Book Review

‘Sleep’ by C. L. Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

s-l640

Hive

All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty…

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.

Each of the guests have a secret, but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.

‘Sleep’ is very well-written, has a fascinating setting, and, while I’m usually good at guessing the culprit, I had no idea who it was in the case, until very close to the end.

So the novel works very well on that level, and if a good solid mystery is what you’re after, then this should definitely be your cup of tea.

But, having read the blurb, and some of the reviews, I was really expecting this to be an edge of the seat, scary and thrilling read. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that to be the case. While there are all the elementsthere for a creepy, terrifying suspense, I just didn’t work for me on that level.

A shame, but I have previously read ‘The Fear’ by the same author which I really enjoyed, so I would definitely read more of C. L. Taylor’s work.

three and a half stars

‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

the five

Hive

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.
Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

This is a fascinating book in a lot of ways. I have always found the obsession some have with Jack the Ripper quite worrying – yes, his identity is intriguing, but the interest does seem to lean to a fascination with the grisly deaths of women, with these women almost side characters to the whole nasty, cruel business. We have tourist attractions and even museums about him, with the women reduced to mere props. I remember going to Madame Tussauds as a child and walking through the Ripper exhibition, with the recorded voices of women trying to attract clients, a wax model of a women, bloody and gory – a tourist attraction built on horrible, terrifying, painful tragedy visited on real people. The Jack the Ripper Museum sells fridge magnets and bloodstained memorabilia. There’s a lot to unpick there and probably not in a book review, but it goes to show how twisted our fascination with these murders has become.

So a book that focuses on the five victims as people is welcomed, and this book treats them warmly and with compassion, while setting out clearly and unflinchingly the way in which a patriarchal, classist and frankly misogynist society forced women into an endless life of toil, childbirth and misery. Life was grim and unrelenting for these women. The social structures that forced them into these lives is well-described, and absolutely fascinating.

There were a couple of issues for me though. At first, it felt as though, in proving that four of the five victims weren’t actually prostitutes, this meant we should feel more sympathy for them, that their reputations had been sullied by this assumption. But I don’t see why  a prostitute is less deserving of our sympathy. A prostitute doesn’t deserve to be murdered. And while it is important to show that these women were mothers, and wives, and daughters, and sisters, and that they laughed, and cried and worried about money, and were human beings, and that while it is important to take the narrative away from the murderer and to show the women he destroyed as people, I’m not sure that so much focus should be on whether or not they were prostitutes, because it doesn’t matter.

It’s tricky, because the popular narrative is that the women were prostitutes, out at night plying ther trade, and they were killed. The author shows that four of the five weren’t prostitutes, and so disproves this narrative. Which is important, because there is a nasty kind of titillation around the prostitution narrative. But, we are left with the feeling that the death of a prostitute is less of a tragedy – which it isn’t. And there is so much hypocrisy around the whole issue of sex work, that it’s important that we don’t add anything to the idea that it is somehow shameful.

Later on in the narrative, the author does address this to an extent, but the emphasis on the idea that four of the five women weren’t prostitutes did leave me feeling a little uncomfortable. There is still this idea whenever women are killed that if they were prostitutes killed by a client, or if they were women who sometimes slept with men for money or a home or security, or if they were alcoholics or drug addicts, then we shouldn’t care so much about their deaths. We absolutely should.

My other issue is that there’s a lot of conjecture around how the women felt about the things that happened to them in their lives. While there is a place for this, it did become a little wearing after a while. We don’t know how these women felt about anything, because they can’t tell us; we can assume some things, but whether or not those assumptions have a place in a book like this is tricky. While trying to humanise the women, and show them as people, it does feel as though the author sometimes goes too far.

That said, what we learn about the women themselves, the lives they lived, and the conditions in Victorian England, is fascinating. There is so much here that I didn’t know. For me, the best part of the book was the way it showed how society set these women up to fail, and then judged them as they did exactly that. Walking with these women through their lives, knowing their fate, is emotional and poignant. And it made me furious too – furious that this is what they and many others suffered, and furious that women are still judged more harshly than men, that our opportunities are still limited, that prostitutes are still vilified and judged, and judged more harshly than the men that use them.

So, on balance, while there were aspects of this book that didn’t work for me, overall I would recommend it. It’s an important book, and a brave one too (the author has, inevitably, received horrible abuse from mainly male ‘ripperologists’ online), and I’m very glad I read it. When I think of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane now, I no longer think of the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ in Madame Tussauds, but of five women, who lived and loved and who were human.

