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 Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Historical Fiction
3*s

This dark Victorian tale that vividly creates the underbelly of life of the times in a similar style to Sarah Waters’ early books covering the same period.

The year is 1831 as The Wicked Cometh opens and we are treated to an alarming newspaper cutting:

‘This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type’

Down the dark alleys we go, through the putrid mud, into a room with damp walls, a mud floor and precious little to eat although the master of the house always manages to find a shilling for his sup of gin and we meet Hester White who lives with the occupants Jacob and Meg and their twin children having lost her parents in her native Lincolnshire and been taken in by the pair and moved to London. The family is now down on their luck and Hester is desperate to find a way out.

With the sights, sounds and smells excellently depicted there is no doubting that this is an atmospheric read and Hester is a likeable and lively protagonist to lead us on the dreadful journey and one that has us meeting all sorts of likeable and frankly revolting characters along the way whether the mode of transport is by carriage or shank’s pony.

The first half of the book really sets the scene and at times this seems a bit too meandering for my tastes with those like Hester who are left to live by their wits being compared to the well-heeled who quaff wine and dress in exotic clothes whilst carrying out good deeds in their spare time. So we meet the Brock family, the surgeon son, his spinster sister Rebekah and the old gentleman Septimus, the one who holds the purse-strings and therefore gets to make the rules. And Septimus wants Rebekah married but it doesn’t take a genius to work out why this scholarly woman is not really cut out for the life of a lady who wafts around. By coincidence some of the missing have links with the Brock household and Rebekah is trying to work out where they have gone.

There are plenty of characters and at times I confess got a little confused as they blended into one sorry tale after another, never really quite being distinct enough to merit a full role in the drama.

The pace really picks up in the second half of the book with the investigation into the ever-growing number of missing, those who are invisible except to those who read the increasingly long list of names pinned to a hoarding in the hopes that someone will know where they are. There is action and danger, a need to win trust to prise the secrets out and to know who to divulge the snippets to, how trustworthy are the new Bow Street Runners and will they do something to help?

There is a lot to enjoy in this terrible tale, one where the gloom is never far away in those dank and dreary times told with pleasingly consistent prose.

I’d like to thank the publishers Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Wicked Cometh; this review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 1 February 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Anatomy of a Scandal is being published at a time when both sides of rape trials are under enormous scrutiny in the press. While I was reading this book, two men were acquitted because full disclosure hadn’t taken place, some commentators believe this is partly caused by the drive to secure more convictions in rape trials. What no-one can deny that this crime is usually committed without witnesses and I don’t envy any jury having to sift fact from fiction or maybe hazy memories when so much is at stake for both alleged victim and perpetrator. Coupled with the rape are the many scandals that seem to provide a backdrop to our country from those who hold the highest offices in the land, at Westminster. So the combination of Ministers and rape, well this could come straight from the newspapers of today, except of course the book is very well written!

Over the years my love of courtroom drama has increased and so when I heard of this book back in the summer, I was desperate to get my hands on a copy; Dear Reader, this book did not disappoint in the slightest.

James Whitehouse is a loving father, an Oxford graduate and a Tory MP, in fact the Prime Minister is one of his oldest friends. James is married to Sophie and has been for many years when he is arrested for the rape of one of his assistants but Sophie is convinced it’s all a terrible mistake.

Kate is the prosecuting attorney, out to make a bigger name for herself she knows that if she can persuade a jury to find James guilty then she can ride high off the back of it. Sex crimes is her speciality although she is realistic about the low conviction rate, she’s determined to win this one.

The story unfolds through the three sets of eyes and ears: Sophie’s, Kate’s and James and as each one seeks to convince us of their truth, the shadows from the past are creeping back into their lives creating a complexity about the truth that is nebulous and yet not about to disappear anytime soon.

Sarah Vaughan is an accomplished writer, she had my feelings about the characters shifting almost imperceptibly as I struggled to work out what I should believe. The plot, just like a real trial, isn’t just about the truth, it also confronts our own moral stance from the obvious What were you wearing? Doing? Thinking? or in other words those questions aimed at the alleged victim by the defence team, to the more subtle question of privilege and the jury’s own prejudices.

