Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Long Goodbye – Anthony Le Moignan

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A Long Goodbye is contemporary romance novel set in the somewhat unusual setting of a care home in Cambridge.

Simon is an accountant, a successful one. He’s sporty with a love of running, not just the taking part but watching other athletes and reading the magazines as well as challenging himself to beat his personal best. He’s funny, good-looking and he has been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. He is just forty years old and faces the challenges ahead with fortitude and a sense of humour.

Emma works at Orchard Care Home, a residential home that usually houses the elderly who need to have the love and support of their professional team. Emma is married to a man she met earlier in her caring career, she’s now managing the home but keeps her hand in with the patients. Her husband Michael has meanwhile risen through the ranks and now works away for much of the time which combined with the lack of a much-wanted baby has left their marriage much in need of some tender care.

Readers of my blog will know that romance, unless combined with history, is not my usual genre but underneath it all, I do have a soul. I chose to read this book after being contacted by the author who is a local man and alighted on the fact that sales of A Long Goodbye are raising funds for funds raised for both the Jersey Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Society. So many of us will have experienced the hard realities of dementia, it is indeed often a long goodbye, one where both the sufferer and those that love them lose pieces of the very essence of the person bit by bit. And unless you’ve been on a tour of care homes as I had to do for my mother, you might have a preconceived idea of what they have to offer. I’m not going to lie, I did visit one or two that smelled of wee and had a bunch of women parked in chairs in front of a TV, but there were far more who had put a real effort into providing a homely atmosphere whilst providing the facilities required for those who are sadly beyond the outings and fun and I could recognise aspects of this in Orchard Care Home. It is a positive shout-out too for those who staff these homes and provide all manner of support to their patients and their families alike.

Anthony Le Moignan’s book is based on facts, his father suffered with Alzheimer’s, and so while he creates a story that pulls at those heart-strings, he doesn’t use his fiction to create either a totally unrealistic portrayal of this cruel disease but nor is it in any way sensationalist. The story is lovely, the characters a wide variety from the obviously kind and caring Emma to a real doozy of a money-grabbing woman who makes an unwelcome appearance during the story. I was worried that A Long Goodbye would be too saccharine sweet for my tastes, but it wasn’t, far from it, I actually found it to be a thoughtful novel, with many of those truths that I suspect we all look for within the books we read and no, these are not all specifically related to the Alzheimer angle. The story moves along at a pace with some tender moments that bought a tear to my eye so have the hankies at the ready!

A well-written novel that explores love from a variety of perspectives and yet balances this with some genuinely funny moments with a real feel for the characters. A great debut and I for one will be looking to see what the author comes up with next.

First Published UK: 7 May 2018
Publisher: Self Published
No of Pages: 302
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Dark Waters – Mary-Jane Riley #BlogTour #BookReview

I was absolutely delighted when Mary-Jane Riley asked me to kick-off the Blog Tour to promote her latest book, Dark Waters having been a huge fan of the previous two books in this series which features journalist Alex Devlin.

I have interrogated Mary-Jane Riley about Dark Waters in the following Q&A Session.

Well Mary-Jane Dark Waters is the third in the journalist Alex Devlin series; is it getting easier to write the books now the character is developed or does it sometimes curtail how you’d like her to behave?

Hmm, interesting question, Cleo. I’ve always found Alex pretty easy to write. It’s like I’ve always known her, perhaps because there’s a bit (a lot?) of me in her. I do usually know how she will react to events, and that’s what makes writing the novels with her centre-stage so satisfying. It’s not what I want to happen but what Alex wants to happen, how she reacts, the decisions she makes. I hope she always behaves true to character, and there’s no point in making her do something she wouldn’t. Does that make sense?

Tell us a little about Dark Waters, was there a Eureka moment which inspired the novel?

Dark Waters begins with the discovery of two bodies on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. The idea of using the Broads wasn’t so much of a eureka moment of inspiration as a slow realisation…. The Bad Things is set on the Suffolk coast, After She Fell on the crumbling cliffs of North Norfolk, so for my third I felt I wanted to go inland. And then I thought about the atmospheric Broads and how a boat could stay moored for several days before anyone would wonder what was going on….. That was the basic premise and I built the novel up from there! Sometimes that’s all you need, and I asked myself the usual questions: who were the people who had died? How had they met their end? Why were they on the boat? Did they know each other? And so on. I think I have probably done a disservice to the Broads, though, it really is a gorgeous place to visit!

