Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Intrusion – Mary McCluskey

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller

As so often happens with my reading, this is the second book in a row I have read about a couple grieving the death of a child, although I am reviewing this book first due to the fact that it is to be published tomorrow, and I am kicking off the blog tour for this book.

In Intrusion, Kat and Scott Hamilton are reeling from the sudden death of Chris, their son, an only child, aged seventeen. While Scott has thrown himself back into his work, Kat’s job in a PR firm is more than she can handle, unable to be the chirpy person she once was to handle such a role. A few months after Chris’s death, Scott needs Kat to attend a dinner hosted by his Los Angeles law firm. Mary McCluskey’s prose captures this event without overt drama but we are left in no doubt how hard Kat finds the ordeal.

Then comes the entrance we are promised in the synopsis, Sarah Cherrington, a former friend from England surfaces and whilst Kat is initially ambivalent to her appearance, her sister Maggie has strong views on Sarah and shares them voraciously.
At the beginning of this year I said how refreshing it was to read a psychological thriller that dealt with female friendship, well there have been a few of these this year, and this is a worthy addition to the pile. It is clear from the outset that there is unresolved history between Kat and Sarah but with Kat at her most vulnerable, plus the fact that Sarah is putting a lot of work in Scott’s direction it appears that bygones are going to be left just as that.

The author shows fantastic flair in giving an undercurrent of tension whilst simultaneously presenting us with everyday events such as Kat’s interactions with her fun and flirty neighbour Brooke who bakes bread for the couple and keeps an eye on Kat, allowing her space but keeping her connected to those around her.

This of course is also the story of a marriage under immense pressure. With both parties managing their grief in very different ways, Scott on the whole is clearly being as supportive as he feels possible a fact Kat acknowledges by musing that they have almost switched roles since Chris’s death.

Inevitably with this storyline there were parts that spoke loudly to me; Kat’s scenes with her grief counsellor made me smile as she appears to have got the most unsympathetic counsellor on the planet but the words she said, I’m sure are repeated by people in similar roles the whole world over. And she is one of the people in addition to Maggie and Brooke that Kat should listen to, but of course it wouldn’t be much of a story if the characters did the sensible thing! In this book this didn’t feel unrealistic though, as we had the scene set early on to show us Kat’s fragility and therefore her blind spots are far more understandable than may otherwise be the case.

This was one of those books that I consumed at a rate of knots. The storyline moves at a pace and while the premise is not exactly novel, the execution lifts it above some similar books about female friendship. I particularly enjoyed the natural dialogue, the precise scene setting and the slow reveal of what it was that caused the rift between the two young women at the end of their years at university.

I received my copy of Intrusion from Midas PR on behalf of the publishers Little A in return for this my honest opinion.

Check out my blog tomorrow where you can read all about Sarah Cherrington in a post written by the author Mary McCluskey.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Secrets We Left Behind – Susan Elliot Wright

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction

How does a woman learn to live with a secret that has been buried for more than thirty years? Not just any old secret, one that makes her heart pound with fear whenever she considers the truth coming out!  The prologue starts in Sheffield in 2010 with a woman skulking in the bushes trying to catch a glimpse of a loved one.

In 2009 where we meet our protagonist, a woman who has everything she could have wished for: a loving husband, a daughter she is proud of, a beautiful house and job where she helps others less fortunate than herself, but when she believes she may have seen someone from long ago, she is scared, and then the telephone starts ringing….

The secret she is desperate to keep has its roots in the sweltering hot summer of 1976 when following the death of her mother the teenager leaves Newquay in Cornwall for the bright lights of London.  Bewildered and out of her depth in the city she meets a motherly woman just a couple of years older than herself who offers her a room in the squat she inhabits with her partner in Hastings.

Susan Elliot Wright weaves a tale that will make you question, every step of the way, what would I do? The author spun a story that I invested in, all the while rooting for the motherless teenager while knowing that in the future the consequences of the hot summer would be bought to bear on a life that had been fought for.

Although I was quite young during 1976 there were enough authentic details included in this book that took me back to the summer that seemed to last forever from the ingenious ways the squatters found to water their plants while they were re-enacting ‘The Good Life’ with their home-grown vegetables, natural medicines and an art and craft stall selling jewellery made out of the shells they found on the beach. I could taste the melting ice-creams as our protagonist grows up alongside her new found friends.  I could  picture her in her room furnished with a rocking chair bought for 50p and the red lava lamp in the corner for 20p a time and place bought to life with a lightness of touch by the author.

