Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Red Address Book – Sofia Lundberg

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

When she was a child her father bought her a beautiful red address book and Doris faithfully kept a note of the addresses of those who crossed her path throughout her life. At the grand old age of ninety-six it is sad but perhaps not wholly unsurprising that many of the names in the book are crossed out with the word ‘dead’ written against them.

The Red Address Book
tells the story of one woman’s rich life honing in on some of the names and addresses held within the address book.

Doris lives in Stockholm and her only living family is Jenny, her Grand-Niece and her family, who live in America. Doris is not doing so well and has devoted some of her waking hours to penning the story of her life to Jenny, to keep those names in the address book alive.

I loved this book, the tone spot on for an elderly woman who has lived, loved and made good choices, and bad, and learn to live with them. I know I sound old myself but it is simply so refreshing to read books about people of this generation before everyone had to be a victim of something or another. Here we have some of those old-fashioned qualities that if I were Prime Minister I would insist were some sort of rite to becoming a fully-fledged adult. Doris has lived. After the death of her father she was more or less pushed out of the home by her mother to go and earn some money as a maid. Did Doris dwell on this rejection for the rest of her life? Did she hell! She recognised the hurt it caused at the time, and moved on treating it as a passing incident in her life, her springboard to becoming a living mannequin in Paris, rather than a hurt to be nursed for her remaining eighty odd years. During the course of the book we see Doris face a multitude of situations as she criss-crosses between countries, lives through a war, heartbreak and more and each one is faced square on, no matter what.

In conjunction with these adventures, Doris is portrayed as a ‘real’ woman, she is unwilling to do exactly what she is told by her caregivers and hospital staff, if it doesn’t make sense to her. After all this is a woman who has mastered skype to keep in touch with her family, she does not need to be told when to go to sleep as if she was a child! But at the same time she is accepting that her end is coming near and so is portrayed as a mixture of toughness and vulnerability or in other words like a real woman who has lived a full life.

I did have a lump in my throat towards the closure of this book although I’m pleased to report that it didn’t have the feeling of overtly playing with the emotions and nor did we have the stereotypical cantankerous elderly woman instead we have a thoughtful piece that will invariably cause its reader to recall many of the paths that have crossed their own, briefly or otherwise, and for whom few will be recorded in our lives particularly with the demise of written records.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publisher HarperCollins UK and the Sofia Lundberg who allowed me to experience some of the highs and lows of Doris’s life by allowing providing me with a copy of The Red Address Book. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 8 January 2019
Publisher: The Borough Press
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read

Flying Shoes – Lisa Howorth #20BooksofSummer

Contemporary Fiction
3*s

Mary Byrd Thornton is minding her own business in Mississippi when a call comes through from a detective that is revisiting the murder of her step-brother over thirty years before. So far so good, exploring what an unpunished crime of this magnitude does to a family, how they deal with the impossible emotions that must come from such an awful event sounded ideal.

So Mary Byrd Thornton is summoned back to her home town in Virginia, to her mother, leaving her husband and their two children behind. A journalist is sniffing around the story too and poor Mary is struggling with being propelled back into that time when she was a teenager and some of the police were less than sympathetic dealing with the family. The thing is she has always believed they know who snatched Stevie from them.

Unfortunately for this reader the solving of this long ago murder is a mere bit part in what is on the whole a stream of consciousness about Mary Byrd Thornton’s life. Her friends, the truck journey she takes to Virginia, the alcohol she drinks, the affair she consider and her housekeeper Evagreen and this woman’s own troubles which are of a massive magnitude. The problem I have with this type of writing is that it never seems to get to the point, and quite frankly I get frustrated with the style fairly quickly.

There are a lot of interesting characters and I feel that for once I was able to understand a part of the world where although we speak the same language, the whole ‘feel’ of the place is quite unlike any that I know. There is insight into the plantation past and racial issues that were still firmly in place at the time the book was set in the 1990s. We get to look inside different types of houses, visit different families and even get a flavour of the local news. This is a book about a community with a defined culture and if that was what I thought I was reading about, then maybe my frustration wouldn’t have been quite so great.

One big positive is Mary’s approach to life so although I didn’t really get to know her despite the endless thoughts on breakable china, the mixed emotions of child-rearing, her inquisitiveness about her friend’s lives and her somewhat chaotic approach to housekeeping, it was clear that she isn’t a woman to take herself too seriously. She may pay lip-service to caring about other’s views of her but it doesn’t cause her to want to put too much effort into conforming. Her view of the loss of Stevie was also far more realistic than endless weeping and wailing that many novels offer of prolonged grief. There is a sense of guilt but again, not overwhelmingly so. This made sense when I got to the end and realised that in part the author has written the book about the unsolved murder of her own step-brother which seemed to give the book more context than I had previously given it credit for.

