Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

In the Dark – Cara Hunter

Crime Fiction
5*s

This is the second in the series by Cara Hunter featuring DI Adam Fawley. It might be set in Oxford but we have quite a different type of detective, crimes and characters than those who featured in Inspector Morse.

DI Adam Fawley falls into the breed of likeable detective. As you’d expect, he has some baggage, but in his case his past is one that is only likely to illicit sympathy. We learn a little more about him following on from his first outing Close to Home but his story is very much in the background, the foreground is most definitely the crimes committed in the quiet Oxford street where a woman and a young child are found locked in a basement.

The woman Vicky and child are starved and thirsty and severely traumatised, Vicky not speaking at all at first and with the owner of the house, Dr William Harper, is denying all knowledge of them the police are up against it trying to work out who the prisoners are, and more importantly how long and why they’ve been locked up. In their search for clues they realise that the house backs onto the garden of the home of a missing woman called Hannah Gardiner.

There are lots of characters who all add rich detail to what becomes an investigation into the two women, and of course the child who is too young to be able to tell them anything. The police team of course consists of more than DI Fawley and the relationship between the officers is good with Detectives Quinn and Gislingham (Gis) providing a realistic view of how to survive working on such a harrowing investigation.

“Gis, who has always been exceptionally good at knowing when to stop digging, and Quinn who carries his own set of shovels“

The author has worked hard though to provide a reasonable complement of police, all with distinct personalities which is far more realistic that the older style police procedurals with just a couple of detectives involved in solving a case. Another example that gives this book an up-to-date feel is the full use of the female detectives and supporting police personnel throughout the story. As in real life they are no longer used just to pass hankies these women are involved from beginning to end.

With the use of news reports from BBC Midlands and the like, inserted into the story the author also moves away from the more traditional tale that is told just from one viewpoint, this element is built upon with transcribed interviews, including from those living in Frampton Road. These are brilliant, the author telling us so much about the area from both the content and the words used.

This, as was the first book, is a fast-paced police procedural with the author liberally sprinkling her story with red-herrings to keep her reader’s guessing and I for one lapped it all up and I’m eager for the next book by this author to see what dark mystery Oxford will serve up for us next.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of In the Dark. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course Cara Hunter for keeping so thoroughly entertained if a little traumatised by what was waiting for me on this visit to Oxford!

First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lisa Jewell Novels

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Watching You – Lisa Jewell

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Lisa Jewell just goes from strength to strength as she serves up different scenarios with a whole cast of different characters in this her sixteenth novel and I for one was hooked from page one, where there is out and out darkness in the form of a body on a kitchen floor. The police are in attendance and an investigation is opened.

First of all the author paints us a picture of perfection, a group of colourful houses perched on a hill, the type of house that Joey (Josephine) has always wanted to live in but that seemed unlikely after four years working in Ibiza, and now she’s home with her new husband Alfie in tow. Fortunately her older brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca live in the cobalt coloured house in Melville Heights and her and Alfie had moved in while they sorted out where there life was going next.

Lisa Jewell’s latter books have all had some level of darkness about them but this one hurtles headlong into the undeniable thriller territory. After listening to Joey describing her life to her mum at her grave, we are launched into a transcript of a police interview held at Bristol police station nearly three months past this point. A word of warning, keep your eye on the changing dates, which are easily signposted, because this book does hop backwards and forwards until the past catches up with the present.

There are as in many of this author’s books a number of issues which are sensitively portrayed but with realism at its core rather than the reader getting the feeling that they’ve been used to bolster an otherwise flabby storyline.

At the centre of this book is Tom Fitzwilliam, the head of the local school who is married to Nicola. They also live at Melville heights with their teenage son, Freddie. Joey quickly becomes infatuated with Tom and is watching him. Tom’s son Freddie was documenting the neighbourhood using his digital binoculars but more recently has been using his spy equipment to watch the teenage girls in the vicinity while down in Lower Melville Frances Tripp is convinced that there is a mass of people watching her, so she is watching everyone else.

