Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Lie of You – Jane Lythell

Psychological Suspense
3*s

An intriguing story of psychological suspense rather than a thriller The Lie of You dives beneath the surface of the reason why Heja is obsessed with the minutia of Kathy’s life.

Kathy has recently returned to the workplace following the birth of her son and Heja is watching and waiting for her it would seem. Heja is efficient and a former darling of Finland’s TV it is a mystery as to why she has ended up in a junior role on a magazine. Heja’s own portrayal of the situation is done well. This is a fascinating book to read as a snapshot of how some women judge each other and the author has taken the everyday comments you hear and magnified them into the storyline which gives a feeling not only of a genuine working relationship, but also makes the reader think about the interactions we have with our colleagues.

Fortunately because the structure of the book is to have each woman’s narration, we get to see Kathy’s view of the relationship too. Here things don’t seem quite as simple and if Kathy is right then there are some clear malevolent acts carried out by Heja with small but spiteful ways designed to undermine her boss in the workplace. What could have caused all this angst?

We then meet Marcus Kathy’s husband and everything we’ve been told seems is now seen in a slightly different frame. In true psychological suspense style the reader is likely to feel that their feelings about the situation change as the book progresses which I have to admit I always admire.

So there is lots to admire and I really was keen to see how the story would progress and of course was itching to know what the resolution would be. I think the characterisation and the observational aspect of the interactions of both women was well done, however Marcus seemed to remain a somewhat sketchy character. His actions didn’t quite match up with how we were told, mainly by Kathy, that he behaved and this was a little disconcerting because I have no issue with unreliable narrators but this seemed a little bit more disconnected than a deliberate rose-tinted view of the world.

The story got off to a cracking start and it should be noted that this isn’t a roller-coaster ride of events, more a slow unveiling of the truth and in that regard it kept a steady pace with the revelations mostly evenly presented. I have to admit I’d expected more office scenes than we actually got with much of the drama being of a far more domestic nature and therefore domestic details and less of the high-powered working woman than I expected. That said it was easy to imagine the scenes in London of the hustle and bustle carrying on as a background to the relationship Kathy and Heja becoming more and more tense and claustrophobic.

An enjoyable read that did all the good things you expect of this genre which was of course less crowded in 2014 when this book was written.

First Published UK: 1 January 2014
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blackwater Lake – Maggie James

Novella
4*s

For someone who has repeatedly stated that shorter fiction is really not my cup of tea, I have had a short burst of reading quite a few examples of this craft lately, not at all in a bid to meet certain challenges, I hasten to add!
Blackwater Lake actually didn’t fit into any challenge but I do have a couple of the author’s books on my TBR and when another blogger reviewed this novella stating that it featured hoarding, I had to learn more and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found.

“It may not have been a lifestyle she chose, remember. Choice and compulsion don’t always go together.”

Matthew Stanyerhad left his Bristolian home as soon as he was able to, although at that time his mother’s hoarding was comparatively low level, he’d never been able to have friends round. As he got older, he visited sporadically but with the onset of his mother’s illness with dementia the visits became more frequent and his concern about the state his parents lived in multiplied. His father is still holding down his job as a groundsman for the Blackwater Estate but managing his wife’s condition is taking its toll. Then the day came when he couldn’t contact either of them and when he finds a note he knows that he will have to call the police. Even now as a grown man he wishes there was another way, he doesn’t want the state of the house to become public knowledge.

Matthew needs to clear the house out and starts sorting through the masses of papers and objects stored in the house, the tins of tuna hoarded for an eventuality only clear to his mother and the seemingly endless piles of clothes, many of which she’d never worn. When enough clutter has been sorted, Matthew uncovers some facts about his family all previously shrouded at best in secrecy or at worst shielded from his view in a veil of lies.

This is one meaty story for a novella, the characters see definite progression and end up as fully rounded people, although Matthew’s girlfriend is a little more of a shadowy being. I found the whole story of Blackwater Lake well and truly gripping all of which goes to show that a good story doesn’t need to be long to be satisfying. The plotting was also complex to fit into what amounts to a little under one hundred pages, and yet nothing felt rushed, the story easy to follow and I was on the roller-coaster ride to find out what happened in the past as well as the truth of what led to the disappearance of Matthew’s parents. I think it is often harder for a writer to give emotional depth to a story, particularly when the subject is male without moving towards the extremes yet although I never doubted the turmoil the chief protagonist was dealing with, the author didn’t allow those feelings to run out of control.

This absolute delight of a novella has confirmed that those books of Maggie James that have sat patiently on the TBR definitely need to be shuffled closer to the top of the mountain.

First Published UK: 27 September 2015
Publisher: Orelia Publishing 
No. of Pages: 93
Genre: Novella – Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Housekeeper – Suellen Dainty #BlogTour

Psychological Suspense
4*s

I’ve recently re-discovered the thrill of the slower psychological suspense books where the thrills are gained from understanding a character rather than focussing on twists and turns. There is of course a place for both types of books, not least on my own bookshelf, but I think the former leaves a longer lasting impression than the latter where the enjoyment is often in the thrill of the ride. The Housekeeper was one of those books that crept up on me through Anne’s eyes.

