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

And So It Begins – Rachel Abbott

Psychological Thriller
5*s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Lighthouse – P.D. James #20BooksofSummer

Crime Fiction
4*s

One of my favourite tropes in mystery novels one where there is a limited number of suspects. This is quite hard to make believable even in times gone by, but in more modern settings it has to be a challenge to have a cast iron setting. One of the only reasonable places for this set-up has to be an island which no-one can get to, and of course no-one can leave. P.D. James has therefore sensibly chosen the secluded island of Combe off the coast of Cornwall. Even better this island is used as a retreat for under-pressure men and women, only those of the better classes need apply of course.

At the time of the unexplained death on the island was preparing for some very important guests and so the murder needs the brightest and the best to investigate, so that would be Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They all drop there current work and hurry to the island.

In the best traditions of this kind of murder mystery is that the dead person wasn’t exactly a likeable person. I say the best tradition because it is far easier to read about murder when there is a part of you that can’t help feel that it isn’t any great loss to the world. This way you can concentrate on helping the police from the side-lines without any emotional involvement wasted.

I’ve always enjoyed reading P.D. James’s novels and this one was no exception, the plotting was brilliant with many of the limited number of suspects having a reason to what the victim bumped off, it wasn’t at all easy to detect who the perpetrator was with my thoughts changing as the story progressed.

The characters are predictably an unusual bunch and most of them quite frankly not the kind you would invite around for dinner, but they were distinct with some depth and of course their own motivation for wanting the victim dead, but being unlikable doesn’t mean they are killers.

So onto the setting, an island complete with all the features of island life. The reliance on being able to escape is dependent on the tides, the visibility through the continual threat of mist and fog and of course not forgetting the main feature the lighthouse which despite being on the coast, holds centre stage within the book itself.

This book was written in 2005 and features the SARS which was the health scare of this time, being a highly infectious respiratory disease and it is worth noting that the author was the grand age of 84 at the time it was written. It did become fashionable to say that the latter books lack the originality of those written earlier but having read this one and comparing it to modern crime writers I am moved to say, I like the certain old-fashioned feel, and find some of the author’s attempt to modernise the writing more jarring than when she followed her heart and wrote to a plot that is tried and tested with her own twists which are devious and clever. The Lighthouse is the 13th out of 14 in the Adam Dalgliesh series

The Lighthouse is my eleventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that took me back to an author who became a firm favourite at the start of my foray into crime fiction.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Death of Mrs Westaway – Ruth Ware

Psychological Thriller
4*s

Well that was a creepy read! It is odd but somehow I always associate the creepy aspect with historical novels, after all we are too aware of the present in modern times to get spooked by an old crumbling house complete with scary housekeeper, aren’t we?

Ruth Ware is one of those writers who really knows how to create an atmosphere and so even though the greater part of this book is set in the present and that in the past only dates back to 1995, I was drawn into a world of the improbable with barely a question.

Hal (Harriet) Westaway is broke. Not the sort of broke that afflicts most twenty-somethings on a regular basis but the sort that means she is in danger of losing the only home she’s ever known, and perhaps not without damage since she’s in hock to a loan shark. She returns home one night to find a letter, one from said loan shark (or one of his mates) and one from a solicitor in Penzance who claims to have a bequest from her Grandmother who has recently died. Only problem is that Hal’s grandmother wasn’t Hester Westaway and she certainly didn’t live at Trepassen House before she died.

Of course we take a trip to Trepassen House for ourselves and find a property that is almost a character in its own right. It’s the full gothic experience complete with barred windows and secret messages and of course the very creepy housekeeper. Not quite what Hal is used to. Ok she may be in dire straits money wise but she plies her trade in reading Tarot cards on Brighton pier and her home is the only one she’s ever known. That’s not to say Ruth Ware doesn’t impress on her readers the difference of this seaside pier in the winter time, having its very own atmosphere. Safe to say she’s slightly out of her depth in this situation. Hal’s mother died and it’s her business Hal has inherited but her mother wasn’t one to mince her words, always reminding Hal:

Don’t fall into the trap of believing your own lies.

