Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Image of You – Adele Parks

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

It’s always good to read Adele Parks books when you want to escape life and The Image of You was no different.

It all starts with Anna joining a dating website to find the man of her dreams. This romantic and lovely woman in her early thirties has come to accept that she will never find him if she waits for their eyes to meet across a crowded room. Anna has recently moved to London and as you’d expect she’s had her heart-broken but she’s also across the Atlantic from her family, her parents and her twin sister Zoe. The girl’s names designed to bookend the alphabet also have entirely different personalities. Zoe isn’t sweet and romantic, she’s a woman who parties hard, is flirty and unpredictable. Zoe is however on hand to make sure that Anna’s profile is designed to meet someone suitable, not someone who will hurt her.

Anna meets Nick, a high-flying banker who joined the site to worm his way into places other than a girl’s heart. Nick isn’t looking for love, he’s looking for fun. But he meets up with Anna and finds that sometimes a wholesome woman is better than his normal type.

So far so simple. Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl but only time will tell whether he is going to be the womanising cheat that Anna is keen to avoid. And then Zoe visits London and we find out what she makes of the relationship.
This was a compulsive read and so even though I guessed which direction the story was going in, I was still doubting myself until all was revealed. The twin’s characters whilst overtly stereotypical at the outset became more nuanced the further through the book you read so although Anna was way too sweet and perfect for my taste and Zoe far too wild, there was a proper back-story to explain their extremes. I think it is impossible for someone who isn’t an identical twin to be fascinated by this closest of all the genetic relationships, after all they are closer to each other in this respect than they are to their parents, or children if they have them. This alone makes the story a great premise and as it progresses this relationship is the one at the heart.

I also enjoyed the realistic portrayal of internet dating. The different aims of the people who use it in this consumer society is demonstrated in the early scenes which doesn’t forget the assumptions made by others about those who choose this method to find a partner.

Ultimately this is a book about relationships, not just romantic but between siblings, parents and workmates. Nick’s scenes with his mates and his colleagues all had an authenticity about them which are often rare in women’s fiction.

The Image of You kept me turning the pages, of course to find out how it all ends, that’s a given, but the author kept me interested in these people who I maybe would avoid in ‘real life’ but who fascinated with throughout the book.

I am very grateful to the publishers Headline Review who provided me with a copy of The Image of You ahead of the publication date for the paperback of today, 22 February 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 February 2018
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Stranger in my Home – Adele Parks

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This is the first novel I’ve read by Adele Parks having previously assumed that she wrote light women’s fiction I’m afraid I’d never looked beyond the covers, until I saw this, her latest contemporary fiction book. Reading the blurb I couldn’t resist the premise, imagine someone coming along, telling you that the child, the perfect daughter, that you’ve lovingly cared for over the past fifteen years, isn’t your daughter!

I know an unlikely opener but that’s what happened to the fictional Alison when a handsome stranger, Tom Truby knocks on her door one evening. The story he tells is terrifying as it appears that his daughter Olivia, is actually Alison’s, and her beloved Katherine belongs to Tom, a recent widower.

Adele Parks having set off the bomb in her happy and blessed couple Alison and Jeff then reveals how they react to the news. Is Jeff, a writer, able to observe the destruction right at the heart of his family in his normal observant if removed style? What about the naturally more anxious Alison? What about her new daughter, Olivia who has just lost her mother? And yes the questions just keep rolling in and the author make us wait for the answers by weaving a storyline so tight around those affected. I must admit I had my strong suspicions about a key aspect of this plot fairly early on, but there was enough misdirection dripping off the proverbial pen, that I wasn’t entirely sure, which only served to increase my satisfaction to be proved right.

All of the characters, including the teenagers (Tom has three children in all) are realistically portrayed as they cope with an upheaval that would test anyone’s sanity. Given the unusual situation they behave with the range of responses that seem entirely plausible and not anywhere near as outrageous as a less confident author might have been tempted to take them. The tension is however, palpable. How on earth will the families resolve the issues that the accidental swap has posed?

With the action starting in the autumn term the author cleverly marks the time with annual events such an autumnal walks with Tom’s dog and Bonfire Night we see everything unfold through Alison’s eyes in the first person present tense. Can she come to terms with the fact that Katherine is not biologically hers and deal with the fact that Olivia, who is at best stand-offish, reflects so many of her own characteristics. There are also secrets from the past that helpfully muddy the already murky waters.

With all of the elements of secrets, half-truths and lies running through the entire book, this could have easily been quite a depressing read but there were many interjections of wry humour to lighten the read with observational humour, simple but incredibly effective in keeping this reader turning the pages, completely engrossed in all the different elements. This meant that the original self-satisfied Alison became far more appealing, not just because who wouldn’t sympathise with someone in her situation but because she keeps moving forward, overwhelmed and distraught she might be, but she’s also not prepared to lose her daughter without a fight.

This was a gripping read, well-plotted and full of suspense. It is not light women’s fiction but something entirely darker and full of foreboding. In many ways it reminded me of Lisa Jewell’s novels, a story that pulls you in which also makes you laugh at life, making for one very satisfying reading experience.

