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

Watching Edie – Camilla Way

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller

This is one book that has a menacing edge right from the first to the very last page; a psychological thriller you won’t want to miss!

Heather and Edie were friends as teenagers when despite outwards appearances, the more confident Edie found in Heather someone who understood her. Heather unused to best friends was besotted by her new friend. For Edie having just moved to the area, she found in Heather someone who had an affinity for the things that interested her. After all she too was interested in more than boys and clothes despite appearances to the contrary. Inevitably a boy does come into the equation when Edie meets Connor, and with it comes the expected changes that occur when a girl becomes besotted with a boy.

Right at the beginning of the book we are given a clue that something happened between the two girls, what that was is a mystery, and years later, Edie is terrified that one day Heather will come looking for her. And of course, that day comes, a day when Edie holds her new baby in her arms in her London apartment hears a knock at the door… What the outcome of that visit will be, I could only imagine!

The author has absolutely nailed the plot so that the tension mounts as the story switches not only viewpoints but time periods. We have the ‘before’ as told by Heather and the ‘after’ as described by Edie. With both parts written in the first person present tense both stories are equally enthralling with that ‘peek behind the cushion’ feeling never far away. Camilla Way has got the tone absolutely right, the characters have been given a satisfying mixture of attributes, giving this reader no doubt that they are real, their actions and reactions genuinely authentic. All the clues to the storyline are set out early on, the knock on the door starting a chain of events in the present that moves the plot inexorably onwards. It is a long while since I have had such a feeling of dread each time I turn the page.

I have deliberately curtailed my reading of psychological thrillers having become wary of tales told with obvious devices to move the plot along featuring such damaged characters that you have to wonder how they get dressed in a morning, this isn’t one of those books. The plot is convincing the mounting terror although palpable, feels entirely justified. Often when stories are told in the past and the present, one story feels far more important than the other. Again, Camilla Way has avoided this pitfall; I absolutely needed to know what happened in the past, but equally I was suitably terrified about what the outcome of the storyline in the present would be. It takes a truly accomplished writer to make you care about the characters they have created, especially when you know that they have, or will, commit an act of atrocity, and yet, I did care about both Heather and Edie. I sympathised with their struggles, their perspective on the past casting a long shadow over their present so that the story turned into a bit of a battle between the events I was reading, and a wish that everything had been different for the two young girls who made an unlikely friendship at the very beginning.

With well-drawn, jump off the page characters, Camilla Way has written a book about friendship that will stay with me for quite some time. Watching Edie therefore gets a ringing endorsement from me!

Watching Edie will be published by HarperCollins UK on 28 July 2016. A shorter version of this review was submitted to Lovereading UK in return for them providing a copy of this brilliant psychological thriller for this purpose.

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

The Missing – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller

Fifteen year old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, no one saw him leave that night and six months on they have no idea if he is dead or alive, all they know is that there has been no sight of him since he disappeared.

C.L. Taylor’s writing takes us into the Wilkinson household in the aftermath of the disappearance and with unnerving skill sums up the multitude of emotions that most of us don’t even want to imagine. We see this mainly through the eyes of Claire as she begins to suffer amnesic episodes bought on by the trauma of losing her youngest son. Through this medium we see how the other members of the household are faring; Mark his father who had an argument with Billy because of his persistent graffiti habit, his brother Jake who has lost his work-ethic and Jake’s girlfriend Kira who is living with them. With each member of the household hiding something, are any of those secrets the key to where Billy is?

Inserted between the narrative are messages between two unknown characters, these are of a disturbing nature but what connection do they have to the mystery of where Billy went and why? The tension mounts as the messages become darker, this aspect really got under my skin in a way that this device rarely does as I pondered their meaning and who they came from. I really thought I had the answer of who was writing one side of these at least, but I was totally off track!