You might be able to tell from that very short synopsis, apart from a lot of watching, there are lots of characters in this book. And what characters they are, even the teenage girls are kept distinct by Lisa Jewell’s keen eye (and pen) for the little things that make each person unique.
In short I found this latest novel absolutely gripping. I wanted to know who had been murdered, who would want to murder but most of all I wanted to truly understand this eclectic bunch of people who became my neighbours for the duration of the book. Of course it wasn’t that simple with impeccable timing we are drip-fed pieces of information, some of which are red-herrings, so that my opinion on the characters altered the more I learned about them all.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again here, if you haven’t read one of Lisa Jewell’s books you really should, she has a very easy to read style but that isn’t to say that they are superficial, in fact they are anything but!

I’d like to thank the publisher Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Watching You and thank you to Lisa Jewell for such a gripping read.

First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lisa Jewell Novels

Then She Was Gone (2017)
I Found You (2016)
The Girls (2015)
The Third Wife (2014)
The House We Grew Up In (2013)
Before I Met You (2012)
The Making Of Us (2011)
• After The Party (2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005)
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

No Further Questions – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Well the fabulous Gillian McAllister is back with another book that will make you think. Whilst this isn’t quite such an obvious moral dilemma as in her first two books, it constantly begs the questions ‘What would I do?’ and just as importantly, ‘How would I feel?’

There’s a trial, oh how I love a fictional trial, all the drama and none of the boring bits. There are two sisters; Martha and Becky. Martha is married to Scott and they had a daughter Layla who died at just eight weeks old. When Layla died, Becky was in charge informally employed by her elder sister as a nanny while she was in Kos setting up a base for a charity schooling refugees.

The prosecution say that Becky is responsible for Layla’s death. Becky is pinning her hopes on the trial to answer the questions about what happened to her daughter that fateful night. And don’t let us forget the mother of the opposite sides. What a position to be in. How does a mother comfort both daughters in such a situation.

As in all of her previous books Gillian McAllister makes statements about society as a whole. Yes the trial is concentrated on the night in question but what the media want to know is why Martha wasn’t there. The same question isn’t directed to Scott because as this book demonstrates, men are seen as irrelevant in this type of scenario. To be fair, Scott also feels guilt at being away, but he’s not held accountable by the public in the same way.

We learn all this from the narration by the two sisters, alternated throughout this gripping book. We hear about their views of themselves, their relationship with each other, their memories, their fears and of course their view of the court case. The endless wishing and hoping makes this book an exhausting read at times, but oh so worth it, I simply wasn’t prepared to part with it for a moment.
The characterisation is spot on with neither sister presented as flawless individuals, both are complex, like you are I. But of course a court case has lots of other characters to explore, , the ex-husband of Becky, their son Xander, the nosy neighbour and the Defence and the Prosecution, both strong women who look at the evidence and present it to the jury in a different way. I particularly liked the Judge and his faithful dog Rumpole, even he is given a bit of a back story to bring him to life.

I can’t stress quite how powerful a read this is. Like Martha I didn’t want to believe Becky was guilty as charged, but sifting through the same evidence as the jury even given fonder memories of the pair augmented by those of their brother Ethan, how could it be anything but. The power comes from a family breaking apart, the loss of Layla to them all, their divided alliances and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again makes it a sad read too.

I now have to say a huge thank you to Penguin for allowing me to read a copy of No Further Questions. This review is my unreserved, and unbiased, thanks to them and Gillian McAllister for another memorable read. Even better the eBook is at available at an absolute bargain price at the moment, so don’t miss out.

First Published UK: 2 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (Audible only)

Previous (brilliant) Books by Gillian McAllister

Everything But The Truth
Anything You Do Say

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Take Me In – Sabine Durrant

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Oh my this is a great summer read which starts with a holiday in Greece!

Marcus and Tess are on holiday, their marriage is a little bit rocky and the place they are staying in isn’t quite what they’d imagined but they do the British thing and dig deep and put on the best face for the sake of their three-year old son, Toby.

Picture the scene, they are on the beach, anyone who’s holidayed with a young child knows that sentence covers lots of preparation with lots to carry before you can even begin to relax. Tess pops off the beach to get changed and by the time she returns back Toby is in the water, face down. Sabine Durrant captures the scene all too well. The panic, horror and worst case scenarios were racing through my mind just as they did his parents from the stuttering view we get as the scene is viewed through their eyes. Sabine Durrant does so much by allowing the reader to fill in the gaps and by giving us the prompts and the space to absorb them this really was one of those scenes that became uncomfortably vivid.

