Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Stranger – Saskia Sarginson

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A small town complete with a tea room is the setting of this nuanced tale by Saskia Sarginson. This is not the obvious psychological thriller with never-ending surprises that I was expecting, but unsurprisingly given the previous two books I’ve read by this author; The Other Me and The Twins, there is undeniable tension and that sense of needing to know what happens next.

Eleanor Rathmell is the owner of the aforementioned tea room, she also keeps an assortment of animals at her home which she shares with her husband William. All is good in her life, except the secret she has kept all her married life. With few cares in her world, Ellie’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses a horrific car crash, an accident that to her horror she discovers results in William’s death. Worse is to come as she finds evidence that she wasn’t the only one with a secret.

What starts as a fairly standard secrets and lies premise quickly morphs into a fairly issue-led novel about migrants. I was delighted to find although the author had clearly done her research, this not being a ‘shouty’ book from a soapbox, she hadn’t forgotten that we, her readers, want to be entertained. I can’t deny the social commentary on an issue that is far more complex than either side of the debate can sometimes appear to be willing to understand. The migrants featured in The Stranger work on a local farm working for David, a rich farmer with two grown-up children. The local’s mistrust of these migrants could seem at odds with the fundraiser they run for the refugees of the Syrian disaster. When a Romanian moves into Ellie’s garage to help out with jobs on the smallholding strange things begin to happen and there are no shortage of people willing to warn Ellie about the mistake she is making. Ellie has to decide whether the stranger she has welcomed is behind the acts or is someone trying to remove him from the scene.

From that short taster you can see that the plot lines of a widow struggling to comprehend the loss of her husband coupled with the secrets she has uncovered seem at total odds with the local issues of migrants but all of this is neatly tied in, often revolving around the tea room where everyday life continues and Ellie gets her life back onto some sort of track with the help of her assistant Kate. Inevitably there is some romance to sweeten the darker aspects of the storyline which emerge gradually and with great restraint as the book progresses.

The characters are distinct and the dialogue convincing which combined with the measured writing creates a subtle tension when life in the village begins to unravel and Ellie is left unsure who she can trust. The final outcome all the more shocking for the way the author plays the build-up straight down the line.

Although this wasn’t quite the book I was expecting to read I found it to be both an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

I’d like to thank Little Brown for providing me with a copy of The Stranger. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 8 September 2016
Publisher: Piatkus
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Go To Sleep – Helen Walsh

Contemporary Fiction
3*s

Well… this is quite a difficult review to write because this read made for quite uncomfortable reading even though it is now over a quarter of a century since I had my first child but here goes!

Rachel is looking forward to giving birth to her first child. She’s probably not quite ok with being a single mother but she’s prepared, or so she thinks. She’s bonded with her bump and looking forward to welcoming her child into the world complete with a doting grandfather and his second wife. Ok, being the product of a one night stand isn’t ideal but having weighed up the odds, she’s decided not to inform the father who has a chance of a new life away from Liverpool.

In these early chapters we learn more about the baby’s father who she first met as a teenager. Reuben was black and Rachel believes that this was why her father didn’t like him, you see this is a book that is as much about Rachel’s life before a baby, as after and as the book roll on, this is something I appreciated more and more. This background gives the reader real context to her struggle with life after Joe is born.

Before Joe is born, Rachel works as a support worker for truanting children supporting them helpfully back to school or if not into alternative training so she’s no pushover, but has a life dealing with truculent teenagers prepared her for life with a helpless baby? This beginning showing a woman passionate about her work coupled with a splash of jealousy about the woman who is standing in for her during her maternity leave, gives us a great insight into Rachel’s character and what she feels is important in life. Rarely do we hear about the doubts a woman has stepping away from the workplace in such an honest way and better still the points made are done with subtlety.

Labour begins, in fits and starts and Rachel contacts the hospital, she’s turned away, she’s not far enough gone to be admitted. So we got to this bit and my long-buried memories surfaced…
I take out my mobile, ring the hospital. The voice that greets me tries to be reassuring but never gets beyond dismissive:

How far apart? You’ve had how many?

