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

No Further Questions – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Well the fabulous Gillian McAllister is back with another book that will make you think. Whilst this isn’t quite such an obvious moral dilemma as in her first two books, it constantly begs the questions ‘What would I do?’ and just as importantly, ‘How would I feel?’

There’s a trial, oh how I love a fictional trial, all the drama and none of the boring bits. There are two sisters; Martha and Becky. Martha is married to Scott and they had a daughter Layla who died at just eight weeks old. When Layla died, Becky was in charge informally employed by her elder sister as a nanny while she was in Kos setting up a base for a charity schooling refugees.

The prosecution say that Becky is responsible for Layla’s death. Becky is pinning her hopes on the trial to answer the questions about what happened to her daughter that fateful night. And don’t let us forget the mother of the opposite sides. What a position to be in. How does a mother comfort both daughters in such a situation.

As in all of her previous books Gillian McAllister makes statements about society as a whole. Yes the trial is concentrated on the night in question but what the media want to know is why Martha wasn’t there. The same question isn’t directed to Scott because as this book demonstrates, men are seen as irrelevant in this type of scenario. To be fair, Scott also feels guilt at being away, but he’s not held accountable by the public in the same way.

We learn all this from the narration by the two sisters, alternated throughout this gripping book. We hear about their views of themselves, their relationship with each other, their memories, their fears and of course their view of the court case. The endless wishing and hoping makes this book an exhausting read at times, but oh so worth it, I simply wasn’t prepared to part with it for a moment.
The characterisation is spot on with neither sister presented as flawless individuals, both are complex, like you are I. But of course a court case has lots of other characters to explore, , the ex-husband of Becky, their son Xander, the nosy neighbour and the Defence and the Prosecution, both strong women who look at the evidence and present it to the jury in a different way. I particularly liked the Judge and his faithful dog Rumpole, even he is given a bit of a back story to bring him to life.

I can’t stress quite how powerful a read this is. Like Martha I didn’t want to believe Becky was guilty as charged, but sifting through the same evidence as the jury even given fonder memories of the pair augmented by those of their brother Ethan, how could it be anything but. The power comes from a family breaking apart, the loss of Layla to them all, their divided alliances and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again makes it a sad read too.

I now have to say a huge thank you to Penguin for allowing me to read a copy of No Further Questions. This review is my unreserved, and unbiased, thanks to them and Gillian McAllister for another memorable read. Even better the eBook is at available at an absolute bargain price at the moment, so don’t miss out.

First Published UK: 2 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (Audible only)

Previous (brilliant) Books by Gillian McAllister

Everything But The Truth
Anything You Do Say

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Before I Let You Go – Kelly Rimmer

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Now I do sometimes struggle with what’s known as ‘women’s fiction’ and more so when a book has a message, this falls into both categories but despite some reservations, there was lots to enjoy and think about.

Lexie and Annie are sisters, and in the middle of the night, after two years with no contact Annie rings Lexie asking for help. Annie is an addict and she’s pregnant. Annie is also very ill and needs to go to hospital but if she does she could be charged with child endangerment because of the drugs she’s taken.

Here lies the message with the author urging the reader to see that this isn’t the right approach for the law to take over addiction, which we are reminded frequently, is an illness and therefore if helped the women can turn their lives around and care for their children.  Personally I think this is a far from black and white issue but I will say no more on the subject, if you want to ponder on this further, this is the book to make you do so.

That off my chest the book takes us back to the girl’s childhood which includes loss and moving to a cult. This part is told through Annie’s eyes in a journal she writes to her therapist and it’s not only incredibly moving, expertly creating a whole world of confusion for the young girl which felt realistic. Through Annie’s journal which we read excerpts from throughout the novel we learn more about her descent into drugs, this too with no personal experience of the matter also felt highly authentic. Kelly Rimmer knows how to tell a story convincingly and I defy anyone not to have their heartstrings pulled by Before I Let You Go.

