 2 very different first person voices, one to whom I really warmed and one who was so loathsome and despicable I found it quite difficult being placed inside his warped mind.
The first voice is that of Jane Chandler a young woman raised by her Mother Annie and Grandma Meg - both cunning women with a great knowledge of nature and the uses of herbs as treatments for common folk with all manner of ailments from the pains of childbirth to a winter cough and Jane is following in their footsteps and learning the womens family trade.
Meanwhile we have John Sharpe, whom we meet as a small child and I thought I was going to like this little lad who is cruelly mistreated by his father, partly blamed for his Mothers death in his own birth, triggering a deep mistrust and loathing for the midwives who attended his Mothers confinement. As a child accompanying his uncle to a witch trial he grows so utterly hell bent on naming and shaming and denouncing almost any woman as a witch his mind warps and he becomes a violent mysogynist, for whom I was unable to have one shred of sympathy.
Janes story flows beautifully and when tragedy first strikes this carefree young woman I ached for her. but her knowledge as a herbalist inevitably draws her closer to the dangers of being accused of witchcraft and I really began to appreciate just how difficult it must have been back then, for ordinary women in small communities, where any news that filters through is days old and third hand, when a rare visit to Newcastle city centre means a 15 mile walk in either direction, where jobs are almost non existent and women are regarded as little more than livestock by many menfolk.
John Sharpe grows older and more vile, his treatment of his wife and attitude towards women in general made me want to scream. I found it impossible to accept the way he thought that many of the warped ways he behaves are acceptable and his attempts to justify them sickened me.
He follows the nastiest and cruellest path possible and sets himself up to become a witchfinder, performing witch trials and manhandling, testing and pricking innocent women until he could prove them innocent or denounce them as witches and send them to their deaths. Oh Cruel John and innocent Jane lets just hope their paths never meet!
It took me a little while to get into the book but once I did I couldn't put it down. The characters and storytelling are wonderful. The North East of today is so very different to the bustling region of today. Yet because I know the North East region so well I felt right at home in the dark and distant past.
A wonderful scary, very atmospheric, and emotional book which serves as a lesson to all women of today not to be too complacent and trusting and a reminder that some men are just pure evil through and through.
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Today I'm very excited to be sharing with you an enticing and tempting excerpt from the very latest psychological thriller by one of my favourite and most highly anticipated authors Barbara Copperthwaite.
If you haven't yet discovered Barbara's superb writing you're in for a rare treat, and, lucky thing, you still have her 2 previous, sensational novels to look forward to as well.
Barbara writes wonderfully scary, true to life twisty thrillers about crimes and the impact they have on all the people involved, she puts the reader so deeply inside the characters psyche you emerge
You can find my enthusiastic ravings about her first two books on my blog:
and her second mind blowing thriller Flowers for the dead
I kid you not if you haven't read them yet you really MUST!
But I digress. What we're here for today is to tantalize and tempt you with the release of Barbara's third thriller The Darkest Lies available now.
Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:
A mother desperate for the truth. A daughter hiding a terrible secret.
Melanie Oak appeared to have the perfect life. Married to her childhood sweetheart, Jacob, the couple live with their beautiful, loving, teenage daughter, Beth, in a pretty village.
Nothing can shake her happiness - until the day that Beth goes missing and is discovered beaten almost to the point of death, her broken body lying in a freezing creek on the marshes near their home.
Consumed with grief, Melanie is determined to find her daughter’s attacker. Someone in the village must have seen something. Why won’t they talk?
As Melanie tries to piece together what happened to Beth, she discovers that her innocent teenager has been harbouring some dark secrets of her own. The truth may lie closer to home and put Melanie’s life in terrible danger…
A completely gripping psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming. Fans of The Girl on the Train, The Sister and Before I Let You In will be captivated.
I still have this to look forward to reading and I will be posting my review on my blog soon, I can pretty much guarantee its going to be a very favourable review and I'm not often so confident in an author I can say this. Having read this short excerpt I'm absolutely gagging to start devouring Barbara's latest book The Darkest Lies, but will practise restraint and keep the anticipation going for a week or two.
For a taster ..... read on. Then order your copy.
THE DARKEST LIES
The cry for help is ragged and desperate, the voice hitching. There is no one to hear it.