The success of this author’s books is down to characterisation. I felt I knew Claire, she came across as level-headed but understandably grief-stricken but one thing kept her going, she believed that Billy was alive. At the start of the book her and Mark attend a second televised appeal for information, she goes out looking for Billy in and around Bristol to the places he tagged with his graffiti, she visits his school, talks to his friend and repeats. She even keeps her patience with her mother who recommends psychics to find Billy. She is a kind and good woman who loves her children, cares for Kira whose own family life was in chaos and has a close friend who mercifully treats her as normal thereby giving her a brief respite from the overwhelming sympathy which alternates with barbed comments that the family must have something to hide – a fifteen year old boy doesn’t vanish into thin air.

The secondary characters are sufficiently well-drawn to also come across as real people, particularly Mark’s reaction to his son’s disappearance which is to strive to keep going at work and to ignore the whispers about his possible involvement. Kira’s shyness, her inability to interact with Claire in any meaningful way was also authentic, after all most adults would struggle to cope, let alone a student who has recently left home due to problems.

The icing on the cake is the fabulous plotting which allows the tension to build incrementally from the very beginning to the superb dénouement.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to HarperCollins UK who gave me a copy of this book before publication today, 7 April 2016. This review is my thank you to them and the author for such a fantastic read.

C.L. Taylor has written two other psychological thrillers; The Accident and The Lie, both superb but this one just had the edge for me – if you enjoy the exploration of the mind and you haven’t read any of these, you are in for a real treat!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Last Woman Hanged – Caroline Overington

Non-Fiction 4*s

On 8 January 1889, Louisa Collins, a 41-year-old mother of ten children, became the first woman hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and the last woman hanged in New South Wales.

Caroline Overington has researched the story behind Louisa Collin’s four, yes you read that correctly, four trials for murder. One of the three trials was in relation to the deaths of her first husband Charles Andrews in January 1887, the cause according to the doctor who signed his death certificate was Acute Gastritis, three were in relation to her second husband Michael Collins the man she married just three months after the demise of the first. Michael Collins died on 8 July 1888 of what the post mortem indicated was arsenic poisoning.

This book not only takes us through the suffering of both men as they writhed for days in agony with stomach pain but the job of the somewhat incompetent hangman – Nosey Bob, those who presided over the trials and most importantly the clamour of women’s voices to commute the death sentence passed when Louisa was finally declared guilty in respect of the death of Michael.

As with all these reconstructions of historical crimes one of the main questions is was Louisa guilty of the crime that meant ‘that she hanged from the neck until she was dead.’ It’s certainly far from clear cut, but that isn’t the main thrust of the book which is far more about women’s rights at a time they were treated as children. Louisa hanged on order of laws made by parliament of which she had no say in. She lived a life forever in the fear of abject poverty; if her husband didn’t work, she, and her children, wouldn’t eat and there was no way out of the never-ending cycle of child-birth, the last of Louisa’s babies had recently died when just a few months old.

Louisa isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, but once the death sentence had been passed those women who did have a voice, through their husbands and fathers, began clamouring for the sentence to be commuted. Although some of these were unconvinced of her guilt, by no means all were. There was after all the unpalatable truth that whilst thirty-six men had been unable to reach a consensus of guilt, Louisa was hung on the verdict of the final trial. Al of this carried out in the space of a few short months with a dwindling population of suitable jurors. Quite why there was so much will to retry this woman until the verdict of guilt was reached is unclear,but e can assume that powerful men were clearly determined that their presumption of guilt was the right one.

There is a fair amount regarding the politics of New South Wales at the time of the trials which to be honest meant little to me sitting as I do well over one hundred years later on the other side of the world, but they sound very similar to politics everywhere with the distinction that Australia was at this time trying to move away from being a penal colony to a fully-fledged independent country.

This was a fascinating read although at times I felt that I was bludgeoned by the repletion of information that this was a man’s world and Louisa had no say in the laws. I understand the argument but if Louisa did set about to murder two husbands in such an agonising fashion, she probably understood that if her crimes were discovered that the law was going to act. After all hanging wasn’t a rarity, although in New South Wales the last women prisoner had her sentence commuted.