Anne Morgan has just been dumped by her boyfriend, a charismatic chef, worse still he was her boss. After doing the requisite moping around, resisting her friend’s attempts to get her back in the kitchen, she has an epiphany. For weeks she has been following Emma Helmsley, a lifestyle blogger and her daily tips have motivated Anne almost as much as she has spent her adulthood referencing Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the solution seems simple, she will become Emma Helmsley’s housekeeper.

Now I don’t know about you but I feel somewhat queasy about someone poking around in my drawers and I’m no lifestyle blogger holding myself up as the perfect organiser, but Emma is in dire need of help. The rather disorganised household consists of herself, her husband Rob an academic who is in the midst of writing a book about a pioneer psychologist, and their teenage children, Lily and Jake.

Anne has her work cut out for her, there is plenty of clutter to sort out in the house and as we all know, no sooner is one mess sorted out than another appears but she’s enjoying the slower pace, no more fifteen hour days in a busy kitchen. It doesn’t take long for the façade the couple present as they network their way around London to be revealed for something else entirely.

The Housekeeper had me gripped because of the characters; I was fascinated by Anne’s choices and although they wouldn’t have been mine her background made them entirely plausible. As for the family… well all four were equally fascinating although Emma was more frequently in the picture than the others. A special shout-out has to go to the friend Julie who was that voice of reason often lacking in psychological fiction but will her voice be loud enough?

The whole book was written assuredly, the author really making her mark by painting a picture of the house itself, Anne’s flat and the more mundane bus rides home at night, bringing to life the minutia of a young woman’s life while keeping the pace absolutely steady thereby avoiding that deadly speeding up and slowing down jerkiness. The steady pace also allowed me to absorb the excerpts that headed up each chapter which changed from Mrs Beeton’s household tips, to Emma’s motivational statement to parts from Rob’s book about the pioneer psychologist who treated those with disorders outside the more traditional hospital environment.

I’m not going to give any more of the plot away but suffice to say there is an interesting look at a subject that isn’t often tackled and refreshingly it was done without the usual hullabaloo. The Housekeeper’s very strength the almost reserved way that the truth is revealed and interestingly it isn’t all focussed on one character alone.

This book made for a totally satisfying weekend read, with plenty to ponder and wonder about when I wasn’t salivating over the descriptions of the food, maybe a housekeeper would be nice after all!

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Eve at Midas PR for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and Suellen Dainty for introducing me to the world of household management!

First Published UK: 28 February 2017
Publisher: Washington Square Press
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Exit – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Suspense 4*'s
Psychological Suspense
4*’s

Catherine, a lover of social media, unemployed and drifting is finally driven to get a job as a way of avoiding another unpleasant evening meeting with her Mum where she would be presented with her failure following items for discussion, and quite possibly, a list!

The first of Catherine’s lists appeared when she was aged five:

  1. Make three new friends at school and ask them if they’d like to come over to play some time
  2. Write a story for me.
  3. Put your dirty clothes in the washing basket in the utility room (This, Catherine, is something I would like you to do from now on)
  4. Make your own breakfast – cereal and milk. (This is also something I’d like you to do from now on.)
  5. Do at least three kind things for others.

and they continued every Sunday until she left school.

The job Catherine managed to bag was at Dear Green nursing home where the most appealing of the residents is 82-year-old Rose. Rose has dementia and appears to be thrown back to an event that occurred when she was 10 and an evacuee with her sister at a farm. Rose is also a famous author and illustrator with a series of books to her name which features a brave little girl called Tilly, books the young Catherine had loved.

The early scenes of the book are very engaging, while Catherine is young and thoughtless she has some good qualities and the obvious mystery is what Rose is re-enacting when she is gripped by the memory from childhood, but also she is desperate to bring attention to the home, Room 7 is locked and Rose alludes to danger but is unable to articulate in words what she is so frightened of.

As more characters are introduced and then layered with individual characteristics, I was charmed by the captivating dialogue between Catherine and some of the residents, and slowly she appears to alter her opinion on her previously frivolous life and become more measured in her approach to her work, but this soon runs in tandem to something altogether darker and more disturbing.

I loved The Cry , despite the fact that it made me feel very uncomfortable, and had half-expected another scenario where all the characters had varying degrees of unpleasantness, but Helen FitzGerald is clearly not a one-trick pony. I can’t tell you any more about the plot without spoiling the story for others, but I am able to confirm that the characterisation is excellent with my opinion on some, particularly Catherine’s mother, swayed by the revelations that the author timed perfectly. Along with this the author has an expert touch cleverly building the tension while still keeping the overall feel of the story intact and the plot, well that was hole free!

In a way this story inevitably reminded me of Elizabeth is Missing , but in contrast to that book Rose retained control with less emphasis on the limitations of her illness as a whole, instead focussing in the long ago event that had such an impact on her life.  However like Elizabeth she had a mystery in the past and one in the present and only at the point of revelation does it all become clear.

