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

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Eve Chase has penned a brilliant story which flips between events at the somewhat dilapidated house Black Rabbit Hall in Cornwall between 1968 and the present day; one where long buried secrets are eventually uncovered.

In 1968 the house is the holiday retreat for the Alton family. Amber and Toby are fifteen year old twins with two younger siblings Barney and Kitty are four and five, full of the wonder of young children. Their parents Hugo and Nancy are a solid couple, still in love but Easter 1968 changes everything for the entire family.

Many decades later Lorna is looking for a wedding venue. Happy holidays in Cornwall draw her far away from the home she shares with Jon in Bethnal Green to find the perfect location. The place where she used to explore country houses with her recently deceased mother. The draw of Black Rabbit Hall in all its shabbiness confuses and worries Jon.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of dual timeline stories and unlike many both storylines in this novel are equally appealing. In the past we hear about events mainly from Amber’s viewpoint at the tail-end of what has been an uncomplicated life living in a family where love abounds. In the present, although Lorna has finally found a man to depend on, it is clear that her life hasn’t been quite so uncomplicated, her relationship with her mother certainly on far less solid ground.

The author brings the house to life vividly and completely. Items left in draws, or of importance to the Alton children turn up later on in the story giving the reader sharp points of recognition that resonate.

There are so many children’s things, seemingly left where they were thrown. In the corner of the room, partially covered by a blanket, is a dappled grey rocking horse the size of a small pony. Beneath its front hoofs, a dolly’s cradle. Closer to the door, a mildewed pile of books: The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Milly Molly Mandy, Rupert Annual 1969… A shiver tingles up her spine – she’d read and loved many of these books as a child: an instant bond with the departed children, one that transcends both time and class.

The style of writing is that the book moves backwards to the Alton’s story and forward to Lorna’s often leaving the reader on the brink of a key revelation, a trap to keep her reader’s turning those pages the frustration only momentary as you are instantly plunged into another heart-rending moment at another point in time. Eve Chase is almost like a magician, she points you in one direction having firmly shut off the obvious avenue of where the story will lead, only for this misdirection to be revealed for the trickery that it is much further down the line.

Be warned Black Rabbit Hall will wring every drop of emotion from you. I was left full-on sobbing at the end which was pitch-perfect for all that had gone before. A beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga. This was the author’s debut novel a book I bought having chosen her second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde as one of my Top Ten Books published in 2017. Which one is better? They are both are simply wonderful – firm favourites with this reader and hopefully Eve Chase will conjure up another wonderful story for me to read sooner rather than later.

Black Rabbit Hall was my fifth book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in August 2017 it is worth another third of a book token.

 

First Published UK: 2 July 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Good Me Bad Me – Ali Land

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Well this is definitely a book with a different premise to anything I’ve read before. Annie’s mother is a serial killer and after the last killing she decides to go to the police and tell all. To protect her Annie is given a new name, Millie Barnes and sent to live with foster parents Mike and Saskia and their own teenaged daughter Phoebe.
This is a book that drags you into the action straight away with much of Milie’s narrative addressed to her mother, the reader is given an insight into what may have happened before she arrived at her foster home, but for the most part nothing specific is actually expressed.

As well as being a foster father of many years, Mike is also a psychologist who works with Millie as she prepares for her mother’s trial as a key witness. Odd as it may seem the foster family have their own problems which are revealed to us through Millie’s eyes.

Millie has clearly been damaged by her upbringing, she has problems forming bonds, struggles to react appropriately and is essentially living a lie. Maybe a necessary one but beyond Mike and Saskia and her new headmistress, no-one knows the truth about why she is being fostered and her absences for preparation are papered over with more acceptable excuses. As I was reading this book, the idea that a young fifteen year old who has taken the huge step of revealing the horror that occurred behind closed doors is then left with limited people who understand something of what she’s going through, and what she’s preparing for. And then there is the fact that this is her mother, that bond is still there, not completely severed.

This was a masterful piece of writing and although Millie’s narrative felt a little disjointed at times as it reflected her disordered thoughts for me, that just added to the sense of horror which fortunately is solely down to the writing rather than graphic images of what happened which are mostly referred to but not expressly discussed. Ali Land does a fantastic job of adding the tension by interspersing memories with an every day life which is quite frankly anything but normal.