Suffice to say labour isn’t as Rachel imagined and then baby doesn’t sleep. The language fits perfectly with the frustration she feels with the gap between what she imagined life would be like, and the reality.

Evening. The lights turned down low, the ward calm and ordered, all the babies washed and fed and winded, all of them ready for sleep; all except Joe. Joe fights it, struggles, bleats. Unable, unwilling to settle, champing on my chafed and throbbing chest, he writhes and burns  and gets angrier and angrier. I am so tired now – desperately achingly tired.

This is an incredibly brave book to write, far from the sentimental picture usually portrayed of early motherhood. Life with a child that doesn’t sleep can be like hell on earth. I remember one awful night when I threatened to throw my daughter out of the window, words said in pure frustration and I hasten to add, not acted upon, but it is tough to be in charge of an infant in the dead of night who won’t be consoled. The author accurately portrays this and although I was horrified at some of Rachel’s actions as she was clearly suffering with postnatal depression as well as exhaustion, my judgement was tempered.

I’m glad I read this book long after the event, and perhaps this book should be given out to young women who believe that a baby will fit into their lives like a beautiful accessory but then, nothing can quite prepare you, so perhaps those of us can read with a wry smile, is the best audience after all.

Go to Sleep was my fifteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017, this one having been bought in April 2015 so fits the bill!

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

 

First Published UK: 2011
Publisher: Cannongate Books
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Escape – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller
4*s

Jo Blackmore has suffered from agoraphobia since the death of her unborn child but she’s got strategies for coping and manages to hold down a job by sticking to rigid rules. Those rules are breached when she is asked to give a lift to a woman on her way to picking up her young daughter Elise from nursery. Paula doesn’t give Jo much of an option to refuse, and once in the car she returns one of Elise’s mittens with the warning:

“Look after your daughter’s things. And your daughter…”

Well can you just imagine the panic especially when it becomes clear that she knows all about Jo, her husband Max, a crime reporter and of course Elise. Jo’s fight or flight mechanism goes into overdrive!

The Escape is full of tension from that bizarre car journey onwards we see Jo juggling her anxiety, her step-father’s illness and her husband’s increasing lack of patience with her. Jo suspects that Max, a crime reporter has led her into danger. Paula, the woman who accosted her, has made it clear he has something that belongs to her, and she wants it back! Max denies all knowledge and Jo is left with few places to turn for help.

The cliché rollercoaster is absolutely the right one to use for this book, but the plot itself has a number of pleasing variations on the theme. In one of the best we discover that Jo is also seeking answers to her early years. She remembers little of her life in Ireland before she moved to the UK with her mother, and her mother has remained tight-lipped about it becoming quite upset when Jo wanted to know more. So naturally when she needs somewhere to lay low, she takes a trip to get some answers. The scenes set in Ireland were fantastic, but the change in scenery isn’t used as an excuse to drop any of that tension, no it is transported across the water with Jo. Now we have the pounding February waves and the bitter winds to accompany the swirling secrets and lies… and danger!

Cally Taylor is the mistress of lifting the stones in a domestic situation and allowing all the creepy crawlies out to unsettle her readers by bringing to the fore the most instinctive of reactions. In The Escape the nightmares of parents the world over are given clarity and it is impossible to resist the ‘What would I do?’ questions run through your mind. It is interesting how the author has chosen not to provide us with an easy to like character and then made me root for her nonetheless and made me admire the writing all the more for the fact. It wasn’t that I disliked the character more that I wished she would have a little more spunk – but then, just maybe, she wouldn’t have needed to escape!

I’ve enjoyed all the authors previous books, she provides us with true-to-life characters thereby instantly stamping realism into the storyline and not just with the main protagonists. I was particularly fond of the B&B owner who having been shouted at by Jo then huffily sets her breakfast down without a word – this is how real people behave, it is rare to have rolling confrontations, and the reader is left in no doubt what her real opinion of Jo was.