The plotting was superb especially given that the story reaches back through time the author managed to keep a sense of place and time without causing confusion, which I’m sure is far harder than she made it look. I was also completely convinced by the characters they spoke and acted realistically given that this was a time of enormous stress for them all, albeit for different reasons.

Anatomy of a Scandal might be presented as a rape trial, and of course it is, but there is far more depth to this novel than I expected. The roller-coaster isn’t just about the verdict, it is also about marriage, friendship and moral dilemmas making for a highly satisfying read.

Anatomy for a Scandal
is obviously perfect reading for a book group, I can see that this book will generate much discussion and debate around the subject matter and the way the trial progresses.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK, for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. You really did the right thing in purchasing this brilliant, intelligent and thought-provoking book. This unbiased review is my thank you to the publishers and of course, Sarah Vaughan, who I sincerely hope is busy writing something new for me to enjoy.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

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

Good Friday – Lynda La Plante

Crime Fiction
5*s

Reading Good Friday I realised how much great crime fiction I’ve missed out on by somehow eschewing Lynda La Plante’s previous books. Indeed it was only the pull of going back to the 1970s that persuaded me to watch the recent TV series Prime Suspect 1973 which I think covers the first book, Tennison: Prime Suspect 1973. Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed the TV series so when I was offered this book, I was delighted to accept and prepared myself for a trip back to 1975 when the IRA were active in the UK.

By the time this, the third in the prequels to the Jane Tennsion series, opens Jane is now a Detective working out of Bow Street in London. She’s feeling a little frustrated at being given the lowly jobs and seeking a way to find a route to a more exciting future. She’s still young, still very much trying to break free from her parent’s expectations but old enough to be tiring of life in the Section house. One morning after she’s climbed up the steps at Covent Garden Station (the lift was out of order otherwise unless you want to have the life sucked out of your lungs on the dizzy climb up the spiral staircase, you don’t attempt that climb, I’ve done it once and said never again!) she sees a woman shouting after a man who has left a rucksack. Sadly the rucksack contains a bomb that goes off and Jane immediately is caught up in the aftermath of tending to the injured.

                        Covent Garden Staircase

It is interesting to see that despite being set over forty years ago, the media play a key role in the story. Although Jane is clear that she didn’t get a proper view of the suspected bomber, she goes to a press conference where an e-fit picture is given to the press. Unsurprisingly this puts Jane not only in the firing line of the media attention, but also potentially compromises her own safety.

Through all the mayhem, trauma and fear that follows the bomb explosion, Jane’s new boss in CID is adamant that she should attend the annual CID dinner at St Ermin’s Hotel, so she has a posh dress to find. All of this lends a somewhat congruous edge to the hunt for the bomber as I’m used to reading books where no-one gets leave, certainly time to prepare for a dinner wouldn’t be top priority, and yet in some ways it felt realistic, Jane after all, despite being important as a witness is not part of the main investigation.

                    St Ermin’s Hotel

As well as the investigation into the bombing we see Jane move away from the Section House into a small flat of her own, complete with disasterous room-mate. We see the stringent rules imposed by the Police Service on its officers at that time, and we also get a glimpse of what life was like for a young woman in the capital during the 1970s. Jane hasn’t yet got the steely edge she will acquire later on, but she does show us some of the tenacity and brilliant thinking which will emerge into the light later in her life. Alongside this there is some ingenious plotting so which had me turning the pages faster than the speed of… well as fast as I could read them!

This was a brilliant read by an author whose work I will be belatedly seeking out during 2018 and I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for sending me a copy of Good Friday, this review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Lynda La Plante for a wonderful read.

First Published UK: 24 August 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Sunday Morning Coming Down – Nicci French

Crime Fiction
5*s

Well I’ve been an avid follower of this series since Blue Monday which was published back in 2012 and thought that this might be the last in the series but I’m pleased to report that we have on more book to go – Day of the Dead will be published in July 2018.

Frieda Klein is in a pensive mood from the off in this novel, probably not helped by the fact that a body has been found under the floorboards in her cottage. Not some random body but an ex-policeman who Frieda had employed. Despite the extreme provocation Frieda, as usual, doesn’t behave the way she is expected to. She is calm under the provocation of yet another message being sent to her by the man she believes has stalked her over the years Dean Reeve. As the police crowd in her friend DCI Karlsson currently on leave due to a broken leg turns up at the behest of the woman in charge of the investigation, Petra Burge.