Do you have an idea what situations you are going to place poor Alex in next? Yes, that’s me checking that there is another book in the pipeline!

Yes. Oh, you want me to say more? Well… no, you’ll have to wait….

How long does it take to produce your first draft of each book? Yes, this is me trying to work out how long I have to wait for the next book!

It varies, and though I would love to be one of those people who writes the whole story as a first draft, I’m not. First of all I think about the story. A lit. Then I write bits, some of which will be scrapped. After that, when I think I know what I’m doing, I tend to write a third, then go back over that and edit. After the second third I’ve just about got the story I want to tell in my head or in my notebook as bullet points and can write the last third pretty quickly…or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I’m just past that stage now! Then I read it through again and edit, and for my final edit I print it out and go through it. It probably takes about nine months in all.

You chose to set the series mainly in Norfolk with the memorable opening of two bodies being found on a barge in the county, however we also travel across the county boarder to Cambridge University. How much research do you do on the settings to make them feel so authentic?

I’m glad they feel authentic, thank you! I’ve lived in East Anglia for many years, and when I was a BBC reporter I travelled quite widely across Norfolk and Suffolk, so I know the area pretty well. My husband and I do take day trips out to the main places where the books are set – so Southwold for the The Bad Things, a village called Happisburgh for After She Fell and Wroxham and Ludham for Dark Waters. We do an awful lot of walking around and I take photos, and we usually ending up eating fish and chips. For the Cambridge section of Dark Waters I went to Cambridge, and I also spoke to a good friend who was at the university, so she could give me some insights!

In this episode, without giving too much away, Alex is having family problems. She really hasn’t had an easy ride so far in this area so I’m wondering do you secretly hate her or is it more that you enjoy showing her tenacious nature?

I love Alex! In Dark Waters she really suffers from being in the sandwich generation, don’t you think? Still trying to look after her son, Gus, and also her parents, particularly her father whose health is failing. I think it’s true of the lives of many women between, say, forty and fifty, don’t you? I do love how she battles through and survives both mentally and physically.

This book delves way back into the past in one strand of the storyline. I find this kind of storyline very appealing but wonder how hard is it to choose how much to reveal of the past when the main action is taking place in the present?

That’s another great question! I write the different strands separately and I’m not sure I actually ‘choose’ how much to reveal, it sort of happens naturally…. I suppose, thinking about it, that I look to that storyline as an echo of the past – I don’t want to overwhelm the present action. I usually end up cutting a lot of the past story, making it, hopefully, tighter.

Do you have a writing routine?

A very loose one…. I like to get some writing done in the morning after I have walked the dogs, even if only a little because at least I’ve got started. Hopefully I’ll do a couple of hours (with frequent breaks!) then maybe an hour after lunch and another hour early evening….that is in an ideal world….one I don’t really inhabit!

Do you read books in the same genre that you write in?

I do, I love the genre….reading and writing it. I enjoy a good thriller too and a long, rich saga!

What was your last read?

I have a couple of books on the go…. Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection Anecdotal Evidence, and an interesting spy thriller The Language of Secrets by Asuma Zehanat Khan, but that’s not what you’re asking is it! I have just finished Skitter by Ezekiel Boone, which is about man-eating spiders and the end of the world. I love a good sci fi /dystopian thriller…..

My Review

Crime Fiction
5*s

Wow, having fallen a little bit in love with tenacious journalist Alex Devlin at the start of this series; Where the Bad Things Are, there is always a tiny worry that your heroine can let you down. Oh no, this book opens with a frankly gruesome description of bodies decay and didn’t stop twisting my emotions hither and thither until I sadly turned the last page.

Two bodies are found dead in a barge on the Norfolk Broads and Alex just happens to be in the area at the time. Seeing a chance to make a scoop she chats to the boat owner and the police ringing her old boss Bud Evans to see if he’s willing to run a piece. Within a day or so the verdict of suicide being the one the police are going with unsurprisingly as the deceased connected over the internet on a suicide website. Now I love it when crime fiction takes in (the often depressing) contemporary twists and although I’d vaguely heard of such sites, I was interested to see the character’s take on them too.

As always Mary-Jane Riley spoils her readers with a number of different strands all being played out simultaneously giving the reader no chance to catch their breath. We have the most recent past covered to give us some idea of what has happened in the gap between the end of After She Fell and the start of Dark Waters. We see the family continue to come to terms with the actions of her sister which dominated the first book and we also visit Cambridge University in the early 1970s, in haunting extracts from a first year’s foray into this great place of learning.