This story despite obviously being set in the present, something the author embraces rather than tries to disguise, has an old-fashioned quality to it. The sense of danger is only all too imaginable when you put yourself in the shoes of a young woman with no money even if she is someone who is not an out-and-out innocent. Normally I find myself getting highly irritated by characters who do stupid things – I’m sat tutting and shaking my head saying ‘well what did you think was going to happen?’ but somehow this author had me bought into the storyline so that, under the circumstances, the decisions seemed plausible. There are shades of Daphne Du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith but fear not this story is an original.

I can’t leave this review without stating quite how brilliantly Hal is portrayed. This definitely isn’t a one-dimensional character, she is made of shades of grey with all the complexities that real people have, something she is never more aware of than when she is reading the tarot cards for her eager audiences.

I highly recommend this book which is perhaps more suited to an autumnal evening with the rain lashing down, but fear not, I was chilled despite lying in the sunshine devouring every last word of this masterpiece.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Death of Mrs Westaway which is published today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course Ruth Ware for the thoroughly entertaining read.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cliff House – Amanda Jennings

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This atmospheric story is set on the coast of Cornwall in 1986 where we meet the shy and unhappy Tamsyn as she perches on the cliff-top spying on the comings and goings at the Cliff House. The summer holidays have started and Tamsyn leaves her brother sleeping, sneaks the spare key her mother has to clean the house and resolves to have a proper look inside the house.

This book is mesmerising mainly because of the lyrical prose set against the chilling background of the rich Edie’s friendship with poor Tamsyn. Tamsyn is still struggling to come to terms with her father’s death, the poverty the family are experiencing as the local tin mine shut leaving her brother out of work with no real prospect of finding something to replace it. Tamsyn’s mother juggles jobs but is tiring of just managing and has begun to forge a new relationship. Tamsyn is less than happy with this being as she is full of grief and the angst of being a sixteen year old girl who is somewhat obsessed with the house and its occupants.

Edie has been expelled from her boarding school when the family decamps for an entire summer in the back of beyond in Cornwall. Away from everyone and everything she knows she feels adrift especially as things behind the windows are not as Tamsyn imagines them to be. The meaning of life really isn’t found by the expensive scarf discarded by the swimming pool on the terrace, or the jewels or even the fame the family enjoy because Max Davenport is a best-selling author. Edie is far more worldly-wise than Tamsyn and yet the two forge an often uncomfortable relationship as the summer progresses.

This isn’t a book full of fast-moving action, it is one where the characters lead the way towards a darker and darker heart. We have the imagery, the black raven being the main one which Tamsyn is sure foretells disaster, after all she saw one before her father died, one night at sea in a terrible storm. The relationships between the well-to-do Davenports and Edie, her brother Jago all bind them tighter together, often unwillingly but always inevitably.

The contrast between the families is stark, the descriptions of Tamsyn’s mother unfolding her bed as she’d given up the room she shared with her husband to his elderly father. The lack of money for anything more than the bare necessities are scattered throughout the book without ever becoming ‘shouty’ something that isn’t required when Tamsyn is given her first glass of champagne by Max Davenport at Cliff House.

Reading The Cliff House I felt drawn into Tamsyn’s obsession with the house and its owners and as the girls negotiate their uneven friendship I felt for her with her obvious feeling of inferiority but Edie doesn’t get things all her own way and she has her own problems that she’s trying to hide. Before we close the book, not only do we see how the summer ended, and even better a peak at what happened next.

I have to commend Amanda Jennings on her story-telling; whilst this is a different type of tale to In Her Wake, it is also makes for compulsive reading including as it does the hat-trick of superbly drawn characters, an atmospheric yet changeable setting and a darkness that enthralled this reader.

I am very grateful to the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Cliff House prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

Erin Kelly has once again proved that she is an extremely talented writer, one who weaves a tale full of twists and turns, yet without resorting to cheap tricks. This is a book that stands proud in a now crowded genre, one that relies on superb plotting and brilliantly nuanced characters, the result being I was convinced by both.