Out of all the novels in this series this has the fastest pace, unsurprisingly given the opening, and we see far less of Frieda carrying out her work as a psychotherapist as she is consumed by trying to keep her friends safe from an unseen source. There is various moving around of the cast of friends that Frieda has amassed over the series; for someone who is supposedly such a difficult woman, she commands a hell of a lot of loyalty. As people move from one house to another shoring up their defences as the unlucky ones get all manner of payback for being her friend or associate, we see this wonderful bunch (well minus Olivia who needs a reality check, and fast) in action. I know they are fictional but the characters are friends and even outside the mayhem that surrounds Frieda they have their own issues which are far from small.

The plotting is amazing with a number of strands to follow although the police have little choice but to follow Frieda’s guidance, they also lay down some conditions of their own so Frieda has to co-operate with the media. Not the outcome a lady who values her privacy so highly would want but it illustrates perfectly that the loyalty shown to her by her friends is justified. I really don’t know how this duo turn out such complicated, yet immensely readable books. In some of the earlier books I tried to guess whether Nicci or Sean had penned various scenes, this book gave me no time to wonder on such things as I was so wrapped up in the action, but however they do it, the finished item is superb. Not for these authors warping the characters, the only one who has significantly changed along the way is Chloe and that is completely expected since she has grown into a young woman and fortunately doesn’t have to deal with the unhinged Olivia on a daily basis any longer – did I mention, I don’t rate Olivia as a character although it’s good to have someone like this in the mix, after all we all have someone who has to be tolerated as they can’t possibly be loved!

To say I’m excited about the release of book eight, Day of the Dead, the finale is a complete understatement but I really don’t know how the authors are going to top this one in terms of excitement or even if I’m going to survive saying goodbye to my fictional friends.

I’d like to say thank you to Penguin UK who allowed me to read a review copy of Sunday Morning Coming Down and thank you to Nicci French for keeping me thoroughly entertained. This unbiased review is my thanks to them all.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Nicci French featuring Frieda Klein

Blue Monday
Tuesday’s Gone
Waiting For Wednesday
Thursday’s Child
Friday On My Mind
Saturday Requiem 

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

Anything You Do Say – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Around this time of year I start to consider my Top Ten Books Published in 2017 along with many other bloggers, this year the list has been thrown into disarray with so many late entrants, including this novel. Anything You Do Say encompasses so many of the aspects that I enjoy: a moral dilemma, ‘sliding doors’ scenario, great characters who behave realistically and superb plotting all coming together to give a fresh feel despite the elements appearing in other novels.

Two friends meet for their regular Friday night out at a bar in London and meet a man who is slightly too pushy, deciding to leave they part ways and Joanna walks home taking the route by the canal when she hears someone following her. Now ladies, we’ve all been there – unable to tell whether the threat running through your head is real or imagined. What happens next will change Joanna’s life forever.

What do you do, I find myself thinking, when you think somebody is following you down a deserted strip of canal? When you could become a statistic, a news piece, a tragedy? Nothing. That’s the answer. You carry on. You hope.

Of course the title are known to all of us although I hope few of us have had them directed towards us:

The words are familiar, but it takes me a moment to place them. It’s not a hymn or a song lyric or a phrase. No. It’s a caution. The caution.

Joanna is a great character, you probably know someone like her. She works on the mobile library while she decides what she wants to do with her life. She avoids the nastier aspects of life by ignoring them; bills, decisions, babies are all put in a box to be dealt with later… or never. Her friend, Laura, has plans, big ones, she wants to be an artist and is far surer of herself by far than Joanna, not uncommon in a friendship pairing. In both scenarios that are presented following the late night encounter we see not only what the consequences of her decision has on Joanna but Laura and her partner Rueben and brother Wilf too but also Laura’s partner Jonty in a perfect example of the ripple effect.

With sparkling dialogue which is entertaining yet realistic I was drawn into the story before I’d finished the first page. I loved the friends, that pre-Christmas setting with Christmas trees sparkling inside the houses that Joanna passes as she walks home at the opening of the book is followed up with the changing seasons as we follow the two different outcomes of that night.

