Month: May 2021

‘I Dare You’ by Sam Carrington

AN INNOCENT GAME. A SHOCKING CRIME. A COMMUNITY FULL OF SECRETS.

Mapledon, 1989
Two little girls were out playing a game of dares. Only one returned home.
The ten-year-old told police what she saw: village loner Bill ‘Creepy’ Cawley dragged her friend into his truck and disappeared.
No body was found, but her testimony sent Cawley to prison for murder. An open and shut case, the right man behind bars.
The village could sleep safe once again.

Now…
Anna thought she had left Mapledon and her nightmares behind but a distraught phone call brings her back to face her past.
30 years ago, someone lied. 30 years ago, the man convicted wasn’t the only guilty party.
Now he’s out of prison and looking for revenge. The question is, who will he start with?

Anna, a school teacher, about to enjoy the summer holidays, instead finds herself returning to her childhood home in the village of Mapledon. Her mother is being targeted for her role in the arrest and trial of Bill Cawley – convicted of the murder of Anna’s best friend thirty years ago.

Lizzie, a journalist, is on her way back too – and between them they discover the shocking truth of what really happened thirty years ago and who was responsible.

The writing is impeccable, the settings authentic, the premise interesting. Mapledon feels claustrophobic and creepy, a local place for local people, and the complicated relationships have so much potential for a really gripping read.

Unfortunately, I felt very distanced from the characters – I didn’t like any of them, except for Lizzie,  and so didn’t particularly care what happened to them. 

I also felt the set up was a little unlikely, with the village children, encouraged by the adults, allowed to behave so horribly, and I thought the dénouement too was really unrealistic. It all felt very far-fetched, if I’m honest.

‘The Stray Cats of Homs’ by Eva Nour #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

The story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation.

‘A cat has seven souls in Arabic. In English cats have nine lives. You probably have both nine lives and seven souls, because otherwise I don’t know how you’ve made it this far.’

Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof). 

But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker. 

Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare… 

It’s really not easy to write a review that does this book justice. It’s so beautifully written, that at times it is a joy to read, but the subject matter is so utterly heart-breaking that it feels strange to say so.

Sami grows up during the civil war in Syria. He has hopes and dreams for his future, as we all do, but fate and circumstance mean he lives in a place and in a time when he has few choices to make. He is conscripted into the Syrian army just as the rebellion against the regime begins and is forced to comply with orders that sicken him. 

Returning to Homs, he chooses to stay after his family leaves, and the account here of the horrors he experiences makes for grim reading. But he shows a resilience and a courage that is humbling to read.

Sami is real – this book is based on his experiences. If you’ve ever questioned the motives of those who put themselves in danger to escape places like Syria, or, from the security of your warm house, with food in your fridge, and your children safely at school, demanded to know why the young men don’t stay and fight, then I respectfully suggest that you read this book. In fact, it’s a book that everyone should read.

‘She’ by HC Warner

SHE’s everything he dreamed of, isn’t SHE?

Ben can’t believe his luck when Bella walks into his life, just when he needs her most. Sexy, impulsive and intelligent, Bella is everything he ever wanted. And Bella wants him. All to herself.

In fact, Bella decides that everything is better when it is just the two of them, making it harder for Ben’s friends and family to stay in touch. And then a sudden tragedy triggers a chain of events which throws Ben headlong into a nightmare.

Secrets, lies, vengeance and betrayal are at the heart of this utterly twisted story about a family that is destroyed when SHE becomes part of it…

Ben has just split up with long-term girlfriend Charlie when he meets beautiful Bella. Very quickly, Bella is pregnant, and marriage swiftly follows. Ben should be happy, but everyone around him can see that something isn’t quite right. After Elodie is born and Ben becomes a stay-at-home dad, they stage an intervention, with tragic consequences.

Reviewing this novel is a bit tricky. The writing is undoubtedly accomplished, the twist is very good (it comes about half way through), and I did want to know what happened to Ben. But I immediately felt irritated by Ben’s family – superficial, privileged, ridiculously well off, especially unambitious mum Jo, who was so sappy. But of course she is very well-preserved for a middle-aged woman, slim, well-groomed, beautiful, as is everyone in this novel. And Ben’s beautiful (but not perfectly beautiful) midwife friend lives in a converted period flat in central London (really?).

Bella is so one-dimensional, a scorned woman out for revenge. There is no attempt to explain her background, or why she is how she is. She could have been so interesting and complex – a real missed opportunity.

And of course, Bella, as the woman, takes the blame for the circumstances that got everyone to this point, while the man involved is forgiven.

The other big issue for me was that when we heard the story from Bella’s point of view, whole conversations were repeated from the earlier part of the novel, which really slowed the narrative.

Disappointing, and, given the theme, insensitive too.

‘The Temple House Vanishing’ by Rachel Donohue

Power. Jealousy. Desire.

Twenty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl and her charismatic teacher disappeared without trace…

When Louisa arrives at Temple House, an elite catholic boarding school, she quickly finds herself drawn to sophisticated fellow pupil Victoria and their young bohemian art teacher, Mr Lavelle. The three of them form a bond that seems to offer an escape from the repressive regime of the nuns who run the cloistered school. Until Louisa and Mr Lavelle suddenly vanish. 

Years later, a journalist with a childhood connection to Louisa determines to resolve the mystery. Her search for the truth will uncover a tragic, mercurial tale of suppressed desire and long-buried secrets. It will shatter lives and lay a lost soul to rest. 

The Temple House Vanishing is a stunning, intensely atmospheric novel of unrequited longing, dark obsession and unintended consequences.

Rachel Donohue certainly knows how to create a claustrophobic, intense narrative, full of tension, repression and teenage fantasies.  

The boarding school setting, the rustling nuns, the louche art teacher, the awkward outsider, all work beautifully together and the mystery disappearance of one of the pupils keeps you guessing. The pace is good, the drama builds in a satisfying way, and there is great insight into characters’ motivations.

A couple of things didn’t work that well for me, however. I felt that the journalist’s story could have been developed more fully, and I didn’t believe completely in the final dénouement, which, after thoroughly enjoying the novel up until then, was quite disappointing.

That said, Donohue certainly knows how to write convincing characters and atmospheric settings, and I look forward to her next book.