#bookreview

‘Long Bright River’ by Liz Moore #BookReview

Once inseparable, sisters Mickey and Kacey are on different paths, but they walk the same streets. Mickey on her police beat and Kacey in the shadows of the city’s darkest corners where the drug addicts and sex workers preside. When a string of murders coincides with Kacey’s disappearance, Mickey is terrified her sister could be next. 

But in a community where death and murder is rife, will Mickey be able to save her sister before it’s too late? 

This is very much more than a police procedural – it’s full of complex, authentic characters, and at the heart there’s a story about family, loss, poverty and hardship.

Mickey is a well-drawn and likeable main character and this is very much her story. Her love and concern for her sister feels authentic and you really want to keep reading, to find out what has happened to her and for both to have a happy ever after, however far-fetched that might feel against the back drop of drug-riddled, crime-ridden, inner city Philadelphia.

I was concerned that there might be judgement here, but drug issues and addiction are treated compassionately and realistically, with sympathy for those caught up in a system that puts the most vulnerable in society at risk.

Heartfelt and well-written, a recommended read.

‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

This is such an accomplished novel. It’s so atmospheric and creepy, immersing the reader in a disturbing, dark world, exploring isolation, loneliness and grief in a place where the folklore and myths of the past threaten the present. 

The writing is wonderful – this is a slow moving novel but it keeps you gripped throughout, slowly and surely unveiling the darkness that lies beneath a very real tragedy. You can feel Richard and Juliette’s devastation at their loss, their confusion about what happened to their boy, and at what is happening now.

Fascinating, disturbing, weirdly beautiful, this is the first novel I’ve read by Andrew Michael Hurley, and I’m very much looking forward to reading his other novels.

‘The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis #BookReview

Yorkshire, 1845, and dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates that Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home – but nobody can find her body.

As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued. Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .

Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë were intelligent, passionate, imaginative, talented, ahead of their time, and authors of so many important and brilliant novels. Bringing that intellect to the solving of a fictional mystery, that seems to involve a murder, is an intriguing idea. 

This was always going to be a divisive novel – it’s actually quite brave to try and portray such well-loved authors in a fictional tale. I adore the Brontës and so really, really wanted to adore this novel, because the author obviously loves them too. But, unfortunately, it fell short for me.

There’s a very thoughtful and poignant beginning. I have visited Haworth, the Brontë’s home, and the author has the details and the atmosphere absolutely spot on. And, although of course no one can be entirely sure, the way the sisters behaved, at least at first, felt ‘real’. 

But unfortunately, as the story continued, I felt less and less involved and convinced. There were so many opportunities here to explore the barriers the sisters faced, but they became lost in melodrama with outcomes that didn’t feel authentic. 

Lots and lots of potential here, that, for me, didn’t feel fully realised.

‘The Guilty Party’ by Mel McGrath #FridayReads #BookReview

Hive

On a night out, four friends witness a stranger in trouble. They decide to do nothing to help.

Later, a body washes up on the banks of the Thames – and the group realises that ignoring the woman has left blood on their hands.

But why did each of them refuse to step in? Why did none of them want to be noticed that night? Who is really responsible?

And is it possible that the victim was not really a stranger at all?

Cassie, Anna, Dex and Bo have been friends for years, and despite two of them being in long term relationships with partners outside ‘The Group’, they are closer to each other than to anyone else.

But they’re getting older, in their thirties, and the cracks in ‘The Group’ are beginning to show – at least for Cassie, who seems to have always been just a bit on the outside.

It’s Cassie’s 32nd birthday that brings everything to a head. The four friends witness something horrible – and their reactions, both as individuals and as ‘The Group’ begin an unravelling in the friendship that will lead Cassie on the path of some really sinister discoveries.

It’s not easy to write characters that readers will despise while still making sure they are engaged and invested in the story. The author manages do that here. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, but I did care about what they witnessed and what was going to happen about that. 

I wasn’t sure about the whole ‘fossil’ theme, and I did wonder at Cassie’s very quick friendships with Julie and Will but this is a very clever and complex novel, and definitely worth a read.

‘Lock Every Door’ by Riley Sager #FridayReads #BookReview

You’ve been offered a luxury apartment, rent free. The catch: you may not live long enough to enjoy it…

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents. 
These are the only rules for Jules Larson’s new job as apartment sitter for an elusive resident of the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile private buildings and home to the super rich and famous.

Recently heartbroken and practically homeless, Jules accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

Out of place among the extremely wealthy, Jules finds herself pulled toward other apartment sitter Ingrid. But Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her. Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story – but the next day, her new friend has vanished.

And then Jules discovers that Ingrid is not the first temporary resident to go missing…

Welcome to the Bartholomew…You may never leave.

I loved ‘Final Girls’, and ‘Lock Every Door’ is every bit as good. 

Jules is offered an opportunity that few of us would turn down, but this novel proves that old adage that if something looks too good to be true it probably is. And the real cost of staying at the Bartholomew is one that is far too high.

Creepy, sinister, possibly verging more on horror rather than thriller, this was an absolute page-turner. The build-up keeps you guessing, tension growing, and little clues left here and there, but I could not have guessed the at all what was really going on, or who was behind it.

Jules has a lot more depth that protagonists in horror/thrillers usually do, and her back story added an extra dimension to the novel. 

I love a good, scary book and this was so well-written, and lots of fun (if you like classic horror films like I do). A great read. 

‘Then She Vanishes’ by Claire Douglas #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Jess and Heather were once best friends – until the night Heather’s sister Flora vanished. The night that lies tore their friendship apart. 

But years later, when a brutal double murder shakes their childhood town, Jess returns home. 

