Posted in Five Star Reads

Five of the Best (November 2014 to November 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.

So without further ado let’s see what books November has brought to me over the last five years!

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

In November 2014 I read a book which happens to fall into my favourite type of sub-genre that of fiction inspired by true crime, the book being The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton. This book’s inspiration was the murder of Meredith Kercher and although the circumstances in this book were different it was a book that made me think about what I would do if faced with a phone call from my daughter miles away, in trouble for quite a serious crime.

More than this being a murder mystery it is a story that explores the often complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

Blurb

When an American exchange student is accused of murder, her mother will stop at nothing to save her.

A midnight phone call shatters Jennifer Lewis’s carefully orchestrated life. Her daughter, Emma, who’s studying abroad in Spain, has been arrested after the brutal murder of another student. Jennifer rushes to her side, certain the arrest is a terrible mistake and determined to do whatever is necessary to bring Emma home. But as she begins to investigate the crime, she starts to wonder whether she ever really knew her daughter. The police charge Emma, and the press leaps on the story, exaggerating every sordid detail. One by one, Emma’s defense team, her father, and finally even Jennifer begin to have doubts.

A novel of harrowing emotional suspense, The Perfect Mother probes the dark side of parenthood and the complicated bond between mothers and daughters. Amazon

In November 2015 I discovered the classic novel The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. What a wonderful book, multi-layered, very English and an absolute delight to read and I was astounded to realise that I had somehow missed out on this brilliant novel.

With that famous opening line ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ being on that line that sets the reader up nearly as well as ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.’ So I turned the pages schizophrenically wanting to race ahead while slowing down to savour the wonderful prose, even better this is one of the best coming of age stories ever, better even than my favourite to date; Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I said at the time I though this book would haunt me for many years to come; so far it has.


Blurb

When one long, hot summer, young Leo is staying with a school-friend at Brandham Hall, he begins to act as a messenger between Ted, the farmer, and Marian, the beautiful young woman up at the hall. He becomes drawn deeper and deeper into their dangerous game of deceit and desire, until his role brings him to a shocking and premature revelation. The haunting story of a young boy’s awakening into the secrets of the adult world, The Go-Between is also an unforgettable evocation of the boundaries of Edwardian society.

In November 2016 I read an unusual book, and it really touched my heart. In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings was one that both took me by surprise and delighted me with the affection I felt for the key characters. In my mind a successful book has a number of elements, a mystery, a strong plot underpinned by believable characters, preferably in extraordinary circumstances, In Her Wake hits these and has that special something extra too.

Blurb

A perfect life … until she discovered it wasn’t her own.

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life.

Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family – and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

Last year I was reading a crime fiction book that falls into the grittier end of crime fiction; Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite. This is not one for the faint-hearted and even the most hardened reader will be tempted to check their doors after meeting Adam. Adam longs for love but I just want to put it out there – watching women and helping them with their household chores when they don’t know you is not really going to do it for any of the women I know, and sure enough to date it is fair to say Adam has been unlucky in love.

You should really read this one, perfect for the winter nights when the wind is howling and the rain is lashing down, and you are safe inside – or are you?

Blurb

ADAM WILL DO ANYTHING TO MAKE LAURA HAPPY. EVEN IF IT KILLS HER.

After a devastating car crash wipes out her family, Laura struggles to get her life together. Grieving, she becomes forgetful. She doesn’t remember how money got into her purse, or buying that pint of milk…

Adam is the perfect boyfriend. He cooks meals. He does the housework. He looks after Laura’s every need. He knows everything about her.

But Laura has never met Adam. And she knows nothing about him.

What turned him into a monster who stalks his victims? How did he become warped from a sensitive boy who adored the fairy tales his gran read to him? And what is he trying to say with the bouquets he sends? Amazon

Although I have had a bit of dip in my reading lately that doesn’t mean that I haven’t read some fantastic books including The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes, in a neat bookend to the choice in 2014’s choice, this book is inspired by records of a murder in Bromley in 1843.

This was a book that hit me hard. To think of a poor young woman, pregnant and poisoned in a privy behind the local chapel is hard enough, to realise that no-one was held accountable for her death is harder still. Elizabeth Haynes gives us a version of events that will pull you back in time and whether you think it is plausible, given the evidence, is up to you.