In 1999 Laura and Kit were at Lizard’s Point in Cornwall to watch the total eclipse of the sun. For Laura this was her first experience but Kit and his twin brother Mac had, along with their father Lachlan, travelled far and wide as part of a group of eclipse chasers to see this rare phenomenon. In Cornwall Mac, his girlfriend Ling and Kit had decided to make some money to cover the trip by selling hot drinks at the festival but with the British weather being, well, British, the event isn’t as well attended as expected. Laura turns up having travelled down later and watches the eclipse with suitable awe and then stumbles across a young woman, her own age, being raped. Or that is what she believes.

With the story moving backwards and forwards from 11 August 1999 to fifteen years later when Kit is planning to travel to the Faroe Islands, chasing another eclipse, we learn what an impact that meeting had on all four characters and the ripples haven’t decreased with the passing years.

He Said/She Said
looks at the issue of rape from a number of perspectives with the court room reflecting the crux of the matter, as the title indicates. Jamie, the accused says that Laura got it wrong, he was having consensual sex with Beth when he was interrupted by the couple. Beth maintains it was non-consensual but she froze in the moment. Kit didn’t see anything, he was lagging behind but followed Jamie when he left the scene at Laura’s behest. There are other elements familiar from news reports of some recent big trials not least the fact that Jamie’s family are wealthy, he has a top lawyer and his family, including his fiancée, are in the courtroom supporting him. Who will the jury believe?

So we have a very modern tale told in the main by Laura and Kit which should have concluded the day the trial was over but Beth needing support from those who were there turns up at their London flat and is welcomed, at least by Laura. Kit is less sure, worried that if there is an appeal, that the girls have undermined any chance of a retrial by potentially being accused of colluding with each other. Three’s a crowd begins to be a very apt saying as tensions increase.

This is an involved and thoughtful tale, one that really did make me think but I’m delighted to report that Erin Kelly never forgets that she is writing to entertain her reader and she avoids bashing the reader over the head about rape, and the trials that all too rarely follow such an accusation. I believe it is a sign of a writer who has confidence, not only in herself, but of her readers to air the important issues this way.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot, which is excellent not only in the premise but also in its execution. The pace had me travelling through the chapters, headed up by images of the sun at various points of an eclipse, as I became more immersed in a story and characters that I truly believed in.

Trust me, you really don’t want to miss out on this book!

First Published UK: 20 April 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages:  416
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Erin Kelly

The Poison Tree – 2010
The Sick Rose – 2011
The Burning Air -2013
The Ties that Bind – 2014
Broadchurch: The Novel – 2014

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

In Her Wake – Amanda Jennings

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

Well this is a belter of a book, one that both took me by surprise and delighted me with the affection I felt for the key characters. In my mind a successful book has a number of elements, a mystery, a strong plot underpinned by believable characters, preferably in extraordinary circumstances, In Her Wake hits these and has that special something extra too.

Bella has led a sheltered life. She’s a librarian at a university, the wife of a much older, protective man David. Nothing is too much for him, he even lovingly reminds her when to put a sweater on to avoid feeling the cold. Bella and David return to The Vicarage in Cornwall, Bella’s childhood home, where she had been home-schooled by her adoring mother Elaine. The funeral was a fairly dismal affair, Elaine and her father Henry having been estranged from their wider family so it is after a pretty bleak stay that they prepare to leave, but then events take a turn for the worse. Henry leaves Bella a note telling her that her whole life has been based on a lie, not a little lie but a big fat juicy one.

After this shock Bella struggles to cope, unsurprisingly, and begins to find David’s solicitous attention stifling rather than soothing. Dwelling on the information that Henry had belatedly bestowed, she decides to travel to St Ives to investigate what her father has told her. Leaving David behind she boards a train and for the first time in her life, has only herself to rely on. In St Ives she finds a place to stay and learns about the Celtic legend of Morveren.

I’m not going to say anything further about the plot as the less you know going into it the more delightful the experience will be. What I will say is that this is a psychological thriller of years gone by. From the very first page I had a sense of unease but with no clue as to what was going to be revealed. This is no fast and furious read full of twists and turns, it is the wise older sister to that style, full of real unveiling of the characters their own actions to expose the truth behind the façade. This rarefied storytelling allows each sentence to mean something at times with something approaching poetry.