As much as I enjoy books with the ‘sliding doors’ aspect I won’t lie, it can sometimes be complicated keeping the two strands straight in your mind. Fear not, Gillian McAllister has a clear system for marking the two stories by using a heading and since the stories diverge from the start I didn’t have a moment’s confusion. What I did have, was compassion for Joanna, maybe that says something about my morals, but there was one particular moment when I had my heart in my mouth as things took a drastic turn for the worse and despite actually needing to be doing something else I wasn’t putting the book aside until my heart-rate settled.

I really enjoyed Gillian McAllister’s debut novel Everything But The Truth which I read earlier this year but this novel even surpasses that one. Usually when I read a book that I want my friends to read, I wait until I have posted my review – not this time – I have been urging many of my bookish friends to go get this book, now – especially as it is at an absolutely bargain price at the moment for the kindle. The paperback will be published on 25 January 2018. Whatever format you read, I urge you not to miss out but do beware, once started, you will not want to stop reading!

I am extremely grateful to the publishers Penguin UK who have provided me with a great selection of books this year, including Anything You Do Say, and Gillian McAllister who I sincerely hope is furiously writing another book for me to enjoy, this unbiased yet unashamedly gushing review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 October 2017
Publisher:  Penguin
No. of Pages:  400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (currently only Audible)

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Flowers for the Dead – Barbara Copperthwaite

Crime Fiction
5*s

The beauty of flowers and their language are intertwined with the twisted thoughts of Adam Bourne, serial killer who believes he is the saviour of those he kills. Rarely have a read a book where I felt so torn between sympathy for both the victims and the perpetrator.

This book definitely falls into the grittier end of crime fiction writing, the read is not one for the faint-hearted, even the most hardened reader will be tempted to check their doors after meeting Adam. Adam longs for love but I just want to put it out there – watching women and helping them with their household chores when they don’t know you is not really going to do it for any of the women I know, and sure enough to date it is fair to say Adam has been unlucky in love.

Adam despite not understanding what makes women tick on the most basic of levels, is not a stupid man. He is sharp and using all and any tools available to him to follow the latest woman, always someone who looks like they need love, and then is disappointed when his plan does not quite pan out the way he expected.

There are few scenes I’ve read over the years than Adam’s reasoning for standing outside Covent Garden tube station in London scouting for unhappy women – a station I’ve waited at enough times in my life to bring the scene to life.
Alongside Adam’s adult persona we learn about his early life, the mitigation if you like for the way he has turned out with touching scenes of Adam’s beloved Grandmother reading him stories from the big book of fairy tales. Their mutual love shines through as when he gets older she introduces him to the language of flowers – the idea that each flower has a message to send, something which was very popular in Victorian England, slightly less so in this day and age although of course any woman who receives a dozen red roses understands what the message means and through careful commercial reinforcement, so do most men. But did you know that Daffodils mean unrequited love? No nor did I.

Yes, I know I’ve not told you about the plot, it’s a good one but you really do need to find out for yourself and there is little more that I can tell you without spoiling it! Yes, the characters are also all well drawn from victim to Policeman all have realistic elements to their personalities, I especially loved the interplay between Mike and his young daughter Daisy as we see a more harmless form of persuasion in the young girl as she wages war on his smoking habit. And the structure is brilliant, each chapter headed up with the name of a flower and its meaning with a sub-heading of where we are in Adam’s backstory if this is one of his chapters. This starts twenty-six years ago with Wood Sorrell (maternal tenderness) which once you meet Sara, Adam’s mother you’ll realise is an attribute that was totally absent in his life – what an inspired thinking to create a character that is more hateful and far scarier than the serial killer – Barbara Copperthwaite is a genius.

In short, you should really read this one, perfect for the winter nights when the wind is howling and the rain is lashing down, and you are safe inside – or are you?

Flowers for the Dead was my twenty-eighth read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in December 2016.

mount-tbr-2017
 

 

First Published UK: 21 September 2015
Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing 
No. of Pages:  472
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Solitary Child – Nina Bawden

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Nina Bawden published 23 adult novels and 20 children’s books in a career that spanned five decades stepped into my life as a child with her book The Peppermint Pig which won 1976 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers. When was a little older her book about children evacuated to Wales imprinted itself equally and Carrie’s War became a huge favourite of mine. I didn’t write book reviews as a child but if I had done, I would have said that these two books truly transported me back in time, to vivid places with characters that I would never forget. Would The Solitary Child have the same effect, in short, I believe so the story so searingly and at times baldly stated means that Harriet’s choices will take a long time to dissipate.