The Escape was a thrilling read; it is definitely one of those books to open and then hold on tight and enjoy each and every page.

I’d like to thank the publishers Avon Books for my copy of The Escape which was published on 23 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Avon Books
No of Pages:  433
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books by C.L. Taylor

The Accident
The Lie
The Missing

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blood Tide – Claire McGowan

Crime Fiction
4*s

I have followed this series set in Ballyterrin with Paula McGuire our brave yet personally conflicted protagonist and enjoyed each and every new outing but the change in setting to Bone Island complete with lighthouse definitely added something quite special to the already enjoyable mix.

Paula McGuire is living with her daughter Maggie in her parent’s old house in Ballyterrin while the man who so nearly became her husband in A Savage Hunger is in jail accused of murder, refusing to see her. Paula is still searching for the truth about what happened to her mother many years ago during ‘The Troubles.’ What makes this series quite so believable is this backdrop of times both past and present to the forensic psychologist’s life.

A call comes through to Paula as her role as a missing person specialist; a couple have gone missing from Bone Island. The lighthouse where they live is locked from the inside but there is no sign of Matt Andrew, a keen ecologist or his partner, the local doctor Fiona Watts. With a violent storm raging and some seriously closed lipped locals the sense of danger is never far away in this atmospheric and creepy novel. The weather almost acts as a character in its own right, hindering the search for the missing, adding danger to the trip to the island and of course preventing anyone who might want or need to, from leaving for safety.

Paula is conflicted, she wants to see the island to remind herself of the last holiday she spent with her mother Margaret and father P.J. now retired but formerly a Roman Catholic RUC Officer. On the other hand she has left her daughter in the capable hands of her best friend with her father and his second wife Kathleen.

Paula is a professional and she does her best to get beyond the silence and the half-truths that she is being fed. What she needs to discover is whether this treatment is the same for all outsiders or is it reserved for their visit?

There are a number of strands to the storyline in this the most tense and action packed of the entire series. As well as the obvious link of missing people, both past and present, we have a strand to do with the environment as well as the hostility of the small community to outsiders, but throughout it all Paula’s complicated personal life is given equal dominance. A troubled sleuth is hardly a rarity in crime fiction but Paula has no obvious vices although perhaps the complications could have been kept at arm’s length if she hadn’t decided to return to Ballyterrin and even the most generous reader has to admit that she could do with being a little bit sensible over her choice of relationships.

We might be spending our time on a windswept island full of strangeness, secrets and suspicion but back home the private investigator is continue his enquiries into Margaret’s disappearance along with looking for evidence to free Aiden. Will there be success on either front? Well… you’ll need to read Blood Tide for yourself to find out!

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for providing me with a copy of Blood Tide, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Paula McGuire Series

The Lost
The Dead Ground
The Silent Dead
Savage Hunger

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Monster in the Box – Ruth Rendell

Crime Fiction
4*s

The Monster in the Box is the twenty-second of Ruth Rendell’s books to feature Chief Inspector Reg Wexford and here he is, in the present, although nowhere near as old as he’d have to be if he’d aged in line with his first appearance back in 1964 in From Doon With Death!

Pleasingly in what turned out to be Wexford’s last outing as a paid policeman, although he does appear retired in both The Vault and No Man’s Nightingale, he gives the reader an insight into his early years right back to before he got married and his belief that a man who has stalked him on and off over the years from that time has reappeared. I was happily carried away with this nostalgia for times gone by which is wickedly edged with something far more sinister by way of this maybe stalker Eric Targo. Wexford’s first challenge is to be certain that it is the same man, as previously Targo sported a livid birthmark on his neck which he kept covered with a scarf and the man he’s recently encountered doesn’t have one, but then medical advances have been made in the intervening period. Wexford is concerned enough that he opens up to his close friend DI Burden over wine and a minimal amount of cashew nuts, for the first time that he believes that not only has Targo followed him through the decades, but that he is a serial killer. Wexford only reason for keeping this information secret is that he has not one scrap of evidence, but he’s determined to find some now!

