Book Review

‘White Lies’ by @EllieHWriter #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘White Lies’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

white lies

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sam Davenport is a woman who lives her life by the rules. When her husband Neil breaks those rules too many times, Sam is left wondering not only if he is still the man for her but also if it’s time to break a few rules of her own.

Actions, however, have consequences as Sam soon discovers when what starts out as an innocent white lie threatens to send her world spiralling out of control.

White Lies is a warm, engaging read about love, deceit, betrayal and hope.

Sam and Neil’s marriage is already on dodgy ground – his affair has left her shaken, unable to move past what has happened. But she’s trying. Then they’re involved in an accident, a motorcyclist badly injured, and the lie they tell leads to bigger lies.

‘White Lies’ is about relationships, and trust, and how the past can blight the future. And it’s also about how the best intentions can leave us vulnerable and how we can be our own worst enemies.

It’s very well-written. The characters are believable, and the situations they find themselves in wholly feasible. At first, Sam annoyed me. Her life, despite the affair, was perfect; she was perfect – beautiful, talented, well off, gorgeous husband, thriving business, lovely kids, beautiful home. But as the novel unfolded, her vulnerability came through, which made her more likeable (if really frustrating at times). Her confusion was very well-drawn; she really didn’t know what to do, and everything she did do seemed to make the situation worse – that’s something most of us can relate to.

My only issue is that I felt the rather dark traits in one of the main characters (I don’t want to give spoilers here, so can’t say too much) were, I felt, handled a little too lightly. The way this character behaves is quite disturbing, and I felt that this was dealt with a little too flippantly. The character’s experiences weren’t excuse enough for that behaviour and I felt that they shouldn’t have been quite so easily forgiven.

I loved the side plot around Daphne – it was really lovely; genuinely heart-warming without being sentimental.

Overall, really well-written and definitely recommended.

4 stars

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‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M. Li #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Dark-Chapter-CMYK

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.
On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.
In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.
Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives.

‘Dark Chapter’ isn’t an easy read. It details the brutal rape of Vivian by young traveller Johnny and the aftermath of that attack, including the trial. It is honest and vivid and brave, especially as the novel is based on the author’s own experience.
The story is told from two points of view, Vivian’s and Johnny’s. This makes for a difficult read at times. Johnny has few chances in life, he is brutalised and uncared for. Seeing Vivian, (whose own sections draw us into her life, who has our sympathy, our concern), from Johnny’s point of view is challenging, uncomfortable, horrible to read. I was pleased that the novel was unflinching though – Johnny has dehumanised women, his attitude borne of what he sees around him (his father’s treatment of his mother, his brother’s attitude to girls, the pornography he’s watched) and it’s shocking that he has no real remorse.
This is not just about the rape itself. It’s about the aftermath and what that does to both survivor and perpetrator. It’s about how the effects of this horrible crime last and exactly what they can do. It’s about the horrible processes involved afterwards, the endless recounting by Vivian to this expert and that doctor, this psychologist, that friend, of what has happened. It’s about the dreadful way she’s treated in court. But it’s also about her inner strength and her determination.
And it’s about Johnny, and how a young boy can become so full of anger, of hate, of violence that he can treat another human being like this.
I can’t imagine where Winnie M. Li found the strength to write this novel. But she has, and she’s written it with enormous skill. The shifts in point of view are seamless. Vivian is three-dimensional, complex and relatable. Johnny is the bad guy, undoubtedly, but he too is complex and uncomfortably compelling to read. This isn’t sentimental or melodramatic. It’s gripping, unsettling and difficult.
And in the end it’s about Vivian’s survival, and her humanity.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for an honest review.

 

‘The House’ by Simon Lelic #FridayReads #BookReview

the house

Amazon.co.uk 

Whose story do YOU believe?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

AND NOW THE POLICE ARE WATCHING THEM.