Blurb

From the award-winning and bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner comes a delicious Victorian crime novel based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation.

On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, is found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.

The community is appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the surgeon reports that Harriet was around six months pregnant.

Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, Elizabeth Haynes builds a compelling picture of Harriet’s final hours through the eyes of those closest to her and the last people to see her alive. Her fellow teacher and companion, her would-be fiancé, her seducer, her former lover—all are suspects; each has a reason to want her dead. Amazon

 

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018
June 2018
July 2018
August 2018
September 2018
October 2018

 

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

The Lost Man – Jane Harper


Crime Fiction  5*s

 

Having come late to the party with Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, I was determined not to be left behind by her latest novel, The Lost Man, a standalone read set in the outback of Australia.

The Lost Man had me swept along into an entirely different place, a different lifestyle and that daunting and dangerous landscape. This a book that will evoke a whole range of feelings in its readers and because of that it is not for the faint-hearted.

 We start with a description of a headstone, the marker for a legend that has been mutated during the years since it was placed there to mark the place where The Stockman died and on the day in question there is another body close to the headstone, another casualty to a lifestyle which is beyond ordinary comprehension.  Cameron Bright was the middle sibling of three brothers and his elder brother Nathan, and the younger, Bub, gather at the site where he perished through lack of shelter from the overbearing sun, or was the story of his death quite that simple?

Jane Harper is a master at showing (and definitely not telling) and she takes us on a tour, into the house where Cameron ran his  to the family he has left behind, two small girls whose daddy went out shortly before Christmas to fix something on his land and never returned. Cameron was man who knew the land, it was where he was born after all and now his wife Ilse is left to cope without him. Fortunately Uncle Harry is around as is the boy’s mother although as is only to be expected the house almost hums with confusion and grief.

What Jane Harper does that is even more explosive though is to start peeling back the layers of this family. Nathan pretty much takes centre stage as we journey with him back in time and slowly, oh so slowly but perfectly so, we learn the truth about an event many years ago that is still making its mark today.

I really couldn’t tell you what I enjoyed most about this book – was it the brilliant descriptions of a place? It really is testament to the author’s prowess that she managed to conjure up the heat and power of an open landscape of the outback in Queensland, when her reader was sat with the wind and rain howling across a small island on the other side of the world. I haven’t ever been to Australia and if I did the outback would probably not be my chosen destination, and yet for the duration of this book, I was very much there in the house with Isle and her girls Sophie and Lo. I watched Cameron’s mother Liz weep in the deepest of darkness when the generator was switched off by Harry at night-time.  Perhaps the legend of the Stockman had something to do with the appeal, or equally the unravelling of a mystery that is dark, don’t for one moment imagine that the grim scenes at the beginning of the book mean you’ve passed the worst, there are shocks still to be revealed.

In conclusion I loved this book because it covers a great deal of ground, there are deeply upsetting moments but perhaps in keeping with the characters that inhabit the real-life place, there is something very measured about the delivery. No over-hyped action scenes here, just the truth which is sometimes a whole lot worse.

I’d like to thank the publishers Little Brown for allowing me to read a copy of The Lost Man, and to Jane Harper for moving me with this incredible novel. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

 

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

First Published UK: 23 October 2018

Publisher: Little Brown

No of Pages: 384

Genre: Crime Fiction

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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

The Lies We Told – Camilla Way

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Having somewhat overdosed on psychological thrillers during the last few years I vowed to cut down during 2018 and it’s one of the few bookish resolutions that I’ve kept, but… and there is always a but; I started to miss the rollercoaster ride that this sub-genre produces so well and I so I treated myself to a copy of a book by an author who’d previously wowed me with her book Watching Edie.

If anything The Lies We Told was even better!

The opening scene is that of a young mother who finds the corpse of the family budgie – the killer is her young daughter Hannah. But that is all in the past and the dangerous daughter is left behind while we move to Clara’s story in the present.