I love the fact that Alex is a journalist rather than a Police Officer as that way she isn’t so bound by procedures, or the need to act as a team. Some of the lighter scenes see her negotiating a way to stay on the story when Bud dispatches Heath from the crime desk to file the story. The battle between doing a more worthwhile story rather than extreme coupon is so compelling that Alex, much to the disgust of her friend Lin, is prepared to use her free time to dig into the lives of those who died on the barge but only if Heath lets her in on what he’s found out so far. I wonder how often this kind of dynamic plays out in the world of the freelance journalist.
As in the previous two books, you can’t doubt that any of these characters are anything other than real people.

With so much action going on it must be easy for the author to lose the oomph that makes the characters who they are, but not Mary-Jane, each one from primary to secondary characters are absolutely alive and kicking (well apart from the dead ones!) The plotting is ingenious with the steps along the way being revealed at just the right point to keep the storyline moving forward without ever feeling that the author is holding out on us.

I raced through Dark Waters, thrilled to catch up with Alex, delighted with the twists and turns that this tale took us on and so I turned the last page, sad to say goodbye, until next time!

First Published UK: 16 March 2018
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK

Alex Devlin Series

The Bad Things
After She Fell


Synopsis

DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.

As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?

Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.

Find Mary-Jane Riley on social media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryjanerileyauthor/
Twitter: @mrsmjriley
Instagram: maryjanerileyauthor

Bio

Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.

DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.

If you like what you’ve read the links to buy the books are here!

Dark Waters
After She Fell 
The Bad Things 

 

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

Persons Unknown – Susie Steiner

Crime Fiction
5*s

With this, the follow-up to Missing Presumed, being marketed as a literary crime novel, I have to confess I’m not entirely sure what that is, but if it is a multi-layered story that touches on real-life issues as well as having a crime at its centre, with an involved and intricate plot, then this fits the brief.

DI Manon Bradshaw has moved from London back to Cambridge, in part for Fly, her adopted twelve-year-old son in an attempt to keep him away from being stopped and searched purely based on his colour. They live with Manon’s sister Ellie and her two-year old son Solly, oh and Manon is five-months pregnant and assigned to the cold cases. It’s fair to say the whole family are struggling to find their feet when a man named Jon-Oliver is murdered in a nearby park. This sets off a whole chain of events which couldn’t have been predicted.

While this doesn’t have the feel of a standard police procedural, at times feeling as much a commentary on the time we live in, I was hooked right from the start. The storyline is linear with the main part running over a few weeks starting in December with each section featuring the date and chapter headed up by the name of the narrator and where necessary the place because whilst for the most part the action is in Cambridge, some takes us back to Kilburn, London. Normally where we have multiple places and narrators I put a warning into my review about how this isn’t one to read when you are tired but I have to confess I started this one night expecting to read a dozen or so pages and struggled to put it down, even the fact that I was exhausted that particular night didn’t strain my brain. Instead my warning is the short chapters are deceptive and it is only too easy to say I’ll just do one more and then I’ll  turn out the light only to find yourself bleary eyed and still going!

Why did I enjoy this so much? Well the plot is tight, and yes it’s complex especially as the connections between the characters are not what you normally get in a police procedural. I loved the characters, I felt that Manon was a more sympathetic character in this book, not quite as abrasive as she is actually outside the investigation and her love for Fly, her adopted son really brings out a different side to her personality. In fact I had a lot of sympathy for a number of the characters whilst others I’m pleased to say got their just deserts. Persons Unknown was involved and had plenty of clues, including the obligatory red-herrings that had me suspecting everyone at one time or another. Having won me over with some of the key characters I was thoroughly engaged, needing to know whether x had visited y at z time to prove my theory or otherwise, which is always the mark of a good book.

When the characters are so well-defined it can be the case that the plotting is looser, but not in this book with both aspects having an equal weighting although perhaps there was a coincidence or two which felt a little too convenient they in no way spoilt my enjoyment.

There is no doubt in my mind that Susie Steiner’s next book will be on my ‘must read’ list she has really proved herself to be a writer of many talents indeed. If character led crime fiction is what floats your boat, this series is on my highly recommended list.

I received my copy of Persons Unknown through Amazon Vine.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: The Borough Press
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Siren – Alison Bruce

Crime Fiction 3*s
Crime Fiction
3*s

Set in Cambridge this is the second book in the series that features the young DC Gary Goodhew who along with the team are under pressure when an arson attack is seemingly linked to a child abduction.