The afterword takes us through the next few years where due to their vociferous campaigning Australian women were the first in the world to get the vote and spread the word to the rest of the world, including Britain. We also catch up with what happened to Louisa’s children and other key members of the case. A satisfactory ending to a book which gives a factual account of Louisa’s life and trials while bringing to the forefront a fight that would live long after her body had been cut down from the scaffold.

Last Woman Hanged is from my own collection of books, chosen not for the historical factor of this true crime but following my read of the author’s I Came to Say Goodbye which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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

Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller

I’m delighted that it is my turn on the blog tour for Behind Closed Doors as I can now share my review with you all…

Behind the very stylish door to the home of Jack and Grace Angel things aren’t all they initially appear. We first meet the successful couple, Jack a lawyer who spends his time standing up for victims of domestic violence and Grace who was a buyer for Harrods, hosting an elegant dinner party. Grace no longer has her high-powered job though, she’s a housewife, perhaps waiting for the patter of tiny feet.

The food served by Grace is exquisite and the conversation quickly turns to Jack and Grace’s first meeting. Neither had been married before despite Jack being highly sought after by his female colleagues; Grace’s marriage prospects had been hampered by her commitment to looking after her younger sister Millie, who has Down syndrome. Jack wasn’t put off by this life-long task though and the couple talk about welcoming Millie into their home when she leaves the school she attends.

What happens behind the scenes though is deeply disturbing and not in the conventional way but is it really possible that no-one can see the truth. I can’t really say much more except that despite the horror there is something compellingly realistic about the way that the action unfolds.

With the book split between the past and the present, so we see how the relationship progressed through a perfect courtship to marriage and then the honeymoon in Thailand where revelations made cast a whole different light on what had gone before. In the present we see that things aren’t quite the way the dinner party guests imagine but there is a deadline looming and a plan is needed, and fast.

This is real edge of your seat stuff and is so truly horrific a certain amount of suspense of belief is required but with the characters being so credible I found myself questioning whether or not this could happen, and I came down in favour of the author mainly because while I would hope this wouldn’t happen given the characters and circumstances of all involved I can believe that it might. The pace of the story is unrelenting which only serves to raise the tension and the mixture between past and present, especially as the gap between the two closes, works really well in giving the reader no opportunity to catch their breath.

A must read for all those lovers of the most popular recent psychological thrillers, you know the ones I mean, the ones that are populated by vile characters and keep you turning the pages just to see quite how bad things can get!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publisher HarperCollins who kindly arranged for me to receive a copy of this book and invited me to take part in this book tour.

Even better news, there is a whisper that the author already has another book in the making which I for one will be looking forward to reading.

B.A.ParisBlog tour banner Behind Closed Doors

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – Marnie Riches

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is a fast-moving thriller and grittier than my usual choice of read but if you want excitement by the bucketful this is a book to consider, especially as it is currently available for the kindle at the absolute bargain price of just 99p!

Georgina McKenzie, is an Erasmus student at the University of Amsterdam when a human bomb blows up the library, it has all the hallmarks of a terrorist plot and when George and her friend Ad stumble on the scene she is asked to help the policeman draw the person responsible out by writing a blog post for the student magazine. Detective van den Bergen got more than he bargained for when he asked the student criminologist for help because George wasn’t about to leave it at one post, especially when her fellow students start dying at a rate of knots. No George gets stuck into investigating the crime, working from her already well-honed reading of people she feels she is well-placed to find the person or people responsible. She is also slightly worried that she is being watched, but by whom and why she doesn’t know but she’s determined to find out. To do so she takes part, and encourages Ad in turn to do the same, in some breathtakingly risky escapades to root out the killer.

