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

The Scandal – Fredrik Backman

Crime Fiction
5*s

Is a book more rewarding if you spent the first section wondering whether or not to put it aside for something that doesn’t revolve around a sport that you have no interest in, only to find yourself completely drawn into the both the story and writing style? Whatever the answer, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year despite the uncertain start.

At the beginning of the book we hear shots but soon the action switches to a game of ice hockey. Now I wasn’t a fan of the straightforward hockey on proper ground being much smaller than my peers, no good at running and it was freezing cold, doing the same on ice only has peril written all over it as far as I’m concerned. But through the game we get to meet all the inhabitants of Beartown a small town in Sweden whose whole identity seems to be wrapped up in the game. Man, woman or child, if you live in Beartown then the fortune of your dwelling place depends on the success of the various teams ordered by age, if a little muddied by aptitude.

Those shots I mentioned kept me wondering as the action switched from the ice to the town and back again as young boys were ready to make their mark against the opponents whilst others failed in their efforts. Beartown Ice Hockey team are about to play in the semi-finals, and they want to win.

This book is full of diverse characters albeit a set that are united by their love of the game, or what it can mean for Beartown, a town that has been a long time in the decline. We see the board members sponsors, the coach, the General Manager, the fathers, mothers and sisters of the players as well as the team themselves. We even know a great deal about the woman who cleans the ice rink, the changing rooms and the offices for the club. Everyone is involved in some way or another. But the focus of the book isn’t about the game, or not directly, it’s about something that happened after a game and the consequences on all involved.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I really wasn’t sure that this was a book for me and yet the writing was at pared down yet eloquent, holding so many truths of life that I wished I had read it when I was younger and still had some of the important thoughts that were shared.

Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanise our enemy…

The writing style alone had me convinced, with phrases and messages carried through from one scene to another – when the book got tough, and it does, the stylistic flair kept the momentum going forward while the reader comes to terms with what has been revealed. There are issues galore and normally when I write that in a review I’m not being complimentary because it can feel as if the author is leaping from bandwagon to bandwagon. That isn’t the case with The Scandal where the issues in the book are tightly linked to the players on a personal level. The author hasn’t offered up platitudes or worst case scenarios, instead the author has a nuanced take and provides what I felt was a balanced path, best of all leaving the reader to come to his or her own opinions.

This is a story of friendship between males and females, yes despite the kernel of the action being a boys ice hockey team, there are some females who are also central to the story. It is also the story of those other major relationships of being a parent, a sibling, or a partner, of being loved and loving others. Most of all this is a tale of how loyalties can be divided and sometimes sitting on the fence isn’t an option. It is in fact a remarkable book that had me in tears more than once.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Penguin UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Scandal or Beartown if you are a US reader. This review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Fredrik Backman for a remarkable story which I’d love to tell you more about, but it really does have to be read and admired with little or no idea what you will find within its pages. I suspect readers will take away different messages. I feel that this is a book that we should see on school book lists and book clubs across the world.

First Published UK: 10 August 2017
Publisher:  Penguin
No. of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I opened the book and instantly felt at home with the story, I knew within a couple of pages that this book would suck me in, and it did. I adored the mystery of what happened to Audrey back in the fifties and I was equally enchanted by Jessie’s story in the present day, a life so different despite the earlier time period being easily within living memory.

So I suppose you want to know what it’s about? In the present day Jessie who has a teenage stepdaughter Bella, still so obviously grieving the loss of her mum and toddler Romy to contend with dreams of an uncomplicated country-life with her family. Her husband Will is more hesitant but can see that Jessie has fallen in love with Applecote Manor but will the house live up to Jessie’s hopes and dreams and build a better future away from dead Mandy’s ghost hovering in their London house?

Right from the start I warmed to Jessie who is honest about those gaps we all have between how we’d like life to be, and what the truth actually is. Later in the book she freely admits to posting pictures on Instagram portraying what she wants but there is something very dark and shadowy at Applecote Manor, a presence that Bella believes means that they will never be happy there. Is this teenage angst or does the house hold a secret? Well of course it does!