 

4 stars

‘Deleted’ by Sylvia Hehir @shehir853 #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Deleted’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Deleted

Big Green Bookshop    Hive

How much worse can Dee’s life get? Having already suffered a traumatic break up with her boyfriend, her best friend is now warning her off the handsome new boy in the village. So what if his dad is a traveller? And that’s without all the problems she’s having with her mobile phone. A young adult romance with a hint of mystery.

As an editor I read a lot of YA fiction, and one thing that annoys me is when the author clearly doesn’t know anyone who is actually YA! This often comes through in writing that is patronising and preachy. Sylvia Hehir ‘s writing is neither of those things. She is a writer who obviously likes her audience and has a great deal of respect for them.

This means she writes characters that are authentic, well-rounded, likeable and easy to identify with. Their concerns feel real and she doesn’t belittle their hopes, fears, anxieties and ambitions.

Dee is a lovely main character and, even as a middle-aged adult, I found her story engaging and interesting. The author portrays Dee’s world so well, it’s easy to imagine the village, the club, the wild countryside. And her relationship with Tom is explored sensitively and thoughtfully.

The writing is excellent and the novel has a lovely pace too.

It’s made me really angry to see young people criticised so nastily by some aspects of the press during this pandemic. All the young people I know are thoughtful, compassionate and really care about the world. A lot of older people don’t seem to grasp how dreadful it is for young adults to see their futures become so uncertain. It’s lovely to read YA by an author who has a real grasp of how much there is to like about the younger generation.

All in all, an outstanding YA novel, and highly recommended.

5 stars

 

 

‘The Teacher’ by Katerina Diamond #BookReview #FridayReads

The Teacher

Big Green Bookshop  Hive

A web of a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. This formidable debut is a page-turner, but don t read it before bed if you re easily spooked! SUN

You think you know who to trust? You think you know the difference between good and evil? You’re wrong …

The body of the head teacher of an exclusive Devon school is found hanging from the rafters in the assembly hall.

Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end.

As Exeter suffers a rising count of gruesome deaths, troubled DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must solve the case and make their city safe again.

But as they’re drawn into a network of corruption, lies and exploitation, every step brings them closer to grim secrets hidden at the heart of their community.

And once they learn what s motivating this killer, will they truly want to stop him?

SMART. GRIPPING. GRUESOME.

This is a psychological crime thriller in a class of its own.

WARNING: Most definitely *not* for the faint-hearted!

This certainly promised a lot – but unfortunately it didn’t deliver.

I’m not bothered by gore or the gruesome. I’m happy to read most things as long as they’re well-written. So the subject matter didn’t worry me at all.

The idea behind this novel is really sound and has loads of potential. A series of grisly murders, a couple of potentially likeable detectives, some interesting characters and a twisty conspiracy theory. All the elements for a great page-turner are there.

But the editing is dreadful. The dialogue is unwieldy and strangely formal (use contractions for goodness sake!). There are lots and lots of long-winded sentences that drag on and on. I couldn’t believe this was published by Harper Collins.

I can’t blame the author for the poor editing, but I did feel that the motive behind the conspiracy was really woolly and not at all convincing.

Frustrating, because there’s a clever story here, that could be brilliant.

three stars

 

 

‘Women’ by Chloe Caldwell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

women

Big Green Bookshop      Hive

A young woman moves from the countryside to the city.
Inexplicably, inexorably and immediately, she falls in love with another woman for the first time in her life.
Finn is nineteen years older than her, wears men’s clothes, has a cocky smirk of a smile – and a long-term girlfriend.
With precision, wit and tenderness, Women charts the frenzy and the fall out of love.

This novella is incredibly well-written. Every sentence is put together beautifully. It’s a masterclass in how to write evocatively, almost poetically, while still producing prose that is eminently readable and that flows effortlessly.

The unnamed narrator of this story is refreshingly mixed-up and chaotic. She doesn’t know what she wants, or what makes her happy, and she makes mistakes. She’s confused about her feelings for Finn, confused about what she wants, and she makes the wrong choices.

Finn is an enigma – we never really get to know her, but then neither does the narrator. And that adds a real authenticity to the narrative.

That said, I did find the characters a little self-absorbed at times, the narrator in particular. There were times when I wanted to scream ‘grow up!’ but that reaction certainly means the character got to me!

Perhaps the current situation in the world has made me suffer fools less gladly, and perhaps I may have been more tolerant of the narrator’s issues a few months ago – but I did feel at times as though I wanted to give her a kick up the backside! It’s hard to really love a story when you don’t particularly like the main protagonist.