The tone of the book is entirely in keeping with the look back over the years and never more so than when describing the investigation into Elsie Carroll’s death which makes you realise just how unsophisticated the field was back then. Elsie’s husband John is tried for the murder but released on a technicality but Wexford suspects the killer was Targo despite his seemingly cast-iron alibi. Although the tone is reminiscent of older generations throughout time with the ‘well of course we didn’t have….’ And the ‘…. Hadn’t been invented then’ types of phrases the most evocative parts of the past are in the descriptions of the evenings spent by those in the neighbourhood at the time of Elsie Carroll’s death.

Intertwined with this storyline is one concerning Burden’s second wife, Jenny, and the new DS Hannah Goldsmith who are concerned that something untoward is happening with one of Jenny’s former pupils Tamima. This is a complex storyline includes a DS who has done all the awareness training and the way a Muslim family bring up their daughter makes for uncomfortable reading not because of the cultural sensitivities but the ham-fisted way the women go about trying to prove that there aren’t any, the result is that this aspect can either be viewed as an inspired way of trying to enlighten her readers to the obvious conflicts or as being borderline offensive. I took the former viewpoint but I’m not sure everyone would.

As always Ruth Rendell provides her most solid of policemen with a solid mystery, and a satisfying read. Granted, this isn’t up to the standard of some of her greatest books, but there is a proper mystery, the book moves forward at a steady investigative pace and the backwards look over Reg’s personal life was a really lovely and welcome touch.

The Monster in the Box was my fourteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017. I don’t know when I purchased this book but it was on a shelf of books that I planned to read before the end of 2014 – that target got missed!

mount-tbr-2017

 
 

First Published UK: 2009
Publisher: Hutchinson
No of Pages:  288
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Need You Dead – Peter James #blogtour

Crime Fiction
5*s

I am particularly delighted to be part of the blog tour for Need You Dead which is the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James because this is a series I’ve followed from the very beginning, reading each book in order eager to find out what has happened to my favourite characters whilst knowing that there will be a cracking crime story to keep me entertained.

Today Peter James is sharing some of his research with us:

DS Roy Grace Blog Tour – Day 7
Research behind Dead Man’s Grip

While researching Dead Man’s Grip I was taken around the famous local landmark that is Shoreham Power station. Along with being claustrophobic I have always had an absolute terror of heights, so the research for a key scene in the book, involving a secret tunnel under Shoreham Harbour, where I would be making a 180 feet vertical descent down a ladder in a shaft, was horrifying! A major “oh shit” moment! Fortunately I had two very delightful and caring helpers from Rescue & Emergency Medical Services Ltd who gave me the confidence and help to do it.

Then at the launch of Dead Man’s Grip I was submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour for a stunt enacting a key scene in the book. I was nervous as hell before this event and I had the whole police dive team prepped to rescue me in case it went wrong!

Peter James has kindly provided original pieces for each day of his blog tour so make sure you catch the rest of the stops!

 

Book Review
Lorna Belling has been found dead in a bath tub in a rented flat in Brighton. Already known to the police because she’s reported her husband for domestic abuse Roy Grace sees the investigation as a good one for Guy Batchelor to be Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for a couple of reasons: one to allow him to learn the ropes and secondly because Roy has to fly to Germany to pick up his son Bruno to bring him back for the funeral of his mother.

Lorna is a hairdresser who works from home, her phone is monitored by her husband and there has been more than one nasty incident with her husband Corin who works for an IT company, but the last attack was particularly nasty. The Domestic Violence caseworker is concerned for Lorna’s safety but so far Lorna has decided to stay put with Corin and the puppies she has bred. But the flat where Lorna was found dead wasn’t her home, so why is she in a cheap rental flat with dodgy electrics?

