Mothers of the Disappeared – Russel D. McLean

Crime Fiction 3*'s

Crime Fiction
3*’s

I must start this review by saying that this is the fourth book in the Dundee based A.J. McNee series. A.J. McNee is a former Detective, now a Private Investigator who has been suspended from the Association of British Investigators following an incident four years previously. I have to admit I was quite confused for the first couple of chapters as the author filled in the back story on this incident and more importantly, the relationship A.J. McNee has with the police.

The main plot surrounds a mother. Elizabeth Farnham, whose 10 year old son was murdered and now wants McNee to investigate whether the man imprisoned for his murder was actually responsible. In a parallel storyline McNee is being asked to work undercover by the very organisation that is investigating him, the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, to get close to local Crime Lord David Burns. David Burns was in turn offering work in McNee’s direction but this wasn’t work he wanted to be involved in, once a copper, always a copper.
You may have guessed from my précis that this is a book with several strands of sub-plots, a complicated undertaking which the author just about pulls together but the reader will need to concentrate hard to keep up. I liked the main storyline of the investigation into the man convicted of killing Justin Farnham, this was well plotted and interesting. I wasn’t as convinced by some of the rest of the book particularly the investigation which included McNee’s previous lover Susan.

McLean appears to like adding authenticity by including details from true crimes, I have no objection to this when the narrative blends seamlessly with the plot; this wasn’t always the case. At one point the story is rattling towards its conclusion when suddenly the action switches to a piece about the awful killing at Dunblane in 1996 and whether the gun laws introduced were a good idea, it was bizarre (because it was a tenuous link) and it broke the rhythm of the plot.

This truly was a mixture of a book, the writing was on the whole engaging and it was, as the Severn House Publishers state:

‘blends the grit of classic American hardboiled fiction with a distinctly Scottish voice and attitude.’

However the ride through the book was a little bumpy which may be because I started part way through the series and I’m unable to judge which events were retold from previous books and which were introduced in this book.

I’d like to thank the publishers Severn House for giving me a copy of this book ahead of the publication date of today 1 August 2014.

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Friday Finds (August 1)

Friday Finds Hosted by Should be Reading

FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!

Well here we are August already and my TBR is still growing exponentially to the rate that I read.

I’ll start, as always, with the approvals I’ve gained from NetGalley and first up is a book I chose following a brilliantly tempting review on FictionFan’s Book Reviews: Traitor’s Storm by MJ Trow, the sixth book it the Kit Marlowe series.  Her comments about the humour in this book caught my attention:

‘There’s lots of humour in the book and although the body count is pretty high there’s nothing gruesome about it – the violence all takes place off-stage’

Traitor's Storm

Blurb

Christopher Marlowe faces the might of the Spanish Armada in the sixth of this intriguing historical mystery series
May, 1588. With Elizabeth I’s court rocked by stories of an imminent invasion and one of his key undercover agents missing, Sir Francis Walsingham despatches Kit Marlowe to the Isle of Wight off the south coast: the first line of defence against the approaching Spanish Armada.
Lodging at Carisbrooke Castle with the Isle of Wight’s Governor, Sir George Carey, Marlowe finds the Islanders a strange and suspicious lot, with their own peculiar customs and dialect. But is there reason to doubt their loyalty to the Crown? And is the Island really haunted, as some believe? Of one thing Marlowe is certain: it’s no ghost behind the series of violent and inexplicable deaths which plague the region. But will he have time to uncover the truth and expose the killer before the might of the Armada descends? Amazon

Next up I have a copy of Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery which I decided was a book for me after reading an enticing review on Mad about the Books. I am a huge lover of looking back into the social history of recent times so the following quote struck a chord:

‘Sandra’s tale serves to remind us that the 1960s were not a swinging time for everyone and that plenty of ‘Victorian values’ still held sway.’

Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon

Blurb

It was the day when everything stopped…
At quarter past two on a hot afternoon in August, Anna’s beautiful, headstrong elder sister Rose disappears.
Twenty years later, Anna still doesn’t know whether Rose is alive or dead. In her early thirties now, she sees her future unfolding – with sensible, serious Martin and a grown-up, steady job – and finds herself wondering if this is what she really wants.
Unable to take control of her life while the mystery of her sister’s disappearance remains unsolved, Anna begins to search for the truth: what did happen to Rose that summer’s day? NetGalley

I bought a copy of Shame by Karin Alvtegen after coming across a review on Ms. Wordopolis Reads which caught my attention, especially the following sentence:

‘she goes deep into the minds of these damaged women and conveys the depths and changes in their feelings very closely’.