That said, this takes nothing away from the writing itself – which really is beautiful.

four-and-a-half-stars

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

mirror

    Hive       The Big Green Bookshop

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

Back in December 2012, on the release of ‘Bring up the Bodies’, I went to a talk given by Hilary Mantel at Draper’s Hall in London, the site of Thomas Cromwell’s London home. She talked about the third in the series, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ and I’ve been waiting since then to read it.

Hilary

Me and Hilary!

It’s been a long eight years! But it was so worth the wait.

I pre-ordered ‘The Mirror and the Light’, obviously, and then decided when it arrived that I would have to read ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ again first. So these weird weeks of lockdown have seen me immersed in Tudor London again, and, very weirdly, falling in love with Thomas Cromwell. Again.

I have read a lot of books. I have spent my life reading. My two degrees have involved a huge amount of reading, and reading, in the words of Anne Bronte, in my favourite occupation. And in all this reading, all these books, Hilary Mantel is my absolute favourite author. If I could only read one author, ever, it would be Mantel, by a huge margin

She has this amazing ability to draw you so completely into her world, to be able to picture each scene, to feel everything. In Cromwell, as with Danton in ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, she has created an unlikely hero, but she makes him so fully formed that you can’t help but love him, and feel for him.

The writing is beautiful. There are turns of phrase that stop you in your tracks. And the amount of research she must have done to bring the Tudor world to life so accurately and authentically, from the food to the smells to the dress to the customs, is astonishing.

I particularly appreciated the way the story of Anne of Cleves was told – a woman whose attractiveness and personal hygiene has been horribly falsified. In fact, Mantel treats all her ‘characters’ with honesty and respect, showing how the politics, the treaties, the hierarchies and social systems of the time often forced people to lie, and betray others out of fear.

Whatever you think of Cromwell, he was an extraordinary man – to rise from his humble beginnings to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom, after the king, he must have had incredible intelligence. While we can’t ever really know what he was actually like, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ and the previous two books in the series, provide a fascinating and compelling journey through one of the most interesting periods of history.

I finished this book in absolute floods of tears – I can give no better review or recommendation than that. In my opinion, Mantel is our greatest living writer – and I’d be hard pressed to think of another, living or dead, whose work I would rather read.

Al least

5 stars

 

‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley #FridayReads #BookReview #crime #thriller

hunting party

Hive     Waterstones

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

I love a good thriller where the story is character-driven, and this doesn’t disappoint.

A group of friends gather in a hunting lodge to celebrate New Year, but their apparently close friendships aren’t all they seem. In fact, they don’t seem to like each other very much.

Heather is the manager of the lodge, she’s there to escape something in her past. Doug, the enigmatic gamekeeper, is also hiding something. And the so-called friends seem to be hiding a lot of things from each other.

The story is told in flashbacks from the day a body is found, back and forth with the New Year celebrations, so we know what all the tension is leading up to – but we don’t know who the victim is or who did it. And there are so many skilfully placed clues and red herrings that the final revelation is a real surprise.

The landscape is almost a character in itself, beautifully described and so atmospheric.

There were just a couple of things that didn’t work for me. There was one aspect of the final outcome that didn’t quite ring true but I won’t say what that was for fear of spoilers. Also, I liked Heather so much, but I felt as though I didn’t get to know enough about her or her history.

That said, this is a really gripping and enjoyable read.

4 stars

 

‘Sea Change’ by Sylvia Hehir #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #YA

sea change

Waterstones   Hive 

Sea Change is a cracking YA thriller that sees 16-year-old Alex struggling to look after his grieving mother and pay the bills. So he made some bad decisions in the summer not least of which was getting involved with Chuck, an unpredictable stranger who says he’s on the run.

Chuck was exciting, challenging Alex to take ever-increasing risks. But Chuck wasn’t supposed to turn up dead next to Alex’s fishing boat. Were Chuck’s paranoid stories about men hunting him actually true? And is Alex facing even greater danger? 

Disclaimer – I do know the author, as she was a fellow student on Glasgow’s MLitt. In Creative Writing. However, my review is honest and hasn’t been influenced in any way. She’s just a genuinely excellent writer!

‘Sea Change’ marries a page-turning plot with some absolutely beautiful, evocative writing that brings all the stark, desolate beauty of a small coastal town in Scotland to life.

