Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Only Child – Rhiannon Navin

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This book reminded me a little of Room by Emma Donoghue as our narrator is a six year old child struggling to make sense of a terrifying event.

Zach is in a cupboard in the classroom with his teacher and classmates, through the door he can hear loud sounds and so despite having practised ‘lockdown’ events at school before he knows this isn’t a practice.

“Lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.”

I have to admit I struggled, straight away, it never occurred to me, despite the rise of violence in schools, particularly in the US, that children practiced for these events in the same way we did the odd fire drill as children. There is no overt violence witnessed that day, or at least not by Zach who having described the noises from his hiding place, the obvious fear of the other little children and the smells as they waited for the all clear. Sadly there are some fatalities. It soon turns out one of them is Zach’s older brother Andy.

“I could pick whatever I wanted, she said, so I put in the dollar and pressed the button for Cheetos. That’s junk food, and most of the time it’s a no to junk food, but today was a no-rules day, remember?”

This was a hard book to read and not just for senselessness that we all feel when we hear about another school shooting. The hard part was witnessing the grief of this one family through a child’s eyes. The reason why is in part the reason why it was such a good idea to read this from a child’s perspective because children are more honest than adults.

“Yesterday we did all the things we do every Tuesday, because we didn’t know that today a gunman was going to come”

Andy had oppositional defiant disorder which in child’s terms meant he made his mother and father angry and sad a lot of the time, and he was mean to Zach and so at first from his childlike perspective maybe life at home will be easier without Zach?

“And I thought about how we didn’t know then that it was going to be the last normal day, or maybe we would have tried not to have all the same fighting we always have.”

Of course it isn’t like that, and as the grief drives Zach’s mother on to campaign for the shooter’s family to be held responsible for their actions, sadly in her mission to ensure they are punished, she seems to have overlooked Zach’s continuing trauma. Zach’s father returns to work and Zach is left to amuse himself which he does in touching and yet believable ways. Always important when you are reading from a child’s viewpoint. He is an appealing child, and the power in his character, as in the rest of the book, is that it is realistic. People don’t instantly turn into ‘angels’ when tragedy strikes, in fact they often do incomprehensible things, all completely understandable, but it is a brave author who shines the light on how this can play out for both the family involved, and the wider community.

This was a thoughtful book, it dealt far less with the initial crime than I expected and the authors insights and portrayal into ‘life after’ were hard-hitting and to an extent confront all sorts of emotions felt that can’t be easily expressed by adults as a different expectation is laid on those bereaved. I was completely tied into the story and ended the book with tears dripping off the end of my nose – this definitely belongs to that list of books whose characters I won’t forget in a hurry.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Mamillan for allowing me to read a copy of Only Child, This unbiased review is a thanks to them and the author for such a well-written, if emotional, story.

First Published UK: 8 Feb 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Trick to Time – Kit de Waal

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Love and loss are the big questions that most of us have to deal with in life which on the one hand makes them universal but of course each love is different as is each loss. Kit de Waal has penned an almost understated story populated by seriously lovely characters devoted to the subject.

Mona sits in her flat in London staring at the day dawning when she notices a man in the block across the way from her. He is also awake and looking out, perhaps reaching out to those around him.

I wanted to both be friends with Mona and mother her, an odd combination particularly as she celebrates her sixtieth birthday during the course of this book. She’s a doll-maker, real old-fashioned dolls are made from wood by the carpenter and painstakingly painted and dressed by Mona and then sold, often to overseas buyers in Japan and America. Each doll is unique with a similarly unique wardrobe. Mona has a shop too and here she works day in day out with young Joley with her big boots and crop tops assisting her. Twice a year she meets her old friend Val from Birmingham, where Mona lived in the early 70s.

Mona also offers a personalised service for bereaved mothers and this is her side-line. Not one that is advertised or has a website like the dolls, but one where people are referred for help when a baby has died. In short Mona is a lovely lady with a big heart and whilst that had probably always been the case, we learn what led her to both professions by going back to the beginning when a young girl crossed the Irish Sea and made a life for herself in Birmingham. Living in a boarding house over time she meets William and so this becomes their story.

This is a gentle book which doesn’t mean boring, in fact far from it. The Trick to Time is fearsomely well-written and despite the subject matter it never descends into mawkishness, but rather I was impressed by Mona’s strength, although like her friend Val couldn’t help but feel that perhaps she should put herself first once in a while.