Shame

Blurb

Two women trapped by a past that won’t let go . . . At first sight, Monika and Maj-Britt are as different as two people can possibly be. They have nothing in common but the determination to obliterate their memories and be left alone. But when a tragic accident brings them face to face, the emotional voids at the centre of their lives threatens to engulf them and they are forced to confront the secrets and the sadness they had hoped to bury. A suspenseful psychological thriller, Shame reveals the ordinary days of the odd and the lonely as they twist into self-destruction and holds out a glimmering hope of redemption and acceptance. Amazon

I was delighted to receive a copy of The Girl On The Train by debut author Paula Hawkins which is due to be released in January 2015 from the publishers Hatchette, this sounds like just my kind of read!

The Girl On The Train

Blurb

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every night. Every day she rattles over the same track junctions, flashes past the same stretch of cozy suburban homes. And every day she stops at the same signal and she sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof deck, living the perfect life that Rachel craves for herself—a lifestyle she recently lost. She looks forward to observing this household every morning, even makes up names and narratives for its residents. Then one day Rachel sees someone new in their garden, and soon after, the woman who lived there disappears.
Unable to keep this information to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and in the process is drawn into the lives of the couple she thought of as Jason and Jess but whose names—she has learned from the news—are really Megan and Scott Hipwell.
But the police accuse Rachel of being unreliable, and it’s true that her memories can’t always be trusted. Plus there are the stories that her ex-husband’s new wife has been spreading about her. By the time Megan’s body is found, Rachel is in over her head, intricately entangled in the details of the investigation, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she put others in danger? Has she done more harm than good? Goodreads

Please share your finds with me.

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Night Music – Jojo Moyes

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s

Contemporary Fiction
3*’s

Isabel Delancey’s husband Laurent is killed in a car crash and for the first time in her life she has to provide both emotionally and financially for their two children, the teenage Kitty and her younger brother Thierry. After a visit from the lawyer Isabel realises that she is going to have to move house.

Meanwhile in Norfolk a house becomes vacant at just the right time and Isabel moves her family from London to the depths of the country and a derelict house. Matt and Laura McCarthy are her neighbours but what the unworldly Isobel doesn’t realise is that they have wanted the house for years. The reader can easily predict that the McCarthy’s are not going to take the loss of the house without a fight and sure enough their twisted sense of ownership leads to some serious unpleasantness, however their teenage son is more interested in getting to know Kitty.

As the renovations start on the dilapidated Spanish House Isabel faces one crisis after another but slowly we witness Isabel’s slow realisation that she has to behave like an adult and actually start looking after her children. Thierry who hasn’t spoken since his father died needs help and Kitty is too young to be expected to look after both her mother and brother. At night Isabel plays her beloved violin whilst accepting that she can’t jet off round the world performing as she used to.

Out of all the Jojo Moyes books I’ve read this falls most firmly into the chick-lit category with the beautiful and talented Isabel ripe for that knight in shining armour, however, the plot had sufficient unexpected twists to keep my interest and that was coupled with the author’s trademark interesting, but on the right side of believable, characters. The author takes so much care over her minor characters so that I felt that I knew so many of the villagers; I could visualise the village shop presided over by the gossipy sweet gay men.

This really is perfect holiday reading with the book moving along at a good pace with different strands of the story coming to a satisfactory conclusion although I don’t think this has the depth of her more recent novels.

Click on the book covers to read my reviews

The Girl You Left Behind

Me Before You

The One Plus One

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WWW Wednesday (July 30)

WWW Wednesday green

Hosted by Miz B at Should be Reading
To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Mothers of the Disappeared by Russel D. McLean

Mothers of the Disappeared

Blurb

Dundee-based private investigator J. McNee finds his past is about to catch up with him in this intriguing mystery
Suspended from the Association of British Investigators and facing an enquiry into his alleged misconduct over four years previously, J McNee’s career hangs in the balance. The last thing he needs is new business. But when the mother of a murdered child asks him to re-open a case he helped close during his time in the police, McNee can’t refuse. Is the wrong man serving a life sentence for a series of brutal murders? And, if so, why did he admit his guilt before the court? As McNee searches for answers, he finds himself forced to make a terrifying moral choice: one that will change his life forever. Amazon

I have just finished reading After I Left You by Alison Mercer

click on the cover to read my review awarding this book the full five stars!

After I left You

Next I am going to read a debut novel, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica This sounds like another stalker tale, I’ll be interested to see how it compares with The Book of You

The Good Girl

Blurb

I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the colour of her eyes or what they look like when they’re scared. But I will.
Mia Dennett can’t resist a one-night stand with the enigmatic stranger she meets in a bar.
But going home with him might turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life… Amazon

Please share your reads with me in the comments below.

