books

‘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

 

 

Writers – Respect Your Readers #writingcommunity #selfpublishing

angry 1

I’ve seen a few tweets recently about the need for writers to hire professionals, be it editors, proofreaders, formatters or book cover designers. The reactions to these tweets seem to be split 50/50.

As an editor, obviously I believe that authors benefit from having their work professionally edited. I appreciate that the cost of this can be prohibitive. I’m not suggesting that authors shouldn’t write because they can’t afford to hire professionals. But that doesn’t mean you should publish.

I know this is going to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway. Unless you are 100% capable of editing, proofreading, formatting or design, then you should hire someone to do those things for you, because if you are expecting someone to pay for your books, then your books should be worth paying for.

Authors – the people who buy your books are not your critique group. They are not your beta readers. They are not your editors or proofreaders. They do not owe you anything. Your readers work to earn the money that they spend on your books. They deserve for those books to be worth what they’ve paid. I hear of far too many authors who say they can’t afford to pay professionals but they’ll publish anyway. I hear of far too many authors who think they don’t need advice. They think they can turn out a perfectly-formed book, without any feedback, any advice, any help.

You don’t have some god-given right to publish a book and expect people to pay for it. And anyone in the creative fields has to expect to spend a little money. Artists have to buy their paints and canvases. They may have to hire a venue if they want to exhibit. Musicians have to buy recording equipment, instruments, maybe hire a recording studio. They all have to work at their craft. Confectioners and bakers and dressmakers and potters and wood carvers and sculptors, they all have to invest and practise and learn. Why do some authors think they don’t?

Just because you can type a manuscript, put together a basic cover and upload it onto Amazon doesn’t mean you should or that you should expect other people to pay for the privilege of reading it.

Now this might come across as if I have something against self-publishing. I absolutely don’t. I’ve self-published. I work every day with authors that self-publish. Some of them are brilliant. Most of them write gripping, entertaining, fabulous books that I would choose to spend money on – but none of them would publish a first draft. And they’re always the ones who take advice, are willing to learn, who respect their readers.

I am heartily fed up of authors on Twitter saying that they can write what they want, how they want, and if people don’t like it, so what? OK, that’s fine, until you expect people to pay for it.

Getting a traditional publishing deal is hard, and often not the best way for a writer to publish anyway. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing. There are thousands of hard-working, talented, wonderful independent authors out there. They deserve to be successful, to have thousands of readers. They work at their craft. And they’re being let down by those other self-publishers who throw out sub-standard work.

One indie author told me that she can’t afford to hire an editor, or a proofreader. So she’s publishing as many books as she can, and using the reviews as free feedback. I find such disregard for your reader and their hard-earned cash hard to fathom.

Bad indie authors tarnish the reputation of all indie authors. Have some pride in your work, some pride in your industry. And above all, have some respect for your readers.

‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ by L.M. Barrett #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

 

I read ‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

You

Amazon.co.uk

Declan’s a tad annoyed. Not only has the love of his life run off with ‘Superman’ but she’s also unwittingly caused his current hostage situation. 

This is the story between two childhood friends and the ‘stuff’ that always gets in the way of their relationship. Mostly the fact that Sarah is engaged to another man and Declan is being held prisoner.

Find out what Sarah did to cause Declan’s current situation and if Declan will ever forgive her. Can things ever go back to the way they were?

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this story and two potentially compelling characters. Sarah and Declan are childhood friends, growing up together and falling in and out of friendship.

They argue, they ignore each other, they look out for each other, but then Sarah really lets Declan down, and neither are sure if this is a situation they can come back from.

There’s romance here, and heartbreak and the awkwardness and anxieties of growing up and finding out about yourself – all the ingredients for a great story.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t really do the story justice. The structure, with Sarah telling her story to a man she meets in a bar, and Declan telling his to a fellow hostage, Lisa, doesn’t really work. And some of the situations don’t ring true. The hostage situation is treated very lightly (perhaps it’s not a suitable situation for this genre) and Declan is hardly affected by it at all. Secondary characters are treated horribly by the two main characters which makes it hard to root for them. And the writing itself does need some tidying up.

There’s a great idea here, but it needs a bit of a polish.

3-stars-out-of-5

‘Your Closest Friend’ by Karen Perry #FridayReads #BookReview #thriller

closest friend

Hive    Waterstones

Keep your friends close. And your enemies closer.

Cara shouldn’t have survived the attack. But at the last moment, a stranger snatched her to safety.

In the hours that followed, she told her Good Samaritan secrets she’d never told a soul.

Not even her husband. Especially not her husband.

In the aftermath, Cara is home, healed and safe. Which is when the anonymous threats begin.

Someone knows things about her that they shouldn’t.

Cara’s Good Samaritan offers to help – to save her all over again.

That night, Cara made a friend for life. But what if she isn’t a friend at all?

This has a really gripping beginning, and had me hooked from the first page. Radio producer Cara is on her way home when she finds herself caught up in a terrorist attack and is pulled into the safety of a coffee shop by a stranger, Amy.

Frightened, in shock, and still a little drunk from her evening out, in the hours they are hiding, Cara finds herself confiding her darkest secrets to Amy.

This sets the ball in motion for a twisty thriller, told from both Amy and Cara’s points of view.

The writing is really strong, and each scene adds to the slightly surreal, claustrophobic nature of the story. It’s a clever tale, and really intriguing. I got so frustrated with Cara at times, for not being able to see what was under her nose – proof of a storyteller that knows how to keep her reader engaged!

It’s a good, solid, well written thriller, and I’d definitely read more by this author.

4 stars