The book shifts backwards and forwards in time pulling in the details of Mona’s childhood, her mother’s illness, her father’s steadfastness and the ongoing sense of obligation to her distant relation Bridie. Ireland was too stifling for many youngsters at the time and so they moved to Birmingham where they stayed in boarding houses and missed their homes. Mona’s time in Birmingham is full of colour, of love and telephone calls across the water, but nothing stays the same, the trick to time is making the most of the good times.

Although this review mentions just a few characters, there are lots, all exquisitely detailed, and on the whole they are lovely people, unlike the majority that perhaps populate my normal reading matter. This is, like My Name is Leon, undoubtedly a character led novel with a message, but not one that the author feels she needs to force, her writing gives us all and I think that The Trick of Time will touch many people’s lives on a personal level, after all, most of us will love and lose throughout our lives.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Trick to Time ahead of publication in the UK on 29 March 2018. This unbiased review is thank you to them and the very talented Kit de Waal who bought Mona into my life.

First Published UK: 29 March 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Family Next Door – Sally Hepworth

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I’m a nosy person, one of my favourite occupations is imagine the lives of the people that live in the houses I pass on my way home. In a different age I suspect I would have been very much like my grandmother watching the comings and goings in the street. So it is unsurprising that I was drawn to this novel set in Melbourne following the lives of the people living on a cul-de-sac, Pleasant Court.

The neighbourhood includes a mother who left her daughter in a park, but three years on, Essie now has her mother Barbara close at hand as she has moved into a house on Pleasant Close too. The two women meet up regularly and Barbara is besotted with her grand-daughters. But Essie longs for a close friend, the neighbours wave and smile but they are not the type to pop in and out of each other’s houses. Then Isabelle rents the house which has been empty following a fire. Where she came from and what she does, and even her sexuality is a bit of a mystery.

In another house Angie’s real-estate business is going well, her two sons are enamoured with their X-Box and her husband is a photographer. He is gorgeous and handy in the home and yes, sometimes he is too interested in everyone else but Angie knows she is lucky. Fran is less obviously happy obsessively pounding the streets following the birth of her second daughter. What is she running from?

It is very hot, the neighbours are struggling to keep cool and Isabelle’s interest in the neighbours and their children is a bit intense.

Sally Hepworth has created a book that suits nosy people down to the ground. All of the characters are shockingly realistic with the dialogue pitch-perfect. There is a real knack to dovetailing interactions between the characters and their private thoughts and this author knows just how to make it work without resorting to the obvious sarcastic tone that many authors use to get around that gap between the public and private personas.

If the characterisation is spot-on the plot also swings gracefully over the bar. I thought I knew which direction the book was going in, I was resoundingly wrong and although the author did lead us down a path, the realisation wasn’t born from a left-field twist, the author went for a far subtler, and as a result, far more realistic swivel.

There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered which changes everything on Pleasant Close over the course of a summer and the resultant scenarios are on the whole things that you will have seen and no doubt had long intense conversations about. Despite the key storyline being unusual ultimately this book is about a variety of relationships which acknowledges that each one is different and often they can be complicated and of course that sometimes there are no easy answers. Whilst this book isn’t ‘heavy’ it does more than wrapping everything up in a pretty bow.

The overall result was a satisfying one. I felt for the characters when various secrets were revealed which meant that I had to seriously blink back those tears having stupidly decided that this would be a nice gentle book to read on a train. Sorry to the bemused man who sat opposite me!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton who allowed me to read The Family Next Door ahead of publication in the UK today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and the author Sally Hepworth for a thoroughly absorbing read.

First Published UK: 22 March 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Last Day – Claire Dyer #BookTour #GuestPost #BookReview

I was delighted to be invited to take part in this blog tour especially as the author generously offered to write an exclusive post.

Read what Claire Dyer has to say about polyamorous relationships!

The love triangle bug

Like many authors, I’ve caught the love triangle bug.

It all started when I took part in one of those ‘sum up your book in three words’ things on Twitter. I’d just begun the novel that was to become The Last Day and replied, ‘Crazy Love Triangle’ but I didn’t really know at that stage how this particular love triangle would play out.

I’d also been aware of features in the press about polyamorous relationships which seem, on the face of it, supremely glamorous but, being a monogamous type, I do struggle to understand how these might actually work out.