The blurb of this book makes it sound as if this is a creepy mystery, perhaps a crime involved, perhaps something more sinister and nasty. Well, there is a crime, there are sinister things going on, but it’s not what I was expecting at all. And that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

The novel takes us deep into the lives of Jack and Syd, and the dual narrative, switching from one to the other, really helps with this. I felt close to both characters, invested in both, and I cared about what happened to them. Both of them. This was conflicting at times, and confusing. But it kept me turning the pages.

Syd’s relationship with teenage neighbour Elise, who she identifies with so closely, is a strength of the book. There are some genuinely heart-stopping moments in this part of the narrative. And Syd’s back story was utterly heart-breaking; it was difficult to read at times, but that shows how strong the writing is in places.

The plot is a little confusing at times – you do have to work at this book, but that, I think, is part of its appeal. The protagonists are confused, and the reader is confused along with them. What lies behind the house, and their lives, is complex and twisted and surprising.

There were a few plot points that I found a little hard to believe in completely, and that’s why I can’t give this novel five stars. But it’s a really good read, gripping, complex, clever. Definitely recommended.

4.5 out of 5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the free review copy.

‘Whispers in the Alders’ by @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Whispers in the Alders’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

whispers

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Alder Ferry would have been just another nondescript suburb living in the shadow of its urban parent if not for one detail: the mysterious stand of alder trees anchoring the town to its past and standing as a reminder to the wilderness that once stood in its place.
In the shadows of the alders a boy named Tommy found refuge. There, an eclectic book collection was his only companion through a tumultuous childhood, serving as his escape from the brutal realities of his life. That was, until Aubrey appeared.
Born of different worlds, the alders become their escape while their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love that few people ever come to understand or enjoy—proving that true friendship is a romantic pursuit in its purest form.
Together they come of age in a town hostile to their friendship—a friendship that challenges the intersecting boundaries of class, gender and sexuality. Prejudice and privilege masquerade to destroy their dreams while class, gender and faith collide. All are tested as Tommy and Aubrey carry each other through their teen years and into adulthood. Whispers in the Alders is an impassioned experience that will test the emotions and is a story that will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

This is a beautifully-written novel by a very talented writer.

The story centres on the relationship between Aubrey and Tommy – both living in the small town of Alder Ferry and both trying to survive adolescence.

Aubrey is wealthy, but her privilege doesn’t bring her happiness. She is taken from pillar to post by her cold, uninterested and self-centred parents. Her father is responsible for takeovers of local firms, resulting in the dismissal of the employees, something that makes it incredibly difficult for Aubrey to fit into whatever school she has to attend. Tommy is poor, unwanted, his life brutal and cruel. They find comfort and companionship in each other, and they develop an intense relationship that helps them to cope.

The alders provide a sanctuary where the two of them can breathe, where they can be teenagers, away from the hostility and hate they are both subjected to in their small town.

The narrative here is dense, intelligent, poetic in places. This is an author who can really write, who has a detailed and complex knowledge of words and how to use them. This doesn’t make for an easy read at times, but some of the prose was astounding. That said, there were times when the writing overtook the story and I did feel that the narrative could have done with some trimming in places. The writing is beautiful – but sometimes it is too much, and for me this lessened the impact somewhat.  It is a skill to write like this, but there is also a skill in knowing when to cut some of those beautifully composed lines – when the story needs to be allowed to come through. Aubrey and Tommy are complex, interesting characters and they need to be at the fore – a brave and honest edit would help to make this book really shine, and to be the story it deserves to be.

4 stars

‘The Lauras’ by Sara Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

Lauras

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong…

As Ma and Alex make their way from Virginia to California, each new state prompts stories and secrets of a life before Alex. Together they put to rest unsettled scores, heal old wounds, and search out lost friends. But Alex can’t forget the life they’ve left behind.

This is a really beautiful story with relationships and identity at its core. Alex, the narrator, is a complex and incredibly well-drawn character – leaving home in the middle of the night with Ma as the story begins, and embarking on a journey that will explore not only the places they stay during their journey, but Ma’s past and their relationships – with each other, with Alex’s father and with their wider family as a whole.