The Solitary Child is an intensely claustrophobic novel which from what I can work out is set around the time it was first published in 1958, certainly after the war but long before it was conceivable that any female would consider a life without a husband a good route to choose in life!

The book revolves around Harriet, just twenty-two when she becomes engaged to James Random after knowing him for just a couple of weeks. James is a rich farmer who lives on the Welsh Boarders, older than Harriet and with the inconvenient dead wife in the background which we soon learn died in circumstances weren’t altogether respectable. The pair had met at a party:

There seemed to be no other way of meeting people in London; each chance invitation was a gateway to a less restricted future.

James did not hide the fact of his wife Eve’s death from Harriet, after leaving the party they went to a little pub where he told her.

But at the time I was appalled. Not entirely by the story because that seemed – at the time, anyway – to be almost unbelievable, but by his blurting it out so clumsily and publicly to me, a stranger. For a little time I though he was boasting, dragging in the unsavoury past as a kind of shabby success.

Harriet as the swift engagement shows, wasn’t overly put off though, the obsession with the first Mrs Random coming later when she moves to the farm and finds herself in amongst those who knew the couple, and their daughter Maggie. The farm is run by Mr Evans whose wife helps out in the house with her own daughter who has a child, yet no husband. James’ sister lives next door and the tension between these characters neatly bubbles beneath the surface – no shouty arguments for this bunch instead it is constrained but no less heartfelt for that.

It was not a new issue, merely a renewal of old anger. Looking on, I was aware of an enmity which astonished, not because of its sudden violence but because they had managed to keep it hidden until now.

With only a few years between them Harriet soon comes to love Maggie who although young for her age gives Harriet someone to focus on while her doubts about her husband grow as she’s exposed in small ways to what those who live nearby and those who work for him really think. Harriet is trapped in a life she isn’t prepared for and so the tension grows as her mind worries over the past. At one point the doctor is called and depressingly reflects the times:

They were talking. The singing in my ears was less loud and I could hear fragments of their conversation.
“Illness… some degree of hysteria… not uncommon.”

Of course the finale arrives and Harriet does eventually find out the truth of Eve Random’s demise which left me with a strong feeling of disquiet. In part this is precisely because the book reflects the time of when it was written, indeed the publishers Bello makes a point that:

Some aspects may appear out of date to modern day readers. Bello makes no apology for this, as to retrospectively change any content would be anachronistic and undermine the authenticity of the original.

I know that this review hints rather than says anything concrete about the book itself but I can confirm that the theme of a woman haunted by a previous wife whilst not a new one has a slightly different twist to it in this enjoyable yet miserable read.

The Solitary Child was my twenty-seventh read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in March 2015 after reading HEAVENALI’s wonderful review.
mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 1958
Publisher: Bello
No. of Pages:  234
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Sweet Little Lies – Caz Frear

Crime Fiction
5*s

Cat Kinsella is a Detective Constable in the Met, in keeping with the fictional detectives we know and love she does a bit of a shady back-story and is being closely mentored by the SIO DCI Kate Steele after falling to pieces following a recent murder but as we are to find out there is something far darker in her background.

This is a police procedural with a dash of psychological thriller elements and has an overwhelming original feel to it that I was drawn in instantly into Cat’s tale. With the majority of the book set in the present day at the Met following the discovery of a woman’s body in park in Islington, London. What Cat doesn’t tell her fellow officers is that she knows the victim, Maryanne Doyle, or rather knew her, from a holiday to Mulderrin, on the west coast of Ireland back in 1998. Cat was just eight whilst Maryanne was a glamorous teenager who had no time for little kids, unless they had a Tinkerbell necklace that matched her belly button piercing. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that little mystery is about because as the readers find out first-hand through the younger Cat’s eyes as we travel back in time, most convincingly, to an age when Cat was keen on the Spice Girls, adores her father although the secrets they share sometimes make her feel uncomfortable. Why? Well she saw him flirting with Maryanne Doyle before she disappeared sparking a police search, and then he told the police he didn’t know her.