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After I Left You – Alison Mercer

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s

Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Anna left Oxford University in the early nineties, cutting off all ties with her fellow students but why? Alison Mercer does a fantastic job right from the first page in drawing us into Anna’s world both now and in the past.

When we first meet Anna she is thrilled to be leaving home, she has outgrown her mother, her step-father Gareth and step-sister Tippy (nick-named because as a little child she kept tipping things over) and is eager to start a new life reading English at the famous university.

Moving in she soon meets up with some of the friends that she will be closest to through her years in Oxford but the underlying question is always, why did it all fall apart? The story is told alternating between the events in the present spliced with those that happened during her years as a student.

Alison Mercer has created a wide variety of characters from the beautiful confident Clarissa to the withdrawn Keith, from the earnest Meg to the brash bold Barnaby and of course Victor, someone we know was important in Anna’s life because bumping into him launches this very clever tale of betrayal. The author also manages to keep Anna’s character consistent through both timelines, although it is clear that whatever happened has changed her outlook, the core values are still there.

The setting was beautiful, I could easily imagine the fictional St Bart’s, the rooms, the courtyards and the pictures taken to commemorate an evening of intense conversation, which leads neatly onto a second point; the nineties were accurately portrayed including the emerging technologies such as email although the phone box was still the preferred method of keeping in touch with loved ones.

I enjoyed this book even more than I expected to and the characters walked out of the pages and into my life. With the snippets from the past giving hints to not only the main betrayal but also from some other secrets that had hindered Anna through her life since leaving Oxford, I began to join the dots and gratifyingly I was spot on in one aspect but wide of the mark in others. A brilliantly executed finale wrapped up this accomplished novel.
This is Alison Mercer’s second novel, her first Stop The Clock is now on my TBR, and reading her biography it is easy to see why the Oxford she describes is so believable, she attended Oxford and read English.

If you want a well-written novel, with secrets, lies along with realistic characters, you might well enjoy this book.

I received my copy ahead of the paperback publication of 31 July 2014 from the publishers Random House, in return for this honest review.

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Teaser Tuesday (July 29)

Tuesday Teaser

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to

My Teaser this week is from After I Left You by Alison Mercer

After I left You

Blurb

Anna hasn’t been back to Oxford since her last summer at university, seventeen years ago. She tries not to think about her time there, or the tightly knit group of friends she once thought would be hers forever. She has almost forgotten the sting of betrayal, the heartache, the secret she carries around with her, the last night she spent with them all.
Then a chance meeting on a rainy day in London brings her past tumbling back into her present, and Anna is faced with the memories of that summer and the people she left behind. As Anna realises that the events of their past have shaped the people they’ve all become, hope begins to blossom for what her future could hold. Amazon

My Teaser

‘He was a despicable, self-serving, ruthless, idle little shit with a lot of very nasty friends, and you’re infinitely better off without him, believe me,’ Gareth went on. He straightened up and folded his arms,’ go on then, ask me. Say it “I want to know who my father is.”

Please share your Teaser Tuesday post with me in the comments below.

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The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay – Andrea Gillies

Contemporary Fiction 3*'s

Contemporary Fiction
3*’s

This is a somewhat melancholy book that tracks the marriage of Nina and her boy next door.

Nina is hit by a bus in Greece and after surgery is taken to a small island hospital where she begins telling the story of her life to her under-worked doctor, Christos. She talks at length about her marriage to Paulo, her neighbour and friend since early childhood. Paulo has a younger brother Luca and all of their lives have been entangled throughout adulthood. Now twenty-five years after their honeymoon, on the same Greek island, Nina’s support structure has crumbled and she needs to learn the lessons from the past to start afresh.

Although the roots were in childhood Nina only married Paulo when Luca marries Francesca and the two couples spend time together although in the telling it appears that poor Francesca’s position is slightly outside the early shared experience of the other three.

The characters are well described and although I felt some sympathy with the young Nina her actions later on had me shaking my head at the fool-hardy way she behaved and made me feel that the endless adoration she had received from both brothers meant that only now, all these years later does she reflect and begin to learn from her actions. Does she succeed? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out.

This book is rich with fluctuating feelings as the book travels backwards and forwards through time, detailing in particular the shared bond between Nina and Luca and by default the impact that this has on Nina’s marriage to his brother Paulo.
For anyone who read Andrea Gillie’s superb debut The White Lie, this is a very different type of book so comparisons are hard to make. What I can say is the writing is just as evocative, although the description of the Greek Island more muted due to the fact that Nina spent most of her time in the hospital, but the range of feelings, often contradictory were exceptionally well described.