Despite being written in a style that doesn’t really appeal to me, there was a lot to enjoy in Flying Shoes and a book that has more impact in retrospect than perhaps it did while I was reading it.

Flying Shoes is my thirteenth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge

First Published UK: 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
No of Pages: 337
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

When the Lights Go Out – Mary Kubica

Psychological Thriller
3*s

Jessie Sloane is a young woman whose mother has died and for the first time in her life she is on her own. That coming after a long road of caring for her ailing mother which has clearly left its mark on this young woman she decides to pay heed to her mother’s last words to her, ‘to find herself.’

Although I read far fewer psychological thrillers than I have done in recent years I do look out for those with a fresh premise. This one certainly ticked that box with the synopsis advising that Jessie Sloane is a young woman who finds out that her social security details belong to a girl who died seventeen years ago when she was just three. Now I think we can all agree that a discovery like that throws up a whole heap of possibilities for the direction that the novel can take.

I like Mary Kubica’s writing, the setting and the people in all three of her previous books I have read have been carefully crafted giving this reader the feeling that she was truly having an insight into another life for the duration of the book. When the Lights Go Out was no different. While I might have queried the decisions Jessie made, all was easily explicable when considering the combined effects of grief and a lack of sleep.

Alongside Jessie’s story we are taken back in time to read Eden’s too. This is an entirely different tale of a woman who meets the man of her dreams, and then the dream fades to a reality which is acres away from the dream. Of course the reader realises there is a link between these two narratives and each time it seemed that they were going to converge into the answer to the Jessie’s mystery, another piece of information came to dash that idea. All of this meant that the book was full of suspense. I was invested in both characters despite being on my guard knowing that all could not be quite as it appeared and I was therefore hooked to find out what the answers to the mounting questions were.

Sadly despite being hooked by this psychological thriller for the majority of the book but I am afraid the ending just wasn’t for me. I don’t normally mention the endings because some of us enjoy a fairly open ending while others far prefer it when the author displays real skill in tying up loose ends into a neat bow. But the ending for this book deeply disappointed me and I so however much I enjoyed the journey, I can’t get passed that moment.

This means that this is an incredibly hard book for me to review – how do you rate a book that you enjoyed all the way until the final reveal – if only Mary Kubica hadn’t ended this one the way she did the writing and the characters would have earned the full five stars . If you haven’t tried this author I highly recommend her earlier books, but sadly despite Mary Kubica’s obvious talent and her willingness to try something new, which I always applaud, I found this one to be less enjoyable.

I’d like to thank the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance review copy of When the Lights Go Out prior to publication of today, 23 August 2018.

First Published UK: 23 August 2018
Publisher: HQ 
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl
Pretty Baby
Don’t You Cry
Every Last Lie

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Property – Lionel Shriver

Short Stories
4*s

At last I’ve found a short-story collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. This collection is centred around property be it the real-estate variety or belongings and there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy. The short-stories are book-ended by two novellas but the majority of the other ten stories are between twelve and twenty pages long.

One of the things that I’m sure helped my enjoyment was that I didn’t read them all back-to-back as I usually do and I’m sure that meant that my brain had time to absorb the wonder of one before journeying onto the next.

In each one Lionel Shriver not only unerringly captures the human characteristics as she most famously did in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but also has an eye for detail which quickly drew me into the storyline, so very important in this format.

My favourite story was The Chapstick which follows middle—aged Peter Dimmock as he leaves his home late to fly to see his dying father. It isn’t the warmest of relationships and over the preceding years there had been other mercy missions. Once the author has given us the background to the characters we arrive with Peter, late, at the airport to catch his flight. And it’s into security. Living on a small island which necessitates flying fairly frequently this section was brilliant. Peter is also a frequent and responsible flyer but his internal monologue matches my frustration, which the absolute rule is, you’re not allowed to express:

He pulls out his Ziploc, no larger than one quart size, containing shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, no more than three point four ounces or one hundred millilitres, making sure to put his baggie, in accordance with the standard specifications, on top of his overcoat, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE STUPID BAGGIE IS GOING INTO A GODDAM X-RAY.

The best thing is this one comes with a bit of a moral and made me smile.

I should say at this point that the stories aren’t all set in the US, the last novella is set in Northern Ireland, The Self-Seeding Sycamore, probably the sweetest story in the collection, is set in London and Kilfi Creek is about a young woman who invites herself to stay with an older couple who are more immune to the twenty-three year old charms than she could ever imagine.