With each chapter told from alternate points of view between Marcus and Tess we learn a lot about them both in the best way because we can’t help but see how they view themselves and what they really think of their other halves.

But back to Toby and the scary moment. Fortunately for them all there is a rescuer in the shape of Dave Jepson. A man holidaying with his own family he swam out to Toby and brought him back to shore. What this story does is eloquently expresses how a traumatic event can have lasting repercussions. In the normal narrative, the scary moment is over, everyone is relieved and life carries on but really it doesn’t. Even more so in this book because after the rescue, and a thank you meal, Marcus and Tessa can’t dislodge Dave from their lives. He keeps popping up and if that wasn’t bad enough for the remainder of the holiday, it becomes a whole lot worse on their return to the UK.

Of course even with the trauma Dave would not have made so many ripples if Marcus wasn’t taking risks in his business life and Tessa didn’t have secrets she most certainly didn’t want to be exposed. All of which makes for a reading experience that is very much like watching a slow motion car crash and then just as you think things can’t get any worse, or our couple can’t make a more stupid decision, it does and they do. When I say the tension rises, it does so almost imperceptibly at first until you turn the page and realise that your heart is pounding!

The characterisation is great, particularly Marcus and Tessa and the book wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if the author hadn’t pitched them as she has. Neither are outright unpleasant but they both do have traits of selfishness, smugness and a sense of entitlement but that’s not so unusual so in short, they are normal people living lives much like you or I or those you know and yet everything changed for them with one visit to the beach.

I love it when a book starts with a killer sentence to pull you in but what will stay with me with this book is the statement at the end… which is actually the underlying story condensed into something I haven’t been able to stop pondering since I finished reading Take Me In.

I’d like to thank the publisher Mulholland Books for allowing me to read a copy of Take Me In, something I was keen to do after having thoroughly enjoyed Sabine Durrant’s previous books. If by some chance you haven’t discovered her yet, you’re missing out.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Mulholland Books
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Psychological thrillers by Sabine Durrant
Under Your Skin
Remember Me This Way
Lie With Me

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

The Killing of Georgie Moore – Colin Evans

Non-Fiction
5*s

Another Victorian true crime this time entirely factual using evidence from the trial of Esther Pay who stood trial for the murder of seven-year old Georgie Moore.

I’m not going to rehash the entire sequence of events, or the outcome of the trial, if you want to know you should really read this for yourself. Instead, having read a fair few of this type of non-fiction reads I’m going to explain quite why this one was awarded the full five stars.

To understand the trial the reader needs to have some idea of the setting, the prime players in the crime, and their circumstances. The setting of course when dealing with historical crimes needs to accurately reconstruct the time period. And Colin Evans did this so well. In short Georgie’s father Stephen is a cad. He has seduced women up and down the country and the author explains how, contrary to our view of the Victorians this was entirely feasible with one in three marriages in the lower classes being undertaken while the woman was pregnant. Esther Pay,the accused by contrast had no children but she did have a husband who was fond of drink and routinely beat her, again not so uncommon for the times. We learn about the multiple dwellings of the key players and their interactions and pastimes. We are also treated to the background of the Police at the time, the difference between those in plain clothes and those in uniform along with their recent humiliation at the hands of the press. All of this is, in my view, essential to the reader to fully understand the crime and investigation in full.

The author has clearly done his research into this little known crime and all through the book he gives us the touchstone in the way of this to aid the reader’s understanding and in a tone that makes for appealing reading, always using his pen to paint the scene.

“Labourers who’d finished their work on this Saturday midday had slaked their thirsts and fuelled their tempers in the local inn before joining the crush. A few made the sign of the cross as the cortege edged past. Others were more concerned with pulling their raggedy clothes more tightly about their malnourished bodies in an effort to ward off shivers induced by the twin assaults of sub-zero temperatures and infectious mob sentiment.”

Of course the really interesting stuff is the trial itself and this one is a doozy with many adjournments at the pre-trial hearings as the police, led by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Marshall, and the defence go off to find their evidence building their respective cases brick by brick. Even to get this far had been a feat as little Georgie’s body had been found in Yalding in Kent but she had disappeared from near her school gates in Pimlico London. Of course by rights the local Kent Constabulary thought the trial should be there whereas Inspector Marshall thought otherwise…

“But Marshall was already displaying the heavy-handed insensitivity towards provincial forces that Scotland Yard would elevate to an art form over the next half century. He saw no reason to cede control of a high-profile murder investigation to a bunch of apple-munching yokels who would probably only foul up the case. No, this was his collar, his case, his glory, and he didn’t intend sharing it with anyone.”