I was lucky enough to be offered a copy of The Stranger In My Home by Amazon Vine ahead of the paperback publication on 9 February 2017 although it was published in eBook format on 28 September 2016.

First Published UK: 28 September 2016
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Life I Left Behind – Colette McBeth

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

The Life I Left Behind is told from three different viewpoints; Melody who was attacked so badly she was in a coma for a while, now six years on her attacker has been released from prison, Eve who is dead and DI Victoria Rutter who is on the trail of Eve’s killer.

Now I know that having a narration via a dead person isn’t new, think Lovely Bones, but I do think this device needs to be handled carefully especially for those of us who are sceptical about the paranormal. So question number one: How well-integrated into the story is Eve? Answer: Extremely well, her narrative is key and while the reader isn’t allowed to forget she is dead, she is one sassy ghost. Her character is not some whimsical, all-seeing apparition, she doesn’t appear to others and nor does she dwell on where she is, but her narrative critical to the reader piecing together who killed her.

What did I expect from my last few minutes? A montage of my best bits like they show on the X-Factor when the contestants are being booted out? …….In the end my regret boiled down to one last living thought ‘I didn’t have the chance to warn her.’ 

Melody has been beaten by her experience, now planning her wedding to fiancé Sam she doesn’t leave the house alone, ever, and her fear is twofold, one she is unable to remember what happened to her the night she was brutally attacked, secondly she doesn’t feel she can trust her own judgement as the attacker was her friend.

Detective Inspector Rutter is a mother, but one who has the support of her husband to bring up her two children while she concentrates her efforts on catching the man who killed Eve. A strong and tenacious woman she is also capable of admitting mistakes making her a truly likeable character. It is nice to have a fictional police officer who isn’t overcoming some trauma or a complete maverick for a change!

So onto question two: Did I enjoy this book as much as Precious Thing? If you read my review you’ll know I literally couldn’t put this debut down, not even to cook! Answer: Yes, although this time I planned my reading time carefully so there was no need for cooking. The elements I enjoyed in Precious Thing are here too; truly likeable and authentic characters partnered with an enjoyable writing style. I love observational moments to lighten the moment when reading scary stuff and Colette McBeth has the balance just right. Along with this there is a proper puzzle for the readers to contemplate. Now I admit I’m not all that good at working out whodunit but I do read a lot of psychological fiction, I know how it works and I thought I had this one all sewn-up quite early on. Question three: Did I spot the killer? Answer: No, as usual I was wrong and despite suspecting nearly everyone towards the end, even I can’t delude myself that I was even close.

I am delighted to have been given a copy of this book by the publisher, Headline, allowing me to read and comment prior to the publication of this book on 1 January 2015! This is going to be another book that I push on all my friends, book-lovers or not, so in answer to that final question: Do I recommend this book? Answer: If you love crime fiction, but don’t want anything gruesome, you want a book with a great mix of characters and enjoy a book firmly rooted in the present then yes, this is a great book to gorge yourself on.

My review of Precious Thing, if you haven’t read this one, don’t miss out.  I’ve recommended this to many people aged from 20 to 70 and they all enjoyed it.

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

Precious Thing – Colette McBeth

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

How can friends that have shared so many important moments recapture that closeness after circumstances have separated them? This is the root of the question that Rachel asks herself when her best friend returns home after an absence of seven years. Clara’s return to Brighton came after Rachel was already a successful crime reporter for television. Living in London with the man of her dreams she is perturbed that the previous closeness they’d shared was hard to recapture but she still classed Clara as her best friend so when she is sent to report on her sudden disappearance Rachel doesn’t know what to think.

Set between the present in 2007 and the past in the early 1990’s, the book is written in a form of a (long) letter to the lost Clara. I like the way the time shifts were done, sometimes they can seem contrived but as this was a letter the memories that Rachel chose to mention seemed relevant. I have to admit I don’t normally like the second person in books, but again my fascination overcame my usual irritation.

I found the book a compelling read, watching how time has shifted the balance of power in the relationship, Rachel is no longer a shy schoolgirl and it is unclear for most of the book what changes Clara has undergone. I like figuring people out and there was plenty of opportunity to look for motivations and reasons within the claustrophobic friendship that the two girls had.

Colette McBeth has written a very clever book, one that I could hardly bear to put down and I found myself snatching a few pages at every available opportunity, something I haven’t done for some time! The short punchy sentences kept me reading while I tried desperately to work out what had happened to Carla, and why. I was only partially successful.

The cast of characters is quite small, wonderfully observed and seemingly realistic, and although I didn’t particularly like either of the two friends, they were definitely interesting. The scene where Rachel met Sarah, an old school-friend, for the first time since leaving school was so accurate, mimicking the way some women talk, disseminate and manipulate, that I could imagine I was at the Cantina Latina club with them.

So if you hadn’t guessed already, I loved this book. Precious Thing was a fairly quick read, not too taxing, but plenty to think about, and just what I expect from a good psychological thriller.

I received my copy of this book from Amazon Vine in return for this honest review.

Update – If you live in the UK and like my review there is a giveaway on Goodreads open until 21 April 2014