Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Brighton Mermaid – Dorothy Koomson

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Dorothy Koomson treats us to her darkest book yet in this haunting tale of two teenagers who find the body of a young woman washed up on the shore in 1993. Twenty-five years later, Nell is still obsessed by the woman who was never identified.

The scene is set beautifully when a night seemingly full of promise of a party held by sixth-formers which Jude had lied to her parents to attend. The horror of the discovery combined with the fear of her parent’s wrath when she had to be picked up from the police station was palpable. And then there was their treatment at the hands of the police who didn’t know at first whether to treat the girls as eye-witnesses or suspects. The two may have been able to put this behind them if Jude hadn’t subsequently disappeared without a trace.

Dorothy Koomson doesn’t just set the scene but the time so well. Of course in 1993 the girls didn’t have mobile phones so one stayed with the body while the other went to the phone box to report the crime. Then we switch to the present where the internet where Nell investigates the missing links between people using genealogy sites to help others find missing family. It is against this background that she takes a year off work to devote herself to finding out who the young woman was, and what happened to her best friend.

As always Dorothy Koomson uses a number of hard-hitting issues in The Brighton Mermaid but all are deeply woven into the story-line, not one appearing placed for effect alone and the author crucially gives the reader time to absorb and reflect on these rather than telling us what to think, the best kind of writing.

The first half of the book sets the scene and so unsurprisingly moves at a slightly slower paced but nonetheless I found it absorbing, but… you will need to hang onto your seats for the rattling pace of the second half as Nell gets closer to understanding what happened twenty-five years ago and the events that changed, her and her family’s life forever.

I loved the characters in this book, the relationship between Nell and her sister so realistically portrayed with all the shades of love and hate that often are present, brilliantly displayed and woven through the main mystery which delves so deeply into the past. This is a story of actions having far-reaching consequences and the ripples that spread throughout a family forcing them to reconsider their ‘family story.’

I’ve long considered this author one of my favourites and her books cover a whole range of different types of stories within the range that is labelled ‘woman’s fiction’ from the sentimental to this one which edges into the crime fiction genre but what all the books have in common is the way that they immerse you into the story, not letting you go even after the last page has been turned.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Century who allowed me to read a copy of The Brighton Mermaid prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author Dorothy Koomson.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Dorothy Koomson’s previous books:

The Cupid Effect (2003)
The Chocolate Run (2004)
My Best Friend’s Girl (2006)
Marshmallow’s for Breakfast (2007)
Goodnight Beautiful (2008)
The Ice Cream Girls (2010)
The Woman He Loved Before (2011)
The Rose Petal Beach (2012)
The Flavours of Love (2013)
That Girl From Nowhere (2015)
When I Was Invisible (2015)
The Friend (2017)

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

Our Kind of Cruelty – Araminta Hall

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Verity and Mike are an example of a classic love story. They met at university, fell in love and then seven years later, circumstances meant that they had to continue their relationship long-distance to further their careers and ultimately to enable them to buy their dream house in London.

Then it all went wrong and the couple split up.

“I must be cruel only to be kind / Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”

We meet Mike who in the first half of the book explains his history both before and after he met the love of his life Verity. I’m not really spoiling anything to say that you may find this young man a little hard to warm to, but that’s not to say this isn’t one fascinating story. If you like your psychological themed books of the variety where you see into the minds that view life in a very different way to the norm, you’ll love it.

While they were together Mike and Verity played a game, not of the tame board variety but one of a more adult nature. This game was called ‘The Crave.’ So when Mike receives an invitation to Verity’s wedding to a rich older man, Angus, he interprets this as a continuation of the game and acts accordingly. To the man on the street his behaviour would be classed as stalking, but not to Mike who is convinced that despite losing in act one, he is in with a definite chance in act two. This book tells us how this plays out for the couple.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because the power of the book is in the structure and the many layers that have clearly been lovingly thought out to give the reader an insight into stories which reflect the talking points that you probably discuss with friends even if only in the context of your combined relationship history. Someone you know is bound to have known a Mike, and a Verity. What gave me conviction that this is a brilliantly crafted piece of psychological fiction was the way that although I rattled through the book, wondering what was going to happen next, it was only after I had finished that some of the talking points were really revealed. It is one of those books which tempted me to go back to the beginning armed with the knowledge of the ending.

