#fridayreads

‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson #BookReview #FridayReads

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Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

We watch Christie as she nurses a premature baby who has miraculously made it through the night, we stand by her side during her patient’s agonising heart-lung transplant, and we hold our breath as she washes the hair of a child fatally injured in a fire, attempting to remove the toxic smell of smoke before the grieving family arrive.

In our most extreme moments, when life is lived most intensely, Christie is with us. She is a guide, mentor and friend. And in these dark days of division and isolationism, she encourages us all to stretch out a hand.

The NHS is something that should be protected, but unfortunately we tend to take it and those that work in it for granted. With the slow, sneaking privatisation that’s going on at the moment, and the understaffing caused by Brexit, this is definitely a time when we should be celebrating the nurses, doctors and support staff that work so hard under some of the most stressful conditions.

This is a timely book then, well-written, packed full of really interesting historical detail and lots of real life experiences too. Some of these are hard to read, because you can feel the grief that Christie feels in these moments. And it’s lovely to read an account that actually shows what a nurse does – they don’t make the tea or put flowers in vases, you know! I admit I have a personal axe to grind. My sister has been nursing in the NHS for thirty-five years, my daughter’s first few days were spent in the neo-natal unit, one niece is a health visitor, another is a mental health nurse, and, with a son with mental health issues, I’m more than aware of how woefully underfunded and understaffed this area of the health service is. All of these wonderful women in my family are intelligent, well-trained, capable and professional, and they deserve the utmost respect. And the stories in this book show why.

Too often these types of books are sentimental and shmaltzy, and can almost feel voyeuristic – nosing in on a stranger’s grief and tragedy. This book isn’t like that at all. Christie shows great respect to the patients she has nursed and this is a fascinating book.

Emotional, but not sentimental, honest but not gratuitous, this book shows why we should value our NHS, and fight to keep it.

5 stars

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‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton #BookReview #Fridayreads

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Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

Strong, believable female protagonist? Tick. Witches? Tick. Page-turning drama? Tick. And lots of scares and surprises along the way too.

I love scary films and scary books but I’m not a fan of horror and cruelty for the sake of it. There needs to be a good story, compelling characters that I can really care about, and a hint of the supernatural never goes amiss either. ‘The Craftsman’ ticks all the boxes.

The story follows two timelines – Florence as a young, naïve, female police officer in the seventies, dealing with all the sexism and prejudice that goes with that. We meet her thirty years later too, at Larry Glassbrook’s funeral. Larry was a sadistic murderer, and Florence was the one who put him away. But not everything is at it seems – not then and not now.

Beautifully crafted, intelligent and exciting, ‘The Craftsman’ was an absolute pleasure to read. As someone who is a bit obsessed with the story of the Pendle witches, the references to them and their tragic story went down incredibly well, and it was all so well drawn together.

Dark, disturbing, fabulous!

5 stars

‘Now You See Her’ by Heidi Perks #FridayReads #BookReview #Thriller

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Charlotte is looking after her best friend’s daughter the day she disappears. She thought the little girl was playing with her own children. She swears she only took her eyes off them for a second.

Now, Charlotte must do the unthinkable: tell her best friend Harriet that her only child is missing. The child she was meant to be watching.

Devastated, Harriet can no longer bear to see Charlotte. No one could expect her to trust her friend again.
Only now she needs to. Because two weeks later Harriet and Charlotte are both being questioned separately by the police. And secrets are about to surface.

Someone is hiding the truth about what really happened to Alice.

I really like the idea behind this novel. Charlotte is looking after Alice for her friend – something Harriet never usually allows. Alice is nervous, timid, shy, a bit like her mum. Charlotte, on the other hand, seems confident, sociable, the opposite of Harriet.

She takes her eyes off Alice for a few minutes – and Alice is gone.

This is the part of the novel that really interested me – Charlotte’s reaction, her guilt and distress. We can all imagine how dreadful we would feel, and the way Charlotte reacts is portrayed really well. And Harriet’s reaction too is really convincing. It would be so hard to forgive someone in those circumstances. That’s the stuff of a really gripping tale.

But that’s not what this story is. There’s more to Alice’s disappearance than meets the eye. And that’s where, for me, the story fell down. Without giving too much away, when the ‘twist’ was revealed, I was left feeling a bit confused, because the character’s story up until then, her reactions and emotions, hadn’t led to this. And while it’s the mark of a good twist that you’re shocked and surprised, then there’s the dawning realisation when you think back on what you’ve read and remember little things that pointed to this all along. For me, that was lacking, and so the twist didn’t work.