The trial was engaging and even the outcome wasn’t really a surprise, you can never be sure with these historical crimes! I’m exceptionally pleased to say that this author didn’t sit on the fence, after all the evidence he has sifted through, he’s come up with his own theory. I’m not convinced that it covers all the unanswered questions, but it certainly hangs together well enough for me to feel that this was a piece of research well rounded-off.

This book is my 23rd read in my Mount TBR challenge 2018 having been purchased on 29 December 2017 and one that has prompted me to seek out more work by this author of 17 books dealing with forensics and true crime.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Colin Evans
No of Pages: 495
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Sanctum – Denise Mina #20BooksofSummer

Psychological Thriller
5*s

My 20 Books of Summer 2018 challenge is a great opportunity to catch up with the back catalogue of some of my favourite authors and so this book, which I found at the local book sale last November was guaranteed a place on the list. As the book was originally published in 2002 I was amazed to see when writing this review that it is now being published as an eBook on 5 July 2018.

Susie Harriot, a forensic psychologist has just been found guilty of murdering a serial killer in her care, Andrew Gow. Susie’s husband Lachlan (Lachie) believes her when she says she is innocent. What we read is Lachie’s recently discovered diary or notes on the case. Lachie having been convinced that she would be found innocent now becomes obsessive, trying to understand his wife’s relationship with Andrew Gow and he is in his element when he finds the notes she wrote about Andrew Gow when she was treating him along with a mountain of other documentation hidden away in her study. I couldn’t help feeling that some of this effort should have been made before, rather than after, the trial. As Lachie digs he begins to realise that the life he thought they were living as a family, wasn’t quite what it seemed.

In the aftermath of the trial Lachie’s parents visit along with an Aunt of Susie’s and he retreats to her previously private study to try to make sense of what has happened. He doesn’t sleep but he has a daughter to care for which causes a stir amongst the staff and other mothers at the nursery she attends – more psychological studies as we observe their behaviour! Denise Mina has a keen eye for observation made all the more delicious because we get to observe the reactions whilst taking a different message from some of the encounters than the Lachie does.

The real beauty of this book is the fact that each of the characters, and the relationships they have, is an individual psychological study. The plot is an original one and I couldn’t wait to see what Lachie would find next, and more intriguingly, what he would make of the information. Let’s just say Lachie is not perhaps as clear-sighted as he might be. There are elements of dark humour as well for instance his dismay when seeing his photo is in the paper, not just because the media are on to him but mainly because it isn’t a flattering picture. As the story progressed I became involved not only in his discoveries but his motivation and ‘take’ on what had happened.

The style of the book begins with a preface explaining the provenance of the document and the ending is in a similar style, ramming home the ‘true-crime’ feel that the book has, for instance the mini exploration around women who are attracted to and become romantically involved with murderers, their motivation and expectations, this device just increased the books appeal as far as I was concerned.
Whilst the characters are on the whole not too pleasant, the exploration of their lives was absolutely fascinating and I was completely hooked. It’s true this isn’t quite like the Paddy Meehan series, nor is it the exploration that I read most recently about Peter Manuel called The Long Drop but it has what I’d call a true psychological base which I love.

An absolute winner of a read and one that absolutely convinced me that I really must read the other books by Denise Mina that I missed when they were first published.

First Published UK: 2002
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Five Star Reads

Five of the Best (June 2014 to May 2018)


5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

It should be noted there are typically slimmer pickings for reviews to choose from in June as that is typically when I go on holiday but fear not, there are still some great reads to choose from.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

From June 2014 I am choosing The Kill by Jane Casey, book five of her spectacular Maeve Kerrigan series. It looks like book eight is due to be published in 2019.

This exceptionally worrying read features a serial killer who is picking off the police in London. The story uses elements that we witnessed from the 2011 riots in London giving the storyline a basis in reality that only serves to give it more credibility. That combined with the media and politicians using the murders to serve their own agendas only ramps up the tension.

