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

And the Birds Kept on Singing – Simon Bourke

Contemporary Fiction

Manchester 1984 seventeen year old Sinéad McLoughlin is in Manchester, staying with a relative about to give birth. The plan is to hand the child over for adoption and return home to Dooncurra, a small town in the southeast of Ireland and carry on with her life as if nothing had happened. Of course there is the small matter of hiding the details from her parents Patricia and Noel, after all being pregnant at seventeen is not the done thing even in 1984 where she comes from, but she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

Sinéad gives birth to her son, and in one version she carries out her plan, the baby being handed to infertile Margaret and Malcolm Philliskirks believing that this is the best future she can offer her son, in another she names her son Seán, and keeps him.

I enjoy a good ‘sliding-doors’ novel and there are few greater decision points in life than whether or not to keep your son or hand him over for adoption so this is one with the stakes already raised sky high.

In one version we follow Seán, through life, eventually growing up in the same town that Sinéad fled. The consequences of her decision reverberating through the family and her son’s life from thereon in. In the other version Margaret and Malcolm are thrilled to be a family but the exited beginnings don’t guarantee a happy-eve-after for them or their son with all the normal events that can effect any family reverberating through the Philliskirks’ life too.

Ultimately this is a coming of age story, or rather two stories. On the one hand Seán could be seen as a product of his beginnings, an Irish boy surrounded by what felt to be an authentic look at life in a small town through the nineties, on the other Jonathan, who grew up in England a boy who has to come to terms with being adopted.

For a ‘sliding-doors’ story to work the two paths have to diverge to ensure the reader follows without too much confusion and of course those characters and events that appear, however infrequently in both stories, need to be consistent. Simon Bourke handles the problems that could trip-up the unwary novelist with ease. This is an author who is skilled at characterisation and in particular, Seán’s story is incredibly powerful giving rise to a real understanding of who this boy is, how he thinks and critically how he reacts. Jonathan’s story is told slightly more remotely but ultimately is no less powerful for that.

Be warned, this is at times a heart-breaking story and unusually for my reading, the teenage scenes being told by a man about a man can be quite difficult to read. There is swearing, drugs and sex with plenty of forays into a teenage boy’s imagination which lend a very sharp edge to the storytelling. This is also a book that made me shed some tears, although at other times it had me smiling at the relationships between siblings, parents and their children, and friendships. There are all manner of interactions without exception giving the reader that feeling of reality which can be hard to pull off, especially in a wide cast of characters.

An enlightening look at a fairly recent past told with a range of emotions and spell-binding for the force of the characters, And the Birds Kept on Singing is one powerful debut novel.

And the Birds kept on Singing is my nineth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in August 2017 so I gain another third of a book token! That’s three books earned!


First Published UK: 2017
Publisher: CreateSace Independent Publishing Platform
No of Pages: 596
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Lost in the Lake – A.J. Waines

Psychological Thriller

This psychological thriller is centred round one of my favourite premises, memory loss and psychotherapist, A.J. Waines, has enough knowledge about the subject to ensure that this tale rings true.

Rosie was in a terrible accident. So awful that she is the only survivor of the crash that saw the van she was travelling in plunge into a lake. Rosie was lucky, grabbing her viola she swam to shore but she needs to know what happened to the other members of the string quartet, and as of yet, no one can tell her. Rosie and the rest of the quartet had been offered pay over the odds to play at an anniversary party a decade after they’d first played for the couple, the difference is that then they were playing together regularly but these days they are all leading very different lives.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, although this is the second book in the Dr Samantha Willerby series, and it is the good doctor that Rosie turns to in a bid to recover the memories she knows are missing. It is clear that the author’s background has leant a real air of truth to the engagement between the good doctor and her patient. With Rosie convinced that if she can recover her memories all will be well, the doctor agrees to help her with the latest research methods which later include travelling to the scene of the crash.

From this synopsis it may appear that this is a straightforward piece of crime fiction albeit one with a clinical psychologist at the heart of the investigation rather than the story being told from the police’s viewpoint, but the dynamic between Rosie and Sam really adds a totally different dimension to the story.

With the chapters alternating between the two women with an overlap of part of their experiences I was both dumbstruck and totally involved in both women’s stories. Trying to sift through Rosie’s memories and her recall of the first party they played certainly gives the reader plenty to ponder over; exactly my kind of crime fiction.

I am pleased to confirm that I didn’t feel that my enjoyment was at all hampered by not reading the first book in the series as the author provided enough of the back story to fill in any gaps but cleverly despite hints, not enough to put me off going back to discover Inside the Whispers.

My favourite type of psychological thriller is those books that truly explore the crevices of the mind and it is brilliant that it isn’t only the patient in this book that gets that treatment; the doctor is unveiled not only as someone who cares greatly about her patients but one who doesn’t necessarily like them all, and in common with the vast majority of humanity,  she can still be unnerved by unexpected behaviour. Isn’t it wonderful when the characters are both intriguing and yet completely believable? All this resulted in a fascinating as well as thrilling read with enough twists and turns to keep this reader firmly on her toes.

I’d like to thank the author for providing me with an advance copy of Lost in the Lake ahead of publication today, 7 September 2017. This review is my unbiased thank you for a wonderful journey into the mind.