The stories subjects range from an artist’s piece of work and a platonic friendship in the first Novella to the petty-mindedness of American Sarah Mosley who begrudged her flat-mate an olive (yes, really!) in the last novella. We have undelivered mail and the thorny problem of negative equity which causes a couple to stay together when to all intents and purposes their marriage is over.

I loved the variety not just in place and subject but in style. Most have evidence of the author’s famous acerbic tone, but some had this element considerably softened allowing a different ‘voice’ to be heard. What they all had in common was that the stories are memorable (another problem I routinely have with short stories, particularly when they are all by the same author. Despite the fact I’ve read this collection over about a month and therefore read quite a few other novels in between, as I looked down the titles I had no problem remembering the key elements of each one.

I’d like to thank the publishers The Borough Press for providing me with a copy of Property. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher:The Borough Press
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Short Story Collection
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Image of You – Adele Parks

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

It’s always good to read Adele Parks books when you want to escape life and The Image of You was no different.

It all starts with Anna joining a dating website to find the man of her dreams. This romantic and lovely woman in her early thirties has come to accept that she will never find him if she waits for their eyes to meet across a crowded room. Anna has recently moved to London and as you’d expect she’s had her heart-broken but she’s also across the Atlantic from her family, her parents and her twin sister Zoe. The girl’s names designed to bookend the alphabet also have entirely different personalities. Zoe isn’t sweet and romantic, she’s a woman who parties hard, is flirty and unpredictable. Zoe is however on hand to make sure that Anna’s profile is designed to meet someone suitable, not someone who will hurt her.

Anna meets Nick, a high-flying banker who joined the site to worm his way into places other than a girl’s heart. Nick isn’t looking for love, he’s looking for fun. But he meets up with Anna and finds that sometimes a wholesome woman is better than his normal type.

So far so simple. Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl but only time will tell whether he is going to be the womanising cheat that Anna is keen to avoid. And then Zoe visits London and we find out what she makes of the relationship.
This was a compulsive read and so even though I guessed which direction the story was going in, I was still doubting myself until all was revealed. The twin’s characters whilst overtly stereotypical at the outset became more nuanced the further through the book you read so although Anna was way too sweet and perfect for my taste and Zoe far too wild, there was a proper back-story to explain their extremes. I think it is impossible for someone who isn’t an identical twin to be fascinated by this closest of all the genetic relationships, after all they are closer to each other in this respect than they are to their parents, or children if they have them. This alone makes the story a great premise and as it progresses this relationship is the one at the heart.

I also enjoyed the realistic portrayal of internet dating. The different aims of the people who use it in this consumer society is demonstrated in the early scenes which doesn’t forget the assumptions made by others about those who choose this method to find a partner.

Ultimately this is a book about relationships, not just romantic but between siblings, parents and workmates. Nick’s scenes with his mates and his colleagues all had an authenticity about them which are often rare in women’s fiction.

The Image of You kept me turning the pages, of course to find out how it all ends, that’s a given, but the author kept me interested in these people who I maybe would avoid in ‘real life’ but who fascinated with throughout the book.

I am very grateful to the publishers Headline Review who provided me with a copy of The Image of You ahead of the publication date for the paperback of today, 22 February 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 February 2018
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Shoeless Child – J.A. Schneider

Crime Fiction
4*s

Shoeless Child opens with the horrific murder of a woman and the escape of young Charlie Sparkes from the murderer following his mother’s order to run.

Meanwhile Homicide Detective Kerri Blas has returned to work after a stint on desk duty following a previous murder investigation that required her to see occupational health along with a period out of the field to recover. She is keen to be back on the team and working with her partner Sergeant Alex Brand although the partnership is under wraps from the boss, being strictly against the rules.

With Charlie eventually found and able to guide the detectives to the scene of the crime his mother is found wounded, but alive and both are taken to hospital. The resulting trauma has caused Charlie to shut down and he is unwilling and unable to talk to anyone at all and the police need him to identify the murderer.

This is an exceptionally fast-paced thriller that starts with a horrendous act made especially raw by the use of Charlie’s viewpoint for the escape scenes. It is no word of a lie that my heart was in my mouth during this part. Fortunately the whole of the book isn’t quite as traumatic and eases its way into a police procedural with Kerri at the helm. She might not be the boss but her ability to read a crime scene and people has obviously impressed the rest of the homicide team and more often than not she is given a chance to act on her intuition. When even her the Chief bowed to these skills I must admit I took a bit of deep breath as I am cautious about detectives that ‘just know’ something in my crime fiction but I’m pleased to say that although the police procedures seemed a little looser than certainly the standards their UK counterparts have to meet, there were clues that led to the final unveiling of the perpetrator.