It’s well-written, and the author can obviously write. It’s just a bit disappointing.

three stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘Our Kind of Cruelty’ by Araminta Hall #bookreview #fridayreads

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Mike and Verity have a special game. The Crave.

They play it to prove what they already know: that Verity loves Mike. That she needs Mike.

Even though she’s marrying another man.

Now Mike knows that the stakes of their private game are rising.

This time, someone has to die…
Mike adores Verity. She’s everything to him. His troubled background makes him crave security and love and he thinks Verity is the answer to everything. And he thinks she feels the same. At first she does, and she’s a willing participant in the excitement of their game. But when things change, Mike can’t accept it. And the story gets incredibly dark.

I’m really in two minds about this book. It is well-written, well-paced (not a twisty, turny roller coaster, but a good, slow burner), it’s gripping, and involving. It’s also an extremely thought-provoking and honest account of how women are treated, of how assumptions are made of them, how they better not like sex, or they will be judged. And I think that’s something very important.

That said, I did feel that Mike’s character was a little stereotypical. He’s badly affected by his childhood but there must be something else that makes him behave the way he does. It can’t be that simple. It’s a rather flat portrayal of mental health problems and it does get a little tiring, as someone with experience of mental health issues, to see such ‘easy’ motivations for unlikeable characters.

That said, the scenes that explore the treatment of Verity are excellent, timely, valid, important – the novel is well-worth reading for this alone.

Recommended.

4 stars

 

‘What’s Left Unsaid’ by @DeborahStone_ #BookReview #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘What’s Left Unsaid’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

You can tell as soon as you begin reading this book that you’re going to enjoy it. The opening works so well and is a real attention-grabber. And the rest of the novel doesn’t disappoint.
Sasha is a lovely character. As a woman approaching a rather important birthday, I love female characters I can relate to, and I can’t bear it when a woman approaching middle age is portrayed as supremely confident, and with a body that makes men gasp! It isn’t realistic and it’s annoying. Sasha drinks wine and eats whole packets of biscuits when she’s fed up – far more relatable, far more real, without falling into stereotype.
The three points of view here work exceptionally well. There’s no ‘head-hopping’ and the differing viewpoints really work in enabling you to sympathise with characters that you might otherwise absolutely despise – Annie, for example. When we hear about her from Sasha, all our sympathy is with Sasha, but when we learn about Annie’s past, we see why she is like she is, and while we still feel so much for Sasha, we can feel for Annie too.
The author really shows these different characters so well – she has a firm understanding of human nature and relationships. Her characters are real, and fully developed.
And Sasha has a lovely dog too, who is very much a part of the story – always a plus for me!
My only gripe is that there were a few errors in the text – issues with tense and capitalisation, though not enough to spoil things, and I did feel that some of Joe’s story relied a little too heavily on telling. That said, this is a lovely book, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. I’ll definitely look out for more from this author.

4 stars

‘Everything Is Lies’ by Helen Callaghan #bookreview #FridayReads #psychological #thriller

Everything

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What if your parents had been lying to you since the day you were born? 

Sophia’s parents lived quiet, ordinary lives. At least she thought so, until she came home to discover her mother hanged, and her father in a pool of blood.

Sophia is certain her mother didn’t try to kill her father – but clearing her name will draw Sophia deep into a past she never imagined.

A past that hides a dark and twisted secret . . .

Because if everything you’ve been told is lies, then how dangerous is the truth? 

Sophia has escaped the boredom of her childhood home and is living in London, working as an architect. Her mother, who she recognises has issues, bothers her constantly, and as the novel opens, she calls Sophia when she is out with her new colleagues, asking her to come home. Irritated, Sophia refuses, a reaction she’ll come to regret, because her mother has been hiding a huge secret for years, and nothing about her quiet, reclusive parents is what Sophia thought it was.

There’s loads of mystery here, and intrigue, and lots of twists and turns, all centred on a book Sophia’s mother was writing about her past. Sophia reads the first two parts of the manuscript and discovers her mother was part of a cult headed by a rock star. But the third part is missing and it seems that someone will go to any lengths to stop Sophia finding out exactly what it contains.