After the death of his father, Alex is trying to look after his mum, earn some extra money, and cope with school and exams. Chuck provided the opportunity to let off some steam during the summer holidays, but now the new school year has begun, Chuck has vanished, and Alex finds himself drawn into more trouble than he needs.

Alex is a wonderfully complex main character, struggling under far too much pressure, trying desperately to care for his mum. He’s just lovely and I was really rooting for him throughout this novel.

His best friend Daniel has his own issues to deal with, and he is as well-drawn and as fully realised as Alex. There are some fabulous side characters too, including Alex’s wonderful cousin Moth.

This is a YA novel that treats its readers with respect; it doesn’t patronise or preach, and acknowledges the sometimes difficult lives that teenagers have to face. It’s an honest book, with authentic characters and a novel (and author) that I highly recommend.

5 stars

 

 

‘Do Not Disturb’ by Claire Douglas #FridayReads #BookReview

do not disturb

Hive     Waterstones

Could your dream home be your worst nightmare?

After what happened in London, Kirsty needs a fresh start with her family. 
And running a guesthouse in the Welsh mountains sounds idyllic.

But then their first guest arrives.
Selena is the last person Kirsty wants to see.
It’s 17 years since she tore everything apart.

Why has she chosen now to walk back into Kirsty’s life?
Is Selena running from something too?
Or is there an even darker reason for her visit?

Because Kirsty knows that once you invite trouble into your home, it can be murder getting rid of it . . . 

Having just moved from the south east of England to a small village in West Wales, I was intrigued to read this book.

It’s a great idea, with lots of different strands that are really interesting and that do keep you turning the pages to see what’s at the bottom of all these weird events.

I liked Kirsty and sympathised with her, particularly the situation she was in with her mum, grateful for the help, but irritated by her behaviour, and not able to say anything because of the gratitude! A horrible situation to be in.

But – there were so many strands here that it didn’t feel as if enough time was given to any of them. There was such a lot that could have made this into a much more satisfying novel, particularly the story around Selena and Ruby, and the resentment Kirsty felt towards her husband.

One of the ‘red herrings’ was dealt with so quickly and with no real depth whatsoever which was hugely disappointing.

And, as someone who has moved to Wales, I found the idea of the locals resenting the ‘incomers’ a bit of a tired old stereotype.

The ending too felt a bit odd and definitely needed to be developed further. The implications of the ending are absolutely huge and could be so interesting. But again, there was no real depth.

A real shame, because this could have been so good. There was a lot I really liked, but I wish it had been better.

three and a half stars

‘UK2’ by @TerryTyler4 #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

UK2

Amazon.co.uk

‘Two decades of social media had prepared them well for UK2.’

The pace steps up in this penultimate book in the Project Renova series, as the survivors’ way of life comes under threat.

Two years after the viral outbreak, representatives from UK Central arrive at Lindisfarne to tell the islanders about the shiny new city being created down south.  UK2 governor Verlander’s plan is simple: all independent communities are to be dissolved, their inhabitants to reside in approved colonies.  Alas, those who relocate soon suspect that the promises of a bright tomorrow are nothing but smoke and mirrors, as great opportunities turn into broken dreams, and dangerous journeys provide the only hope of freedom.

Meanwhile, far away in the southern hemisphere, a new terror is gathering momentum…

I read the previous two novels in this series ages ago and thoroughly enjoyed them both, and this third in the series certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I was worried I wouldn’t remember the ins and outs of the story, but I was back in this fabulously crafted dystopian world within a few pages, catching up with lovely Lottie (such a well-drawn character), her mum Vicky, dastardly Dex, poor little princess Flora and a cast of other, equally strong characters.

What works really well here is the dawning realisation of each of the characters that things aren’t what they seem. After everything that’s happened, they’re still hanging on to the idea that someone in charge will make it all go away, that someone else will sort it out and make them feel safe. The way each of them deals with the truth is so compelling, and it’s also what makes this book such a delight to read – it’s not difficult at all to imagine this happening.

My favourite storyline was Flora’s. She is so annoying, but I have a lot of sympathy for her. I have a sneaking suspicion I’d be a terrible wimp in similar circumstances, and to see her character develop the way it does is one of the highlights of the story.

As always with Terry Tyler’s novels, you get a great, believable storyline, and well-crafted, compelling characters. This is essentially about people, and how they cope in dreadful circumstances – and it’s written with real skill. The author is a natural storyteller, and her books never disappoint.

I won’t be leaving it as long to read ‘Legacy’!

5 stars