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

Did You See Melody? – Sophie Hannah

Psychological Thriller
5*s

When you pick up one of Sophie Hannah’s books, I’ve learnt it is best to expect the unexpected and she’s done it again, I was gripped by the mystery of the seven year old’s disappearance seven years ago, a disappearance that had gripped America from the start.

As to be expected from this hugely talented author we have characters that are so memorable you’ll want to send them a Christmas card, or at perhaps cross them off the list, because,  some of them aren’t very nice at all!

Cara Burrows has booked herself into a five star hotel in Arizona, miles from her husband and two teenage children, simply leaving a note to tell them she will be back on 24 October. It takes a while for the reader to understand how this seemingly nice woman could take such an action, or perhaps more importantly why. Patience is key, Sophie Hannah starts with a mystery which demands an answer but she makes her readers wait for them, but fear not, the answers are all given in good time. Cara arrives at Swallowtail resort late at night and is booked in by the receptionist. She makes her way to the room, only to find that it is already occupied by a father and daughter who she disturbs from their sleep. The receptionist is deeply apologetic and finds her a new room.

Staying at the hotel at the same time as Cara is an elderly lady who has ‘seen’ Melody at the resort each time she has stayed there. Melody was a girl who was all over the news and excerpts from talk shows before the culprits were arrested are included in the novel. This platform is useful for discussing the very different ways that crimes are handled by the media in the UK and the US. In the US the talk show host Bonnie Juror is able to shout her beliefs from her chat show without threat of perverting the course of justice, something that simply would never happen in the UK, although of course it doesn’t stop individuals speculating when we see the sadly all too familiar media statements from grieving families.

With Cara needing a bit of displacement activity she makes a very reserved British bond with two fellow sun lounger inhabitants, a mother and daughter both of whom had me in stitches with their brilliant one-liners with the differences in approach between the two nations accurately portrayed. Anyway between them they educate Cara on the full Melody story and encourage her growing suspicion that Melody is still alive and on the resort.

Taken in parts this story is completely unbelievable but I really didn’t mind, the journey was so entertaining, the commentary that underlines the storyline on a number of different subjects is true which allowed me to believe in the right circumstances with a good handful of coincidences thrown in that this could be true…

This is the perfect summer read although if you are staying in a less than palatial resort you may experience some envy, with brilliant characters, each one is so superbly drawn (and coloured in) with a fair bit of drama to ensure that a soothing massage I required by the time you turn that brilliant last page.

Thank you to the publishers Hodder & Stoughton who allowed me to read this book ahead of publication on 24 August 2017 – this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 24 August 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Culver Valley Series
1. Little Face
2. Hurting Distance
3. The Point of Rescue
4. The Other Half Lives
5. A Room Swept White
6. Lasting Damage
7. A Kind of Cruel
8. The Carrier
9. The Telling Error
10. The Narrow Bed

 

Standalone Books

A Game for all the Family

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

The Island – Victoria Hislop #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose The Island because I visited the now abandoned leper colony on the island of Spinalonga last year on my holiday to Crete. What I didn’t expect was the story that is set on that island to grab me quite so much.

Alexis Fielding is on the brink of making the biggest decision of her life and almost as a distraction fixates on the mystery of her mother’s life, her childhood that she refused to talk about. All through her childhood Sofia had received letters with Greek stamps on intermittently though Alexis’s childhood but when she is visiting Greece with her long-standing boyfriend she tells her mother that she would visit the place where Sofia had grown up, Plaka and Sofia relented and gave her a letter to give to her old friend.

                                           Plaka

The story that follows spans decades from before the Second World War and a good part of it is set on the leper colony on Spinalonga where sufferers of leprosy were sent, away from their friends and family to stop the spread of the disease. What I’d never realised before visiting Spinalonga and reading The Island, was that sufferers could and often did live for years, the trajectory of the disease not being predictable until the end which to be honest sounds pretty horrific.

 

                                     Approach to Spinalonga

This is a saga of a story though, and has all the required elements of love, betrayal, secrets and at its heart family. The story swings backwards and forwards from the little village of Plaka where life is simple to the bigger towns where research was going on to find a cure for the dreadful disease, a search which was suspended when the war became the fight that the whole of Greece was focussed on.