Another winner from this talented author and I want to say a big thank you to the publishers Faber and Faber for allowing me to read this book prior to the publication date of 5 February 2015

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

The Broken – Tamar Cohen

Psychological Suspense 5*'s
Psychological Suspense
5*’s

This is Tamar Cohen’s first foray into the world of psychological suspense with the story of two couples who became friends since they met when their daughters were newborns. They were ideal best friends with Dan & Josh watching football together while Hannah and Sasha went to art galleries, book clubs and shopping. So with weekends spent socialising all together along with their daughters, September and Lily, life seems perfect until the day that Dan decides that his marriage to Sasha is over and chooses to confide in Josh before telling her. From that day on the ripple effect starts working as Hannah and Josh get drawn into taking sides despite stating that they’d stay neutral.

I loved Tamara Cohen’s debut The Mistress’s Revenge because it was realistic and in turn the success of this book is because of that very reason. Many of us have witnessed the terrible things ex-partners have done to each other following a split and there was nothing in this book that felt false. I’d go as far as to say there was nothing that I haven’t witnessed in ‘real life’, just maybe not all at once! The characters are expertly drawn, and as flawed, annoying and selfish they are there is a reality about them which is breath-taking, mainly because they are the people with the social veneer stripped away and all the more scary because any one of them could be someone you know.

Interspersed between Josh and Hannah’s witnessing the fall-out from the split, along with their own views on who to believe, is excerpts of a young girl’s thoughts. These short pieces fuelled the dread I felt as the story progressed which was only marginally relieved by the sometimes witty dialogue as each party presents themselves as the victim in the sorry tale. There were times when I wanted to catch hold of all of them and give them a shake, in short I often felt little sympathy as they lurched from one insane event to the next although it soon became clear that the split had uncovered much larger demons.

I found the story chilling and although for once I had guessed the reveal at the end I wasn’t entirely sure which kept the tension levels high as I searched for clues. I really enjoyed this read I love the style of writing which doesn’t dwell too much on the why, so rooted is it on what is happening at any particular moment in time, but leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions from the unsaid as much as the said!

I received a copy of this book from the publishers Random House UK, Doubleday prior to the publication date of 22 May 2014. For a different take on psychological suspense I would recommend this book which maybe touches on real life just a tad too much.

I read Tamar Cohen’s debut The Mistress’s Revenge almost exactly three years ago and although I awarded this four stars at the time, it is a book that I remember reading and being delighted not necessarily as much with the plot as the writing. If you’d like to, you can read my review here

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

That Dark Remembered Day – Tom Vowler

Psychological Suspense 5*'s
Psychological Suspense
5*’s

A contemplative read which demands to be read, absorbed and reflected upon. Cleverly and carefully it lays the groundwork before revealing what happened on That Dark Remembered Day.

The narrative is shared between Stephen, now a technician at a university but at the time the book opens, in 1983, an awkward teenager, his mother Mary and his father Richard. In 1983 Richard had returned from the Falklands, his final posting before discharge from the arm and at its heart, this book is a reflection on the damage that war inflicts on those who are sent to fight.

Stephen’s story is the thread that runs through the book as the author first presents Mary’s perspective, her excitement of a new venture in becoming self-sufficient in their new home Highfield, how daunted she was when her husband returned coupled with her doubt on how to deal with the shadow of the man he was before. Richard’s story, coming later, is a brutal depiction of a reluctant soldier, so raw and descriptive that it made me re-evaluate those half-remembered news stories of my own childhood.

Tom Vowler’s assured writing covers huge themes, of mental illness, bullying and takes an accurate look at small town mentality where close-knit masks acts of cruelty to those deemed not to belong. When Stephen returns to the town he vowed never to return to he wonders whether the intervening years would have softened the memories, lessened the hurt and that the stones hurled before he left, would this time be left to lie by the roadside.

It took me a while to warm to many of the characters in this book, which says less about the writing than the fact that this ‘psychological suspense’ really does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers of the key protagonist’s minds. The power of the writing meant that it was only once I’d closed the book and reflected on the many aspects, that the compassion I feel for this fictional town’s inhabitants is fully felt, as whilst in the grip of the book I was barely able to imagine the horror that the whole town experienced.

That Dark Remembered Day is a compelling read that uncovers the mind of everyone that was witnessed the awful events of the day in question as well as examining the effects, years later, on Stephen, his first girlfriend Suzanne and his friend Brendan years later.

Due to be published on 13 March 2014 by Headline, I was grateful to receive a copy in return for my opinion on Tom Vowler’s second novel.

That Dark Remembered Day Amazon UK

That Dark Remembered Day Amazon US

Tom Vowler’s debut novel What Lies Within was also a thoughtful psychological suspense novel rather than a thriller and like That Dark Remembered Day was a fresh and unique take on the genre. It was so good that it made my Top Ten List for 2013.

Click on the book cover to read my review!

What Lies Within