In the 1950s we meet four sisters, three born within a year of each other, the beautiful Flora, the athletic Pam and the serious Margot whose viewpoint dominates the past part of the storyline and these three are joined by the younger Dot who trails after her three elder sisters during a summer heatwave while they are staying at Applecote Manor. This is a summer that will have repercussions for years to come as innocence is lost.

And then there is Audrey who went missing five years before the summer we experience with the Wilde sisters and it is this that is the mystery that is the heart of this book.

There are so many themes packed into this deeply evocative story, from the bonds between sisters, the ghosts of the past who can cast shadows over lives, the difficulties in growing up, friendship and mothers all get an airing. Each storyline in the past is echoed in the present but not in an obvious way, it is the subtlety and the lightness of touch that makes this such an impressive read, with the beautiful Cotswold setting the pivot of the strands that paint the bright pictures from the hot summer in the past with the cold and wet days as Jessie struggles to build a future for her family.

Alongside the many themes this is also a difficult book to neatly fit into any one genre – it has a central mystery, a historical time period and there are times when the writing became so dark it could be considered domestic noir and it is a coming-of-age story. Whatever the genre, it is brilliant a book that I truly lived, I didn’t just picture the sleigh bed up under the port-hole window at the top of the house, I could swear I had lain down on it myself and I knew the characters, all of whom were honestly drawn, no-one was flawless and none were clichés and they were all distinct, even the secondary characters. All in all I feel sure enough to pronounce that Eve Chase is an author who has an enormous amount of talent so I have already ordered her debut novel Black Rabbit Hall which had high praise heaped upon it when it was published in 2015.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, this review is my heartfelt thanks to them and Eve Chase for a wonderful journey that had me experience the full range of emotions and I closed the book with a tear rolling down my cheek. Readers in the US will find this book under the title The Wildling Sisters.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

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

Broken Heart – Tim Weaver #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
3*s

A car-park in Somerset is the scene of the disappearance of Linda Korin who drove in one day, left her car and was never seen again. The police investigate but are unable to come up with a satisfactory query of what happened the most likely explanation is that she went into the sea, a theory that doesn’t really stack up as the tide was out at the time her car is captured on CCTV going into the car park. After months with no news Linda’s sister in America asks David Raker to take on the case.

Tim Weaver has produced something quite special with this series, Broken Heart being the seventh book. We have crime fiction but the focus is on missing people rather than dead bodies and in doing so often uncovers tales which are mulit-layered and unusual. Here we have a woman in her sixties, and although she is beautiful having been a former model and actress in second-rate horror movies, she is not the typical crime fiction victim.

The story had me engaged, from the start I was trying to work out how the facts presented could be, you see this is one author that doesn’t ‘cheat.’ There is no trying to gloss over incontrovertible facts by having random witnesses lying for no good reason all the many problems to solve, and there are lots within this novel, are unravelled fairly. After a skype meeting with Linda’s sister, Wendy Fisher he begins to look at her early life with her husband who had been a famous film director until he was exiled from Hollywood to Spain for being a communist.

Having read and been engaged in the lives of the subjects, as well as fully entertained by David Raker himself in the previous books I found this one veered perhaps down a too convoluted path for me although I am mindful that due to events in my personal life I wasn’t perhaps in the right frame of mind for any book at this time. So my observations are that there was more violence in this episode than the previous books in the series and the expose into film making was fascinating but perhaps a little bit too ‘nerdy’ for those of us who aren’t as thrilled by the subject as Tim Weaver as a result the endless playing of sections of a film, a director obsessed by his star and lost copies of films made years previously which included fairly lengthy explanations of how originals need to be stored to keep them from deteriorating slowed the pace down for me. If you have a love of old Hollywood movies, especially those naff horror ones, then you will love this aspect. What is not in doubt that there is a complicated mystery to be solved and my sleuthing didn’t even come close.

Ultimately although the storyline was inspired by the film world, underneath, as in all good books this is about people and you don’t have to have an interest in the parts to be interested in how others behave.