The clever part of this novel is that you often think you know exactly what has happened, and then something shifts, something new is discovered, and you realise you’re wrong, again. The plot is flawless, the writing tight, suspenseful and really well-paced. I really enjoyed reading this – it was pure escapism. The only thing stopping me giving it five stars is that I just didn’t connect fully with Sophia. I didn’t feel her horror and grief at her mother’s death or her fear or shock when she begins to discover her mother’s past. But that doesn’t stop me recommending this book – if you like twisty, turny, well-written thrillers, then it’s definitely for you.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel’ by Adrienne Vaughan #BookReview #FridayReads

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Amazon.co.uk

Mia Flanagan has never been told who her father is and aged ten, stopped asking. Haunted by this, she remains a dutiful daughter who would never do anything to bring scandal or shame on her beautiful and famously single mother. So when Archie Fitzgerald, one of Hollywood’s favourite actors, decides to leave Mia his Irish estate she asks herself – is he her father after all? That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel is a tale of passion, jealousy and betrayal – and the ghost of a secret love that binds this colourful cast yet still threatens, after all these years, to tear each of them apart.

There are some authors that you just know won’t disappoint, and Adrienne Vaughan is definitely one of them. This is another lovely novel, full of warmth, drama, romance, but, as always, with that little something extra, something a little dark, to lift it up from other novels in the genre.

Mia is a lovely main character, realistic, clever, tenacious and insecure, like a lot of women. Her mother, Fenella, is so strikingly portrayed, you can almost hear her theatrical voice. And Archie is lovely, a joy to read.

The setting is described beautifully, with a real warmth and affection that comes across very clearly.

I’m not a fan of over the top, saccharine romance, and that’s another reason why I like this author’s books so much. The romance is never over the top, and while it’s an important part of the story, there is enough drama here to keep a variety of readers happy. The story of Fenella and Archie’s past throws light on a history of hypocrisy and injustice, there’s betrayal here, and mystery and grief and friendship – so just about all human emotion!

Well-crafted and a lovely bit of escapism. Recommended.

4 stars

‘Brand New Friend’ by @k8vane #rbrt #fridayreads #bookreview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Brand New Friend’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

Amazon.co.uk

Wherever Paolo went, Claire had got there first. The gigs, the parties, the enigmatic artist he was sure he was in love with. He would never have joined the group if it hadn’t been for Claire. And maybe, if he hadn’t, no one would have died.

Journalist Paolo Bennett learns that Mark, an animal rights activist he knew as a student in the 80s, has been exposed as a former undercover cop. A news blog claims Mark was the fabled spy who never went back, who liked his new life better than his own.

Paolo wants the truth. He wants the story. Despite everything, he wants to believe his friend. But Mark isn’t making it easy for him, disappearing just as everyone wants answers.

Was their group linked to a death on campus, one the police were strangely reluctant to investigate? Why is Mark’s police handler lying dead in his garden?

And why does Paolo suspect, even now, that Claire knows more than he does?

Successful journalist Paolo is feeling a little dissatisfied with life. Forced back to the UK from a happy life in Cairo, his wife is distant, his work frustrating. Then Mark, an activist from Paolo’s student past is revealed to be an undercover police officer who had eschewed life in the force to become a real activist. He contacts Paolo, and things get more interesting when a body is found in the community garden where Mark works. The story leads Paolo back to his university days and the reader is taken along with him as the author weaves together past and present.

I was a teenager in the eighties, and a student in the very early nineties and so I absolutely loved the references in this novel to the music I loved and the politics I was interested in – honestly, I could have been one of these intense students, going on anti-vivisection demos and listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, lecturing everyone about the gelatine in their wine gums – yes, that was me. And I can vouch for the authenticity of the writing here – it’s spot on and brings those years to life so well.

So not surprisingly the sections set in the eighties were the highlight for me, but that’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t really good. There’s a very clever and a very pertinent story here, one that encompasses the issues of the past and current political and environmental issues, and that includes fracking, the Arab Spring, and the scandal around the undercover police officers who infiltrated pressure groups.

The mystery around the murder seems secondary to a large extent – to me, this novel felt that it was about its characters, the dynamics between them, their hopes and aspirations, and how those dreams and ambitions were either realised or thwarted. The murder and the mystery surrounding it feel like something to tie these stories together and I do think that if you’re a fan of crime fiction then you might be a little disappointed. But if you like a good story, with well-crafted and intelligent writing, and real authentic characters, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

4 stars

 

 

 

‘The Bad Mother’ by Amanda Brooke #BookReview #FridayReads

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That’s what he wants you to think…

A good mother doesn’t forget things.