Clara lives a ‘normal’ life. She’s happy, a working woman with a lovely boyfriend who she’s planning to move in with when he suddenly disappears. Clara does all the normal things: checks with his friends, drives down to see his family and looks in pockets & drawers to try to find clues, but there are none. What Clara does find, of course she does, that Luke wasn’t quite the man she thought he was.
Some things are excusable though, Luke’s sister Emily had disappeared without a trace some twenty years ago. From the little Clara knows this caused untold anguish certainly to Luke’s parents, Oliver and Rose Lawson, and to a lesser extent to Luke and his brother Tom who were all left to wonder what had happened to Emily.

This is a classic psychological thriller. We have a mixture of characters, all nicely distinct and most with a little bit of good, and a little bit of bad inside them – half the fun of this genre is to work out as you are reading how the stresses of the story, and this one has enough tension to make you feel like you are walking on a high wire, are influencing your view of their actions. After all if your boyfriend went missing and then you found out that he wasn’t quite the Mr Perfect you thought he was would you cut your losses there and then, or would you feel that you had to help in any way possible to help his family find out what has happened – even if that means keeping the biggest secret of all, that Emily has returned?

The story rattles along, the psychopathic child inserting herself into the story line at regular intervals even though there is no obvious place for her – has she completely transformed? Surely not, this is a psychological thriller after all and that means that scary bad personality traits only go in one direction, yes to even more dark and scary places!

Camilla Way is the absolute best at pulling all the seemingly disparate strands together and although I confess I had worked out some elements given some well-placed clues, I was still a mile from the whole truth. The ending was perfect, not quite the resolution the reader might expect but satisfying enough to allow this one to close the book with a smile.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 385
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Murder of Harriet Monckton – Elizabeth Haynes

Historical Crime Fiction
5*s

I like reading non-fiction books especially about true crime, even better if they are back in the past; I think this is because it feel less like I am trying to gain entertainment from someone’s tragedy, and if it is new to me too, well that is the icing on the cake. The problem with some non-fiction true crime is that you don’t get a real feel for some of the characters, often the victim who is often dead before we meet them and unless they’ve been murdered for their own dastardly acts they can appear as nameless victims. It is for this reason that my preference for true crime is that which is presented as fiction using the crime itself as inspiration. This is what the incredibly talented Elizabeth Haynes has done with the story of The Murder of Harriet Monckton.

Harriet was living in Bromley Kent, she was a single woman of 23 years old; a school teacher and observed to be a devout Christian attending the local Chapel regularly. It turns out that Harriet was also around six months pregnant when she died from ingesting Prussic acid on 7 November 1843 and her body was found in the privy behind the chapel the following day. A sad end and one that because the vessel containing the poison could not be found, the only conclusion was that this had to be a murder. But who would want Harriet dead?

Elizabeth Haynes tells us at the end of this magnificent book that she has used the two inquests held as well as newspapers from the time to recreate the key characters in the book. She has done magnificently well. Every single person we come across works as an individual, and as a collective taking up their positions in their small town, they are at times terrifying in what they are willing to see, to acknowledge and to challenge. I cried for Harriet who had so much to offer but was sadly one of those women who was taken advantage of, and lost her life because of it that comes through whether or not you take the history that the author has created to be credible or not.

Bringing the forgotten back to life is the real triumph when fictionalising a real crime. No one was ever tried for Harriet’s murder, in fact once the coroner had finally concluded the inquest some two years after her death any traces of her life seem to vanish alarmingly quickly. Elizabeth Haynes states at the end of the book that she couldn’t leave this young woman without telling her story – and I heard that story loud and clear. In the hands of this undoubtedly talented lady, we are presented back with a fully rounded woman, with hopes and fears, with errors of judgement made and plans for a better future made – the facts that are contained in the recording of her life are fed into a story that can be taken at face value and read as an example of a life lived, in 1843, in Bromley so minutely were the details recreated for our consumption.

If you haven’t already guessed, I adored this book for the premise, the skill in recreating a life, the rich story that has been served up to the reader and the characters that leap off the page, The Murder of Harriet Monckton will most definitely be a book that will appear in the top ten published this year.

First Published UK: 28 September 2018
Publisher: Myriad
No of Pages: 437
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner (2011)
Revenge of the Tide (2012)
Human Remains (2013)
Under a Silent Moon (2013) – DCI Louisa Smith #1
Behind Closed Doors (2015) – DCI Louisa Smith #2
Never Alone (2016)

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

The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

Psychological Thriller
5*s

What an absolutely fantastic book, the perfect autumnal read in, this a creepy psychological thriller, a standalone book by the very talented Elly Griffiths.