Broken Heart was my tenth read in my 20 Books of Summer 2017  Challenge.

First Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
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 #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction – True Crime 5*s

As a lover of true-crime it is shocking that it has taken me quite so long to read the one book which is arguably one of the best known and according to many the book which led the way. And what better way to relax by the pool than to read about the brutal slaying of a household of four with all aspects of the crime and its outcome dissected in the minutest and most vivid detail.

The book starts benignly enough as we travel to Holcomb, Kansas and view the house where the moderately wealthy Herb Clutter and his reclusive wife Bonnie lived with their teenage children Kenyon and Nancy. We see Bonnie through Truman Capote’s recreation of her following his exhaustive research dreading the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as she is depressed but equally cautiously hopeful that the doctors have finally after years of suffering found a reason, and cure, for her depressive episodes which have seen her hospitalised more than once. We watch her prepare for bed in her beautiful home, we know what sits on her bedside table and all the time we know that this scene of troubled tranquillity will be shattered forever, and so it is.

This book is shocking but not because there are endless lurid descriptions of what happens after the foreign sounds shatter the Kansas night but because Truman Capote has so meticulously created within this new brand of true-crime a real feeling of character for all the players. We get to know the investigators, the other people in the small town who while they watch the investigators fruitless search for a motive and perpetrator and then eventually we meet Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. When we do get to know this pair, they aren’t presented as senseless criminals, we get to know them in-depth, we know what their childhoods were like and we get a sense of what may have led to that fateful November night in 1959.

It is the minutiae of the details especially when the spotlight is turned onto characters who in a straightforward account of a crime would barely get a mention that makes this book so rich, for instance we know so much about Nancy Clutter:

Where she found the time, and still managed to “practically run that big house” and be a straight-A student, the president of her class, a leader in the 4-H program and the Young Methodists league, a skilled rider, an excellent musician (piano, clarinet), an annual winner at the county fair (pastry, preserves, needlework, flower arrangement)—how a girl not yet seventeen could haul such a wagonload, and do so without “brag,” with rather, merely a radiant jauntiness, was an enigma the community pondered, and solved by saying, “She’s got character. Gets it from her old man.”

A stunning read which manages to simultaneously remain detached from the subject, yet so up and personal that it the story it tells isn’t with the overt disgust that the remaining Clutter family and the inhabitants of the town must have felt. So humanising is the research that Capote undertook(with the assistance of Harper Lee) that I felt some measure of sympathy, for one of the perpetrators at least, whose life had seemingly been overtaken by events. It is the contradictions of the make-up of this man which I found so troubling, it is this aspect that has lingered over the last few weeks and why I stand-up with the critics and affirm the prizes one, and confirm that In Cold Blood truly is an outstanding read.

In Cold Blood is my 6th read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 1966
Publisher: Penguin Classics 
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead – Andrew Tierney #20booksofsummer

Historical True Crime
4*s

On 1 May 1849 Ellen Langley dies in Nengh, County Tipperary the local women gather and stone the house she was living in. Meanwhile Doctor Langley tried to go about the business of removing Ellen’s body from the house; he did, she spent two days in the garden.

This is the account of one woman’s life, a fairly indistinct figure and her sad demise and one that serves as a commentary on how women were both viewed and treated at this time, with a focus on the laws in Ireland at the time. It is clear, for whatever reason, Ellen Langley had been cast aside by her husband and in 1849 that put her in a very precarious position indeed.

This was an interesting read although the explanation of the convoluted family relations slowed pace of the book with mini-biographies of countless kith and kin, fortunately there are some family trees at the start of the book to assist the reader.

Following these early explanations we then move onto the part of the book which was far more interesting, the inquest where Doctor Langley seems at pains to exonerate himself from the faintest whiff of suspicion of wrongdoing. As a Protestant man of social standing, a man who had attended inquests as an expert witness at previous murder trials (there was far more serious crime in County Tipperary at this time than I’d imagined) it is possible that the Doctor was just pre-empting any rumours, after all the fact that his marriage to Ellen had not been happy in the last few months was no secret. Or his efforts to appear innocent were those of a man who was trying to disguise his guilt?