A moon hangs so fat it oozes an aura into the sky that almost blots out the stars surrounding it. It looks down on land as flat as an open palm, and as unforgiving as a clenched fist, and gives no answer to the screams of fear and rage that float up to it.
This is the wind’s playground. It races across the North Sea and hits the land full force. There is nothing to slow it; no hills, few trees or hedges here on land reclaimed from the water to create the marshes and fertile flats of Lincolnshire. It screams ecstatically, punching the handful of houses it comes across, revelling in its unfettered freedom as it rattles windows. On its journey it picks up the entreaties for help that are echoing into the sky. Hurls them across the landscape, as gleeful as a toddler with a toy.
‘Help me! Please! Help!’
There is no one to catch the words.
No one, except a lone figure, turning, walking away towards lights in the far-off distance.
FRIDAY 22 JANUARY
Beth chewed at her thumbnail as she stared at the clothes that were carefully folded in the bottom of the rucksack. Was she doing the right thing? Yes; there’d be no harm done, and no one need ever find out. This was not a big deal. Still she gnawed, worrying at the nail.
The thirteen-year-old suddenly yanked her thumb from her mouth. She must remember not to chew it tonight; it looked as if she was sucking it, like a baby. Tonight, she needed to show that she was grown-up, no longer a little girl.
Right, had she remembered everything? Yep, it looked like it.
It had taken ages to choose both her outfits. One for her parents; one for her secret. She slipped a jumper on and smoothed down the Minnie Mouse picture on the front. It was a firm favourite of her mum’s so it was the obvious choice, even though she didn’t like the childish top herself any more. Everything was perfect for tonight – and her parents would never guess in a million years.
A huge grin on her face, Beth glugged a glass of milk and set it down on her dressing table. Then called out: ‘Mu-um. You ready to go?’
A laugh floated up from downstairs. ‘Isn’t it normally me asking you that?’
Beth hurried downstairs with her rucksack, her dad making the usual joke about ‘a herd of elephants’. She gave him a peck on the cheek and a big hug, which he returned, but peered around her at the television.
‘Ooh, offside,’ he groaned.
‘See you tomorrow.’
‘Have a nice night, Beans.’ He grinned as he used her nickname, but continued watching the football, casting her only a sidelong glance.
Minutes later, Beth and her mum were wrapped in their hats and coats, and striding along with Wiggins by their side. The russet cocker spaniel held his nose high, tail swishing casually from side to side, catching various scents on the cold January air.
‘Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could smell things the way Wiggins does? We could follow scent trails!’ Beth said.
She linked arms with her mum as they took the left-hand lane from the village crossroads on which they lived, towards the home of Beth’s best friend, Chloe.
‘Like a superhero? You could be called Dog Girl,’ her mum joked.
Beth wrinkled her nose. ‘Yeah, on second thoughts… The name’s not great, is it?’
‘What other superpowers would Dog Girl have?’
‘Well, okay, she could take all sorts of things from nature. Like, she could have echo‑location, like a bat, so she could find her way in the dark. That’d be handy now!’
‘What are you up to with Chloe tonight, anyway? Pamper night? Watching a film?’
‘Yeah, we’ll probably watch a film. Not sure about the pampering – Chloe might not have any face packs.’
‘We could nip back and get some. There’s a couple in the bathroom cabinet.’
‘No. It’s fine. We’ll probably watch a film and eat a lot of chocolate.’
‘Want some money for a pizza? It’s a Friday night, you might as well treat yourselves.’
Her mum stopped abruptly, waving the tenner at the sky before handing it over. ‘Look how big the moon is tonight.’
‘Is it a supermoon?’ Beth asked, gazing upward too. There had been one a few months earlier, and her dad had told her about how it was special, being closer to the earth and bringing bigger tides. That had been really cool.
‘Don’t think so, but it’s beautiful, isn’t it?’
She nodded. ‘I can see the man in the moon ever so clearly.’
Given that they had stopped, it seemed as good a time as any to try…
‘So, I might as well walk the rest of the way alone.’
‘No, I’ll walk you to the door. It’s dark, Beth.’
She gave her mum her very best puppy dog eyes look. If the plan were to work, her mum couldn’t take her to Chloe’s house. Despite her parents thinking she’d be spending the night there, she had no intention of setting foot inside the place.