I raced through this book, eager to know what had happened this is a book where the tension slowly mounts as the past is uncovered and the pace was perfect for the richness of the writing.  This would make the perfect beach read.

I did guess the secret but that didn’t take away the enjoyment I found reading this tale, a story of love and loss, growing up and taking responsibility as well as relationships in all their guises. Susan Elliot Wright shies away from depicting her characters as good or bad, each one we meet in this book is a ‘real’ person a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that I missed when I closed the last page.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read and write an honest review of this book by the publishers, Simon & Schuster, ahead of the publication date of tomorrow, 8 May 2014, because I had enjoyed Susan Elliot Wright’s debut novel The Things We Never Said which is also set in Hastings.

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

Her – Harriet Lane

Psychological Thriller  5*'s
Psychological Thriller

This intriguing and well-constructed thriller starts when Nina recognises Emma on a street near her London home more than twenty years since she last saw her. As the reader you can’t help but wonder why Nina is so obsessed with Emma especially as Emma doesn’t appear to recognise her at all when they first meet. What connects these two women and why Nina wants to insert herself into her life is the crux of the whole book.

We have Nina and her poised life as an artist, mother of the teenage Sophie and partner to the almost detached Charles provides a stark contrast with Emma the mother of two-year old Christopher mired in domesticity wondering where her ‘true’ self has gone since marriage and motherhood. Emma is clearly overwhelmed, pregnant and frazzled when Nina inserts herself into her life and with precision finds the weak spots in Emma’s life and exploits them with precise cruelty. The casual way she hurts Emma while pretending to be her friend is in many ways more shocking than any open hostility could ever be.

Harriet Lane cleverly tells the story from both women’s viewpoints by overlapping the narrative thereby dragging the story back to a specific point before moving it forward from the differing perspectives as Nina and Emma narrate alternate chapters.

The writing is understated, and all the more chilling because of it but the prose still manages to conjure up scenes in London and France without ever seeming mired in detail. This style of writing is what made me fall in love with Harriet Lane’s debut novel Alys Always which was published in December 2012 and like those in Alys Always , the characters are set firmly within the middle-classes. Like her debut it is the off-hand way that the details are imparted makes me feel like I was watching Emma almost as avidly as Nina, but unlike Nina, I dreaded the finale.

This is a relatively short book with 235 pages of intrigue, frankly bizarre behaviour and undisclosed secrets from the past, well until the end which says just enough to allow the reader time to reflect.

I received a copy of this book which is due to be published on 6 June 2014 from Amazon Vine in return for my honest opinion. My opinion, is this one is worth getting hold of!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Skeletons – Jane Fallon

Contemporary fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction

There is nothing I enjoy more than a book about secrets, especially those that are meant to stay a secret. Jen had grown up in a claustrophobic relationship with just her mother, so when she met Jason, his parents and his two sisters she falls in love with this lively family, perhaps as much as she did him.

Years later soon after the second of their two daughters, Emily leaves home for university Jen sees something across a street that she wishes she hadn’t. Jen has no-one to share what she has seen, her social life revolves round the Masterson family and she can’t reveal anything to any of them! Soon Jen withdraws from the family as the strain keeping the secret becomes overwhelming. The strain begins to pull at the seams of her marriage as she determines that the secret must stay under wraps, after all there is a family getaway and she must put a smile on her face and not give anything away…

Jane Fallon has got back to using clever observations to lift her writing and this time has chosen a subject we can all relate to. In fact there are a few secrets that are bubbling beneath the surface in this book which is ultimately about relationships. It is also about a couple coming to terms with their new role in life now that they are no longer in daily demand from their daughters, the bargains that are made within relationships, often unstated, that outsiders have no idea exists.

I enjoyed this book, I sympathised with Jen and although I wouldn’t have made the choices she did, I could understand why she made them. That is important to me because if I do need to believe characters in the books I read aren’t making randomly stupid decisions. Jason was a bit more of a shadowy figure until later in the book, a more or less identikit perfect husband and father who adores everyone, his wife, his sisters, parents and daughters with a laid-back geniality but in time we get to see a glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface.