Spinalonga doctors, priest, and inmates

The story is told through Fontini’s retelling of the events spanning years to Alexis and the story centres around Maria Petrakis, a young teacher who may have caught Leprosy from one of her pupils. Maria was sent to Spinalonga along with the ten year old boy, leaving her father and her younger sister behind. But Spinalonga wasn’t the bleak place you might suppose. Continued pressure on the great and the good of Crete meant that those living there were able to make the place into a small community complete with market day and supported by twice weekly deliveries of goods from Plakka. With letters and regular visits from a doctor who was willing to take the risk of contracting leprosy the inhabitants get news from the world outside, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to put yourselves into the shoes of those who lived in the little houses on the island of their exile.

               Some of the houses on Spinalonga

Victoria Hislop weaves a fantastic tale around a family based on the history of an island which must have held so many equally involved stories and so vivid was Maria’s story that I had to remind myself continually that this was a work of fiction but despite that, now many weeks after reading The Island Maria’s story lingers in my mind. For those of you who haven’t yet read this book I’m pleased to report that despite the subject matter the book comes to the perfect ending.

The Island was my ninth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: February 2005
Publisher: Headline 
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

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

The House – Simon Lelic

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Wow!! Words fail me – well almost because this wouldn’t be much of a review if it had no words at all.

In short this book is scary, not altogether surprising since it features an old house in London jam-packed with the previous owner’s belongings including a collection of stuffed birds.

Told through a written letter between Sydney Baker and Jack Walsh detailing all the events and most intriguingly the secrets they’ve kept from each other. The author’s choice of this somewhat unusual writing style becomes absolutely clear but not until far later, in the meantime the freshness of the exchanges between the pair are hypnotic and make for totally compelling reading.

When you’re caught inside a dungeon, even the faintest flicker in the dark is like a promise of daylight. And if it turns out not to be, if it turns out instead to be a burning staircase… Well. You take your chances anyway.”

Now I don’t usually go in for gothic type books but if they are all as excellent as The House, I might well change my opinion. Only incrementally are the cause of the strange smells, the sounds that keep Jack on edge at night and the other events that turn their new beginning into a nightmare revealed in what I think is a masterclass of suspense writing. Yes, so far, all so textbook, albeit in the advanced section, but there is an element which really brings this book to life. The narrative in the first person is so well written, so close to actual speech that you can hear Syd and Jack talking to you it felt that real. There are moments of tenderness which alternate with phrases that capture the language those who practice defiant guilt, we hear of hard times behind the couple and hopeful times ahead and mixed amongst all of this are some genuinely funny moments as well as phrases that conjure up a whole heap of emotions behind what appears to be the throw-away lines.

Now I’ve seen enough horror films in my time to know never to go wandering about alone when there’s a suspected zombie in the vicinity, feline or otherwise. But there was no way I was going back to sleep, not until I’d at least had a quick look around. Plus, countering whatever fear I felt, I heard my dad’s voice telling me to stop behaving like a six-year-old.

About the only thing my father was afraid of was the prospect of maybe one day being called upon to express and emotion that wasn’t indignation.

There is misdirection aplenty and with a setting in a creepy house, two very dissimilar protagonists, ex-junkie Syd and the more laid back, but not entirely without issues Jack. Add to that the background of the purchase I was unsure what direction the book was going to take from the outset, but boy did I enjoy the journey.

But honestly right? The truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Honestly then, what I thought when I walked into the house was that it was somewhere Jack and I could be together until we were old. A forever house, that’s what they call it on the property shows, which when I hear it always makes me want to puke. But that didn’t stop me thinking it even so.

In case you haven’t got it, I loved this book, it is definitely one of my books of the year because not only was it compelling reading (if I’d known how compelling I would have waited for a less busy time so that I didn’t keep having to put it aside) but it had dark parts, light parts and each one was perfectly placed. The House delighted me whilst scaring me, it engaged me and inspired me to really look at the writing to try and work out what it was about it that made this book one that I’d have happily started all over again the instant I turned the last page.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The House prior to publication on 17 August 2017 (psst it is currently at an absolute bargain price for pre-order for the eBook in the UK) and the author Simon Lelic for delighting me, this review is my totally gushy but absolutely unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 17 August 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 342
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (Audible only)

 

 

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

Little Sister – Isabel Ashdown

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Warning – Don’t open this book for a peek, you will not be able to put it aside once you start!

This book has a seriously good opening and one that you won’t forget as you read on to find out what happened to baby Daisy in the early hours of New Year’s day morning, because one thing is for sure she is no longer at home in her cot where she should be.