‘I’m a teenager. I’m not a baby. Pur-lease, Mum!’
After a second or two, there came a reluctant nod. ‘Be careful.’
‘I love you to bits and whole again,’ Mum added.
Beth felt her nose prickle with guilty tears. They had been saying that to each other since she was about four. She remembered it vividly, being cuddled on her mum’s lap; her feet tucked under Dad’s legs to keep them extra toasty warm. One hand twirling a piece of hair round and round and round her fingers as Dad read to them. She’d loved to hear the sound of his voice, but no matter how hard she’d fought, her eyelids had grown heavier and heavier and…
The sensation of weightlessness had woken her, as Dad carried her upstairs. When he’d tucked her in, he had stroked her face and kissed her forehead.
‘Sleep tight, Beans. I love you to the moon and back,’ he had murmured.
Beth had stirred sleepily. ‘To the moon? That’s a really, really, really long way.’
‘It is, but I love you so much that it would easily stretch all the way there and back again – and more.’
The next day her mum had walked her across the road to school, holding her hand. As Beth slipped from her grasp, her mum had pulled her back, into a bear hug.
‘Love you to bits,’ she’d whispered.
Beth had paused in her squirming. ‘To bits and back?’ she’d checked.
Her mum had laughed. ‘Er, yes, I suppose. To bits and whole again.’
Ever since, that saying had stuck. Hearing her mum use it now, Beth wanted to call a halt to her plan. To throw her arms around her and confess everything. She wanted to go home. She wanted to curl up and watch telly with Mum and Dad, while Wiggins did sneaky trumps that they all tried to blame on each other, laughing, even though they knew it was the dog. She wanted to tell her mum she’d love her forever and ever and ever, to bits and whole again.
Instead, she grinned cheekily, turned and skipped away like a little girl. Taking the mickey was easier than trying to articulate all of those feelings.
The wind plucked at her ponytail as she flew from sparse light pool to light pool between lamp posts until they ran out completely. The darkness swallowed her. Ahead she could feel her fate waiting for her and she rushed towards it eagerly. Tonight was going to be a big night.
Read the rest - buy your own copy now!
Read the rest - buy your own copy now!
Monday, 15 May 2017
Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
Today is my stop on the blog tour for Leopard at the door a gritty historical novel about life in Kenya in the 1950s.
Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.
But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley Road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.
Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?
Leopard at the door is not your average historical romantic fiction, it is a dark and powerful look at a time and place when culture clashes and grievances erupted into a regime of utter brutality and violence.
Set in Kenya in 1952, the story is narrated by 18 year old Rachel, who is returning to the Kenya of her childhood, to the family farm where she was brought up, until the age of 12, on her colonial parents remote family farm in a pretty idyllic environment. Her childhood companions the native Kenyans who work for her family, she was even educated by a Kenyan tutor. Roaming around the nearby bush and fishing in the dam, the long sunny days and cries of the wildlife are imprinted firmly on her memory despite being uprooted and shipped off to cold gloomy England at the age of 12 following the sudden death of her Mother.
All she has longed for ever since is to return, but she discovers the Kenya of her childhood is long gone and its place is a country simmering with political tension, threats and terror always just over the horizon. The biggest threat these days is not from the leopard roaring in the bush, but from the natives themselves. Its seldom possible to go back and find things how they were and change is not always for the good.
The story is about how man can turn on the fellow man he has always looked up to, and how if the hand that feeds does it carelessly and disrespectfully, undoubtedly it will be bitten.
The driving force of this story is the Mau Mau uprising of a rebel factor of the Kikuyu tribespeople, and true news headlines and reports are scattered throughout the book as Rachel listens to illicit radio broadcasts from the UK. The Mau Mau are forcing their fellow tribesmen to swear an oath to join them in their revolt against oppression by the white settlers who now aim to claim their lands and virtually enslave them. But by doing this the rebels end up committing vile atrocities against their unwilling fellow natives and ultimately against the British, whom they begin to terrorize and brutally slaughter in violent murderous attacks where folk are hacked to death with Pangas or burned in their beds.
I told you it wasn't an easy read!