Of course the investigation isn’t quite as straightforward as first appearances indicated and the reader is in on the action seeing the red-herrings being liberally scattered across Brighton to ensure that the Police are following entirely the wrong scent. In a bold move by the author we even know why the only link missing is who it could be. It goes to show how in experienced hands a small amount of mystery is all that is needed with this book not lacking at all in tension as the team set out to find the killer – or perhaps Lorna committed suicide after all?

There are a number of strands to be pursued by the team and all of them have a good collection of well-drawn characters to keep us fully entertained as they do so!

It is almost refreshing these days to have modern crime fiction told in a straightforward time-line and here we have the chapters headed up by the days of the week starting from the beginning and working to the end – how clever is that? Because there is so much going on there are several chapters for each day, with each looking from a different point of view and in the case of Roy Grace, some are from a different country.

As with the entire series I get as much enjoyment in meeting up with the large and varied cast of characters, particularly with the established team of police, with the author reflecting their most immediate concerns using his extensive contacts with the real crime fighters in Brighton’s Police Force to ensure all the details are bang up to date. A small word of caution, Mr James, please don’t turn Roy Grace into a political figurehead for the Police however much your sources urge you to, less is more as they say!

As always this latest Roy Grace story had me thoroughly entertained. I can also spy some interesting threads which I’m sure we will follow for a few books yet in Roy’s personal life as Bruno settles into life as a big brother to baby Noah and so as always, no sooner did I put the book down, I was eager to have the next instalment from Brighton and Hove.

I am extremely grateful to Macmillan and Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of this book, and for allowing me to be part of this blog tour – the pinnacle of my blogging ambitions! My review of course is unbiased.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead

Need You Dead, the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James, is out 18th May (Macmillan, £20.00)

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

The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins

Psychological Thriller
5*s

A book that captured me from the first page where we meet Olivia Sweetman 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.

After the celebrations the book switches to the run up to the publication of the book, eventually as far back as when Olivia first saw Annabel’s diary in Ileford Manor in Sussex in the hands of Vivian, the housekeeper cum research assistant that Olivia would come to depend on as she juggled her television appearances as a celebratory historian, her marriage to David, busy writing and researching his own book, and her three children Dom, Paul and Jess.

I adored every word of this book, there is always something absolutely irresistible in a book about a book after all, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters, a plot that is underpinned by meticulous timing so that I became bound up in Olivia’s fight for her reputation long before I understood why she was needing to fight in the first place.

Adding to the history we also hear about beetles, more specifically the dung-beetles that Olivia Sweetman’s father studied, hence that eye-catching cover.

‘Your eye for detail, your doggedness, you’re just remarkable,’ she said, looking into my eyes. Hers really are a striking colour. At that moment they reminded me of a beetle called, Necrophilia formosa, whose iridescent carapace is somewhere between violet and royal blue and which feeds on beautiful flowers that reek powerfully of rotting fish.

So we have Olivia the modern woman juggling life and making her mark studying a woman who was forging ahead in a man’s world in the Victorian times, and we have Vivian, who outshines them both with her strangeness, her adherence to strict routines, her sharp mind which is at odds with her position as a housekeeper but most of all a character who is oh so very believable. When reading the chapters narrated by Vivian, we hear from the two women in turn throughout the book, I was strongly reminded of some of the wonderful creations of Ruth Rendell who created equally dislikeable but fascinating characters.

Olivia has Vivian in her life as a necessary evil, she looks down on the woman who she depends on to give her access to Annabel’s diary, to do the tiring leg-work during the research into this woman’s life and while she is grateful for all her hard-work, her doggedness and attention to detail, once the book is edited, she finds her relentless appeals to write another book difficult to shut down. This struggle between the needy and the needed while trying to maintain the smooth politeness that society demands that makes the entire story so believable.