The book makes the reader think about identity and what makes you who you are. It is about Ma, and her feelings about not belonging, her rootless and disjointed childhood when she was moved from pillar to post; her need to be on the move, held in check while Alex is too young, until she just can’t stay anymore. And it’s also about Alex, and being a teenager, and being confused, and sometimes wanting to fit in, and sometimes wanting to be different – to be you, and for other people to allow that, and to not question it.

On their travels they meet people from Ma’s past, and Alex gradually learns about that past. There are moments of real beauty and honesty here, and this is done without sentiment. The descriptions of the places they travel through, the places they stay – for an hour or for months – are beautifully done, as are the depictions of the people they meet and the people in Ma’s past that Alex learns about.

This is a really different book, with really unusual and complex characters. It’s about coming of age, and about coming to terms with the past, about accepting who you are. Evocative, complex, and moving – I highly recommend it.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘Long Road from Jarrow’ by Stuart Maconie #FridayReads #BookReview

cover (1)

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‘Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.’

In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade.

Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable.

Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.

world-marches-5

2016 wasn’t only the year that Bowie died, or the year that brought us Brexit and Trump (so a bad year all round), it was also the year that marked the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow March.

In 1936, struggling to feed their families after the destruction of the shipbuilding industry, the men of Jarrow were desperate, and no one seemed to be listening. So they set off on a march to London, to deliver a petition to parliament. The march was led by one of the first women in Parliament – Ellen Wilkinson, a passionate feminist and socialist.

There are plenty of myths and legends about the march – many unfounded – but what drove those marchers was their desperation, their frustration that they were forgotten, that no one cared. Sadly, many people today feel like that. And what’s really interesting about this book is the insight it gives into the lives of ordinary people today, and the ordinary (and not so ordinary) history and society that often goes unnoticed and overlooked.

This is, in a way, Maconie’s own tribute to the marchers. He retraces the march, following the same route, covering the same miles on the same days. And as he walks he talks to the local, ordinary people, about politics, about Brexit, about the places they live and about life. He also visits some of the more interesting and quirky places in England and the book includes some unusual and really interesting snippets from history.

There is also a lot of background about the march itself, the politics in which it was born, and the terrible conditions the people of Jarrow experienced. Maconie draws parallels between now and then and it’s quite scary how we seem to be locked in a circle where these terrible things are happening again – and there seems to be no will to change them.

I disagreed with a few things and with some of the conclusions that Maconie draws from his experiences – the reasons behind the Brexit vote and a certain political leader (although his view may have changed since the book was written), but that didn’t detract at all from my enjoyment of the book. It’s really well-written, with a friendly, chatty voice – I felt at times that I was walking along beside the writer. There’s so much here – so much history, so much detail about the country, so many strange little tales and strange people. And it’s more than that. I hate it when people say they’re not interested in politics, or that politics doesn’t affect them. Or when people accuse others of ‘politicising’ something. Life is political. Your housing, your wages, your pension, your education, the food you eat, your job. Your life. It’s all political. People are at the heart of politics, and what this book does is give a reminder of that. It’s a tribute to the marchers, a tribute to Wilkinson, something of a tribute to England. It’s history, politics, geography and sociology all rolled into one. And it’s very entertaining too.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for the review copy.

‘Mediterranean Summer’ by Jane MacKenzie #RBRT #FridayReads #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Mediterranean Summer’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Mediterranean-Summer-cover

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘Beautiful artist, beautiful woman, and beautiful lover.’ 
May 1968 and Paris is hot with rebellion, passion and hope, as protestors clash with the riot police. Brilliant art student Laure stands boldly on the barricades, heady with her new-found defiance, and is swept into romance with Lolo, the fascinating student leader. But youthful rebellion comes at a cost.
Two months later, the excitement is over. Laure heads home for the summer to Vermeilla, her picturesque Mediterranean village. She looks forward to the simplicity of village life, and to a summer in the sun with family and friends, but is aware that the new Laure may shock her little Catalan community.
But even Vermeilla isn’t protected from the forces of change. Shadows hang over both Laure and her village haven. Can she battle the menace that has followed her from Paris? And can she trust Robert, the aloof lawyer who may be the only one who can keep her safe? 