But, in the spirit of tapping into the zeitgeist, I wanted to blend the two and so in the novel I have my three main characters living in the same house as one another and all loving each other in slightly different ways, the result of which is that decisions get made and choices are taken that change their lives forever.

And, what I also decided to do in The Last Day was to alter the standard dynamics of the love triangle and make my two heroines like each other. As Vita says about her husband’s new lover, ‘… it would have been easier if I’d hated her’ but she doesn’t. What I wanted to do in this book was to talk above love in its many colours and so in my love triangle, there are no clear lines. In fact, it’s less of a triangle and more of a Venn diagram with a number of interlocking sections.

However, let’s just think about some other love triangles. There’s Scarlett, Ashley and Rhett in Gone With the Wind; Ilsa, Rick and Victor in Casablanca; Bella, Edward and Jacob in The Twilight Saga; Bridget, Mark and Daniel in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the huge array of triangles in Jane Austen’s novels, including: Elizabeth, Darcy & Wickham; Marianne, Brandon and Willoughby; Elinor, Edward and Lucy, and let’s not even get started on Shakespeare! The list, it seems, is quite endless.

What is it that makes love triangles so beguiling? Personally, I love writing them because they’re a challenge: can I write from three different points of view and make each one so that the reader believes in them and wants what they want, so that if there is a ‘happy ever after’, even if someone has to lose out in the end, the reader is on the side of all three?

The plot possibilities of love triangles are infinite and that’s what makes writing them such a wonderful thing to do.

 

My Review

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

The Last Day is a poignant and beautifully written novel and although it is quite different to my normal choice of reading matter, I loved it.

The synopsis had me wondering what I’d let myself in for. We have Boyd in his forties moving in with his wife along with his twenty-seven year old new girlfriend. The cynic in me doubted whether this was really a likely scenario but what Claire Dyer excels at is characterisation, and boy did these characters get under my skin.

Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years and the reader has to wait quite a while to find out what their last day consisted of before the decision was made to go their separate ways. Honey the young girlfriend works with Boyd at his Estate agency along with the steadfast Trixie. Honey is far more likeable than I’d imagined she would be but like all of the protagonists in the book has secrets. As the book progresses I wondered which one of these was going to blow the roof off the set-up. Boyd, Vita and Honey are people with faults and pasts, but they are also incredibly real and ultimately ‘nice’ people. If you are looking for a tale of discord, this isn’t the book for you.

The story is told from different viewpoints with each chapter devoted to one or other of the characters. This is done so very well as we slowly get to know all the different aspects to each one. I’ll admit I was drawn in by the excellent writing; this was one of those books that I started and knew that I would enjoy whichever direction the book followed. This isn’t a typical tale of dysfunction, it is actually a sympathetic portrayal of marriage, love the way life changes and grief. Now I usually steer well clear of books concerning grief because this is a topic I don’t like to dwell on but perhaps because the grief in this novel is not raw and the characters concerned have an understanding of the journey they’ve been through, I found it in accordance with my own experiences in some of the smaller details. I certainly think it helped that the author somehow manages to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently.

This is a reflective book which if I were reading those words in another person’s review I’d take to mean slow, but this book isn’t. Instead it is one of those rare novels book that allows you to think about what you’ve read, sometimes by reading between the words, a difficult skill to pull off but so very effective when it is done as well as it is in The Last Day. I doubt whether there will be many readers that don’t happen upon a situation or characteristic that they recognise either in themselves or someone close to them.

As I said earlier the characters make this book, there is a certain amount of looking back which I think is common once we get to a certain age, but plenty to keep the reader entertained with the emotions that lie behind the characters actions. There is a mystery, a secret – or two or three – and a bit of danger to spice things up so there is no time to get bored. I was very sad to say goodbye to all the characters but particularly Vita and her pet portraits as she entertained me with her no-nonsense attitude, one that hides a multitude of complexities.

I’d like to say a big thank you to The Dome Press who provided me with an advance copy of The Last Day. This unbiased review is my thank you to them. Even better I realised that I have one of this author’s previous books The Perfect Affair on my kindle and it now won’t be long before I read that one too.

First Published UK: 15 February 2018
Publisher:The Dome Press
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Eve Chase has penned a brilliant story which flips between events at the somewhat dilapidated house Black Rabbit Hall in Cornwall between 1968 and the present day; one where long buried secrets are eventually uncovered.