One of the obvious joys in this book was to read a good psychological thriller from a male perspective. I have often said I don’t need to like the protagonists of the books I read and so to read about a damaged man in his own words was fascinating in itself and really was a change from the other way around. Mike is obsessive in his love for Verity and we learn why that may be from his internal thoughts that occupy the first half of the book but we learn about those who inhabit his world and what his view of it does to them too. So very, very clever and utterly compelling.

I have been a fan of Araminta Hall ever since I read her first novel Everything and Nothing way back in 2011, which was followed by Dot in 2013 (which made my top ten reads of that year,) so I was absolutely delighted to be provided with an advance copy of Our Kind of Cruelty by the publishers Century. This unbiased review is my thank you to them and the exceptional author.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

The Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson #20booksofsummer

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A box decorated with butterflies is all that Clemency Smittson has to link her to her birth family and she has carted the box, designed for a baby to sleep in, through all the ups and downs of her life. Now it is packed into a van once more as Clemency makes the move to Brighton following the breakup of a relationship. Unfortunately her new beginning comes with unexpected baggage, her Mother is moving into the perfect flat that Clemency has found to run her business making re-loved jewellery.

A chance meeting sets off a chain of events that causes Clemency to reassess her relationships with her mother her deceased father and her new-found birth family. You can’t help but feel for someone whose life story isn’t quite what they believed it to be and yet Clemency knew she was adopted, after all her parents were white. One of my favourite scenes was when Clemency was young her father who took her to a hairdressers to learn to treat her hair properly while her mother tried to ignore the fact that her daughter had a different heritage. Her mother’s lifelong refusal to acknowledge her heritage has caused a chasm between the two that despite a mass of affection on both sides, only seems to widen.

As much as I felt for Clemency I have to admit my true sympathy was reserved for Clemency’s mother who bravely faces up to the fact that her daughter’s birth family also have something to offer, and I could see why she was genuinely worried about is the price Clemency might have to pay for the privilege.

The setting is brilliant with the quirky shops and seaside café complete with hunky barista. This is a Dorothy Koomson book and there are few writers that manage to play on my emotions with such a deft hand. One minute I’m furiously turning the pages to see what decisions characters are going to make while wondering how I would react in a similar situation and then BAM I’ve got a lump in my throat as another touching, but never mawkish, scene arrives leaving me struggling to swallow my cocktail.

As is often the case with this author’s books there are a number of issues explored but always with the lightest of touches leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. The intricacy mirrors Clemency’s work to take an old and unworn pieces of jewellery and recreate them into something that the owner will wear. The smaller tales that her customers relate at the start of this process add layers to the story and serve to make the overall story seem realistic. Clemency is a real woman, with values which are challenged in numerous ways by a variety of people and as a result I was totally involved in her story despite on the surface leading a very different life with few of the concealed elements that our protagonist has to contend with.

One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn’t pretend not everything is resolved in the way of a happy-ever-after but after all, real life isn’t like that, people aren’t like that but it does finish in a way that makes you feel that Clemency in some way gets to belong in a fundamental way, something that she’s never felt before.

That Girl From Nowhere is my 7th read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: April 2015
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Psychological Thriller
5*s

I have been a fan of Lisa Jewell’s writing for many, many years and through those years her writing has gone from light-hearted rom-coms via a very good historical fiction book through the shades of grey to Then She Was Gone which is very dark indeed.

Laurel Mack’s daughter Ellie was on her way to the library ten years ago when she went missing. The police believed she’d run away, but there were no sightings and Laurel and her husband Paul disintegrated under the weight of not knowing what had happened to their precious youngest daughter,  a girl who was just fifteen and about to sit her GCSE’s. With Ellie predicted high grades and no known problems at home she is remembered forever as a pretty teen by her parents and her older siblings Hanna and Jake, and if truth be told, she was her mother’s favourite.

What had Laurel’s life been like, ten years ago, when she’d had three children and not two? Had she woken up every morning suffused with existential joy? No, she had not. Laurel had always been a glass-half-empty type of person. She could find much to complain about in even the most pleasant of scenarios and could condense the joy of good news into a short-lived moment, quickly curtailed by some new bothersome concern…

 …That was how she’d once viewed her perfect life: as a series of bad smells and unfulfilled duties, petty worries and late bills.
And then one morning, her girl, her golden girl, her lastborn, her baby, her soulmate, her pride and her joy, had left the house and not come back.