As well as being quite gruesome in places, there are a lot of characters to keep track of as well as a number of different themes and places; The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die takes in Amsterdam, England and Germany as it hurtles from one scary event to the next. At first I was confused about the part of the story set in London which full of drugs and gangs but I really liked the atmosphere created by the author with young Ella terrified of the local boys Danny and Jez who terrorised her and her mother on a nightly basis while all Ella wanted was a quiet life and to escape.

There are some well-drawn characters to back up a plot that does need the reader to be in the moment and not to ask too many awkward questions about protocol etc. Inspector van den Bergen being one of my favourites. George was a little to full-on at the start but as I got to understand more about her my feelings towards her softened. I liked the interplay between her and her friend Ad and her friendship with her prostitute neighbour and the local coffee-shop owner and landlord. If this book wasn’t so full of action I fear I would have lost track of the numerous characters who populate this novel although the author has done well in giving the majority of them interesting traits so they are easily distinguishable.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy Scandi-crime fiction, and yes I know my geography is poor but I am aware that neither Amsterdam or London are in Scandinavia, but this book has the same feel to it with the big plots, the gruesome retaliations and the complex individuals.

I’d like to thank the author Marnie Riches and the publisher Harper Collins Maze for giving me a copy of this book for review purposes. The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die was published on 23 April 2015.



Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Book of Lost and Found – Lucy Foley

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction

The year is 1986 and Kate Darling has recently lost her mother June, a world-class ballerina, in a tragic accident. Kate is struggling with her grief for the woman who she considered her best friend as well as her mother in an effort to keep her memory alive seeks solace in her mother’s saviour, Evie. Following one of their frequent meetings it becomes clear that Evie has been keeping a secret for many years and gives Kate a painting of a woman at a picnic on a summer’s day that had been sent to June many years before. Kate senses a mystery and as a means of distraction from her unfulfilling life follows its lead.

The picture was painted in 1928 by an up-and-coming artist named Tom, now an elderly man, living on the island of Corsica and Kate goes to visit him to find out more about the woman he painted. Tom reveals his side of a bitter-sweet love story that started in Hertfordshire and ended in Paris during the Second World War.

Lucy Foley has bravely included three time-periods as well as three different locations in her tale which is executed with aplomb. The characters are all distinct, all feel authentic and true to the times they are depicted, especially Tom who struggles to balance his parent’s hopes and dreams for him with his love of art. Alice was a victim of the time and family she was born into and had the added encumbrance of her sex, destined to live her life without any purpose except to become a replica of her distant mother. Having just read two books that cover the occupation of France during the Second World War there were clear signs that the author had researched the historical element to use as detail for this part of the book, effortlessly transporting the reader to the exact time and place. By using different places for each of the time periods definitely made the transition of reading easier during the switches backwards and forwards in time.

I do love a dual time frame book but only when they are done well, this device, in the wrong hands is a disaster for a number of reasons; to execute a story of this type well the characters, time and place all need to be distinct and authentic. The historical detail has to be spot-on and any of the characters that age during the transition need to be recognisable but not ‘frozen in time.’ Lucy Foley didn’t fall into any of the many pitfalls, instead managing to weave a great saga that had me engaged in the grand love story from the first page.

As with all books in this genre the continuing story through the decades depends on a number of coincidences and tortured decisions to keep both the mystery element alive so although there were times that I desperately wished that the protagonists would say, or do, something different, perhaps for once take the sensible option, it wasn’t to be! And nor could it be! Again with books of this type I often prefer either the past or the present and as is often the case, the past was more engaging but I did enjoy the way that Kate was far from irrelevant to the story, she did have a stronger part to play than simply being the narrator of the events of previous years.

If like me you are still waiting for Kate Morton to write her fifth book, you could do an awful lot worse (I should know, I’ve tried some of them) than pick up this book in the meantime.  I received my copy via Amazon Vine in return for this honest review.  The Book of Lost and Found was published by HaperCollins on 15 January 2015.