Whilst the plotting is superb it is definitely the characters that lead this novel and even the bit parts are wonderfully drawn giving you a real sense of the describer and described in broad brush strokes

I do remember how grim I felt as I sat behind Maureen’s desk, unreasonably infuriated by her ‘Smile! It’s gin o’clock!’ sticker on the till and her ‘Keep Calm, It’s Only a Royal Baby’ coaster. I was fighting the urge to rip both objects up and put them in the bin. I have known Maureen since childhood, we were in the same class at primary school and she has always irritated me. She is intrusive, bossy and rather dim.

The Night Visitor will hopefully not haunt me in the way that she haunted Vivian, but these characters, the intricate storyline full of fascinating detail will stay with me for a long time to come. I can safely predict this will be one of my books of 2017.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Quercus who provided me with a copy of The Night Visitor. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Non-Fiction
5*s


The Fact of a Body
is one of the most compelling investigations into a true-crime that I have read, perhaps because that isn’t all it is. It is how one crime can have parallels into another, entirely different life. That is how Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich feels and what she sets out to show us with this mix of true-crime and a memoir.

When Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich joins a law firm in New Orleans as an intern, whose work is based on having death sentences overturned, she feels she is about to start the career she is supposed to have. The daughter of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti the death penalty. But all that turns when she watches a video of Rick Langley who has been convicted of killing a six year old boy, Jeremy Guillory. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the crime is awful but what shocks the author most is that she feels so strongly that Rick Langley should die for the crime he committed. She no longer believes what she thought she did and that has consequences on her life.

The real question she asks is why has she changed one of her core beliefs and within this book she carries out a painstaking investigation of not only Rick Langley’s life but also that of Jeremy who was the son of a single mother, pregnant with her second son at the time of the murder. Alongside this we learn more about her own life, growing up with not so much secrets as known facts left unsaid and unexamined. In this book they are thoroughly examined. It is quite clear that the crime or more accurately where the truth lies, is something of an obsession for the author. What she bravely examines within the text is why she feels that way

All three strands of the book are equally hard to read in parts but the writing is both accessible and intelligent. The author’s own story is far from being a misery memoir where the author begs us to feel her pain, instead she shows us how her family chose to deal with the blows life dealt them and the consequences, as she sees them, of those decisions. When she examines Jeremy’s life it is with tenderness for both him and his mother. Given that we know her visceral reaction to hearing Rick Langley’s voice the author writes with care about the man himself. Not to lessen his crime in any way but by delving deeper into his story and the various explanations given to the fateful evening when Jeremy was killed, tries to find the beginning of this man’s story.

Adding to the intelligent feel are some of the points of law as she was taught complete with examples that are relevant to the criminal case which was incredibly useful for those of us less familiar with the US law. Ricky Langley had gone through three separate trials by the time Alexandria was investigating, she had three different trial transcripts and three different videotaped confessions along with DNA evidence, and masses of reports written by different experts. The author herself has to decide which of these truths is the real truth at the same time she dredges her memories from early childhood and tells her truth, which may or may not differ from those of her siblings.

I actually started reading this book after using it as one of my Tuesday Opening Paragraph posts and couldn’t put it aside which I think is testament to just how compelling, if difficult, a read this is.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of publication on 18 May 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  336
Genre: Non-Fiction True Crime 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Boy A – Jonathan Trigell

Crime Fiction
5*s

A hard-hitting yet compelling novel examining what it means to be imprisoned as a child and released under a false identity. Boy A is one of two boys tried and convicted of the murder of another child. Although there are echoes of a trial here in the UK this isn’t in anyway an examination of that crime with much of the book concentrating on what happens next.

Boy A chooses a new name, Jack Burridge, to preserve his anonymity which is part of the terms of his release and then with the help of his ‘uncle’ Terry who had been a member of staff at the home he was first sent to follow his conviction. One of the minimal number of people who know Jack’s true identity. Jack has a job but first he must learn what it is like to live in a world he last left as a child.

The book skips backwards and forwards through the time periods from before Boy A met Boy B to after he left the adult prison with his new name. Each chapter starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with A is for Apple. A Bad Apple. All the way through to Z, which is for Zero in case you are wondering. Just finding the titles that match the content of each chapter must have been a challenge and the sparse language used with its short sentences is perfect for the subject matter. This book feels like a work of art as well as a captivating tale.