Daisy is Chloe’s younger sister, well technically she is her half-sister Chloe’s mother having died when she was small but her father James met Emily when she was small and they’ve been a family ever since. Now on the brink of her sixteenth birthday she adores baby Daisy.

Jess is Emily’s younger sister, with just ten months between them they always did everything together, they were even in the same class at school and Jess adored Ellie. Recently Jess moved in with Ellie and has taken on the role of nanny to Daisy while Ellie returns to work. The sisters have much catching up to do as they only regained their tight bond following their mother’s recent death.

So we have two sets of little’s sisters and two mysteries. The overriding one into Daisy’s disappearance and the historic one into why Emily and Jess became estranged when they were teenagers. Both storylines are utterly compelling and reveal long-buried secrets of the relatively small cast of characters. Although the story is mainly told through the eyes of Emily and Jess in the past and the present we do hear from other key players along the way. Each chapter spills at least one secret challenging the reader to put the book aside. I simply couldn’t; this was a real, just a few more pages and then I’ll go to sleep book!

Little Sister is set on the Isle of Wight and although it is many years since I visited, the famous locations are woven throughout meaning that this beautiful location really feels to be part of the story itself. Living on an island myself I didn’t need too many prompts to work out that this was going to be one claustrophobic story and boy does Isabel Ashdown use this to ramp up the tension. Daisy’s disappearance brings outsiders in the way of the police to investigate but it also brings a pack of journalists baying outside the front door as each lead hits the headlines nationally as well as locally but it isn’t just the daily revelations that mark the passing of time since Daisy went, we also have the slowly decaying Christmas tree wilting, the baubles that Daisy once babbled at looking ever more forlorn as Emily refuses to allow it to be dismantled, anxious that Daisy should see it once more when she is found. It is these smaller details which turn this book from a run of the mill psychological thriller into something quite exceptional which alongside the pitch-perfect pacing had me completely hooked.

While the answers to the two mysteries become clear well before the end of the book, because of the depth of the story I didn’t feel cheated because there is plenty more to come. I particularly loved the ending where the author has chosen to wrap everything up in one neat bow with flourishes that were entirely satisfying.

This is a book I wanted to savour but at the same time couldn’t slow down with a story I became so immersed in so well-drawn were all the characters from the teenage Chloe to the police, from the distraught mother Emily to the owner of the café – all were so realistic, I feel sad to say goodbye to them all.

First Published UK: 27 April 2017
Publisher: Trapeze
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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

They All Fall Down – Tammy Cohen

Psychological Thriller
5*s

For those of you who read my blog regularly you’ll already know that I am a huge Tammy Cohen fan and it is only due to unforeseen circumstances that this review wasn’t posted prior to publication of her latest psychological thriller They All Fall Down on 13 July 2017. The good news is that if you want to read this in eBook format it is currently at the exceptionally low price of 99p.

The setting of this latest novel is in a private psychiatric clinic and right from the off there is a feeling that Hannah isn’t there of her own volition, but quite why and what happened before is left in the shadows. This isn’t the only mystery though, two women have died at the small clinic and Hannah is worried that they weren’t the suicides that everyone presumes. The problem is Hannah clearly has problems and she’s not being taken seriously by anyone, least of all her husband Danny who is becoming increasingly frustrated with what he thinks is her continued paranoia.

Once again Tammy Cohen has the pace absolutely nailed down. Now I’m somewhat a connoisseur of psychological thrillers, I know the wily tricks authors play to keep the facts hidden in order to ensure their twists give the maximum punch to the guts, and I confess this knowledge has tarnished the more amateur examples, but in this instance, there were enough clues given so that any twist felt far less artificial. Our main narrator, Hannah, by the very fact of her setting can be considered to be unreliable but we have other narrators including her fabulous mother Corrine. Corrine is so desperate to help her daughter no matter what she has done but she is also a realist who isn’t going to blindly go charging in without testing some of her daughter’s theories, so she turns detective. As always with this author all of the characters are carefully drawn, one where each time we meet them we learn a little bit more, sometimes coming to a different conclusion. This is particularly difficult with some of the issues Hannah’s fellow patients suffer from and I have to confess while racing through the book, I was also just like Hannah trying to leave the confines of the claustrophobic clinic.

If twists and turns enhanced by the fabulous pace aren’t enough to tempt you to read this, I must also mention the dialogue which is absolutely pitch perfect. With so many of the interactions between the characters betraying something which is key to the storyline, particularly those between the doctors and patients – those group meetings rang so true and at times the words on the page cut deep and I winced as the subjects battled both internal and external demons.

