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

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Contemporary Ficiton 5*s
Contemporary Ficiton

The premise of this book is principally what would two lives look should a certain path not taken, a ‘sliding doors’ scenario. A good few years ago I read Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World which is a pretty bleak look at one woman’s life depending on whether she kisses a man, or not. The incident that kicks off the three different lives is a student falling off her bike whilst studying at Cambridge University in October 1958.

Eva meets, or doesn’t quite meet Jim following a swerve to miss a dog and getting a puncture in her bicycle, the scene is beautifully set and both characters are exceptionally well-drawn and realistic. The story isn’t just about the one moment though, different circumstances cause a whole chain of events which take us finally up to the present day where the story ends with three mirror images which beautifully rounded off an emotionally charged book.
This is billed as three love stories but to me it was far more than that – this is a book about all types of relationships, with mental illness, aging and illness featuring as well as the more joyful aspects of life such as good family bonds, successful careers and all those small celebratory moments that are shared with loved ones.

Each section is headed with Version One, Two or Three depending on the story being told along with the month and the year being depicted which are fortunately chronologically ordered. The complexity of the three intertwined stories featuring the same three main characters as well of course wider family in common meant that at each changeover point I had to do a mental recap of which story was which, this slowed my reading down but in a peculiar way it was refreshing to remind myself what each of the characters were doing before commencing reading.

It is hard to capture in words just how beautiful yet realistic the stories are covering everyday events as well as those bigger life-changing ones. At times the stories are incredibly sad but as the chapters are relatively short one version may be full of sadness whereas another has Eva or Jim having a more enjoyable life. With Eva a writer and Jim an artist this book is full of imagery most strikingly a painting entitled The Versions of Us.

With so many different lives to track over decades, this novel could easily have been an incomprehensible read but instead I could only marvel at the author’s prowess in constructing brilliant characters, a feel for each time period touched upon and allowing the reader to explore and wonder about the chance events that can change the course of lives.

The Versions of Us was published in May 2015 and released as a paperback in December of last year, I am so glad I bought a copy this is a book I think I will re-read at some point.

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

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

Wow, April is turning out to be a great month for reading! I Let You Go has such a fresh feel it could have been hung on a line to dry in the spring sunshine. This is a book that defies my (very) simple genre split, feeling part psychological thriller and part police procedural which apart from making me pause to check I was still reading the same book on my kindle the first time the switch happened, works exceptionally well.

The book opens with a police investigation into the death of five-year-old Jacob who was killed by a hit-and-run driver capably led by the principled Detective Inspector Ray Stevens, his Detective Sergeant Jake Owen, better known as Stumpy and the new addition to the team, the eager Kate. The team are soon given some extra resources as the media and the top brass heap pressure on the team to find the culprit.

We then meet Jenna who following the accident has retreated from life and she’s taken herself just about as far off the beaten track as she can to a small cottage in Wales where she takes time to heal away from the memories taking one small box of precious items that she simply couldn’t part with.

The pacing of this book is fantastic as the switching between viewpoints as the police become more dispirited while Jenna slowly begins to heal, keeps the momentum going and had me longing to know how the story was going to play out. All I can say is although I identified some aspects I couldn’t predict more than a couple of pages ahead of me at any point, especially when the book moves to the second half, by which time it was impossible to put the book aside for anything or anyone.

The characters are extremely well-drawn and realistic and for those readers who need to identify with their protagonists Jenna whilst damaged, is extremely likable, the police for the most-part agreeable a crew that you would happily sit down and have a chat with. In the newer traditions of police procedurals we get to know Ray through his home-life as well as the investigation and see him balancing the job with the demands of family life with his wife Mags left to run things while he works long hours. It was no surprise when I read up on the author to find that she had worked in CID for twelve years, as the small touches can only ever have come from someone who has lived the life.

In Wales we also meet some brilliant characters with the locals cautiously welcoming Jenna from Iestyn whose cottage she rents to the woman who runs the local grocery store and Beth Morgan owner of the caravan park, empty due to it being out of season, who takes the newcomer under her wing and is one of life’s nice people, are all well-rounded and life-like characters. There is even a bit of romance thrown in. This leads me to one of the reasons this book works so well, there is plenty of detail which is written into the story-line naturally so that I was kept constantly interested in what was going on. Refreshingly, this is a book that is far from formulaic but doesn’t rely on style to get it noticed, it doesn’t need to the talent is obvious from the tragic opening until the very last page.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Little Brown Book Group UK for not only publishing this excellent debut novel but allowing me to read a copy ahead of publication on 23 April 2015.

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

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this new crime novel, after all it takes something quite spectacular to live up to the billing ‘the crime debut of the year’ especially as it is only February!

To begin with we have the DI, Marnie Rome who has a troubled past. So far so normal for a crime novel, but in her case her back story include murdered parents which has left her determined to succeed in her job, although her personal life seems a little bleak. Her partner is DS Noah Jake, a Jamaican and gay, this presents no problems except with DS Ron Carling who is the macho policeman. However this is much more than a formulaic police procedural, this book is as much about why some of the crimes are committed as it is about how they were, and who did it.

Desperate to bolster their case against a suspect, DI Rome and DS Jake visit a woman’s refuge; they need the resident to make a statement about her treatment at his hands and walk in to find a man lying stabbed on the floor. The action starts with a bang but this turns out to be a nightmare of a case to investigate, the women are far from ideal witnesses but DI Rome is determined to find answers.

Set mainly in London in the present day with enough local references to anchor the reader, I would love to visit Marnie’s favourite café which sells French toast with cutlery warm and wrapped in a thick linen. There is a little jumping back in time mainly in relation to Marnie’s past but also a few excerpts from an unknown man set six months previously. These are all clearly headed so there is no risk of confusion.

This is just the sort of book I enjoy, there are so many different stories all playing out; those of Marnie, Noah, the social worker Ed and the female residents have clear personalities and stories to tell without slowing down the pace or preventing a bucketful surprises along the way. I lovely a book that makes you gasp and this one did. I literally worked out one bit of the puzzle a page before the reveal and it still shocked me. Not bad for someone has read as many crime novels as I have.

This was a brilliant read and I do hope this isn’t the last we hear of DI Rome as I for one thoroughly loved this protagonist as well as the reassurance that the crime genre still has a lot to offer its readers. For once I don’t think the publisher’s have got their claims wildly wrong!

I was extremely lucky to receive a free copy of this book from Lovereading as I am on their reviewing panel.  Someone Else’s Skin will be published by Headline on 27 February 2014.

Someone Else’s Skin – Amazon UK