Best of all I totally agreed with the ending, there were surprises along the way culminating in decisions being made that to my mind couldn’t have been different. Jane Fallon has won me back as a fan with this enjoyable novel.

I received a free copy of this book in return for my review from the publishers Penguin Books. Skeletons will be published today, 27 March 2014 so you can buy it now!

Previous books by Jane Fallon
Getting Rid of Matthew
Got You Back
Ugly Sister

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Serpentine Affair – Tina Seskis

Women's Fiction 4*'s
Women’s Fiction

Seven women, friends from University days, meet up for a picnic in Hyde Park near the Serpentine. Sissy believes this habit of meeting up once a year should have been shelved a few years ago, some of the friendships are so badly fractured, some are laden with guilt and would appear that most of the women are keeping at least one secret.

Tina Seskis has produced a chatty book, one which reflects the reluctance that many of us feel to break off a friendship, especially one forged at such an important time of life. I have to confess that early on in the book I struggled with the number of characters as I presumed it was going to be very hard to remember who held what characteristic /grudge although the clever way that elements of the story were unveiled meant that each of the women were soon individuals on the page. As each of the women, their families and of course the men in their lives are revealed we also get the back stories, those events that happened years ago shaping both the women and the friendships.

The main event kept me reading to find out the truth as I gasped at the lack of morals that the group displayed. This book shows both the strengths and weaknesses of friendship, the good and bad of human nature and ultimately is a great gossipy book to keep the reader entertained. Another hit for Tina Seskis following her brilliant debut One Step Too Far

I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher.

See my review for One Step Too Far One Step Too FarOne Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emily Coleman has left home; we meet her first when she is catching the train from Manchester to go to London to start a new life. The whole premise of the book is why has she left husband Ben and Charlie?

Tina Seskis cleverly reveals all in separate narratives by Emily, her twin Caroline, mother Frances and father Andrew, which go back as far as the day Frances delivered the twins. Revealing a tale of a troubled and flawed family. For all that Emily has done well, she met and married Ben and had a child along with a lovely house. So what went so wrong and is it possible that Emily can have a new life as Cat Brown?

The themes in this book are strong touching on sibling relationships, guilt, and jealousy along with drug abuse with more than a touch of madness thrown in. The characterisation of the main and also the minor characters in this drama was well executed. It was good to read a book where all judgements about characters are left to the reader by the downplaying of others actions by the narrators, particularly Emily.

All in all a story with an original feel although the ending was a little too surreal for my liking. The twist in the tale is one of the best I’ve read, I literally gasped as I didn’t see it coming at all. I have added A Serpentine Affair: Are Friendships Ever Forever? to my wishlist ready for it’s release in September 2013

View all my reviews

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

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

Women's Fiction 5*'s
Women’s Fiction

I chose this book based on the blurb which sounded intriguing

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty is a letter that’s not meant to be read . . .

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic.
Written in her husband’s hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.
Curious, she opens it – and time stops.

John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.

‘Oh, Pandora. Where’s your willpower? You were told not to open that box, you snoopy girl, you typical woman with your insatiable curiosity; now look what you’ve gone and done.’

Lianne Moriarty has produced an immensely readable book in the Husband’s Secret because it includes all the ingredients of a good story; a believable plot, characters that are well-developed and writing that pulls the reader in from the first page. The short chapters; there are 59 for this 400 page book, alternate between three women’s lives plus excerpts from an April day in 1984 when Rachel’s daughter Janie made a decision which was to have repercussions years later.

The story concerns the fate of three women in the week before Easter. Cecilia is the super-organised mother of three girls ranging from 6 to 12 whom accidently finds letter written by her husband Jean-Paul, stating it is to be read after his death. Rachel works as a secretary at the local primary school still grieving for a daughter who died as a teenager while Tess has returned to Sydney with a convenient excuse to help her mother who has broken her ankle but in reality to escape a momentous revelation from her husband Will. The three women’s lives are connected but we don’t find out why and how until later in the book when we have got to know them.

Set in Australia this book starts with the myth of Pandora ‘s Box and this theme runs throughout; what do you do when you would rather not know something. The three women all find out that their lives and beliefs aren’t quite what they think they are, they examine their core values and have to live with the consequences of their actions.

I received my copy of this book through Amazon Vine.