As ever Jane Casey includes a wonderful array of characters, the plotting and pacing are spot-on making for absolutely compulsive reading.

Their job is to investigate crime – not become the victims…

A killer is terrorising London but this time the police are the targets. Urgently re-assigned to investigate a series of brutal attacks on fellow officers, Maeve Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent have little idea what motivates the killer’s fury against the force.

But they know it will only be a matter of time before the killer strikes again. Amazon

I am a huge Sophie Hannah fan but even given the massive expectation I already have A Game for all the Family was just something else!

Never before have I got quite so far through a book where I’m enormously enjoying what I’m reading but have no clue what actually is going on… the oddest experience and all the more delightful when everything became clear in the end.

The basic premise is that whilst driving to their new house, the Merrison family spot an odd house which resonates.

All goes well with the move he ugly house is more or less forgotten and for the first couple of months the move out of London to Devon proves to be a good one. But then Ellen becomes withdrawn and secretive. Ah but she’s fourteen, so nothing too out of the ordinary! Ellen is spending all of her time working on a story she’s writing for an English assignment and when Justine finds the first couple of pages she’s alarmed. It is very well-written, set in their new house and has more than one murder! Around the same time Ellen becomes distressed about her friend George Donbavand who has been expelled from school for a crime he hasn’t committed. Justine visits the school and is told that George never existed!

The story winds tighter and tighter and is one of the most unusual and yet absorbing books I have read.

Blurb

He’s not your son. It’s not up to you to save him. But you have to try.

After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.

But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.

Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety.

If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be… Amazon

For June’s 2016 top pick I am choosing another innovative writer but this one is a police procedural. Reginald Hill’s Pictures of Perfection is one of my favourites of all of his books. This is the thirteenth book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and as with any series they are probably best enjoyed if you read them in order although many, this one included, can be read and appreciated perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

There is so much to delight in within the pages of Pictures of Perfection, from the links to Jane Austen both ostentatious in the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and slightly more subtle references within the themes themselves, to the moment in history that the book evokes; this was probably the last moments where ‘village life’ could be portrayed in this manner without those who live in such places laughing at the cliché of ‘Olde Worlde Britain’ that it evokes, one where everyone knows each other better than they know themselves often bound by a common enemy or two.

You’ll be pleased and reassured to know with all the periphery views to enjoy within the pages of this novel, there is also a proper plot with a full-blown mystery or two to be solved

Blurb

High in the Mid-Yorkshire Dales stands the traditional village of Enscombe, seemingly untouched by the modern world. But contemporary life is about to intrude when the disappearance of a policeman brings Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe to its doors.

As the detectives dig beneath the veneer of idyllic village life a new pattern emerges: of family feuds, ancient injuries, cheating and lies. And finally, as the community gathers for the traditional Squire’s Reckoning, it looks as if the simmering tensions will erupt in a bloody climax… Amazon

There were a few books I could have chosen to feature in this post from June 2017 but I have decided to go with Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett because this is not a crime fiction novel of any description!

Instead it taps into the fact that music is the soundtrack to all of our lives. We all recall how we felt about those songs that were the background to early years; the songs we fell in love to and those that we obsessively listened to as we attempt to mend wounded hearts; for many of us there is a tune that can turn back the years to a distant time and place. Laura Barnett has taken this idea and turned it into a densely woven story.

Music is woven throughout the tale about songwriter Cass’s life and we meet some stand-out characters of all types. Cass’s life felt like one I could have been part of, so evocative were the descriptions and so rich in both characters and writing style. This is a book to wallow in with a story that transports its reader to a time and place far away.

Blurb

If you could choose just sixteen moments to define your entire life, what would they be?
Cass Wheeler has seen it all – from the searing heights of success, to earth-shattering moments of despair. She has known passion, envy, pride, fear, and love. She has been a daughter, a mother, a singer, a lover.

A musician born in 1950, Cass is now taking one day to select the sixteen songs in her repertoire that have meant the most to her. And behind each song lies a story – from the day her mother abandoned her, to her passionate first love, to the moment she lost everything. The dreams, the failures, the second chances. But what made her disappear so suddenly from her public life and, most importantly, can she find her way back? Amazon

There was no question about the book I would choose to star as my top read of 2018 – Us Against You by Fredrik Backman is a stunning follow up to Beartown (originally published in the UK as The Scandal). The beauty of this book is the truths that are woven into the story of a small town on the downward slide. The characters are complex with ‘bad’ people doing good and good people doing things that hurt others – I know of no other author who can create such a rich array of characters that reflect real life and create a mesmerising tale for us to meet them in.