I’m a bit of a Francophile. France is definitely my favourite place to visit and I plan to move there permanently one day – Brexit permitting. So I love reading anything set in France and this novel, set just after the civil unrest of Paris in 1968, sounded intriguing.

Art student Laure is returning home to her quiet village after her involvement in the Paris demonstrations. She needs to rest and recover, and she also needs to find a way to resolve the problem hanging over her – a problem that could mean the end of her studies.

At first the peace and solitude are soothing, and Laure enjoys reconnecting with her family and her childhood friends. But her brother-in-law Daniel has a new job at the Nobel factory in Paulilles, and trainee doctor Martin, his brother and Laure’s best friend, is worried about the risks the workers there face from exposure to nitro-glycerine.

The gorgeous summer is clouded by these issues and with Laure’s worries over what has happened in Paris. Then Martin’s cousin Robert, a lawyer from Paris, offers to help. The novel focuses on these relationships – between Laure and Robert, Laure and her family, and Laure and Martin’s family.

There is romance here, and conflict, and at the heart is a girl trying to find her place in a changing world. Laure is a lovely main character, and the interactions between the characters are well-written. There are some beautiful descriptions, of the little towns, the gorgeous countryside, and, of course, the wonderful food, and this part of France is really brought to life through the writing.

It’s a gently-paced read, which works well with the setting. However, it was too slow at times, and, while the descriptions were beautifully done, there were places where they went on for too long, and I did find myself skipping ahead. I do feel that this novel could be quite a bit shorter.

It was also a little difficult to keep track of the many characters and their complicated relationships – though it was worth persevering. The writing was a little too formal at times as well, and came across as a little forced and unnatural. However, on the whole this is a lovely novel, just right for a summer read.

4 stars

‘Final Girls’ by Riley Sager #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

final girls

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

FIRST THERE WERE THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

THEN THERE WERE TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or…

CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

I’m trying very hard to avoid all these books that have ‘girl’ or ‘girls’ in the title (we’re WOMEN ffs!) but I read this for two reasons. Firstly, it sounded brilliant and secondly, there’s a very good reason that it’s called ‘Final Girls’.

If you love horror movies you’ll know that the ’final girl’ is the last girl left standing once everyone else has been murdered. The term was coined by Carol J Clover in her 1992 book ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film’ and in Sager’s book, Quincy, Sam and Lisa are ‘real’ final girls (in the reality of the book).

The main focus is on Quincy. She is the sole survivor of a horrific massacre carried out on a group of teenagers in a cabin (well, a cottage, anyway) in the woods. She can’t remember everything that happened that night, and she hates being associated with the other Final Girls. And she seems to be coping – she has a home, a successful and loving boyfriend, and she’s developing a food blog. She does take rather a lot of Xanax, and she also keeps in touch with Coop, a policeman involved in the case, but she’s trying to put it all behind her. Then Lisa dies, and Sam turns up. Quincy’s fragile façade starts to fall apart. She finds herself more and more influenced by Sam, and more and more drawn into what has really happened to Lisa, and what really happened that night at Pine Cottage.

There are so many twists and turns here. Just when you think you’ve solved the mystery, that you know what the twist is, you realise you’re wrong. It’s skilfully done and makes this a real page-turner.

The characters are all really well-written and very believable. I didn’t like Quincy all that much –but I didn’t find that a problem. She frustrated me at times, and I was practically screaming at her not to do the things she was about to do – but the fact that she provoked such a strong reaction goes to show how well she was written.

There are some really tense moments, and genuine shocks and surprises. It’s a really intense, gripping and enjoyable read.

Recommended.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy for review.