Lexi is a doctor, the older sister who had the same upbringing but her approach as a child was different and of course even siblings do not necessarily have the same reactions to each other. Lexi had always cared for Annie and the bond between the two is again created in full technicolour.

Before I Let You Go is an emotional read and I have to admit even though I despised the choices she made, in many ways I felt far more of a connection with Annie than Lexie. Lexie was just a little too perfect for me and I could see how being her younger sister would cause some ‘issues’ To make matters more complicated Lexie is planning to marry Sam, another doctor and someone else that had good person running thorough his core like a stick of rock. Lexie’s need to be independent causes issues between the couple, and if I were Sam I would probably have stated my case far earlier and more strongly than he did.

So a book about relationships in the main those between siblings and their parents viewed through the interesting angle of life in a cult. As much as I struggled with the message at times, I would have ripped your arm off if you’d tried to remove this book from my hands before I’d finished it. In the world of books it can be good to read a book that arouses strong emotions, even when they aren’t positive ones, and believe me, I was irritated by all the characters more than once!

I am very grateful to the publisher Headline Review who allowed me to read a copy of Before I Let You Go ahead of publication. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

First Published UK: 27 February 2018
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Girls – Lisa Jewell

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I have enjoyed all of Lisa Jewell’s books mainly for her characterisation and once again in The Girls the people that live in Virginia Terrace and Crescent were the kind that I felt I’d met, I knew these people, so authentically are they portrayed.

After the characters comes the story and this is a dark one, and to my mind one of her best. Clare has moved into one of the terraces with her two girls, just a year apart at eleven and twelve. Why they are there and who they are hiding from soon becomes clear and although Grace and Pip have been through a lot in the last few months it isn’t long before they get drawn to the gang of youngsters in communal gardens. Although this is a story that largely centres on tweens and teens, and is set in London, this is a gang in the old-fashioned sense, a group of youngsters who hang out together and don’t go home in time for tea.

These gardens sound amazing covering a large area with open areas and more secluded ones. A playground offers the youngsters somewhere to meet in the summer evenings while the Rose Garden is a place to think, complete with a bench in memory of Phoebe, a girl who lived thirty years previously and died in the gardens.

The residents are a great mix, there are the family who home-school complete with a diabetic grandfather, the elderly war refugee who has stories to tell, a social worker and her neglected daughter. When Grace and Pip get invited into Adele and Leo’s apartment by their three daughters Catkin, Fern and Willow it would seem that the gang in the garden will expand to absorb the two new-comers but Pip is unsure, she’s seen and heard things that make her feel uncomfortable.

The book contains Pip’s thoughts in touching letters to her father who is away, here she pours out her thoughts on the new house complete with little illustrations, I especially loved the one of Rhea’s rabbit which is taken for walks by Pip while the rest of the youngsters gather together. As Grace’s thirteenth birthday approaches the gap between the sisters noticeably widens particularly as Grace becomes enamoured with one of the boys and Pip is nowhere ready for love complications in her life. With their mother Clare learning to acclimatise to their new home and her past, Grace is allowed the freedom to roam in the safety of the gardens. But there is danger out there camouflaged amongst the beauty and the close community.

Lisa Jewell has structured the book in such a way that because she tells us at the beginning that something has happened to one of the sisters, and then presents the characters, it became impossible not to be suspicious of every single one. Because of this, some of the delightful scenes described have long shadows cast over them in a way that I’m sure they wouldn’t had the book been told in a strictly linear fashion. With the similarities between Phoebe’s death and this new incident, comparisons are made and whispers are spread like greenfly on the roses in the garden, not helped when old secrets spill out creating conflict.

Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and her later books have turned much darker without losing their brightly coloured characters. You won’t find much in the way of stereotypes in these novels but they are realistic, parts of her characters are always instantly recognisable from the efficient and loving mother Adele, to the more nervous and diffident Clare, from Leo who exudes bonhomie to Rhea who is unable to shrug off the past. You really should meet them all too!

