#TuesdayBookBlog

‘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.

 

‘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

‘Final Girls’ by Riley Sager #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

final girls

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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.

‘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.

‘Let the Dead Speak’ by Jane Casey #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

LTDS

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In the chilling new crime novel from award-winning author Jane Casey, Detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad must navigate a web of lies to discover the truth…

A murder without a body
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.

A girl too scared to talk
Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?

A detective with everything to prove
As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share…

This is the first of Jane Casey’s books I’ve read, and although it is the seventh book in the series, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel at all. There were references to past events, but nothing that interfered with the story at hand.

Police procedurals also aren’t something that I go out of my way to read, but I liked the sound of this one and thought it as worth a try. And I’m really glad I did. This is a fast-paced, clever read, with sympathetic characters that are engaging and interesting and with a plot that has lot of twists and turns that are well-conceived and completely believable.

The dynamic between Maeve (who is a great main character – a woman that is intelligent, career-orientated, but certainly not perfect and very, very human) and her ‘partner’ Josh works very well indeed.  And the investigation itself has lots of very different and interesting aspects. The religious neighbours were intriguing and very unsettling, and the whole issue around Kate and her daughter Chloe was really well done.

My only gripe was that I felt the ending was a little rushed. Without giving too much away, I wanted to know more about what had driven the perpetrator, and the consequences of their crime.

All in all though, a really well-executed and clever novel. I’ll be reading more from Jane Casey.

4 stars

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

‘The Former Chief Executive’ by Kate Vane #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview @k8vane

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Former Chief Executive’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

chief exec

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Without your past, who are you?
Deborah was a respected hospital manager until a tragedy destroyed her reputation. She has lost her career, her husband and even her name.
Luca wants to stay in the moment. For the first time in his life he has hope and a home. But a fresh start is hard on a zero-hours contract, harder if old voices fill your mind.
When a garden share scheme brings them together, Deborah is beguiled by Luca’s youth and grace. He makes her husband’s garden live again. He helps her when she’s at her lowest. But can she trust him? And when the time comes to confront her past, can she find the strength?
This sharply drawn short novel explores the distance between the generations – between health and wealth, owners and workers, guilt and blame.

Deborah’s vision of her retirement – to spend her days finally relaxing with her husband Peter after a long career – has had to be reimagined. Peter has died, and she is alone, struggling to know what to do with her time and how to live without him, and without the career that defined her.

Luca is also struggling – struggling with life after prison, a new job, a pregnant girlfriend. He finds solace in working on Deborah’s garden and the two develop a friendship.

But the arrival of Deborah’s daughter complicates things as their problematic relationship is put under new pressure. And Deborah also has to contend with her past, and the fear that it will come back to ruin the present.

This is a thoughtful book, measured and considered. The pace is rather slow, but it works with writing that is skilful and assured. The characters are incredibly well-drawn and have so many layers – they have a real depth, and, while not all are exactly likeable, their stories are compelling, and you really care about what happens to them.

My only issue is that I feel this could have been longer. I wanted to know more about Deborah’s past, about what happened at the hospital. And I wanted more about her relationship with Eleanor. Luca is so interesting too, and I felt that there were things in his past that could be explored more thoroughly. The writing is so well-crafted, so good, that it seemed a shame that that wasn’t more of it!

This is a well-crafted and enjoyable read. The restrained tone is deceiving – there is a great deal going on here, a lot of it seething away under the surface. The author shows a great amount of skill in resisting the temptation to let everything bubble over.

An excellent novella.

4.5 out of 5

‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ by Adrienne Vaughan #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview @adrienneauthor

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A mixture of thrilling, gripping and heart-warming short stories for a cosy fireside read anytime, anyplace. Fur Coat & No Knickers will introduce you to an impoverished heiress desperate to keep up appearances; a bitter and broken-hearted widow whose wilful terrier leads her to romance; an ageing theatrical masquerading as a highly-paid carer and a woman whose husband has maintained a secret family throughout their married life! These are just some of the fascinating and unforgettable characters in this fabulous new collection by award-winning author Adrienne Vaughan.

Writing a good short story is a tricky thing, and something that many novelists find difficult. The transition from novelist to short story writer isn’t easy and, having read and enjoyed this author’s novels in the past, I have to admit I was a little worried that these stories might not work as well as her novels undoubtedly do.

But they do work, and they work very well indeed. Ms Vaughan is a wonderful story-teller, and there are some wonderful stories here. These stories are character-driven, and the author has a real skill for drawing characters that are relatable and realistic; to build these characters so well and so clearly in such few words, and to make you care about a character that you only spend a few pages with is quite an accomplishment.

Stand outs for me were ‘Heir Apparent’, a story of deception with a little twist in the tail; ‘The Messenger’, which I feel could be developed into something longer; and ‘A Married Man’ which has a surprisingly dark edge.

A lovely book to dip in and out of, and perfect for a little bit of escapism.

Recommended.

4.5 out of 5

 

‘Fever Dream’ by Samanta Schweblin #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

fever

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A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.

One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange and deeply unsettling psychological menace in this cautionary tale of maternal love, broken souls and the power and desperation of family.

This is a very unusual novella, structured as questions and answers between a dying woman, Amanda, and a child, David, who is not hers. Amanda has been on holiday with her daughter, Nina, and has befriended Carla, David’s mother. Carla is frightened of David, calls him a monster, and tells Amanda that her son has been ‘transmigrated’ into another body after being poisoned.

This ‘new’ David is certainly strange, but is Carla telling the truth? Is she deluded? How has Amanda ended up dying in a hospital bed? And where is Nina?

The writing here (translated by Megan McDowell) is just excellent. There is a sense of foreboding, of menace, a real strangeness to the tale that is executed beautifully. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but I found it completely absorbing. In an age of disappointing, box-ticking, formulaic books, it was a genuine pleasure to read. There are no answers here, no satisfying resolution. It’s creepy, uncanny and weird, really, if I’m honest. But it’s brilliant.

5 stars

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

 

 

‘He Said/She Said’ by Erin Kelly #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

he said

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, she also knows that you can never see the whole picture: something is always hidden… something she never could have guessed.

Kit is an eclipse chaser, something he’s been doing since he was a child. In 1999, he attends a festival in Cornwall with new girlfriend Laura to see an eclipse, which they watch together. Returning to the campsite, they see what Laura assumes is a rape. This incident impacts the rest of their lives together, and they become embroiled in a situation where no one really knows who’s telling the truth. And Beth, the alleged victim, won’t leave them alone.

The story flips between what happens at the festival and its aftermath and the present day – 2015. Laura and Kit are living under assumed names, terrified of their past catching up with them. Laura is pregnant with twins and Kit is about to set off to the Faroe Islands to see a last eclipse before fatherhood. We hear the story from both Laura and Kit, which works really well to set up the tension and to create an atmosphere where the reader doesn’t really know what, or who, to believe.

I did really enjoy reading this book. It’s a clever plot with a twist that is genuinely surprising. The characters are well-drawn and, unlike some other reviewers, I did warm to them, particularly Laura, and could definitely understand her motivations. It was a real page-turner.

However, there were a couple of things that didn’t really work for me. Laura and Kit keep referring to an incident in Zambia, after the alleged assault. It is hinted that something major happened. When this was revealed it was a real let down. And they also refer to a video online that is terribly upsetting for Laura. Again, it isn’t, and this is another let down. If things are built up like this, then the reader deserves something worthy of all that tension.

That said, this is a really good read. The author understands how to build tension and how to keep a reader engaged. I’d definitely recommend it.

4 stars

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