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

Anything You Do Say – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Around this time of year I start to consider my Top Ten Books Published in 2017 along with many other bloggers, this year the list has been thrown into disarray with so many late entrants, including this novel. Anything You Do Say encompasses so many of the aspects that I enjoy: a moral dilemma, ‘sliding doors’ scenario, great characters who behave realistically and superb plotting all coming together to give a fresh feel despite the elements appearing in other novels.

Two friends meet for their regular Friday night out at a bar in London and meet a man who is slightly too pushy, deciding to leave they part ways and Joanna walks home taking the route by the canal when she hears someone following her. Now ladies, we’ve all been there – unable to tell whether the threat running through your head is real or imagined. What happens next will change Joanna’s life forever.

What do you do, I find myself thinking, when you think somebody is following you down a deserted strip of canal? When you could become a statistic, a news piece, a tragedy? Nothing. That’s the answer. You carry on. You hope.

Of course the title are known to all of us although I hope few of us have had them directed towards us:

The words are familiar, but it takes me a moment to place them. It’s not a hymn or a song lyric or a phrase. No. It’s a caution. The caution.

Joanna is a great character, you probably know someone like her. She works on the mobile library while she decides what she wants to do with her life. She avoids the nastier aspects of life by ignoring them; bills, decisions, babies are all put in a box to be dealt with later… or never. Her friend, Laura, has plans, big ones, she wants to be an artist and is far surer of herself by far than Joanna, not uncommon in a friendship pairing. In both scenarios that are presented following the late night encounter we see not only what the consequences of her decision has on Joanna but Laura and her partner Rueben and brother Wilf too but also Laura’s partner Jonty in a perfect example of the ripple effect.

With sparkling dialogue which is entertaining yet realistic I was drawn into the story before I’d finished the first page. I loved the friends, that pre-Christmas setting with Christmas trees sparkling inside the houses that Joanna passes as she walks home at the opening of the book is followed up with the changing seasons as we follow the two different outcomes of that night.

As much as I enjoy books with the ‘sliding doors’ aspect I won’t lie, it can sometimes be complicated keeping the two strands straight in your mind. Fear not, Gillian McAllister has a clear system for marking the two stories by using a heading and since the stories diverge from the start I didn’t have a moment’s confusion. What I did have, was compassion for Joanna, maybe that says something about my morals, but there was one particular moment when I had my heart in my mouth as things took a drastic turn for the worse and despite actually needing to be doing something else I wasn’t putting the book aside until my heart-rate settled.

I really enjoyed Gillian McAllister’s debut novel Everything But The Truth which I read earlier this year but this novel even surpasses that one. Usually when I read a book that I want my friends to read, I wait until I have posted my review – not this time – I have been urging many of my bookish friends to go get this book, now – especially as it is at an absolutely bargain price at the moment for the kindle. The paperback will be published on 25 January 2018. Whatever format you read, I urge you not to miss out but do beware, once started, you will not want to stop reading!

I am extremely grateful to the publishers Penguin UK who have provided me with a great selection of books this year, including Anything You Do Say, and Gillian McAllister who I sincerely hope is furiously writing another book for me to enjoy, this unbiased yet unashamedly gushing review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 October 2017
Publisher:  Penguin
No. of Pages:  400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (currently only Audible)

 

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

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Contemporary Ficiton 5*s
Contemporary Ficiton
5*s

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.