The Girls is published today, 2 July 2015 by Random House UK who I’d like to thank for allowing me to read this book in return for this review.

My favourite Lisa Jewell books:

click on the covers to read my reviews

Before I Met YouThe House We Grew Up InThe Making of UsThe Truth About Melody Browne

Lisa Jewell Novels
• The Girls (2015)
The Third Wife (2014)
• The House We Grew Up In (2013)
• Before I Met You (2012)
• The Making Of Us (2011
• After The Party (2010)
• The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)

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

The Nightingale – Kristen Hannah

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

Following on from the memoir, A Fifty Year Silence, coincidentally my next read was also set during the Second World War, and in France and I don’t think I’ve read a more heart-rending tale, be warned if you choose this book do make sure you have a handy stash of hankies because each time I thought it couldn’t possible wring any more emotion from me, it did just that!

As the book opens in 1995 an elderly widow in Oregon is sent an invitation to attend a ceremony in France for those who helped during the war. Interspersed throughout the book we get insights into this woman’s emotions as she remembers those days.
Vianne and her sister Isabelle are separated by a number of years and experiences as little Isabelle was only four when their beloved Maman died and their father, left traumatised by the first World War sent them away unable and seemingly unwilling to look after his daughters. Vianne fell in love with the man who would become her husband, Antoine but Isabelle felt the rejection keenly and became increasingly rebellious. And then came the war, and the Nazis swiftly followed by curfews, hunger and blackouts.

Isabelle is keen to do something worthwhile and joins the resistance fighters whilst Vianne has one of the rooms in her house occupied by a Nazi soldier. As a mother her first and only priority is her young daughter Sophie but as the war continues and those she cares about in her home town are carted away the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.

With a bit of imagination it is possible to recreate the long queues for food, to paint a picture of the increasingly emancipated French, harder I think to create the moral dilemmas that these people faced daily. To fight against the occupying forces or to collude with them to ensure the smallest of favours for those you love? Well I have to say Kristen Hannah manages this feat by setting the scene incrementally, as they would have happened in life so that while I could see Isabelle fighting for freedom, I could also anticipate that her actions would have consequences for those who she loved and those who loved her and while some of the town railed against the merest hint of favouritism, how in these circumstances, nothing stays the same for long.

At 450 pages long this is one of those tales that seemingly has a whole country’s history packed into it, there is not a page wasted which doesn’t tell us something about what the reality of those long years of war was like, for all sections of society. It is easy to think that those left behind in an occupied country simply had to keep their eyes down and get on but that is forgetting that they didn’t know it was going to end one day, they may have hoped but living took up all of their energy. This isn’t a book that hides the awfulness, there are scenes in concentration camps which are painful to read but no less symbolic is the draping of the town in Nazi flags, the enforcement of the wearing of the yellow stars for the Jewish population or the betrayal of their own police in rooting out those who disobeyed the Nazi rule. I learnt so more about the French Resistance Movement and the corresponding life lived by the French living under German rule from this book, with the underlying research strong but not overpoweringly forced into the storyline.

As the book progressed so did the development of the sister’s characters as we saw how they acted when put under pressure, how the impulsive Isabelle considered her actions more carefully and the cautious Vianne carried out acts that at the beginning you wouldn’t have imagined possible for this traditional French housewife. Kristen Hannah doesn’t just create two stunning protagonists she creates a whole network of believable characters from the damaged father to the friends, the other resistance fighters and the general townsfolk who are all drawn as people who you can believe in.

With a fitting finale there is little not to admire in this book, a testament to human character of a lesson that few of us are all bad, or all good and not everything turns out how you would wish, the strongest people are those who try to live a good life, even in the most awful of circumstance.

I’d like to say a big thank the publishers St Martin’s Press who allowed me to read a copy of this book which was published on 29 January 2015 in return for my honest opinion.