With Charlie in a state of shock it is left to Kerri to make a bond with the previously bright and happy five-year-old which she does incrementally and with a great deal of affection. The book really should be called the Kerri and Charlie show because despite a wide array of characters, including a whole host of subjects that could have wanted Charlie’s pretty mother Rachel dead, these two really do steal the show.

Not only do we have a wide range of suspects, each creepier than the last, (personally I’d have been tempted to lock them all up for being despicable human beings) but there are red-herrings a plenty along with a few more dead bodies, just in case the break-neck speed that is maintained throughout the book allows the reader to breath once in a while, there is a surprise around every corner. This meant that I was on high alert for clues during the entire read and even the good guys, yes there are some, were treated to my contempt as was sure they were only being nice to hide some character flaw.

For those crime fiction lovers that love fast-moving plots which are underpinned with a solid plotline you can’t go far wrong in reading Shoeless Child, which is full of thrills from beginning to end.

Shoeless Child is actually the fourth in the Detective Kerri Blasco series and as I haven’t read any of the others, I can confirm that this works perfectly as a standalone thriller.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the author Joyce Schneider who provided me with an advance copy of Shoeless Child. This unbiased review is my thank you to her for such a thrilling read.

First Published UK: 24 January 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace
No of Pages: 278
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Not A Sound – Heather Gudenkauf

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Heather Gudenkauf’s books fit into a mix of genres leading with a strong element of crime fiction, defiantly thrilling whilst ultimately being triumphantly character but let’s don’t forget they also include issues as well as the spark of romance, all of which provides something for everyone without becoming a jack of all trades and master of none.

Amelia Winn is profoundly deaf following a hit and run accident. Cut adrift from the nursing work she loved she hits the bottle much to the fury of her husband David who needs to be able to trust her with his young daughter Nora. We meet her two years after the accident when out on the river with her service dog, Stitch, she finds a body. What happens next is terrifying and mysterious in equal measures.

The atmosphere in this book is ramped up by Amelia’s isolation, not only through her hearing loss but the fact that she has decamped from the marital home to an isolated cabin where she is slowly trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for the poor woman who has cut herself off from her former friends, with only policeman Jake, her brother’s best friend, as a constant in her life. Jake has encouraged her to stop drinking and now she is ready to try to start work again, sadly not as a nurse but she’s applied for an admin job for an oncologist. The two strands build up a real picture of Hannah’s life and I liked the fact that although she had lost the early battles for her true self, she is no victim, she accepts that she could have handled things differently and that the loss of David and Nora in her life is as a direct result of how she acted.

There’s quite a lot going on in this book and I spent the first half or so imagining that the book was going to veer off in a totally different direction than it did but that’s not to say the author cheated the reader, the case was that I thought I knew better! As well as the well-researched hearing loss storyline the author, inspired by her son’s cancer, the strand that takes us into the files that Hannah works on as she updates the surgeon’s records. And of course at the heart of the book is a solid mystery. Who is the murderer and what was their motive?

I raced through this book and enjoyed the variety as well as the strong characters and exceptionally visual descriptions that the author paints for the reader. Although I felt there were a few occasions when the author repeated Hannah’s thoughts to ensure her readers got the point this was nicely balanced by the brilliant action scenes where the author gently reminds us how Hannah’s hearing loss means she has extra obstacles to overcome. With an ending that deliberately doesn’t sew up all the loose ends this book had a real feel of realism to it, which is always a bonus.

I have enjoyed so many of Heather Gudenkauf’s books, each one telling a very different story but all having a solid plot, great pacing and best of all being utterly compelling.

I’d like to thank the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of Not A Sound, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 30 May 2017
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books by Heather Gudenkauf
The Weight of Silence (2009)
These Things Hidden (2011)
One Breath Away (2012)
Little Mercies (2014)
Missing Pieces (2016)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Boundary – Andrée A. Michaud

Crime Fiction
3*s

Set on the border between the US and Canada there is no doubt at all that this literary crime fiction is incredibly atmospheric. Not only is it evocative of the time it was set, 1967 Boundary combines this with a real sense of place, a holiday town populated mainly by women and children during the summer months with the men returning from work at the weekend.
So an idyllic setting with a lake and woods and sounds of the sixties running through two friend’s lives as Zaza and Sissy wield there charms on all around them. Andrée watches from the side-lines knowing that she is far too young for the ‘almost’ young women who laugh and swear and flirt their way through life.