Because the suspect is Heather. 

What happened to the girl you used to know? 

Jess is a reporter on a local paper who has moved from London to Bristol following her involvement in a scandal at the paper where she worked. Her new job isn’t far from her old home town, and when her childhood best friend, Heather, is accused of a double murder, her connection with the family gives her a chance to redeem herself and her career.

The murders seem random; why would Heather, a loving mother, kill two strangers and then attempt to take her own life?

But contact with the family that Jess once adored brings up all sorts of uncomfortable memories, especially around the disappearance of Heather’s sister, Flora. And Jess is torn between loyalty to her friend and her need for an exclusive for her editor.

A fascinating premise, and a well-told and compelling story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Jess is so likeable and warm, and feels very authentic as a character.

The past and present are blended effortlessly, and I really identified with Flora and her love for ‘All About Eve’ and those long, tasselled skirts! These little details make the characters and settings so real.

There are plenty of twists and turns and plenty of drama and excitement to keep you turning the page. 

I wasn’t entirely convinced by a couple of the plot points, but the book is such a gripping read that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Recommended and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

‘Jane in St. Pete’ by Cynthia Harrison @CynthiaHarriso1 #RBRT#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read ‘Jane in St. Pete’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Widowed art lecturer Jane Chasen is not an impulsive woman. Why, then, does the formerly methodical workaholic quit her job, sell her house, and move from Detroit to Florida? Instead of pondering her atypical behavior, she takes a closer look at a neighbor’s intriguing outdoor art installation. Days later, Detective Jesse Singer discovers the murdered artist in his studio. With Jane’s help, Singer finds the victim’s bloody shirt, inexplicably located within Jane’s gated community. Singer knows nothing about art, and as he closely questions Jane, she offers to help with the art angle of the case. Singer soon takes Jane up on her offer. Then, Jane begins to receive anonymous threats. Singer, determined to protect Jane, keeps her closer to his side than ever—she’s not complaining.

As a woman of fifty-one, it’s nice to read a novel now and then where the female protagonist is someone I can really relate to. Jane is an experienced, intelligent woman, looking to finally live life for herself, to be herself. While I’m not on the verge of leaving my husband and living alone, it’s always good to see woman of a certain age portrayed as having a lot to live for, and with a lot going for them.

This is an entertaining mystery, well-plotted, with an interesting murder case moving the narrative forward. But while the case was important, well-written and held my interest, for me the real story here was Jane and her gradual settling in to her new life and what it could offer her. She’s a fabulous character and I look forward to reading more about her.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Florida too – they made me long for some sunshine!

Well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable. 

‘Miracle Creek’ by Angie Kim #BookReview

In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine – a pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for “dives”, used as an alternative therapy for conditions including autism and infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.

Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night: trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges, as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.

Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author’s own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life “submarine” patient. Both a compelling page-turner and an excavation of identity and the desire for connection, Miracle Creek is a brilliant, empathetic debut from an exciting new voice.

This is such a good book – one of those rare novels that you can become completely immersed in, that you look forward to getting back to, a novel you want to finish because you’re desperate to know the truth, but also one you don’t want to end because you’re enjoying it so much.

I do enjoy courtroom dramas, and while ‘Miracle Creek’ is technically part of this genre, there’s a whole other layer (and more) here. The difficulties, the joys, the guilt of parenthood, the complicated feelings around motherhood, fertility, making the right choices for your child, starting a new life in another country, prejudice and racism, all these issues and more are explored through the lives of several well-drawn, authentic and compelling characters.

The multiple viewpoints add to the confusion and mystery and I genuinely didn’t guess who was responsible for the fire until it was revealed.

A fabulous debut novel and an author I’ll definitely look out for in the future.

‘In at the Deep End’ by Kate Davies #BookReview

Until recently, Julia hadn’t had sex in three years.

But now:
• a one-night stand is accusing her of breaking his penis;

• a sexually confident lesbian is making eyes at her over confrontational modern art;

• and she’s wondering whether trimming her pubes makes her a bad feminist.

Julia’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love – and satisfaction – in all the wrong places…

Frank, filthy and very, very funny, In at the Deep End is a brilliant debut from a major new talent.

There were things about this book that I really loved and things that really irritated me.

It’s well-written, and very funny at times, and I certainly learned a few things! Julia is complicated, misunderstood, confused, and sometimes I really felt sorry for her, and at other times I didn’t like her at all.

There are lots of side characters – a few of which were very interesting and I wanted to know more about them, but they didn’t feel fully realised.

Some of the situations seemed really far-fetched, and didn’t seem at all in character.

I think what annoyed me most though was that this did seem to be a white, middle-class, privileged woman dabbling in lesbianism. It felt a bit like she was trying it on for size, as if it was a bit of a ‘lark’ and she had none of the issues to deal with that others in the community might face – a lesbian version of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ almost! I appreciate it isn’t meant to be gritty, but it just felt a bit irritating.

Definitely worth a read, and perhaps I’m being a little harsh, because the writing is good, but a novel like this needs to have more depth. 

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo #BookReview

This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

I’m a bit late to this one – have been meaning to read it for ages, and finally got round to it over Christmas. I really wish I’d read it sooner. 

Unconventional, thought-provoking, pertinent, this is like a breath of fresh air. 

Following twelve women in the UK, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ explores the nature of relationships, with others and with ourselves. The twelve women are connected, their stories weaving around each other’s, each one warm, human, real. 

There is no punctuation, but this is fundamental to the story-telling. The stories almost crash into one another, rolling like waves, giving the whole thing a rhythm that carries the narrative forward. 

Impressive, important and well-deserving of the Booker Prize, this is a novel I’ll remember for a long time.