Underlying themes of loss, guilt and the transient nature of even the most powerful feelings means this book would lend itself well to a book club read but the intensity of the subject matter and the style of writing means that this could not be categorised as ‘chick-lit’

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The Arsonist – Sue Miller

Contemporary Fiction 2*'s

Contemporary Fiction
2*’s

Frankie Rowley has been working in Africa most of her adult life when she returns to Pomeroy, New England, now her parents retirement home, but for years their summer home. Her return to the small town coincides with the start of a spate of arson attacks. Houses are burnt down with the divide between the all-year-round residents and the summer residents becoming wider but with both sides demanding action. Bud the newspaper reporter, relocated from reporting political news, has a big story to tell but is in danger of upsetting the different factions. Meanwhile American politics are focussed on Monica Lewinsky.

This is a book dense with the details as Frankie examines her life in Africa, the transience that she has led her life and whether now is the time to change her way of life. Meanwhile she is reconnecting with her mother, Sylvia, and concerned about her father, Alfie, who is rapidly slipping into dementia. This is the second book I’ve read this year that describes dementia to my mind Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey describes this condition more accurately.

This book was a bit of a non-event, the writing is good, but almost diffident around the key questions it raises, not least how Frankie resolves her inner-conflict about where she belongs in the world or even who and why the fires were set. Although not a particularly long book, this took me an age to finish, not least to the circular nature of the writing where the same themes and questions were revisited with little added to make this device satisfactory.

I have really enjoyed some of Sue Miller’s previous novels but this one failed to give much in the way of pleasure or conclusion. The tension built between the full-time residents and the vacationers were not followed through or even explored in any meaningful way, whilst Sylvia’s difficult relationship with her eldest daughter, Frankie, not given the background required for the reader to fully understand. These omissions appear more conspicuous  when compared to  the intricate details given of houses, trips to various parts of town and the unaccountable fear that Frankie had in reporting a suspicious car on the night of the first fire. However the small-town mentality of the police felt if not realistic, then only a slight exaggeration of how I can imagine they would act towards the crime, as their moment in the spotlight shines brightly on a stage outside the confines of their small town.

I received a copy of this book from Amazon Vine in return for this honest review.

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Not Guilty – Christie Gardner

Historical Crime 4*'s

Historical Crime
4*’s

I chose this book because of my interest in historical crime, particularly those committed by women. Society, prefers to view the women as nurturing, caring and delicate. When a woman is violent it challenges that view and there is a need to find a cause, someone or something else to blame.

In 1910 Camellia McCluskey murdered her three young children; Dorothy, Ida and Eric using a shocking amount of violence. This book examines the documents relating to her trial in Bendigo, Australia.

Christine Gardner uses the reports in the newspapers along with the documents from the trial to invite the reader to decide whether the verdict reached by the courts was a just one. I like to read the contemporary views of the time, after all the newspapers reflected what the local community of the time were saying. Both the court and the papers were keen on working out what would motivate a mother to behave as she did and her common-law husband George’s behaviour was put under the spotlight. Camellia and George’s relationship was fraught to say the least so there was plenty for the community to mull over.

This is a short book that presents the evidence in a factual manner although I did feel the author did occasionally slip at times leading the reader to come round to her view of the Camellia, although having read the later evidence once Camellia was out of sight of the judge, I think most people would be in agreement with her.

This wasn’t a case that I had come across before and I found this book an interesting and informative read, although it the death of those poor children was particularly shocking.

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The Liar’s Diary – Patty Francis

Psychological Thriller 2*'s

Psychological Thriller
2*’s

Well I’m having a bit of a problem reviewing this book because the notes I scribbled on holiday about this one weren’t comprehensive and mainly point to the fact I found it a disappointing read. I now realise how disappointing because I am struggling to remember what happened.

Jeanne Cross is a school secretary with a teenage son, Jamie and wife of respected doctor Gavin. Despite being obese and having learning opportunities Jamie is popular and well-liked. Jeanne, by her own admission hasn’t had a friend since becoming an adult but clearly Jamie got his skills from somewhere although probably not his father, who is quite critical of Jeanne’s parenting abilities.

Ali Mather is the new music teacher at the same school, married to the most forgiving man she has not so secret affairs with at least two men in the town. One day Ali asks Jeanne for a lift to school and they become friends, despite barely talking on the first few trips and their friendship is unlike any I have seen before.
Ali’s house keeps being broken into with odd things taken but not her very expensive violin or anything else of value. Ali becomes frightened and confides in Jeanne who by this time is living the most awful life imaginable.
There are lots of twists and turns to this book, but unfortunately they all seem to lead to the same destination which I fully expected to be ‘they all woke up and it was a dream’ but no, the twist was completely unsupported by any of the facts that I’d trudged through before.

The actual underlying plot wasn’t too bad but with unbelievable characters that frankly behaved in unlikely ways I simply became disenchanted with this book.

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