So ten years down the line when Laurel meets a friendly single father in the local café she has got used to her own company, unlike Paul who has a new wife Bonny, Laurel has not been interested in meeting someone new. And then Laurel’s introduced to Paul’s daughter Poppy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ellie.

This is a book where the author gives enough pointers for what you assume is the answer to the main mystery fairly early on in the book and in doing so lets the characters walk off the pages and into your life where you will be hard pushed to forget them easily. But beware, not everything is quite as it seems and this novel turns out to be simultaneously a fantastic tale and yet on the other one that is entirely believable probably because the characters we meet are ones that are so realistic.

The narration is mainly done by Laurel, a woman who you can’t but help to sympathise with for her loss but also we here from Ellie, Lloyd and Noelle a strange but still realistic woman who has links to both families all of which reveal to us aspects of the tale that Laurel is blind to. The change in narrator and time periods are expertly handled and this is a psychological thriller which brilliantly hinges on the characters rather than high-octane action, making for a satisfying read because despite changes genres Lisa Jewell still writes with a sharp eye for details and emotions that we all experience while we are hopefully living slightly less dramatic lives than the characters in this book.

I highly recommend  Then You Were Gone  the perfect book to slip into the suitcase for a holiday read; I will now I sit and wait for Lisa Jewell to write her next book.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Then She Was Gone before publication today, 27 July 2017.

First Published UK: 27 July 2017
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 432
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

My favourite Lisa Jewell books:

click on the covers to read my reviews

Before I Met YouThe House We Grew Up InThe Making of UsThe Truth About Melody Browne

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

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

Hidden – Emma Kavanagh

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

On August 31 at 10:33 am at a Welsh hospital there is a shooting. This opening description isn’t for the faint-hearted, it was all too easily visualised thanks to Charlie’s detailed reporting, but then she is a reporter on the local paper. Amongst the casualties are a few familiar faces to Charlie.

Emma Kavangh has managed to create a complicated structure that actually works. With the story told from the number of days preceding ‘the shooting’ from different character’s viewpoints it does sound like a nightmare to navigate, but once I realised that the timeline wasn’t chronological, the earliest date six days before the shooting, beyond a brief reminder of what part of the story was being told and by whom, which is clearly signposted at the start of each chapter, it was remarkably straightforward. Nor did knowing the ending at the beginning ruin the tension, Emma Kavanagh keeps the identity of the shooter under wraps despite some of the tale being told from his viewpoint.

Did I guess the identity? Not on your Nelly! I had been far too busy chasing several of the well-placed red herrings. If a shooting wasn’t enough there is another big mystery and that is what happened to Charlie’s friend Emily who had recently been found dead on the M4, the police suspect that she’d wandered onto the motorway whilst drunk but Charlie suspects his death may be linked to a boy who is in a coma in Ward 12 of the hospital. Using her skills as an investigative journalist she sets out to uncover the truth. The other narrators to the story are Imogen, half of a twin and a psychologist at the hospital and Aden who is a member of the armed police tracking the shooter who had been spotted at the hospital days before the shooting. The main characters are all linked to each other, some more tenuously than others and just in case there isn’t enough to concentrate on the author gives us a few detailed sub-plots to follow too.

Emma Kavanagh was a police and military psychologist for a number of years and unsurprisingly this is evident with the psychology of dealing with extreme situations featuring strongly during the storyline. My preference is for the psychological thrillers I read to be based on real-life situations and for that reason I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read about a gunman which fortunately doesn’t feature in my life, but the author’s background made understanding how the firearms officers act and feel far more accessible than I expected. I really enjoyed this read with the only mild criticism being some over-blown writing in some parts which isn’t helped by the repetition of some of the phrases which added to the constant changing of character, time and sometimes the tense of the writing, most of which is written in the first person present tense, meant that this book could easily have tipped into the plain confusing rather than the satisfying read I found it to be.

I received a free copy of this tense, complicated but ultimately satisfying psychological thriller from Amazon Vine in return for my honest opinion. Hidden will be published on 23 April 2015. I am now going to read this author’s debut novel Falling that received many rave reviews last year.