With the main protagonist being the daughter of a serial killer the theme is that of nature over nurture rears its head in the most twisted way – what happens if a child has both sides of the coin loaded against her – can Millie by having reported her mother escape the pattern that her early life has set in place – after all we can all imagine what her future holds if she isn’t able to pull free.

The characters are a mixed bunch although the cast is relatively small, which suited the style of book and of course Millie’s background. With Millie obviously and understandably disturbed, Saskia seemed off-the wall and Phoebe a nasty cow. Mike was kind but he appeared to be Millie’s entire support system and there were some indications that he wasn’t looking after her for entirely altruistic reasons. Plus how can a man working in mental health not see that his wife is in bad need of help?

I can’t say I enjoyed this book, because that is entirely the wrong word. I was unsettled by what I was reading, I was unnerved by many of the characters and I read the entire book with a never-ending feeling of dread – was it a good read? Yes, not only was it an inspired premise, this book also captured the way teenagers behave, understandably given her background working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse she has created a true to life replicas in her younger characters. So in conclusion this book is set firmly on the pile of books I’m glad I’ve read, and in all honesty I don’t think I’ll be able to forget Millie’s sad tale for some time to come.

I’d like to thank the publishers Michael Joseph for my copy of Good Me, Bad Me which will be published next week. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 12 January 2017
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I have loved in varying degrees the five other books I’ve read by this author with last year’s offering, Little Lies being one of my favourite reads of the year, so I was a little surprised that I didn’t instantly warm to this book but happily I soon became engrossed about this tale of middle-class life in Sydney Australia.

Truly Madly Guilty charts the life of three couples; quiet Erika and Oliver are neighbours to the more flamboyant Vid and Tiffany so when Vid in a party spirit invites them to a barbeque on a day Erika’s best, and childhood friend, Clementine and her husband Sam are visiting they feel they should accept. Part of what makes the opening to this book so slow is the use of Liane Moriaty’s favoured device, we all know something huge happened at the barbeque but what the event was is shrouded in mystery, a very heavily signposted mystery at that.

Having got over the frustration of wanting to know what on earth happened in Vid and Tiffany’s back garden I concentrated on the smaller secrets that are revealed. Sam and Clementine have an enviable lifestyle, especially now that Sam has a new job. Their two daughters Holly and Ruby are beautiful and healthy although come with the associated niggles that children bring with them. Clementine is a cellist and about to audition for her dream job. Erika and Oliver are the besotted god-parents to the two girls and have both come from more troubled backgrounds than their friends. But all is not as it seems, Erika and Clementine don’t have a simply breezy friendship, rather these childhood playmates have a complex relationship. Of course Tiffany and Vid are oblivious to this fact and are enjoying the barbeque with gusto.

So once more we have a novel with a psychological bent concentrated at least in part on female friendship. The author, as always has a sharp eye (and pen) which details the everyday events that reveal something far deeper than is initially expected. Sadly, I didn’t find the humour, which is, for me, part of the pull of this author’s books but you really can’t fault her on her observations. The characters, their squabbles, their passions and their secret fears are all absolutely spot on. I felt I knew them all, I felt their guilt (yes this isn’t a title with no relation to the book!) as well as the more mundane emotions such as ambivalence, the author accurately writing about not only those things that are opposite ends of the spectrum of emotion but those middling ones which adds a real edge of realism which helps bring these people to life. And you should also be prepared for a whole heap of issues to keep you enthralled including IVF, hoarding, alcoholism, lap-dancing to name a few! Liane Moriarty’s dialogue was as sharp as ever, the exchanges between Erika and Clementine particularly really lift the book to another level.

The event when it is revealed is a good one, with all the characters behaving and displaying the whole range of emotions imaginable. So whilst this may not be my favourite book by this author I was left satisfied at the end of the book, with it making far more of an impression on me than I suspected it would.

I’d like to thank the publishers Michael Joseph for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages 480
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Other books by Liane Moriarty

Little Lies (2014)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2011)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
Three Wishes (2004)