First Published UK: 7 September 2017
Publisher: CreateSpace
No. of Pages: 388
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Manipulated Lives – H.A. Leuschel

Short Story 3*s
Short Story

This is a compilation of five novellas each demonstrating the different ways those who seek to manipulate others operate. The author has used a number of different types of relationships to expose the psychology of such a partnership and although the end results are disturbing, it is often the case that the beginning there were no great big warning lights and claxons.

Although the tie in this anthology is the manipulator the characters are quite distinct, as to a certain extent is there particular brand of abuse. In the first tale we meet the narcissist old and ill in a hospital bed and his story alternates with his visitor. This clever tale gives us a picture of a life lived bending other’s to this man’s will using any means possible to reach his object, reflecting on a life right back to childhood. In the second story Tess and the Tattoos we have an elderly woman contemplating the choices she’s made in her life whilst the third, The Spell has younger characters, a woman, a man and a young child which is once more a reflective tale. The fourth story is Runaway Girl, and probably my favourite of the collection has a 15 year old girl as the subject whilst the last story is the story of a woman who comes to motherhood fairly late in life.

The author has clearly researched her subjects, one has to hope from a safe distance and as all of these stories are reflective it is entirely appropriate that the traits we know are associated with manipulators are replayed by the narrative although I have to confess this reflective nature made me feel less involved with the actual events because the very nature of recollection is to put a spin on things to be told ‘I should have realised…’ didn’t adequately give me any sense of when the realisation came, what the subject told themselves through those first signs etc but this is a personal preference possibly due to wanting to know whether I would have spotted anything, given the same situation.

What this book does give us is a chance to relate this wide selections of both the perpetrators of this trait and their victims to those characters we all know for whom this style is the one they prefer and of course in certain situations it is one that is held in high regard. Only yesterday a job advert went out with one of the key skills was ‘An influencer’ now putting aside the business jargon, what the company wants is someone who can persuade a whole room full of people (if not the entire office, company and maybe even the world) to be persuaded that what is being proposed is the only right course of action – the same skill as a man convincing a woman that of course she wants to be at his beck and call to the detriment of the rest of her life, or the young boy who convinces his mother that he can do no wrong!

Sometimes it is hard for authors working on a themed collection like this to separate the voices out and I was a little worried when we came to Runaway Girl who was much younger than the rest of the characters in the book, would the author be able to switch away from the almost cold and distant narratives of the previous narrators to the naturally more impulsive actions of a teenager, and she did, which is possibly why I enjoyed this story the most as the mixed emotions of the moment came shining through.

I’d like to thank the author for forwarding me a copy of this book, it has been a unique experience for me as I rarely read novellas and never before have I read an anthology built around a personality type.

First Published UK: 28 June 2016
Publisher: Independent Publishing
No of Pages: 274
Genre: Short Story – Psychological
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Pariah – David Jackson

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

NYPD detective Callum Doyle is the star of this book set in, yes you guessed it New York! He’s in a bit of a pickle though as the other detectives are already worried about working with him following the death of his partner in the corner of a car park complete with a hooker… but it only gets worse.

This fast-paced thriller puts us in the shoes of a man who is forced to cut himself off from those closest to him when their lives appear to be in danger just by being associated with him. Unable to go to work and investigate the murder of his partner he decides to go it alone and try to track down the killer not an easy task when everyone he talks to is in danger. Who is watching Callum Doyle and what do they want from him?

With tension oozing off every page I read this with my heart in my mouth. How could the killer be found when those Callum turns to are either threatened or die a terrible death? This book is not for the faint-hearted, there is a fair amount of violence as the killer goes on the rampage, seemingly unstoppable. Fortunately Callum’s well-timed humour, just stopped this book from becoming too grim for words and he seems a genuine kind of guy although understandably confused by the situation he has found himself in. In many ways I think we learnt a lot about the man behind the badge as much from his interactions in his personal life, as those in what seems like a team with issues! I certainly don’t think this book would have worked so well without the many facets of the man’s character.
There are a wealth of other intriguing characters with as many great ones from the edges of society as well as his colleagues from the NYPD. As Callum becomes increasingly desperate he walks into lion’s dens of varying descriptions as he tracks pimps and heavies to try to find out who is behind the explosion of violence so close to home.

Although the plot itself isn’t complicated, and is told in a straightforward linear time-frame, it is well-structured and underpinned by some terrific action. If you like fast and furious then Pariah is probably a book you’d enjoy. The clues to the killer’s identity are released at a good rate although that didn’t have me any closer to guessing who was behind the mayhem until pages before the final reveal.

The writing style is confident, especially for a debut novel, and I was drawn into the storyline immediately and this is despite the fact that crime fiction involving gangsters isn’t high on my list of reading favourites. The interplay between the characters was pitch-perfect and didn’t rely on endless clichés, something that is tough to pull-off when there is danger around every corner as far as Callum is concerned.

This is also a book with a backstory, which doesn’t really fully come out in this book, so I’m going to have to keep reading the other books in the series to find out more! This really is a talented start to a new crime fiction series.

First Published UK: 20 August 2014
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
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