I’m a typical book lover so an author who inserts a book inside a book is onto a good thing. Even better if you do as Elly Griffiths has, and insert a fictional Victorian gothic thriller into a modern crime thriller book.

Clare Cassidy is an English Literature teacher at Talgarth High, a modern building annexed onto Holland House the last residence of the famous author R.M. Holland. Even before Clare went to teach at the school she was a fan of R.M. Holland’s writing but having access to his untouched study has only increased her interest and she’s planning to write a biography about him. In her day job, which includes adult creative writing lessons, she uses his text The Stranger to lead and inspire her classes. Then a close friend, another teacher is found murdered and it seems that the murderer is also a fan of our Victorian writer as a quote from The Stranger is found by the body.

I really can’t stress how brilliantly Elly Griffiths has fused the old and the new in this novel because she doesn’t appear to use any novel techniques; the book open s with the start of the gothic thriller with other excerpts appearing throughout the book, but somehow even with references to ghosts and the strangeness of the supernatural, I was so completely immersed in the book that I pretty much unquestionably believed all that I was told for the duration of the read.

The modern investigation is told from multiple viewpoints which include Clare, the detective DS Harbinder Kaur who is an acerbic quirky character who soon became my favourite of all the characters in the book, Clare’s teenage daughter Georgie also gets a stay and decide whether we also disapprove of her older boyfriend or not. And this is the thing, throughout the book the Victorian melodrama of suspicious deaths and references to a missing daughter brush-up not only against the absolute brutality of murder, but the everyday modernity that is life; what do we think of an Indian gay detective? Does it matter that a grown woman lives with her parents? Should a fifteen year old be dating a twenty-one year old? What does that say about him? Her Parents? and on, and on – some aspects of the book appear deliberately inserted to make the reader question the viewpoint that they are prodding at. To add to the cast of interesting characters we have Henry Hamilton a Cambridge scholar who has some of his letters and we have Harbinder Kaur’s work partner Neil and the aspiring Jean Brodie, Bryony Hughes, believe me a more mixed yet fascinating bunch of people your unlikely to meet.

As for the mystery itself? Well I guess it isn’t the hardest to crack but nor is this a book where it’s obvious from the start – there are plenty of red-herrings to keep you on your toes and don’t forget there are also mysteries to be solved in the past too! There is entertainment to be had on every page from the literary references to bonkers behaviour and ghosts haunting the stairways!

When the wind is howling and the nights are dark you’ll have to go a long way to find such a perfect atmospheric read.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Quercus for sending me an arc, and the author Elly Griffiths for a thoroughly entertaining read, this review is my unbiased thanks to you all.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Fatal Promise – Angela Marsons

Crime Fiction
5*s

The pull I have towards crime fiction isn’t necessarily because I like studying murders or reflecting on the darker side of human nature or even that I have a desire to be a detective, it is more because the range of human emotions is there on a page for me to read, reflect on while at the same time having a mystery to unravel. Angela Marsons uses her latest book to demonstrate, amongst other emotions, grief. The team lost someone dear to them at the end of book eight, Dying Truth and we see them all cope in their different ways with their loss. There is anger, bitterness, sadness and guilt but despite all these human emotions, there is a job to do and they roll up their sleeves and do just that. This in turn gives Fatal Promise a slightly reflective feel, but at this point in the series that is no bad thing at all.

It all starts with a body… doesn’t it always? But this time the body is someone that is known to our intrepid Kim Stone – Doctor Gordon Cordell is found in the woods and so the team have no option but to revisit the case where he originally came to their attention. Although not the most likeable man on the planet, it is hard to see who would want him dead.