I think these two books are among the most quotable of modern books, there are truisms that are expertly woven into a story that will have you experiencing tragedy one moment and wondering at the strength of character of another the next. Everyone in Beartown has a story to tell and Fredrick Backman tells it to us with the love of his creation illuminating the world even when its facing destruction.

Blurb

Beartown is dying . . .

Tucked in a forest in the frozen north, Beartown’s residents are tough and hardworking. They don’t expect life to be easy, but they do expect it to be fair.

Which is why the sudden loss of their hockey players to the rival town of Hed hurts. Everyone needs something to cheer for in the long winter nights. Now they have nothing.

So when a new star player arrives, Coach Peter sees an opportunity to rebuild the team – to take on Hed and restore Beartown’s fortunes. But not everyone in town sees it his way.

As the big game between both towns approaches, the rivalry turns bitter and all too real. Once the stands rumbled with threats to ‘kill’ and ‘ruin’ each other, but the residents didn’t mean it. Now they do.

By the time the last goal is scored, someone in Beartown will be dead . . .

Us Against You is the story of two towns, two teams and what it means to believe in something bigger than yourself. It’s about how people come together – sometimes in anger, often in sorrow, but also through love. And how, when we stand together, we can bring a town back to life. Amazon

How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Us Against You – Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Last year I read a book about hockey. I made the point that I don’t like hockey but I did love the book called at that time The Scandal but now better known as Beartown. I will leave you booklovers to imagine my excitement when I heard there was to be a follow-up book and even greater pleasure when I was able to turn the pages of Us Against You.

We are back in Beartown primarily to see how a town that lives for its hockey is getting on after the shocking events in the first book. Do not read this book if you haven’t read the first one because you will be missing out on a very special experience indeed.

“The greater the mistake and the worse the consequences, the more pride we stand to lose if we back down. So no one does.”

I’ll be honest, there isn’t one big event in Us Against You and because of that it confirmed to me that Fredrik Backman’s strength is in his characters. Beartown might be small but it is full of characters of all descriptions and yet this author has loving created many of them so well that you will be drawn to those that maybe in real life you simply wouldn’t take the time to get to know. Of course the delight for me was meeting up with some old favourites.

Top of the list is Peter Anderssen the General Manager of Beartown Hockey team who has held onto his position until now but there are moves afoot to only have one hockey team in the region and that honour looks like being conferred on Hed – so it is the Bulls against he Bears. In the way that life often goes, the instant drawing up of direct competition means that hatred spreads in its wake as passions are roused to even higher levels.

“The worst thing we know about other people is that we’re dependent upon them. That their actions affect our lives. Not just the people we like, but all the rest of them: the idiots.”

We therefore have Peter’s wife Kira still struggling for her time to shine in her career, his daughter Maya and his son Leo. We see the old hockey coach and the boys who played hockey who mainly switched teams to Hed. Interesting to see how that plays out over a summer when hockey isn’t played, it’s planned. Switch scenes to the five uncles sat in the Bearskin pub where Ramona is still a steady presence in a changing world.

“At some point almost everyone makes a choice. Some of us don’t even notice it happening, most don’t get to plan it in advance, but there’s always a moment when we take one path instead of another, which has consequences for the rest of our lives. It determines the people we will become, in other people’s eyes as well as our own.”

Enter the snakelike politician Richard Theo who decides to use hockey although he seems to like the sport just as much as I do to win. Winning is more important to Richard than anything else it seems and his snaky dealings could make him a pantomime villain but again, the author has given him just enough depth that I was able to resist hissing every time he appeared.

“Lies are simple; truth is difficult.”