One of the things that always strikes me about historical true crime is how much faster the wheels of justice tended to move in those days. Archaeologist Andrew Tierney has certainly dug deep to find the documents that detail the court proceedings and has resisted what surely must have been a big temptation to flesh Ellen out with more details than are actually available. As a result she remains a shadowy being which made me feel all the more compassionate for this woman who represents so many of her time.

You can’t have a historical account in Ireland without links the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and while this doesn’t overshadow the court case it is useful to have the context, if only to gain an understanding of social standing. Alongside that, Ellen died during the potato famine and the author paints a desperate picture of the effect this had on the local population, the contrast between the rich and the poor being readily apparent.

This is a worthy addition to my historical true crime collection and the arrogance and lack of compassion from some players in the court room, all men of course, women were not allowed at this time, was so blatant it defied belief at times, but there is a lot to keep the reader’s attention. And then we get to the ending, court case over, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead leaves us with a surprise discovery which left me shocked.

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead was my fourth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 23 February 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 282
Genre: True Crime – Historical
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Saturday Requiem – Nicci French #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

In 2011 the talented duo Sean French and Nicci Gerrard published the first book in a new series about a psychotherapist called Frieda Klein under their pen name Nicci French with each of the titles featuring a day of the week. Originally I assumed that there would be a total of seven books but I’ve heard a rumour that there may in fact be eight in total. Saturday Requiem was the sixth in the series and published in 2016 but due to a NetGalley fail on my part, I missed reading a copy around publication time and later treated myself to the paperback copy in readiness for the seventh book which will be published later this month – Sunday Morning Coming Down.

Frieda Klein has vowed not to work with the police following some difficult moments which are covered in previous books, but… well of course there would be no book if she wasn’t in some way involved… she is drawn into the historic murder of Hannah Docherty’s family. Hannah had been tried and convicted of murder in her teens and has spent the last thirteen years in prison. Frieda agrees to meet her and is shocked to see that she is a shell of a person, almost mute and clearly injured. Because Frieda cares she is concerned that the treatment Hannah has received has caused her mental difficulties and decides to dig back to find out what sort of girl Hannah was before she apparently killed her mother, step-father and younger brother, Rory.

One of the reasons I get hooked on series is the relationships the key protagonists has with those around them and Nicci French has provided the readers with a real bunch of characters. Sadly DCI Malcolm Karlsson didn’t feature quite so much in this book having broken a fair few bones in his most recent crime fighting effort but the Polish builder Josef, Frieda’s biggest fan and protector, is there ready to lend a hand whenever the occasion demands it, and these occasions happen often! Jack and Chloe are also in the thick of things along with Karlsson’s loan of his deputy Valerie Long to investigate the historic murders, one that obviously needs more scrutiny following a recent discovery. Frieda is a complicated character but the validation of those around her ensures that I have warmed to her over the series. Dean Reeve, Frieda’s long-standing stalker is still elusively present and the set-up is still ongoing for what I hope will be an explosive showdown.

Apart from the characters of course what all readers need in crime fiction is a good puzzle with plenty of clues that don’t quite fit together until they are put into the right order. Nicci French gives us this in spades with each interview slowly moving the pieces around, and increasing the tension, until there is only one answer that makes sense. I don’t usually mention the endings to books, but this one blew me away!!

What more can I say, book six is up there with the best in the series, it sent me through the whole range of emotion with the plot, characterisation and pacing absolutely spot-on.

Saturday Requiem was my third read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 30 June 2016
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
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

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Sweet Revenge – Jane Fallon

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This is a light read which was much appreciated and what more appealing subject than laughing at a hapless, and dare I say it, self-opinionated man, whose wife has become invisible to him after twenty odd years of marriage?

I loved Paula, a slightly overweight woman, who had aspirations to be an actress when she first met Robert but those dreams were put on hold whilst he pursued his acting ambitions and she stayed at home and looked after the baby. She’d been fooled by the ‘I’ll concentrate on my career first and then it will be your turn’ line and of course, it had never been her turn.