It is a long time since I read Cambridge Blue, the first in this series but powerful enough for me to remember the complex crime that showcased Alison Bruce’s accomplished writing with a good plot backed up with a detective in a newer mould than many we meet in police procedurals. The Siren is no different except that perhaps the why was somewhat elusive somewhat spoiling the many strands reaching back into the past that got us there.

We first meet Kimberly Guyver with her friend Rachel Golinski plotting her getaway following the discovery of a body of a man in Spain. Both women know that the trail will lead back to them and Kimberly has no choice but to leave Cambridge if she is to protect her young son .Riley. Within hours Rachel’s house is set alight and Riley is missing. Kimberly has problems with authority, we glean why from the parts of the book that detail her background but she grows to trust the young detective Gary Goodhew. As in the first book our detective is apt to follow leads without keeping his boss DI Marks in the loop. In common with many police procedurals there is a smattering of politics this after all is a team and not one man solving a crime by himself, and through these exchanges I found Goodhew is developing as a far more rounded character as are some of his team, which include the obligatory self-serving detective, in this case, Kincaid. Kincaid and Goodhew are reluctant partners being as they are polar opposites with Goodhew’s main motivation in life being to solve the crimes whilst being a bit of a failure in his personal life while Kincaid wants to further himself, relishing the failures in others but seemingly having no problems tempting the women around him.

I am glad I read Cambridge Blue first and really although I really enjoyed the writing in The Siren which is steadily placed and entertaining, unfortunately. I wasn’t as gripped by this one. I need to understand the motivation of the main characters particularly the perpetrator and while the clues fitted I didn’t feel that there was enough justification for the crimes committed. I also had a few problems with Kimberly, although I knew a lot about her, we were left to assume why she took some of the decisions she did on fairly unsubstantiated grounds – I know I often complain about being spoon-fed information in books but this one just went a little too far in the other direction.

The pacing which started on the slow side, this isn’t a book to open and expect wall-to-wall action, which is fine by me, steadily picked up and the tension was high as the search for reached crisis point, with some outstandingly good writing which really gave a sense of the emotions of everyone involved.

Not an outstanding all-round read but a book with sufficient good points for me to look forward to another in the series.

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

Missing, Presumed – Susie Steiner

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

I enjoyed this slow-burner crime novel which follows the investigation into the disappearance of Edith Hind who vanished after a night out with her best friend Helena. Edith is beautiful, a Cambridge graduate with a good-looking and charming boyfriend. The investigation doesn’t have much to go on, there is no trace of Edith whose front door was open. Inside investigators find a trail of blood, two wine glasses, one broken and all her coats on the floor.

DS Manon Bradshaw is part of the investigation team, a single woman aged 39 who can be on the abrasive side with her colleagues, but will she be able to solve the mystery? With so many different leads but no real indication that a crime has been committed the police are also hampered by previous criticism by the media, they are also wary of them based on previous crimes committed in a Cambridgeshire. With the book referencing how the media hampered the investigation into the (real life) Soham murders along with more recent cases at times it was hard to remember that this is ‘just a story!’ The relations between the investigative team are on the whole both realistic and healthier than they often appear in fiction.

I’m a fan of crime novels that handle multiple viewpoints well – this novel has many from Lady Hind, Edith’s mother, to Davy from the police, her friend Helena and an assortment of other characters this novel really feels like you get to know the characters and understand the emotions of all involved. And what a bunch of characters they are, ranging from criminals to the head of the Home Office, university graduates to men who do ‘business’ this book manages to avoid easy stereotypes better than many. This is crime fiction that initially presents as an in-depth police procedural but it has an edge on so many of those with all the characters, not just the police and the victim becoming fleshed out, life-like people with thoughts and feelings. The biggest difference is that the characters have thoughts about more than just Edith which surely reflects real-life than those novels where everyone is immersed in one case for weeks on end?

I found the writing style a little stilted at first but that issue quickly resolved itself as I became more involved as the suspects mounted up and were systematically investigated by the police while I was busy trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together – needless to say I failed miserably but in many ways the mystery didn’t feel like the whole point of the book.

If you like your crime fiction to take you to the heart of an investigation, you need to look out for this one which will be published on 25 February 2016. My copy came from Lovereading.co.uk in return for my honest opinion. My conclusion is that I will be looking out for more novels by Susie Steiner and I’m hoping that DS Manon Bradshaw will appear again.