Meanwhile as the team had been assisting other teams while Kim Stone was out of action and Stacey who is, I must say becoming a very satisfying character in her own right, is keen to keep hold of one she started, it’s a missing girl and her instincts are screaming that someone should be looking for her.
These books get harder and harder to review. I love Kim Stone’s character, she’s strong and decisive, not keen on being told what to do but conforms enough for the reader to find her bullishness believable. Going back to my first paragraph, modern day crime fiction novelists have a challenging job. Not only do they have to come up with one plot that is credibly thought out and gives the readers enough clues to allow them to feel that they have a chance of solving the crime, they also have to keep the story relevant to the times we live in. No longer can we have maverick detectives spreading their misogyny or the like wherever they go, the readers know that the previous generation of detectives would spend their lives on courses or being put out to pasture, but nor of course do we want to read about someone who only cares about politics, we need our detectives to care about the victims, so that we do too.

Angela Marsons always gets the plotting spot on, and this is no different, in fact having two plots running side by side not only gives Stacey her time in the spotlight but also adds a layer of realism to the juggling of priorities which we know must go on in policing. The author also has the pacing right, some of her books have more of an urgent feel about them than others, and this is perhaps more on the reflective side given what’s come before, but her books always hold my interest and I know I’m in for a real treat.

If you haven’t started this fantastic series, I really urge you to do so, although for once I do recommend that you start at the beginning because they just keep getting better and for me there is no better place to contemplate the variety of experience, we have run down estates to post boarding schools, we have the big tragedies and the every day smaller disappointments and of course we have love and loss!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Bookouture for allowing me to read a copy of Fatal Promise before it is published next week on 19 October 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Angela Marsons for another entertaining, and thought-provoking, episode in the Kim Stone series.

First Published UK: 19 October 2018
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 386
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books featuring Kim Stone
Silent Scream
Evil Games
Lost Girls
Play Dead
Blood Lines
Dead Souls
Broken Bones
Dying Truth

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

The Lady in the Cellar – Sinclair McKay

Non Fiction
5*s

So the darker nights have encouraged another foray into Victorian true crime with this, the second book I have read by Sinclair McKay this year.

The Lady in the Cellar refers to a Miss Matilda Hacker who was found amongst the coal in a cellar in a boarding house in Euston Square in London.  She’d been dead for quite some time by the time her body was found in 1879 and at first the police were at a loss even as to her identity. You see her final resting place in a boarding house in a fast expanding London lends itself to a more anonymous lifestyle, one where the occupants lived alongside strangers in rooms of varying sizes and facilities.
Matilda Hacker was an eccentric, she’d moved to London from her native Canterbury on her sister’s death – these two spinsters were a familiar site when they took their daily promenade in their lavish silk dresses, dresses which were far too youthful for the ‘elderly’ women who wore them. After her sister’s death she moved away pursued for rates and other bills she could easily afford to pay and took up residence in boarding houses in the capital. The rise of this ‘new’ way of living is expertly explained within the book.

When she came to Mr and Mrs Bastendorff’s bording house it was to be given a furnished room, the use of the water closet and a cupboard to store food and other perishables. She could buy her own food for the servant, Hannah Dobbs, to cook or she could give Hannah to fetch the items herself both means were used to be fed, watered and generally kept an eye on. As Matilda Hacker was in her late sixties by this time, it doesn’t seem to bad a way of life.

We are also treated to the background of the Bastendorffs, the move of Severin from his native Luxembourg to London alongside his sister and a troupe of brothers is also a fascinating insight into how foreigners assimilated into life at this point in history. Severin was a furniture maker who had set up his own business by the time a body was found in the basement of his house. His wife was English and the pair had four small children. This was the rise of the middle classes, the house, the servant and regular income from the business in the back yard as well as the money they made by renting out rooms within their stylish house.

As you can tell there is plenty of contemporary details to be gleaned and Sinclair McKay presents his story well, long before we get to the trial, which lets face it is where the fun begins. The police decided that the perpetrator was Hannah Dobbs, yes the servant! That must have caused more than a little disquiet amongst the middle-classes, no-one wants a murderer living in their home. There were links to pawn-brokers amongst other clues as to what happened to Matilda’s belongings, but the trial was only the beginning.

This was a meaty story with the tendrils once again illustrating that the Victorians were not quite how they have been painted in more recent history. For those of us who were taught they were all prudes, this seems far from the racy story that Hannah sold to the papers! If you want to know more, you really should read The Lady in the Cellar.