One of my issues with some books in this genre is the reliance on twists which is now the selling point rather than the original notion which was to explore the psyche, to my delight They All Fall Down manages both, we have the time to reflect on actions of the characters, and how their emotions can lead to them acting in the way that they do, but we also have some brilliant twists which in this case weren’t the ones I was expecting at all.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Black Swan who kindly sent me an ARC of They All Fall Down, and to Tammy Cohen for writing this brilliant novel.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Black Swan
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books By Tammy Cohen – aka Tamar Cohen

The Mistress’s Revenge (2011)
The War of the Wives (2012)
Someone Else’s Wedding (2013)
The Broken (2014)
Dying For Christmas (2014)
First One Missing (2015)
When She Was Bad (2016)

Writing Historical Fiction as Rachel Rhys

A Dangerous Crossing (2017)

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

The Child – Fiona Barton

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Wow!! I was hoping for a good read after having enjoyed The Widow so much last year but this story totally blew me away.

A skeleton of a baby was found in a garden of what is now a demolition site in Woolwich ready for the gentrification of this area of London. Kate Waters (the journalist in The Widow) spots a couple of lines about the body in the paper and decides to see if she can build a ‘human life’ story out of the sparse information.

The story is told in short punchy paragraphs following the storylines of four women at the time of the find in 2012. Kate Waters is a great investigative journalist and her narrative leads the way in mirroring one of the aspects I enjoyed so much in the author’s debut novel by feeding us peripheral information, in one instance the change in the way her job has evolved now more news is read on-line.

In 1970 Angela Irving’s baby was snatched from the maternity ward where she was born. The search for baby Alice led to a dead-end taking a detour of suspecting the story of her disappearance wasn’t exactly as presented by Angela.

Emma Simmonds works from home as a writer polishing the words of others to produce books about celebrities. Could she have a better profession to fix this book in contemporary times? Emma like Angela suffers with anxiety so working from home is ideal. Emma is married to an academic, a lovely man twenty years her senior.

And finally there is Jude, mother to Emma and the two had lived in a shared house in the area of the find. Jude and Emma have a complex and fractured relationship. Jude never revealed who Emma’s father was and although Emma picked up some hints over the years, she hasn’t ever met him.

The story is pretty much led by Kate’s narrative as she works with the new boy in the news room and this is where Fiona Barton’s experience as a journalist lends authenticity to the smallest of interactions from her kindly instructions to Joe on her craft when you can tell she wants him to get his nose out of his phone and study the wide variety of characters they come into contact with as they follow the story of a long-buried baby.

The pace is fast and while each of the three other women may cast their minds back in their narratives the overall timeline is strictly linear with each chapter indicating the day and the narrator so that the story is kept straight in the reader’s mind.

All those big questions of why, who and how are there for the asking, with many others crowding in around the edges of this tale full of buried secrets. Best of all the reader gets a different perspective from the variety of narrators and can ponder on the information provided. I did guess what had happened but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book one bit, after all I wanted to find out not only if I was right, but what would happen following the revelations.

This is a psychological thriller that obviously has its roots in reality, a story with the elements of life we prefer not to think about, or if we do, to file under a cliché headline. The Child takes a look behind the headlines and the result is a compulsive read.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK for giving me a copy of The Child ahead of publication on 29 June 2017. This unbiased  review is my thanks to them and the author for such an engaging read.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Love Like Blood – Mark Billingham

Crime Fiction
5*s

There is something doubly appealing about crime fiction with a strong contemporary feel and Mark Billingham has chosen this, his fourteenth book in the Tom Thorne series to highlight honour killings. The fact that he does this within a brilliantly constructed mystery certainly makes for compelling reading.

DI Nicola Tanner is on compassionate leave after the death of her partner who was murdered inside their shared home. Having worked with Thorne when he makes a brief appearance  in Die of Shame, she seeks him out convinced that those in charge of the investigation into Susan’s death are not interested in her belief that her murder was a case of mistaken identity, and it is actually her own life they meant to take.

The relationship between Tanner and Thorne is brilliantly handled as they work off the grid to find out the truth. When a couple of teenagers go missing Thorne and Tanner fear their own families know more than they are letting on but are they reading too much into the case?

I was delighted that Hendricks, the gay pierced and hugely sarcastic doctor who carries out the post mortems on any of the stray bodies that are sent in his direction, was back to lighten the plotline when it all becomes a bit too dark. Black humour is infinitely better than no humour at all and in all honesty, whilst she might have had ample reason to be so, Tanner is the most entertaining of detectives.