I loved this book, perhaps not quite as much as The Scandal but a great deal. I think these books are among the most quotable of modern books, there are truisms that are expertly woven into a story that will have you experiencing tragedy one moment and wondering at the strength of character of another the next. Everyone in Beartown has a story to tell and Fredrick Backman tells it to us with the love of his creation illuminating the world even when its facing destruction.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin UK for allowing me to read a copy of Us Against You ahead of publication on 14 June 2018. A beautiful read of ordinary lives which had me cycling through the entire range of emotions. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 14 June 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Five Star Reads

Five of the Best (May 2014 to May 2018)


5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

My pick for May of 2014 is The Broken by Tamar Cohen, now better known as Tammy Cohen, and this book was her first fully-fledged foray into the psychological thriller genre.

The story is centered around two couples their friendship and the subsequent fall-out when one of the husbands decides his marriage is over, Unfortunately and confides in the friend before his wife.

What follows is an expose of a breakdown of a marriage… and a friendship brilliantly exposing the ripple effect of one man’s decision. Chilling stuff indeed.

Blurb

Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl’s schooling. How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model.

Best friends don’t tell lies. They don’t take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don’t call lawyers. They don’t make you choose sides.

Best friends don’t keep secrets about their past. They don’t put you in danger.
Best friends don’t always stay best friends. Amazon

In May 2015 I reviewed an amazing book that covered a real-life and fantastical trial that spanned from the late Victorian to the early Edwardian eras. Piu Marie Eatwell named her book The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse which also wins my award for the best title for a book!

In 1898 a widow named Anna Maria Druce applied for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, Thomas Charles Druce. Mr Druce had been a furniture dealer, owning the Baker Street Bazaar, a forerunner of what we know as a department store, but Anna Maria believed that he had been the alter ego of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland. Her claims meant that Tomas Druce had faked his death in 1864 and spent the next fifteen living at the ducal seat, Welbeck Abbey in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

The book covers claims and counter claims aplenty with a hefty dash of insight into the social history of the time. It made for absolutely fascinating reading aided by accurate research alongside a dramatic and complex case rendered easy to read by this talented author.



Blurb

The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.

In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce.

Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the – now dead – Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce’s coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions.

The legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England. Amazon

There were quite a few contenders in May 2016 but it had to be Daisy in Chains by one of my favourite authors, Sharon Bolton.

Hamish Wolfe is in HMP Isle of Wight prison, convicted of the murder of three young women, fat young women. All is not lost there is a campaign for his freedom and one of the key people they want on side is lawyer and true true crime writer Maggie Rose. This woman has managed to assist in securing the release of seven other prisoners.

I defy anyone to read this book and not to be drawn by these captivating characters who are dancing a dance of attraction, but what are they attracted to? Beauty or brains? Who exactly is manipulating who?

Sharon Bolton is a skilled writer and this book is one of my favourite of all her creations.

Blurb

Famous killers have fan clubs.

Hamish Wolfe is charming, magnetic and very persuasive. Famed for his good looks, he receives adoring letters every day from his countless admirers. He’s also a convicted murderer, facing life in prison.
Who would join such a club?

Maggie Rosie is a successful lawyer and true-crime author. Reclusive and enigmatic, she only takes on cases she can win.

Hamish is convinced that Maggie can change his fate. Maggie is determined not to get involved. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of such a man. But maybe not this time . . .

Would you? Amazon

The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins was both engaging and memorable and I immersed myself into a story of a book about a book. There is always something absolutely irresistible in a this device, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters.

Olivia Sweetman is making her way to address all two hundred guests gathered at The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons in London. All those people are amongst the jars of organs to celebrate the publication of historian Olivia Sweetman’s book, Annabel, a study of a Victorian woman who became one of the first surgeons, a woman who also had a sensational personal life too, captured within Annabel in her own words. But, all is not as it should be as we find out as this superior psychological novel unfolds and the intricate storyline full of fascinating detail will stay with me for a long time to come.

Blurb

You have the perfect life . . . How far would you go to protect it?

Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.

Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.

As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything. Amazon

The book I’ve chosen for May 2018 is one that I ‘found’ through blogging. Anne Cater invited me onto the blog tour to celebrate the recent publication of The Dissent of Annie Lang by Ros Franey, and I was drawn to the description of a girl who is the youngest daughter of strict and religious parents. A hint at a stay in an asylum for her brother sealed the deal for me.

Annie Lang’s story is set in the Nottinghamshire during the 1920s and 30s when children certainly had no voice but that doesn’t mean they don’t have eyes, or ears and that the secrets that their elders and betters may think are safe, have probably not gone unnoticed.