With the characters all experiencing a wide range of emotions the author did a fantastic job of portraying those who relished in confrontation with those who avoided it and then when the subject matter switched, those who’d been happy to shout the odds, behaved differently, and yet remained entirely believable – what I’m trying to say that each character was the combination of their experience, no one was always shouty or always timid, depending on circumstance, and typically difficult situation, they reacted accordingly which made for a brilliant read. There was no doubt in my mind that these were real people, struggling with an unusual situation.

The setting itself, lends itself to magnificent description but the author adds to the beauty of the scenery by contrasting it with the inside of a one particular house, fusty and dark full of memories, truths, despair and desperation. The scenes by the sea where Bella pondered on the fate of Morveren, were sometimes dark, but again, not always so we get the contrast in the setting as well as those of the characters.

If you couldn’t already tell, I loved this book. Psychological thrillers are not the place I expect to meet characters that get under my skin quite so much, and that plural is fully intended, there were a few people in this book that I wanted to meet along the way, to give them a hug and wish them well on their journey.

First Published UK: 22 March 2016
Publisher: Orendo Books
No of Pages: 340
Genre: Psychological Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Lake House – Kate Morton

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose to keep my copy of The Lake House for reading as my first read of the year as I had a feeling that I might not want to put it down and I was right I didn’t.

As in all of Kate Morton’s tales the story is split across different time periods; firstly in 1933 where Alice Edavane lives with her parents, her two sisters and her baby brother Theo at Loeanneth. Alice is in her teens already sure that she doesn’t want what her elder sister Deborah wants which is to go to London and marry well. Oh no, she is far too interested in writing stories and living at home for ever helping her father with his natural history studies. So far so normal but on the night of the Midsummer ball the Edavane’s host annually, something terrible happens and life will never be the same again..

Years into the future in 2003 the Metropolitan Police have been looking for a mother whose young daughter was left alone for days. Sadie Sparrow, a detective finds herself at odds with her superiors and is packed off for enforced leave to let the dust settle. She decides to stay with her Grandfather Bertie in Cornwall. Bored and worried about both her past and her future she hears of an unsolved crime and decides to investigate. Between that and her running she anxiously awaits the verdict on whether she still has a career to return to.

There are layers to this story which span far more years than the two main ones mentioned, we visit the battlefields of WWI, suburbia in the 1980s among plenty of others in-between, and as always with this author, I got a sense that this was backed up by solid research that underpins but never overshadows the story in hand. There are books within the book as well, a murder mystery and a children’s storybook that featured Mrs Edavane, Constance, as a young girl. So the stories swirl around each other, connected but each satisfying in their own right.

This is a large book at just over 600 pages and they are all packed with details or actions so none were inserted to make up the numbers! While not fast the pace of the book is consistent without that dreaded dip in the middle, and the characters are varied with realistic lives, hopes and dreams, which is always a bonus. The author has worked hard to make the largish cast rounded, nearly every single character had their fair share of emotions and motivations, some with a hint of a darker side.

In amongst the sheer readability is a solid mystery to be solved, along with a few more minor ones. I’m not going to pretend that some of the reveals don’t hinge on massive coincidences, but I found that easy to forgive in such an engaging and entertaining tome of a book, it does come with the territory for these type of historical split time-line stories and Kate Morton carries it off with far more aplomb than most. It was one of those books that I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to once I’d read the last page, it was that satisfying a read but my copy is now off to my friend who I’m sure will love it just as much as I did!

I’ve read all of Kate Morton’s previous books, you can see two sitting on my bookshelf on the header to this post and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely.

The House at Riverton
The Forgotten Garden
The Distant Hours
The Secret Keeper

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cold Cold Sea – Linda Huber

Psychological Thriller 4*'s
Psychological Thriller
4*’s

This book was compelling reading although at times I wanted to do so from behind a cushion as every parent’s nightmare unfolds over 256 pages. This book is almost understated in tone but beware it is full of raw emotions and drills into your mind making it a book that you won’t easily forget.