In 1968 the house is the holiday retreat for the Alton family. Amber and Toby are fifteen year old twins with two younger siblings Barney and Kitty are four and five, full of the wonder of young children. Their parents Hugo and Nancy are a solid couple, still in love but Easter 1968 changes everything for the entire family.

Many decades later Lorna is looking for a wedding venue. Happy holidays in Cornwall draw her far away from the home she shares with Jon in Bethnal Green to find the perfect location. The place where she used to explore country houses with her recently deceased mother. The draw of Black Rabbit Hall in all its shabbiness confuses and worries Jon.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of dual timeline stories and unlike many both storylines in this novel are equally appealing. In the past we hear about events mainly from Amber’s viewpoint at the tail-end of what has been an uncomplicated life living in a family where love abounds. In the present, although Lorna has finally found a man to depend on, it is clear that her life hasn’t been quite so uncomplicated, her relationship with her mother certainly on far less solid ground.

The author brings the house to life vividly and completely. Items left in draws, or of importance to the Alton children turn up later on in the story giving the reader sharp points of recognition that resonate.

There are so many children’s things, seemingly left where they were thrown. In the corner of the room, partially covered by a blanket, is a dappled grey rocking horse the size of a small pony. Beneath its front hoofs, a dolly’s cradle. Closer to the door, a mildewed pile of books: The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Milly Molly Mandy, Rupert Annual 1969… A shiver tingles up her spine – she’d read and loved many of these books as a child: an instant bond with the departed children, one that transcends both time and class.

The style of writing is that the book moves backwards to the Alton’s story and forward to Lorna’s often leaving the reader on the brink of a key revelation, a trap to keep her reader’s turning those pages the frustration only momentary as you are instantly plunged into another heart-rending moment at another point in time. Eve Chase is almost like a magician, she points you in one direction having firmly shut off the obvious avenue of where the story will lead, only for this misdirection to be revealed for the trickery that it is much further down the line.

Be warned Black Rabbit Hall will wring every drop of emotion from you. I was left full-on sobbing at the end which was pitch-perfect for all that had gone before. A beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga. This was the author’s debut novel a book I bought having chosen her second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde as one of my Top Ten Books published in 2017. Which one is better? They are both are simply wonderful – firm favourites with this reader and hopefully Eve Chase will conjure up another wonderful story for me to read sooner rather than later.

Black Rabbit Hall was my fifth book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in August 2017 it is worth another third of a book token.

 

First Published UK: 2 July 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Story of Our Lives – Helen Warner

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

How would we survive without friends for support? The Story of Our Lives follows four women; Sophie, Melissa, Emily and Amy over twenty years in short bursts an unusual structure that gives an insight into the momentous occasions that we all encounter during our lives.

The first time we meet the friends is on their weekend break in Southwold in August 1997 following the death of Princess Diana. Sophie is in a long-term relationship with someone she met at university, wondering perhaps if she settled down too soon. Melissa is searching for something, Emily is still slightly defensive about being a single mother to Jack and Amy revels in cooking up sumptuous dishes for them all. In other words although the four met at university their lives, even at this point are very different as are their hopes and dreams for the future, We know that there is a big secret to be revealed but what will it be? Will the friendship survive?

By the time we catch up with the four in Whitstable in 1998, the year Bill Clinton admitted to having relations with Monica Lewinsky, secrets being shared that will remain within the tight circle that will have repercussions down the line.

And so it goes on we meet the women, not every year, as they meet up in different destinations, always prefaced with a news story from the time, and we watch them change and grow as the obstacles of life are flung down in their paths. In the wrong hands this format could leave the reader feeling that there are gaps in the tale, but I’m pleased that Helen Warner has it nailed. Where necessary characters take a reflective look back over the past and the dialogue provides us with the women’s thoughts and views on any particular issue.

Inevitably, as in real-life, the friendship will be tested at times providing the reader with moments of tension as the women struggle to come to terms with the consequences. Although the book is a definite celebration of friendship there is some depth and some thorny issues tackled within the storyline avoiding the mushy and false view that life can be solved by the shoulder of a good friend. At different points the women have to take responsibilities and face the consequence of their decisions, and we all know that isn’t easy no matter who has your back!

I really enjoyed the preface to each section with the news story, although it made me feel old as I kept saying ‘surely that wasn’t that long ago!’ and the author marks the progress of technology in a subtle way so that as we move time periods the timeline is firmly fixed.