Paula’s baby is now about to leave for university and Paula has a part-time job in a coffee shop when she unwittingly spies a text on Robert’s phone that has only one conclusion. Robert is having an affair with one of his fellow cast members on the popular TV drama Farmer Giles.

I can safely confirm that Jane Fallon is back on form with this funny novel detailing how Paula is going to take her revenge. There are laughs to be had at everyday life that we all share – how is it that a novice running for a bus means you’re not stared at (or laughed at) while donning fitness gear and attempting to do it properly means that all heads swivel towards you? Robert’s role on a long running drama – think of a racier version of The Archers on TV, also has plenty to quip about as does the other woman’s penchant for hot yoga! Paula’s method for revenge is inspired although somewhat ambitious and also leads to some somewhat awkward situations.

All of this might give the impression that what happens is predictable, but it isn’t, the author has managed to create some creative twists in the tale which added a great deal of pleasure and apprehension to the plot. Despite no lives being at risk, just hearts, there were some truly cringe worthy moments for me to chuckle at.

The storyline flows and Paula had my sympathy because she wasn’t too whiny about finding out the truth – I know that in ‘real life’ this isn’t particularly likely but it was refreshing to read a book where she missed the self-pitying stage almost instantly and moved straight on with a plan! How refreshing to read a book that isn’t full of the misery of human nature but one which allowed me to laugh at the absurd way we humans often behave whilst sharing some of the less than charitable thoughts that I have about some types of character, their pastimes and ambitions from time to time! She may have been cheated on but it would take far more than that to beat Paula.
My Sweet Revenge moves at quite a pace with never a dull moment with even the seemingly benign domestic scenes taking in the truths of life which made them easy to recreate in the mind’s eye.

The perfect book to relax with, a good holiday read, or honestly a book to pick up and read wherever you fancy – in my case on a plane, in a car, on a train and of course my favourite place, tucked up in bed.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Penguin UK who gave me a copy of My Sweet Revenge. My unbiased review is my thanks to them and the hugely entertaining Jane Fallon.

First Published UK: 12 January 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages:  416
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

In 1981 Prince Charles married Lady Diana, meanwhile nine year old Leon is a big brother to baby Jake. His mother is unhappy because Jake’s father doesn’t want to see Jake. Leon no longer sees his Jamaican father because he wasn’t too happy about Jake either. With Leon and Jake spending more and more time with a neighbour while their mother chases around after Jake’s father, Leon believes he is the only one who knows how to look after Jake. Soon Leon stops going to school regularly as he needs to tend to Jake and of course it is only a matter of time until the social workers are at the door, making plans for the two boys.

Leon and Jake go to stay with Maureen, a kindly woman who looks, to Leon, like Father Christmas. She is kind and gently lets Leon become the young boy he is again. With Jake being born to two white parents, and still a young baby, the Social workers decide that he has a chance for a ‘new’ family, the new family don’t want Leon too, and it isn’t long before the the two boys are separated. The rest of the book follows the fallout of these two major events in a young boy’s life; split apart from his family and desperately worried for his young brother.

Refreshingly the author hasn’t made Leon, who narrates his own tale, a precocious child. In fact on the whole he is often confused, unsurprisingly, by the chaos that surrounds him. He is a boy that listens at doors and misunderstands the things he hears. He is a boy who loves his bike but finds it difficult to make friends. He is boy who steals small items, one who wants to run away to find his mother and his baby brother Jake and put his family back together again. Family bonds are naturally the central theme of this book, which stops well short of becoming preachy about any subject, but whose meaning can’t be avoided when told through the crystal clear eyes of a youngster, one whose circumstances are totally out of his control.