Fortunately, given the tough subject matter, the torn sympathies as Boy A’s life is revealed through not just his own eyes, but later on, his father’s too, there are some humorous parts to the book too, most predictably when Jack meets a girl and the attraction is mutual, but most often it is bittersweet humour with a shared moment with a cellmate before his monotonous life rolls onwards.

As we see the horrors Jack endured in prison it is almost odd that my sympathies were highest when he starts his new job and makes friends, and of course a girlfriend Michelle. It is here that it becomes apparent how hard it is to hide your entire life up to a point in your twenties. As Jack becomes close to those around him, his enormous secret puts a boundary up between them as he unwillingly hands out lies to cover the truth.

But nor is this book just about Boy A, Terry and his life at the point where they overlap tells a different story, a fairly normal one of a broken marriage leading to a strained relationship with his own son as he also guards the truth and builds the lies of the life he hopes to see prove that rehabilitation is possible.

The way the stories of Boy A, his parents, Boy B, Terry the psychologist along with Jack’s new friends and his girlfriend all intertwine, create a thought-provoking and compelling read. The book is just the right length the author resisting the urge to brow beat the reader and the ending perfectly pitched. A book to ponder over and in the end marvel at how in the right hands, such an emotive topic can be explored.

Boy A was my thirteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017. I purchased this book in April 2015.

mount-tbr-2017
 

 

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Serpent’s Tale
No of Pages:  256
Genre: Crime Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The People at Number 9 – Felicity Everett

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

The People at Number 9 is a razor-sharp, entertaining story looking at adult friendships, in this case with the neighbours. Sara is overjoyed when she spots a couple with children of a similar age to her own moving into the house next door. At first on a practical level, the house has been a bit neglected and could do with sprucing up but later, when she is chatting with Carol from down the road, she gets a closer look at her arty new neighbour, Lou, and sees something in her that she feels is missing from her life.

This is not, as the title and cover might suggest a domestic thriller, rather it takes a close look at how other people change the way we see ourselves, and in turn perhaps how others see us. Sara is impressed and overawed when she finds out Lou is a film producer and her husband, the handsome Gav, is an artist and instead of joining her old friend and neighbour Carol in sneering at the new neighbour’s bohemian lifestyle, she embraces the lack of convention, or would, if she could just lose some of those middle-class values.

The early chapters narrated by Sara show us how Lou weaves her spell on Sara in particular as she invites confidence, listens with interest and reveals nuggets about the life they have left behind in rural Spain. It is only on reflection that Sara realises that she knows very little about the pair and really she’s too dazzled to really look.

For a long while Sara has longed to do more with her talents than work as a copy writer at an advertising agency and as she becomes more friendly with Lou, her neighbour’s praise encourages her to write a book instead. Meanwhile her steady husband Neil who has worked hard to climb the heady heights of the local housing association is pulled along in Sara’s wake and soon all the couple’s social life is spent with the neighbours, previous friends simply not feeling bright and sparkly enough against this pair.

With Gav and Lou’s children attending the same school the children are also forced together for longer than they would naturally choose to be, especially as Lou is often busy doing very important arty things with very important people, whose names she litters her conversations with so that the less well-connected Sara is unsure whether she should have heard of them. The upshot is that Sara is only too pleased to be able to be the safe pair of hands who entertain the children for Lou, especially as she becomes more and more intrigued by Gav. And so the seeds are set, ready to transform the lives of Sara and Neil into something that couldn’t have been predicted before they made friends with the neighbours!

Having read some early reviews I was prepared for a different kind of read and Felicity Everett really did deliver on a tale of a modern middle-class life and I had the feeling all the way through that there were going to be tears before bedtime, but whose and how dramatic I could only sit back and wait to find out.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of The People at Number 9 from the publishers HQ and this unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author for a thoroughly entertaining read.

First Published UK: 6 April 2017
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US