‘Silver Rain’ by @JanRuthAuthor #FridayReads #BookReview

silver rain

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Al is the black sheep of his family, Kate, the good shepherd of hers. Can black and white become silver, or just a dark and dangerous grey?
Alastair Black has revealed a secret to his wife in a last ditch attempt to save his marriage. A return to his childhood family home at Chathill Farm is his only respite, although he is far from welcomed back by brother George.
Kate, recently widowed and increasingly put upon by daughter, sister and mother, feels her life is over at fifty. Until she meets Alastair. He’s everything she isn’t, but he’s a troubled soul, a sad clown of a man with a shady past. When his famous mother leaves an unexpected inheritance, Kate is caught up in the unravelling of his life as Al comes to terms with who he really is.
Is Alastair Black her true soulmate, or should Sleeping Beauty lie?

I’ve read a few of Jan Ruth’s books before and particularly enjoyed the ‘Wild Water’ series. The author has a real talent for painting beautiful settings, and her characters are so appealing because they are ordinary – although certainly not boring! These are proper grown-ups – even if they don’t always behave that way – and make a really refreshing change.

I liked Kate immensely – she’s very well-written and very believable. Her relationship with her mother was particularly well done; that sense of guilt at the sheer exasperation of having to deal with petty little problems, mixed with real love, is something most women of a certain age will relate to. Alastair is great too – one thing that Jan Ruth does particularly well is writing male characters. The men in her books aren’t merely romantic distractions, and they aren’t heroes either. They’re real – flawed, funny, and authentic.

The author knows her setting so well and it is beautifully and effortlessly portrayed here. There’s a real sense of time and place. And the dynamics between characters, the conflicts and misunderstandings draw you right in – these are characters you really care about.

That said, I found it very hard to like Fran; she seemed very selfish and unreasonable. And I felt that there could have been more sympathy for Jo’s situation – I did feel that her opinions and views were rather dismissed and glossed over.

But aside from that, this is a really well-written and enjoyable read.

Recommended.

4 stars

‘Fire Damage’ by Kate Medina #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

fire damage

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

To find a killer, she must unlock a child’s terror…

The first in an exciting new crime series featuring psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn – a brilliantly complex character who struggles with a dark past of her own. Perfect for fans of Nicci French and Val McDermid.

A traumatized little boy

Four years old, terrified, disturbed – Sami is a child in need of help. Now it’s up to psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn to find the cause of his suffering and unlock his darkest memories, before it’s too late.

A psychologist with a secret

Meanwhile Jessie is haunted by an awful truth of her own. She works alongside former patient, Captain Ben Callan, to investigate a violent death – but the ghosts of her past refuse to leave her.

A body washed up on the beach

When a burnt corpse is found on the Sussex coast, Jessie begins to uncover a link between her two cases – and a desperate killer will do anything to keep it buried…

Army psychologist Jessie Flynn is asked to treat the traumatised four-year-old son of an army major. His father has been badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Afghanistan and it seems that he is the terrifying ‘shadowman’ at the heart of Sami’s terror. But the situation is far more complex than that, and Jessie’s investigations lead her to make some intriguing discoveries about Nooria, the boy’s mother.

Jessie is also asked to help a former patient, Captain Ben Callan, with his investigation into the apparent murder of a soldier in Afghanistan. And does a body washed up on a Chichester beach have links with either case?

There were some parts of this book that I found really gripping and thoroughly enjoyed. Jessie is an interesting main character and is certainly three-dimensional. Her history has a huge effect on her everyday life and this adds an extra depth to her character, and her relationship with Callan is also well-written. I didn’t guess the twist at the end either. And Sami is a hugely effective character, and very sensitively written

However, the story took a while to get going and I did find myself skipping through some of it. And there were aspects of the writer’s style that I didn’t like. There were quite a few incomplete sentences. Sometimes these worked, adding drama and tension, but quite often they just seemed awkward and unfinished.

And the ending felt very rushed. Everything was tied up very quickly in almost one scene, which was a little disappointing, particularly as things took a while to get going in the beginning.

3-stars-out-of-5

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.