I’d like to thank the publishers White Lion Publishing for allowing me to be immersed into this story that ends sadly for more than one of those who, perhaps completely innocently, got caught up in a murder that captured the nation’s attention. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and to Sinclair McKay for his diligent research which was relayed to this reader in such a well-structured manner that it became a compulsive read.

First Published UK:  6 September 2018
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

And So It Begins – Rachel Abbott

Psychological Thriller
5*s

An entire rug woven with complicated relationships is the best way to describe And So It Begins, the first psychological thriller to be shared from the pen of the hugely talented Rachel Abbott.

Mark, Evie and Cleo (great choice of name) are all too bound up in each other’s lives for any sort of common sense to prevail, and there is a dead wife hovering over Mark’s shoulder to ensure the intensity is driven to the highest level.

But first lets go to where it begins. A phone call from a woman in distress alarms the local Cornish police and so Sergeant Stephanie King races to the impressive house of Mark, or Marcus North. It isn’t the first time she’s been there, last time his wife was found dead, in the basement. This time it is Mark that’s dead and we know who did it, Evie, his girlfriend, the mother of his daughter. She freely admits that’s the case but our tenacious Sergeant wants to know why.

Mark was married to Mia, hence the impressive house, the money was hers. But his sister Cleo didn’t approve, she barely disguised her dislike of Mia who didn’t give Mark the encouragement and praise he deserved (in her eyes) over his photographic genius. Mia died in what is assumed to be a tragic accident having tripped up running downstairs by an undone shoelace – see our mother’s always warned us that this could happen!

While Mark is in the depths of depression after Mia’s death, Evie walks into the gallery managed by Cleo that showcases his art. She wants to commission a series of photos of herself for her father. Cleo seeing an opportunity to make money and raise Mark’s profile insists that he meet with the young woman with connections, and it is from here that we move towards those opening pages.

This story was pleasingly partly set in the courtroom where Evie stands charged either with murder or manslaughter and it is here that we begin to see how the relationship between the three has been based upon secrets and lies.

Rachel Abbott’s books are so satisfying. This is an author who is able to tell a story and one that is relevant to contemporary life. Her characters, as in the previous books, are fully rounded and although I wasn’t particularly a fan of my namesake I can’t deny she was interesting! Great characterisation isn’t just confined to the key protagonists, from the police, to the lawyers and those that only get a brief look in through the story, they are all ‘real’.

There is no doubt that this is an engaging tale and one that I read compulsively, I needed to know if what I believed was the truth at the beginning was actually the truth but as my reading progressed, like all good psychological thrillers, the writer made me change my opinion, time and time again. However this isn’t a book of trickery, you know the type, when you finally turn that last page and contemplate what you’ve read, you feel like the writer has been playing with you. Not Rachel Abbott, the clues were there, no trickery involved, you just need to look at the puzzle through the right prism.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the author for arranging an advance copy of And So It Begins to be sent to me. This unbiased review is my thanks to her for a hugely absorbing and entertaining read. This is one psychological thriller that you don’t want to miss!

First Published UK:  11 October 2018
Publisher: Wildfire
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

A Jarful of Angels – Babs Horton

Crime Fiction
5*s

I’m not really sure how to categorise this book so I’ll simply say that as a tale of childhood with all the grim realities of adults misunderstanding you the poverty of life driven to the edges by the magical world that only children can create and yet realism seeps through as an adult watches the world filtered through the eyes of children.

Iffy, Bessie, Fatty and Billy live in a small welsh village, the sort that those of us who grew up as late as the seventies can recognise as being every and any small town. There are the local characters, the woman swapping gossip and keeping secrets and the men who roar in the background. There is the local haunted house, I have yet to find a child yet who was free to roam who didn’t have the local haunted house, the graveyards and the like to give themselves a jolly good scare each and every time boredom threatened.

The our children play in the remote town, in the shadow of the pits, in the long hot summer of 1963. They find a garden full of dancing statues, they peer into mad Carty Annie’s wares and they visit the shopkeeper for the sweets that they will suck so hard that they cause burns on their tongues. As the heat rises they are rained on by frogs and they find a skull and they find a jar full of angels. But what does it all mean, if anything? And then by the end of the summer just three of the four children remain, one is missing.