The characters are brilliantly depicted, Annie’s friendship with Marjorie Bagshaw in particular, the two girls thrown together because of where they live have little in common and the delicate tussle of power is shown as both keep secrets when it will be to their advantage, at one point Annie admits that neither particularly likes the other.

The combination of sparky Annie Lang complemented by a varied cast of characters and combined with a captivating story meant that this book ticked all the boxes for this reader.



Blurb

‘My story starts and ends at railway stations, though of course I can’t know this yet as I clamber off the boat-train at Victoria that warm May afternoon… ‘

Growing up in a strict religious family in the 1920s, Annie Lang is witness to disturbing events that no one will explain. Only the family dog may know the answers.

Six years on, student Annie returns from France to find her beloved brother in a mental hospital and her ally, the Sunday school teacher, vanished without trace. With the help of her childhood diary, and sister Beatrice, Annie turns detective to unearth the truth.

Her journey leads to a discovery so disturbing that she believes it will ruin all their lives, unless they can atone for the past.

Ros Franey beautifully captures that point when a child can sense, and indeed dissent against, secrets that adults think they are too young to grasp. Impulsive, brave and lovable, Annie Lang is formidable when she takes matters into her own hands.

If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for May 2011 to 2015 were you can do so here

How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

The Lodger – Marie Belloc Lowndes

Classic
5*s

Talk about setting the scene! We first meet Mr and Mrs Bunting fretting over their lack of money. These respectable ex-servants now run a boarding house, the only problem is, they have no boarders. Money is tight and many of their prized possessions have been sold, or pawned, although Mrs Bunting would never lower herself to enter a pawnbrokers shop. The pair are hungry and down to their last pennies.

The boarding house is on the Marylebone Road in a very foggy London circa 1913 but it has been furnished nicely. It is just before Christmas when the couple decide to put the light on in the hallway and a stranger, with little luggage knocks at the door.

Mr Sleuth is just the sort of lodger the couple want in Mrs Bunting’s opinion. She judges him to be a gentleman, and so although he is a bit fussy about keeping his rooms locked, oh and only wants Mrs Bunting to serve his food, and he’s a vegetarian, but he’s paying a handsome sum for the privilege which means Mr Bunting can go back to buy the daily paper and his tobacco.

Those daily papers are filled with stories of murders, bodies found with a note from ‘The Avenger’ Mrs Bunting is seriously unimpressed with everyone’s, well mainly Mr Bunting’s, salacious interest in the case, something only increased by their young friend, Joe who is serving with the Metropolitan Police and not at all adverse to giving titbits out about the investigation. But even with the intrepid Joe playing his part the bodies keep on mounting. With the arrival of Mr Bunting’s teenage daughter Daisy who Joe has taken a shine to, Mrs Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger. She doesn’t know what to do as I suspect she is secretly in agreement of doing away with those fond of drink which seem to be the main victims. That said she doesn’t want to be an accessory after the fact and of course, as the papers say, this could be Jack the Ripper.

This slow burning novel is mesmerising. Even this level-headed reader some one hundred years into the future couldn’t help but be drawn into Mrs Bunting’s mounting apprehension and horror. This middle-aged woman is a fascinating character, even more so than Mr Sleuth with his Bible reading and odd habit of prowling the streets in the fog doesn’t quite compete. She is one of those women of a certain age who seem to relish having no enjoyment in life and looking down on those who do. The only pleasure she seems to approve of is Mr Bunting’s chair, bought as a treat for him to sit in after a hard day’s work. Her attitude to young Daisy is so cutting at times that it seems that Daisy is quite unlike modern teenagers who I’m sure would, in the main react in any other way other than helping Mrs Bunting sweetly with her chores, which is what this lovely girl does. It’s not as though she doesn’t have a spark to her personality which is shown by a visit Joe takes her on to the Black Museum, although sadly for the pair Mr Bunting gate-crashed this romantic trip.

As a classic piece of crime fiction with a psychological bent, this has to be up there with the best and so I urge you to take a trip through the foggy streets of London to revel in the descriptive and yet modern feel to the writing. There on those streets or perhaps upstairs in the boarding house, you will find out the truth of the matter!

The Lodger is number 31 on The Classics Club list and the fifth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1913
Publisher: The Crime & Mystery Club; UK
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US