I was instantly dragged into memories of summer days sat on the beach entertaining children with rock pools and sandcastles. For Olivia’s mother Maggie she felt hurt when her daughter spurned her attention and wanted to look in the rock pools with her father Colin and big brother Joe, with the Cornish beach empty she makes her way across to them and Maggie pours herself a cup of coffee and waits for them to return for biscuits. When the Colin and Joe make their way back there is the awful realisation that Olivia is missing. Colin’s reaction isn’t sugar-coated, he is furious with his wife and when the search finds no trace of the little girl he goes with his son to his parent’s house leaving Maggie to wait for the return of her daughter.

A few weeks later teacher Katie who is preparing her classroom for the infants starting at the private school where she works, she’s a little nervous and easily intimidated by the mothers who look like they’ve stepped out of glamorous magazines but soon she has sufficiently worried about Hailey Marshall to visit her mother. Disturbed by the lack of feeling Jennifer Marshall shows her young daughter she talks to her colleagues who soon reassure her that with Jenifer Marshall pregnant with twins and her husband Peter away caring for his sick grandmother that hormones and tiredness are the most likely cause.

In this clever story it is easy to work out exactly what Jennifer’s problem is and as the story drags you along through difficult scene after scene it felt like watching a slow-motion car crash. I knew the fall-out would be enormous but kept reading to find out who for. The plot is audacious but keeps to just the right side of believable when you take everything the author tells us into account. The story is told from the three women’s points of view; Maggie, Jennifer and Katie all mull over their feelings as they try to make sense of what is happening. I did find the narrative a little lacking in interaction and conversation due to this introspection but given the nature of the storyline it served well in adding to the tension which mounts until the superb ending.

I’d like to thank Legend Press for giving me a copy of this novel in return for this honest review and since I haven’t read Linda Huber’s debut novel, The Paradise Trees, it has gone onto my list of books I must have.

Warning – Parents don’t read this book at the beach particularly if you need to keep an eye on the children!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Secrets We Left Behind – Susan Elliot Wright

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

How does a woman learn to live with a secret that has been buried for more than thirty years? Not just any old secret, one that makes her heart pound with fear whenever she considers the truth coming out!  The prologue starts in Sheffield in 2010 with a woman skulking in the bushes trying to catch a glimpse of a loved one.

In 2009 where we meet our protagonist, a woman who has everything she could have wished for: a loving husband, a daughter she is proud of, a beautiful house and job where she helps others less fortunate than herself, but when she believes she may have seen someone from long ago, she is scared, and then the telephone starts ringing….

The secret she is desperate to keep has its roots in the sweltering hot summer of 1976 when following the death of her mother the teenager leaves Newquay in Cornwall for the bright lights of London.  Bewildered and out of her depth in the city she meets a motherly woman just a couple of years older than herself who offers her a room in the squat she inhabits with her partner in Hastings.

Susan Elliot Wright weaves a tale that will make you question, every step of the way, what would I do? The author spun a story that I invested in, all the while rooting for the motherless teenager while knowing that in the future the consequences of the hot summer would be bought to bear on a life that had been fought for.

Although I was quite young during 1976 there were enough authentic details included in this book that took me back to the summer that seemed to last forever from the ingenious ways the squatters found to water their plants while they were re-enacting ‘The Good Life’ with their home-grown vegetables, natural medicines and an art and craft stall selling jewellery made out of the shells they found on the beach. I could taste the melting ice-creams as our protagonist grows up alongside her new found friends.  I could  picture her in her room furnished with a rocking chair bought for 50p and the red lava lamp in the corner for 20p a time and place bought to life with a lightness of touch by the author.

I raced through this book, eager to know what had happened this is a book where the tension slowly mounts as the past is uncovered and the pace was perfect for the richness of the writing.  This would make the perfect beach read.

I did guess the secret but that didn’t take away the enjoyment I found reading this tale, a story of love and loss, growing up and taking responsibility as well as relationships in all their guises. Susan Elliot Wright shies away from depicting her characters as good or bad, each one we meet in this book is a ‘real’ person a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that I missed when I closed the last page.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read and write an honest review of this book by the publishers, Simon & Schuster, ahead of the publication date of tomorrow, 8 May 2014, because I had enjoyed Susan Elliot Wright’s debut novel The Things We Never Said which is also set in Hastings.