What struck me most in this book is the contrast, the beautifully described, idyllic, location of stunningly beautiful rural Kenya, the peaceful Great Rift Valley, the expansive Bush, the wide open spaces, the searingly hot sun and the wildlife. In contrast are the hideous atrocities committed, against livestock, pets, men women and children and also in contrast are the thoroughly dislikeable characters who range in character from the weak and foolish to the truly despicable.
Do not be fooled into thinking this will be a nice gentle holiday read! This is a harsh and brutal telling of a terrible period in history, a tale of barbarity and vicious cruelty and it doesn't pull ANY punches. How could a book based on such a terrible historical event be anything but emotional and harrowing? Yet is is instantly gripping and I was swept through Nairobi to the Rift Valley with the unfolding horrors playing out as a backdrop, much as Rachel was borne along on events over which she had no control but just had to observe. It is terrible in its simplicity and awesome in its barbarity and a thoroughly fabulously researched and deeply emotive tale. The author undoubtedly knows her location intimately and respects its heritage as well as the nature.
I personally found the animal cruelty as distressing as that done to the humans, after all it could be argued that the British brought it on themselves, but their pets? livestock? Children?
It is a very chilling tale, which had me looking over my shoulder for men with cleavers creeping up behind me and listening for the telltale sounds which can mean the Mau Mau are coming.
But don't let this put you off reading it. If you enjoy gritty realistic historical fiction based on true events, let this book be your introduction to the Kenyan Mau Mau uprising.
It educated me about a period in history which took place just before I was born and thus I had only just heard a little about. This plays out in an Africa colonized by the British whilst at home in England the new Queen Elizabeth enjoys her coronation ceremony.
The poignancy of the diversity and tension of the events unfolding make this quite a genre defying historical novel. It is not a romance although there is a simmering, forbidden passion which I failed to be able to regard as romantic, just ill advised and doomed from the outset.
Order your copy now
Monday, 8 May 2017
A Dangerous Crossing - Rachel Rhys - Review
1939: Europe is on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd, a servant girl, boards an ocean liner for Australia. She is on her way to a new life, leaving behind the shadows in her past.
For a humble girl, the passage proves magical - a band, cocktails, fancy dress balls. A time when she is beholden to no one. The exotic locations along the way - Naples, Cairo, Ceylon - allow her to see places she’d only ever dreamed of, and to make friends with people higher up the social scale who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man who she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.
But Lily soon realises that her new-found friends are also escaping secrets in their past. As the ship’s glamour fades, the stage is set for something awful to happen. By the time the ship docks, two of Lily’s fellow passengers are dead, war has been declared and Lily's life will be irrevocably changed...
Knowing that this author is an already well established psychological thriller writer would have come as no surprise if I hadn't already known this in advance of reading this change of genre historical fiction romantic drama, as it pulses with mystery, tension and suspense throughout.
Its the most perfect holiday read and fabulously enjoyable reading, which kept me gripped from page one.
A Dangerous crossing is a story of a thrilling and tension filled journey of discovery one young woman takes on a ship to the other side of the world at the outbreak of world war Two. Lily Shepherd is in need of a change of scene, with her working class background and sketchy work history, the opportunity arises to avail herself of a government assisted passage scheme for domestic workers to travel to Australia to fill a glut of domestic positions.
This scheme helps her stretch her horizons much wider than should be usual for a young working class girl. Travelling with others in a similar position ensures she makes friends as soon as she boards the Orontes. Being on board a ship in a close knit environment for a long trip means class distinctions can easily become blurred by the heat of foreign travel and a mix of people from different backgrounds travelling by the same route to the same destination for a wide variety of reasons.
Everyone on boards has secrets. Lily becomes friendly with attractive Edward and his sister Helena travelling together for rather vague health reasons. Vivacious and fascinating very much upper class couple Max Campbell and wife Eliza offer a hand of friendship but they are very obviously far removed from anyone she'd normally socialise with. Each with a mystery or secret.
Its a very eventful voyage with simmering tensions and undercurrents ready to drag the unwary traveller beneath the surface. Hidden agendas, secrets and lies are everywhere and it's totally utterly compelling this story of a young girl way out of her comfort zone and the characters she meets and the events which unfold one season at sea.