For all the frivolity of the Spice Girls and the like from the 1990s and the appealing character of Cat, at both ages, this book has a complex plot and the investigation throws up all sorts of problems not least when Maryanne’s husband realises that what he thought he knew about her life was false with a capital F. The officer’s biggest problem is to try to sift the truth from the lies. That brings me to the title, none of the lies are ‘sweet’ or even ‘little’ so perhaps Caz Frear should be held accountable for a misleading title? I forgive her though because this is definitely one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. As Cat struggles with her feelings towards her father, her fears that he knows more than he’s letting on this is a portrait of a dysfunctional family that doesn’t go overboard. Instead we are treated  a family who to the untrained eye rubs along as well as most, even if Cat is keen to avoid them over the festive turkey!

The author has balanced the need for memorable characters in the police procedural without letting their lives overshadow the crime itself. Although I was rooting for Caz, I liked this young woman who was living what I imagine is a fairly typical contemporary life, in a room in a house in London, no fancy riverside apartments for our detective! She has split loyalty of the most fundamental kind and so it is easy to wonder not only what she is going to do, but what I would do in the same position.

With brilliant characterisation alongside inspired plotting this is a book that you will not want to put down until you turn that last page. I’m not at all surprised that it won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition 2016, it is very hard to believe that a book that ticks all the boxes so decisively is a debut novel.

I’d like to say thank you to the publishers Bonnier Zaffre who sent me a copy of Sweet Little Lies  months ago, before it was first published in June! I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it but belated thanks for allowing me to read such a fresh and inviting book. I can’t wait to see what Caz Frear comes up with next.

Crime fiction lovers, if you haven’t read this book yet it appears to be at an absolute bargain price for the kindle with the paperback version having been published just this week.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No. of Pages:  470
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth – William Boyd

Short Story
4*s

I’ve often discussed my difficult relationship with the short story and have concluded that on the whole I much prefer a novel where the author has time to develop the characters or alternatively say something important rather than entertain me for a short while. Of course, like novels, all short stories are different some appearing in compendiums of different authors on a theme while others are chosen to reflect the different styles of a single author but of course they can consist of anything and everything else in between. In William Boyd’s The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth the reader is treated to a loose association of stories that celebrate, or perhaps that should be denigrate the life of those who are ‘artists’, with most of the stories including the one that claims the title of this collection looking at the world of those who make their living out of the world of art. And, I enjoyed each and everyone. This time there was no feeling that the story despite being perfectly formed was a mere snack that stimulated rather than satiated my appetite, I can firmly say that William Boyd has given me cause to view the form with a renewed enthusiasm.

My favourite story of all was the last in a the book, where Alec Dunbar, a film actor is called to an audition for a film with an embargoed script only to find out that in a case of mistaken identity the actual auditionee should have been a young female called Alexa Dunbar. Then in a twist of fate, the actor is offered a job driving a cask of holy water to a remote part of Scotland for a christening by another actress who can’t deliver it herself as she has a broken ankle. He takes the job for a price and soon finds himself in all manner of bother, planning his next move using inspiration from previous film scripts. The reader therefore gets a sense of where Alec Dunbar is in his career by the curious snippets, films about a SAS film reminded him of the car he was to drive on the mammoth journey soon morph into a short memory of some t’ai chi learnt on a Samurai movie later switching to a sentimental WWII movie. This inspired format keeps the theme of actors running through what is a farcical tale which I’m not sure I would have engaged with if I hadn’t spent my time becoming thoroughly immersed in the world of artists, their single-minded simultaneous over-confidence and crushing self-doubt that I’d enjoyed during the preceding stories.

The title story is a novella and also brilliantly executed while it examines of a relatively short period of time in the life of an aspiring actress, or perhaps photographer, whereby Bethany’s dreams are adapted to the situation she finds herself in. This tale managed to elicit some sympathy and even a little admiration for her even while the sensible voice in my head is urging her to see these unrealistic dreams for what they are before her life spirals too far in a downward direction.

With the book headed up by some far shorter but delightfully pithy tales there is an awful lot to enjoy in William Boyd’s collection and it has prompted me to look out some of his novels since he had dropped off my radar for some explicable reason.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for allowing me to read an ARC of The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth ahead of publication on 2 November 2017, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 2 November 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No. of Pages:  256
Genre: Short Story
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