A good mother isn’t a danger to herself.

A good mother isn’t a danger to her baby.

You want to be the good mother you dreamed you could be.

But you’re not. You’re the bad mother you were destined to become.

At least, that what he wants you to believe…

Lucy is pregnant with her first child. She is happy with her husband Adam, and has a strong relationship with her mother who has brought Lucy up since the death of her father. But not everything is as it seems to be.

Lucy, an artist, has left behind her days of festivals, of going out and having fun, and is looking forward to a steady future with Adam, who, at eight years older, seems dependable and steady, who she trusts and who makes her feel safe. But always lurking in her mind is the shadow of her dad, and his depression, and the fear that she could be the same.

As Lucy’s pregnancy continues, she finds herself forgetting things, minor things at first, like losing her keys and leaving the freezer door open. But soon the little slip ups become bigger ones, and she begins to worry that she’s a danger, not only to herself, but to the child she’s carrying.

This is a frustrating read – but only because the reader soon knows exactly what’s going on. I felt so angry on Lucy’s behalf as times, and that, to me, shows what a good book this is. I really cared about Lucy, and wanted her to wake up. The manipulation is so subtle, the undermining and the planting of little seeds of doubt; small things that build and build until Lucy no longer trusts herself. I’ve seen some reviews criticising the book for the way Lucy behaves, questioning how someone so confident could ‘allow’ this to happen. Unfortunately this happens to lots of women, whether they are ‘strong’ or not. And the author writes so well that you can really see how Lucy could end up in the position she’s in.

The relationship between Adam and Lucy is really well developed. Their arguments are authentic and Lucy’s reactions are believable. The shift in the balance of power between them is genuinely unsettling to read. My only quibble is that I wanted to understand more completely how Adam came to be the way he is and I do think that adding more depth to this would really add to the novel.

A difficult subject matter, and not an easy read, but definitely gripping.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Art of Hiding’ by Amanda Prowse #bookreview #FridayReads

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What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

I really wanted to like this book. It has the potential to be a great story, and one that could be so relevant to the UK today. But unfortunately, it is full of clichés, stereotypes and unrealistic situations that have been really poorly researched.

Nina is insecure, anxious and feels completely out of place in her life. She loves her husband Finn, adores her two sons, and loves living in and taking care of her beautiful home in Bath. But she is out of her depth with the private school mums, and, having married so young, she doesn’t really know who she is or what she’s capable of.

Her husband Finn dies, and as she is grieving she finds out that he was losing money hand over fist and she is now in debt to the tune of eight million pounds.

She loses her house; the boys lose their place at school. She is penniless.

This could be such a fabulous storyline. Nina could find strength and reserves she never knew she had. Her sons could find that life isn’t all about possessions. And she does, and they do – to an extent. But there is no realism here. None at all. Every last one of Nina’s rich friends is horrible and shallow. Conveniently, someone in Nina’s family has a vacant flat in Southampton they can move into. Nina’s sister Tiggy is wonderfully helpful. Nina finds a lovely job in an old people’s home (not one that involves anything even mildly messy though). Nina meets lots of new ‘salt of the earth’ council estate dwellers who are welcoming and friendly and would give you their last pound. I’m from a council estate. Lots of those stereotypes are true. My son went to private school – some of those stereotypes are true. But people aren’t stereotypes. Not everyone on a council estate is generous and welcoming and decent. Not everyone whose children go to private school is snobby and materialistic and shallow.

And Portswood, the part of Southampton that Nina returns to, isn’t a slum. It’s a student area. It’s not Bath, but it’s not a ghetto either. Did Ms Prowse set foot there at all?

And why doesn’t Nina claim benefits? Why doesn’t she ask for help? And where is the gut-wrenching, sickening despair that real people who find themselves in poverty experience? Where is the desperation? The worry that wakes you up at night and that you carry on your shoulders every day. Nina feels none of this. Instead she gets excited by buying a blind for a few pence in a charity shop, and making her new lounge look nice with some well-placed cushions. And of course, her sons love the new comprehensive (even though the youngest son is ten and wouldn’t be at the same school as his older brother). Their grief, their resentment, their anger isn’t fully realised at all. They settle in, find new friends and apparently life seems much better struggling for money and coping with everything on your own.

I don’t like writing reviews like this.  I know how difficult it is to write a book and put it out there. But this book made me angry. It’s glamorising the real struggles that people go through.

Very, very disappointing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.