Thorne is in the form of the fictional detective is more than happy to bend the rules to suit himself although with the normally rule-abiding Tanner pushing him to do more, he has the occasional doubt about whether this is the right thing to do in this instance.

You might fear from the earlier paragraphs that this is a worthy piece of crime fiction that is tackling a sensitive subject with little knowledge of the issues. Not so. Mark Billingham has clearly researched his subject matter speaking to those who have been part of those families where the younger generation are resistant to following the rules their parents are keen to uphold for fear of becoming outcasts in their own community. The idea that murdering your own child to protect the family’s reputation is rightly abhorrent to many even within these communities, but sadly not to all. Whilst Mark Billingham more than nods his head at the former, this is not a book that preaches, he lets his characters display the emotions that echoed in my own mind but managing to steer clear of a commentary that didn’t fit the natural direction of the investigation being undertaken.

As has been the case with each of the Mark Billingham books I have read the pace is fairly furious, if you are anything like me, you will not want to put this book aside even though you are in much need of a breather from the latest piece of action. The plot is complex and involved with enough facts to underpin the occasional surprise the author springs on his reader. Just the way I like my crime fiction.

I’d like to thank the publisher Grove Atlantic for allowing me to read an advance copy of Love Like Blood ahead of publication on 20 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and to Mark Billingham for an in-depth look at an issue brilliantly threaded through a captivating crime novel.

First Published UK: 20 June 2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Mark Billingham Books

Sleepyhead [Aug 2001] Tom Thorne #1
Scaredy Cat [Jul 2002] Tom Thorne #2
Lazybones [Jul 2003] Tom Thorne #3
The Burning Girl [Jul 2004] Tom Thorne #4
Lifeless [May 2005] Tom Thorne #5
Buried [May 2006] Tom Thorne #6
Death Message [Aug 2007] Tom Thorne #7
In the Dark [Aug 2008] Standalone Novel
Bloodline [Aug 2009] Tom Thorne #8
From the Dead [Aug 2010] Tom Thorne #9
Good as Dead [Aug 2011] Tom Thorne #10
Rush of Blood [Aug 2012] Standalone Novel
The Dying Hours [May 2013] Tom Thorne #11
The Bones Beneath [May 2014] Tom Thorne #12
Time of Death [April 2015] Tom Thorne #13
Die of Shame [May 2016] Standalone Novel
Love Like Blood [June 2017] Tom Thorne #14

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

Greatest Hits – Laura Barnett

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Every now and again a book comes along that wows you with its richness; Greatest Hits is one such novel. There can’t be many people who don’t have a soundtrack to their lives, those songs that were the background to early years, the songs we fell in love to and those that we obsessively listened to as we attempt to mend wounded hearts; for many of us there is a tune that can turn back the years to a distant time and place. Laura Barnett has taken this idea and turned it into a densely woven story.

Cass Wheeler is a singer songwriter and Greatest Hits is the story of her life, exploring through her own lyrics the key events in her life from the earliest days with her decidedly less than maternal mother Margaret and her father, the local vicar Francis, who would read to her from adult books to sooth her to the woman she is now, reflecting on her years of silence, having turned her back on music. For Cass there were no songs left to write and no music to fill her days.

Greatest Hits is supported by a wonderful cast of characters who in turn support Cass through her life, most notably Aunt Lily and her assistant Kim. With any book spanning decades the links to the past are most important and in true reflection of real life we also see that some people are in our lives for brief amounts of time, but nonetheless have a huge impact as was the case with her childhood friend, Irene, and perhaps more importantly Irene’s mother who provided the mothering that was bereft from her own life. All of these different yet vivid characters provide the supporting acts to Cass’s story.

Each of the sixteen long chapters are headed up with one of the titles of the songs that Cass is compiling of the music that reflects her life. Below the title we have some lyrics from the songs as well as the fictional release date and other recording details. We therefore dive back to the early days and those memories, whilst in the present we have some clues as to the tragedy that struck Cass and led to her disappearing from her successful music career at its height in the 1970s to the withdrawing from life as well as music in the early 2000s. This layering of a story is exceptionally well done and Laura Barnett weaves the past and the present convincingly with the brightness of the triumphs with the depths of despair not forgetting those more mundane or mixed emotions which all of us experience.