Thirty years later Will Sloane one of the policemen who searched for the missing child, returns to the town. Over the years he has been haunted, as policemen often are, by the case that was never solved. The clues that he is able to uncover lead to interlocking mysteries that beg to be unravelled but it is up to our retired detective to find the right key.

The story itself is everything a mystery story should be, but what lifts this tale head and shoulders above others is the lyrical prose and its powerful evocation of a world not yet forgotten but now I fear out of reach. It is a world that lends itself to the unsaid, the rampaging gossip counteracted by secrets kept well hidden, the adults barely alluding to the terrible things that they know.

Although I didn’t grow up in the Wales, I did spend my formative years just across the boarder albeit at least a decade later than when this story is set. Rarely have I read a book where the children are so well portrayed, so much so that it took me back to my childhood, the excitement at the start of the summer, the adventures that we would have, real or imagined and the characters that played their part in the experience. There were the predictable yells to come home for dinner, to adults wholly unconcerned with how your day had been spent their lives working to a different rhythm full of gossip and sighs and of course those adults who you stayed clear of, the reason to do seldom voiced, its knowledge spread almost by osmosis.

Babs Horton has created a very special book in A Jarful of Angels, one that transcends any real genre and one that means that her brilliantly created characters came to life through her magical prose.

First Published UK:  2013
Publisher: Babs Horton 
No of Pages: 292
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Love As Always Mum xxx – Mae West with Neil McKay

Non-Fiction
5*s

Fred & Rose West’s crimes were shocking and I well remember the days at the end of February, beginning of March 1994 when the papers were full of nothing else than the awful rising count of bodies found in a garden, and under a cellar floor, in Gloucester. As the details unfolded I felt a personal pull; I had lived near and in Gloucester, I’d certainly walked along Cromwell Street and Heather West was the same age as me, or would have been if she hadn’t been killed and buried under a patio.

In 2011 Neil McKay’s drama documentary Appropriate Adult was shown on UK TV. This looked at the effect that sitting in on the interviews between Fred West and the police had on the woman designated his ‘appropriate adult.’ The writer had gone to great lengths to look at the psychological impact on the people involved in the investigation. Mae, the eldest surviving daughter of Rose and Fred West was involved in the project and he persuaded her to tell the world what it was really like growing up, and what the last twenty plus years have been like being the daughter of probably the most notorious of all female serial killers. His assistance with the book mean that while Mae’s own words shine through the structure and overall feel is that this is a well-written and thought out book.

Because of my early interest I have read most if not all of the books written about the crimes but I was very interested to hear how Mae came to terms with the realisation that her mother had been far more involved than Mae had wanted to believe. I truly believe that when we obviously recoil from the crimes that their parents committed we forget that the children in the house at the time were innocent and yet they bear the scars not only of their upbringing but also the scars of people’s reactions when they find out who they are. This is a side of crime and the awful ripple effect that is rarely examined.

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy read but I’m glad to say it doesn’t dwell on accounts of the murders themselves, although of course they do feature, rather this is Mae’s account of things she remembers from childhood; Heather and her younger brother Stephen feature largely here because of the first three children of Rose and Fred West were close in age. Mae is at pains to impress that while there was abuse and other unsavoury things going on at home, they also celebrated birthdays, had a lovely sit down Christmas lunch and were turned out to school in spotlessly clean clothes and Rose took the children to school she picked them up at home time. In other words her childhood wasn’t so very different to mine, or I suspect any other child’s in the same era. Mae also puts to bed the lie that the West children knew no better than the way they were bought up. Even as children, as children generally are, they were aware where the differences between their homelife and those of those of their peers. They were embarrassed by ‘sex noises’ leaking into the street and the fact that their father compulsively stole, and abused his daughters.

The extracts from Rose’s letters add another psychological study which is impossible to solve although Mae gives her views on what the letters sending her love from inside prison to the life her daughter was building with such a terrible shadow hanging over her.

What most impressed me is that Mae manages to get across that just because she was played a very bad hand in the cards of life she has her own aspirations, she has passed the right values onto the next generation as have her sisters who she remains close to. I say to those who criticise her decision to write this book, who are we to judge and perhaps if you remove the sensationalism surrounding the author and read the words, this is a study of a number of psychological issues.

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Seven Dials
No of Pages: 461
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US