But behind the summery scenes are the undying stories of a man, damaged by life as a solitary Canadian trapper. Pierre Landry had lived in a cabin in the woods. His tragic end and the crimes attributed to him, including the infatuation with a local woman, clinging to the town, unwanted and yet all-pervasive and the children tell stories about the ghost of Pierre Landry.

Barbeques are lit and children called in for food, dolls played with, dens made and the fairground welcomes its guests as every other summer’s day and then, Zaza goes missing. The nearby police are called, the older more experienced officer, Michaud, is haunted by a young girl’s murder, while the younger, Cusack gets worn down by the ensuing investigation into Zaza’s disappearance.

We are told the story from a number of the characters viewpoints including Andrée’s, the police and members of Boundary’s town. These different viewpoints paint a vivid picture of a town marred by events and the change of atmosphere is all-encompassing.

The story starts very slowly and although it isn’t a particularly long book, it took me a long time to finish. In part this was down to the small font which I’m sad to say I struggled to read after a full day working looking at a computer screen and I really needed daylight to see well. This in turn didn’t help the lack of forward momentum early on in the book as I was able to read so little. This may sound odd, and perhaps not entirely fair, particularly to those of you who have younger eyes than mine, but it did seriously hamper my enjoyment of what was clearly a book with lots to offer. I was reading a proof copy though so I’m not sure if the finished article will make for easier reading, but this was a book where I would have preferred an eBook. After the investigation starts the pace picks up and the various strands of the plot begin to draw together to create a convincing, if sad, story. I felt the characters acted in a consistent manner and I felt an affinity for Andrée, and not in the usual way that I feel for child narrators, she wasn’t like me as a child but her feelings felt particularly authentic.

This felt like a grown-up version of crime fiction with plenty of layers and issues to ponder which in many ways lends itself to a more contemplative reading experience than most crime fiction.

I’d like to thank the publishers No Exit Press who allowed me to read a copy of Boundary ahead of publication on 23 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: No Exit Press
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Crime Fiction – Literary
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

No One Knows – J.T. Ellison

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Regular readers may have noticed that I have cut right back on my consumption of those books that are touted as the next Gone Girl, Girl on the Train etc. despite the fact I was a fan of both, the problem being like death by chocolate, you can overdose on them! That said the memory of how good they can be is still alluring and so in 2016 I have limited my selection, but this is one that got past my well-known restraint! And I’m glad that it did, as here is one twisty domestic based psychological thriller that has all of the best ingredients, and even the title doesn’t have that overused word in it!

So what is it about? Well we first meet Aubrey Hamilton her husband, her childhood sweetheart, has been missing for five years and has just been declared dead. Aubrey however just can’t shake the feeling that he may still be alive, after all who goes missing at a stag do for their best friend the night before the groom’s wedding? It appears that Josh simply vanished from the hotel that the couple were staying at with no sight nor sound of him since. And now a new man has walked into her life and he reminds her so much of Josh. In short Aubrey examines her life before Josh disappeared looking for clues in their happy marriage to see if she can discover what really happened to her beloved husband that night.

The success of these books is to have one foot rooted far enough in reality to keep the reader hooked while allowing the other to roam freely so that coincidences and random occurrences can flow freely unimpeded by reason. J.T. Ellison has the balance absolutely right! I’ve also found it best if you read these types of novels in longish stretches which helps to keep you in the moment, following the twists and turns wherever they may take you.

The part where domestic noir often fails is with the characters; I think the success of the two currently touted books proves that the protagonist doesn’t have to be likeable and flaws are actually welcome but their characters do have to have an element of a real person. Aubrey is actually quite a nice character, her only flaw being that she wasn’t good enough for her future mother-in-law, having been in care following the death of her parents. In this book the award for the nastiest character goes to Josh’s mother, a woman who is going to sue Aubrey for Josh’s life insurance money which can now be paid out on his death.

Lastly a domestic noir books must have the unexpected which is now compulsory, the more outrageous the better – I think J.T. Ellison has earned her stripes here too with more than one bombshell to blow what you think you know to smithereens.

So did I enjoy it? Yes, I did, as pure entertainment and wonder at how an author can come up with such a plot, it had me gripped and intrigued as to how the author was going to resolve it all, the answer was satisfying. Better still I didn’t feel like I couldn’t face another in this genre for a few weeks!!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Gallery Books for allowing me to read a copy of No One Knows before publication on 22 March 2016. This review, my honest opinion, is my thanks to them.