There is so much going on with the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being in a close knit community with folk you normally wouldn't mix with. Some amazing characters, nice and not so nice, coupled with simmering tensions of war brewing and change of the horizon and enough twists and turns to keep the reader engrossed.
The book begins with a woman being escorted from the ship amid a barrage of press attention and rumours, but its left to the reader throughout the story, to assimilate the information revealed and guess who it might be .... I can bet the identity proves to be a huge surprise for most readers!
A fabulous wonderful read I just loved to bits. If you only pack one book to take on holiday this year make it this one.
Monday, 1 May 2017
Midnight Blue by Simone Van Der Vlugt Blog tour and review.
Amsterdam, 1654: following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five year old Catrin leaves her small village and takes a job as housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family.
Her new life is vibrant and exciting in a city at the peak of its powers: commerce, science and art are flourishing and the ships leaving Amsterdam bring back exotic riches from the Far East.
When an unwelcome figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrin flees to Delft. There, her painting talent earns her a chance to try out as a pottery painter.
Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival the coveted Chinese porcelain – and Delft Blue is born. But when tragedy strikes, Catrin has a hard choice to make. Rich and engrossing, Midnight Blue is perfect for fans of Tulip Fever and Girl with a Pearl Earring
Every now and again a novel comes along that so clearly calls out to me it might be a bespoke title written for me alone.
Midnight Blue is one of these books.
It was the cover which first drew me towards this book, I think its just gorgeous!
But between the covers I became enchanted with the story.
Firstly it’s set in the vividly described, enticing location of Holland and the centre of Amsterdam, a city with which I am so familiar I could conduct my own guided tours around the canals, having spent much time there some years ago.
This book is set in a bygone era, located in a Holland of the past, the mid 17th century to be precise. My love of authentic historical settings and a longing to time travel back to days gone by and witness life as it used to be, gives this another huge tick in my box.
The heroine, Catrin, is a strong willed and determined individual, a trait I admire. I love to read about books with a strong female protagonist in whose clogs I can firmly place myself.
The cover instantly indicates that the book features the emergence of the Dutch pottery industry and the development of Delft blue, a decorative form I adore which remains popular today.
So now I’ve told you why it’s the perfect read for me, I’ll try and explain how it exceeded every expectation and why YOU need to read this wonderful, enthralling historical novel for yourself.
The story is narrated by a very authentic young woman of 25, Catrin, who is suddenly widowed. Feeling unable to stay in the stifling small village where everyone knows everyone else business, she moves away from her family to the bustling city of Amsterdam, where she lands on her feet being offered a job as a housekeeper.
Life in Amsterdam is busy and exciting and the family she is working for are interesting and considerate. Soon opportunities present themselves for her to expand her horizons far more than would ever have been possible in a little rural village.
Catrin has an artistic streak, until now, little more than the ability to decorate simple household objects and make them colourful and pretty with basic paints. When her bored mistress takes art lessons, Catrin absorbs the information and techniques and a longing to use her own artistic talents is born, we even meet some famous historical faces from the art world as Catrins path crosses theirs.
It’s romantic and mysterious:
When romance appears for Catrin and awakens passions of a different kind to those which she feels for art, it leads to possibly disastrous consequences and Catrin finds herself feeling threatened and pursued and is soon on the move yet again. Always there is an air of mystery about her past, especially when a figure from her previous life appears on the scene threatening to disrupt the new life she has built.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and fortune smiles on her, presenting her with further opportunity and more grief. It seems as soon as fortune finds her, misfortune follows behind and we watch her life unfold amidst a series of lucky coincidences and terrible disasters.
In an era when plague threatens and drama is quick to turn to tragedy, Catrin does all she can to hold her head high and achieve a decent life for herself. Who wouldn’t?
It’s immensely enjoyable:
Midnight Blue is a wonderfully entertaining story of a very determined young woman, whom at times I thought was excessively fortunate and at others felt so unlucky my heart almost broke for her. On occasions her streak of determination shows a manipulative nature and she often makes impulsive and unwise decisions but she genuinely charmed me and I was hooked into experiencing her life as it unfolds.
There is romance, violence, mystery and death amongst the pages to satisfy readers with a wide variety of tastes and in Midnight Blue there is never a dull moment and I loved every moment of my journey through time.