Despite not being a famous singer, and not having spent my life penning songs or living in the lap of luxury and only being born as Cass was releasing her early music, Cass’s life felt like one I could have been part of, so evocative were the descriptions and so rich in both characters and writing style. This is a book to wallow in with a story that transports its reader to a time and place far away. For those who really want to get the full experience a soundtrack is being produced with Kathryn Williams performing the songs contained within the book to be released in conjunction with this novel. But even without the added interactive element Greatest Hits is in my opinion a triumphant second book to follow up to  The Versions of Us which I also adored.

I’d like to thank the publisher Orion Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advance copy of Greatest Hits ahead of publication on 15 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and the talented Laura Barnett for a fabulous read.

First Published UK: 15 June 2017
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Need You Dead – Peter James #blogtour

Crime Fiction
5*s

I am particularly delighted to be part of the blog tour for Need You Dead which is the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James because this is a series I’ve followed from the very beginning, reading each book in order eager to find out what has happened to my favourite characters whilst knowing that there will be a cracking crime story to keep me entertained.

Today Peter James is sharing some of his research with us:

DS Roy Grace Blog Tour – Day 7
Research behind Dead Man’s Grip

While researching Dead Man’s Grip I was taken around the famous local landmark that is Shoreham Power station. Along with being claustrophobic I have always had an absolute terror of heights, so the research for a key scene in the book, involving a secret tunnel under Shoreham Harbour, where I would be making a 180 feet vertical descent down a ladder in a shaft, was horrifying! A major “oh shit” moment! Fortunately I had two very delightful and caring helpers from Rescue & Emergency Medical Services Ltd who gave me the confidence and help to do it.

Then at the launch of Dead Man’s Grip I was submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour for a stunt enacting a key scene in the book. I was nervous as hell before this event and I had the whole police dive team prepped to rescue me in case it went wrong!

Peter James has kindly provided original pieces for each day of his blog tour so make sure you catch the rest of the stops!

 

Book Review
Lorna Belling has been found dead in a bath tub in a rented flat in Brighton. Already known to the police because she’s reported her husband for domestic abuse Roy Grace sees the investigation as a good one for Guy Batchelor to be Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for a couple of reasons: one to allow him to learn the ropes and secondly because Roy has to fly to Germany to pick up his son Bruno to bring him back for the funeral of his mother.

Lorna is a hairdresser who works from home, her phone is monitored by her husband and there has been more than one nasty incident with her husband Corin who works for an IT company, but the last attack was particularly nasty. The Domestic Violence caseworker is concerned for Lorna’s safety but so far Lorna has decided to stay put with Corin and the puppies she has bred. But the flat where Lorna was found dead wasn’t her home, so why is she in a cheap rental flat with dodgy electrics?

Of course the investigation isn’t quite as straightforward as first appearances indicated and the reader is in on the action seeing the red-herrings being liberally scattered across Brighton to ensure that the Police are following entirely the wrong scent. In a bold move by the author we even know why the only link missing is who it could be. It goes to show how in experienced hands a small amount of mystery is all that is needed with this book not lacking at all in tension as the team set out to find the killer – or perhaps Lorna committed suicide after all?

There are a number of strands to be pursued by the team and all of them have a good collection of well-drawn characters to keep us fully entertained as they do so!

It is almost refreshing these days to have modern crime fiction told in a straightforward time-line and here we have the chapters headed up by the days of the week starting from the beginning and working to the end – how clever is that? Because there is so much going on there are several chapters for each day, with each looking from a different point of view and in the case of Roy Grace, some are from a different country.

As with the entire series I get as much enjoyment in meeting up with the large and varied cast of characters, particularly with the established team of police, with the author reflecting their most immediate concerns using his extensive contacts with the real crime fighters in Brighton’s Police Force to ensure all the details are bang up to date. A small word of caution, Mr James, please don’t turn Roy Grace into a political figurehead for the Police however much your sources urge you to, less is more as they say!

As always this latest Roy Grace story had me thoroughly entertained. I can also spy some interesting threads which I’m sure we will follow for a few books yet in Roy’s personal life as Bruno settles into life as a big brother to baby Noah and so as always, no sooner did I put the book down, I was eager to have the next instalment from Brighton and Hove.

I am extremely grateful to Macmillan and Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of this book, and for allowing me to be part of this blog tour – the pinnacle of my blogging ambitions! My review of course is unbiased.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead

Need You Dead, the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James, is out 18th May (Macmillan, £20.00)