An emotional read that will see each of the women face difficulties as well as moments of joy and their friends reaction to each of these significant moments.

A delightful and uplifting read which is likely to have its readers reflecting on their own friendships.

I was grateful to receive a copy of The Story of Our Lives from Lovereading UK and this unbiased view is my thanks to them and the publisher HQ for allowing me to read about Sophie, Melissa, Emily and Amy’s stories ahead of publication on 8 February 2018.

First Published UK: 8 February 2018
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read

Turning for Home – Barney Norris #BlogTour #BookReview

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A Grandfather on his eightieth birthday and his grand-daughter a mere quarter of a century old are the figureheads for the talented Barney Norris’s latest book, Turning For Home but don’t be mislead this is far deeper than the conventional birthday gathering where memories are both revived and made.

Robert Shawcross is eighty and despite the loss of his wife the year before he is holding his annual birthday party, the one Hattie his wife instigated when he was forty, originally conceived as an opportunity for the scattered family to gather. The party itself has diminished over the last few years with the decline in the older family members but Hattie’s sister Laura has taken up the baton and is there preparing the food for the gathering.

Robert is moved to reflect on his life, a civil servant he spent much of his time in Belfast and was there at the time of the Enniskellen bombing on Remembrance Sunday in 1987. A bomb which killed many civilians, missing the British Troops it was planned to kill. The reflection of this time is prompted by the arrest of the Sinn Fein Leader in 2014, the news hitting the press just before Robert’s big party. The Boston Tapes were recordings of interviews carried out with Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries between 2001 and 2006 on the understanding that they would not be published until the interviewee was dead, what it seems no-one had appreciated was that these men could implicate those still living, leading to the arrest of Gerry Adams following a police probe.

So we have real life events based on the ‘Troubles’ with both the Enniskellen bombing and the Boston Tapes but Barney Norris chooses smaller more intimate stories against this gigantic backdrop. We have Robert’s story, the part he thinks he played in the negotiations towards peace along with recognition that he was one small cog in a whole bigger wheel, told alongside his Grand-daughter, Kate’s tale whose far shorter life hasn’t been without its own struggles. Her story is less clear to begin with but with incremental revelations we see a young woman who had much to live for until tragedy struck and her life derailed leading to a spell in hospital. Kate’s story is of loss and of her search for something that perhaps will never materialise. This is a story of families who never really know the truth about each other and individuals who struggle with the gaps between the truth and hope.

And I think perhaps it’s very human as well. Isn’t the life of any person made up of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them.

This is a deeply poignant book, as books about characters nearing the end of their life are bound to be in some respects but it also has a message of hope. That just because the space between reality and dreams is wider than we’d like shouldn’t stop us from trying. Kate’s story is painful to read at times but worth persevering with, seeming just as relevant to this reader as the wider canvas that is its backdrop.

Barney Norris gives us both stories, interspersed with extracts from the Boston tapes, with lyrical prose and real depth. The struggles the two character’s face being unique to them but the language used will strike a chord as it charts the rise and fall of human emotions that are common to all of our lives.

A fantastic tale of betrayal, of love and hope and all the great emotions we ride throughout our lifetimes bought down in scale reflected through two people’s eyes, hearts and minds.

I’d like to thank the publishers Transworld who allowed me to read a copy of Turning for Home before publication on 11 January 2018, a book I was keen to read having thoroughly enjoyed Barney Norris’s debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain as well as Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course the author, Barney Norris.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Transworld Books
No of Pages:272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Don’t forget to catch the other stops on the Turning For Home Blog Tour which runs until 17 January 2018!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Faking Friends – Jane Fallon

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This book was just what I needed in the post-Christmas haze, a story of revenge played out in exquisite detail between Amy and her best friend Mel.

Jane Fallon has the knack of making what could be a flat tale of a friendship gone wrong into one where I genuinely cared about some of the characters, a book that made me wish that some of the lovely people that surround Amy were in my life too, although I have to say I’d give Mel a miss.

Amy and Mel grew up in a small village near Maidenhead in Buckinghamshire, best friends since the age of eleven when Mel offered the hand of friendship which Amy grasped willingly. Mel, even at that age knew she was going to be famous and the fabulous caricature which is Sylvia, ensures that she is turned out for any auditions with ringlets in her hair and blue eye-shadow pasted to her eyelids. Amy stayed in the background and decides to go to university to study history but the girl’s friendship is too strong for the separation to lead to a cooling of their relationship.