This could have easily become a mawkish book but instead it cleverly walked the line that meant I felt enormous sympathy for Leon, who wouldn’t? But that didn’t mean I was wailing throughout the story which also encompasses wider race relations and the accompanying riots which 1980s Britain endured. Unsurprisingly Maureen finds it hard at times to help Leon not only face but learn to accept the hand fate has played and to find a way through, what she doesn’t know is that Leon is making his own way in the world down at the allotment. A coincidence perhaps but plants featured heavily in another book I read recently narrated by a child, The Museum of You, and of course their healing spirits are documented in one of my favourite children’s classics, The Secret Garden. The plants in this book open Leon’s eyes to the suffering of others, as well as giving the reader some entertainment with the various characters that spend their days tending their vegetables on the nearby allotment.

The characters make this book, not only Leon, who I couldn’t help but fall in love with, but those he describes around him. From the put upon neighbour to the myriad of social workers, to the loving Maureen and her feisty sister and the man at the allotment who reminds Leon of his father, are all conjured up in snatches, the individual scenes bringing these people to life.

My Name is Leon was a gentle yet powerful read and one that made me hope that in this day and age, decisions such as the fictional one to split the siblings because of their colour, are unlikely to happen. Although the book ends on a happy note, that isn’t a result of a magic wand which puts the world to rights, the best ending a book that tells such an important tale could have.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for my copy of My Name is Leon. this review is my unbiased thanks to them.  I completely understand why this book has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards for 2016.

First Published UK: 2 June 2016
Publisher: Penguin/Viking
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Books I have read, Books I want to Read, Five Star Reads

My Sister’s Bones – Nuala Ellwood

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

Well this story was so much more than I expected, the war journalist not a token character to make a difference like I suspected, but someone who really felt like they’d seen and done all those terrifying things that it is easier to shy away from when it comes on the news.

When Kate Rafter returns to Hearne Bay following the death of her mother she is collected from the train station by her brother-in-law Paul. It is clear from the outset that there is trouble between Kate and her younger sister Sally and even when we are forced to confront Kate’s version of events, there are questions as to the real cause.

I’m often wary of crime books that strongly have mental illness at the very centre of their tale, not because I’m in any doubt of the awfulness of the condition but because I harbour slight suspicions as to the author’s motives – do they chose to portray someone this way to be politically correct? Or to capture readers who suffer similarly? Perhaps it has been chosen to excuse the actions of a character to make the unbelievable, less absurd? Not so in this book. Yes Kate is suffering from the effects of all that she has witnessed and she hears voices, sees hallucinations and takes strong tablets to help her sleep, but, and this is crucial for me to keep faith, she is also strong, she takes herself to task, unwilling to play the victim, she wants to return to work. So although we have a reason to doubt her visions, as I got to know more about her, all that she sees and hears has echoes in the war-zones she recently left, it all felt authentic.

What is equally interesting is that we follow Kate in a police station over the course of her detention for some unknown crime. She is guarded, trying not to provide ammunition to the police but we are as unsure of her motive as her crime. In between the interviews she narrates her tale, going back to the weeks leading up to her arrest. Because I knew some of this background and her need to present her most sane self to the police this also gave me a clue as to the strength of this woman, this is no flaky airhead playing at being a war-zone journalist, imagining she’s been to Syria, this is someone who has seen things we don’t even want to imagine.

Most of the book is narrated by Kate but we get to see another perspective through her alcoholic sister’s eyes. Sally always felt her mother preferred clever Kate who succeeded at everything and had moved away and left them, including her mother who had been shattered by the death of their brother when he was just a toddler. This is just one of the shadowy truths that litter this book. We know David died, but how and why isn’t instantly apparent, neither is the disappearance of Hannah, Sally’s daughter.

With many themes of a distressing nature this book could easily have turned into a complete misery fest but it is far too clever for that. Although there is plenty to despair about, some of it far too distressing to deeply contemplate, there is also a plot with a definite ending which lifts this head and shoulders above the competition. I loved the way that the themes reappear throughout the story and loop back to re-examine the truths based upon updated information whilst never labouring the point.

In short, this book was so good, not always an easy read but an informative one, and yet the author never preaches, she is telling a story which has everything you’d expect from a good mystery, in fact there are several mysteries all of which are revealed with an understated style which will make you gasp.

Thank you to Penguin who allowed me to read a copy prior to the publication date of tomorrow. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

Published UK: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Penguin 
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US