When we first meet her Amy returns from working in America for a surprise visit. She heads for her flat that she shares with her fiancé Jack to prepare for Mel’s fortieth birthday party. Surprised (understatement intended) to find another woman’s belongings in her home, complete with toiletries in the bathroom, she determines to find out who they belong to.

The scenes are set with just enough drama to be entertaining without over-egging the pudding which could tip them into farce. Amy has decided not to confront Jack with what she knows until she has made a plan, and for anyone who has for whatever reason, had to be evasive with the people they are closest to, will recognise the awkwardness this quickly causes.

Most of the story is told from Amy’s perspective interspersed with the girl’s back-story of the long friendship which adds depth to the narrative in the present time as Amy decides to get down and dirty to get her own back. Later on we get some input from Mel herself, something that threw me at first as I didn’t see it coming, but was well worth it as we see the set up some action which plays out like a slow-motion car crash.

As is usual in this domestic noir type story there is a romance, friends that go above and beyond the call of duty. The problems of living on the outskirts of North London, the cost of rent, the lack of fashionable shops and the trek to get anywhere useful are all dotted through the narrative thus appealing to all those commuters that will probably see this book advertised on the tube. With guest appearances by a cat, a seventies rug and a various assortment of furniture, this book is sure to appeal all of us who want to believe that life doesn’t end when a relationship does.

I love a bit of fun and frippery, Jane Fallon has the ability to make me chuckle and wince in the space of a page but even the revenge planned and executed isn’t nasty with a capital N. In my opinion those who wronged Amy got everything they deserved!

I’d like to say a big thank you to one of my favourite publishers, Penguin UK who allowed me to read a copy of Faking Friends ahead of publication on 11 January 2018.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 447
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

One Day in December – Shari Low

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Take one day and four strangers; by the time the clock strikes midnight, nothing will be quite the same for any of them again.

I chose this book at a time when I was beginning to appreciate the mixing up of my genres and thought that this sounded much lighter than my normal murder and mayhem, and it was, but please don’t mistake that phrase to mean that it wasn’t just as clever as the most intricate of mystery plots!

The four strangers are Caro, Lila, Cammy and Bernadette – Caro & Lila are in their early thirties, Cammy about a decade older and Bernadette is grandmother, a woman in her fifties. The plot is complex because there is a cast of if not quite thousands, many, many characters, and yet at no point did I feel confused. Even better for those who like an aide memoire, the section before the prologue gives a who’s who guide.

Mel Cairney – The unrequited love of Cammy’s life, now happily married to Josie’s son, Michael, and living in Italy.

One Day in December is told over a twenty-four hour period starting on Saturday 23 December at one minute past midnight and finishing (except for epilogues parts one and two) at a minute past midnight on the same day. As you can imagine the author has lots to fit in with the four strangers present lives and to ensure that their actions make sense, their back stories and the feel of the read is fast and furious which gave rise to plenty heart in the mouth moments.

In short the story is:
Caro sets off on a train to try to track down her Dad to see if what she’s discovered could possibly be true, Lila is busy taking selfies while waiting to drop a bombshell on her married lover’s life, Cammy is planning a proposal against the advice of his closest friends and Bernadette has decided she’s had enough and is leaving her bullying husband of thirty years. 23 December is a definitely a busy day for these four whilst the rest of the world is doing their last-minute Christmas shopping.

With all of that busyness in the storyline you could be forgiven for expecting the characters to be broad brushstrokes on the page but again, Shari Low’s prowess with her pen had me amazed. I cared about several of these characters, despised a couple more and had admiration for others, I laughed with some of the characters and laughed at others and these are not the sort of emotions that can be evoked without having a real feeling of who these people were.

This book is one whose ending deserves a special mention which I alluded to earlier – as all the action happens in twenty-four hours (and two minutes) the finale can only ever take us so far and the two epilogues wrap things up whilst staying true to the book that precedes it.

I raced through this book and sometimes that means that the experience is a little like when you gobble up a sweet dessert but soon forget quite how it tasted; I haven’t forgotten this book though. How could I? It has far too much substance!

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of One Day in December via the publishers, Aria, and this review is my unbiased thanks to them, and the huge talent which is Shari Low. This may be the first book I’ve read by this author but it definitely won’t be my last.

First Published UK: 1 September 2017
Publisher: Aria
No of Pages: 296
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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