Friday, 28 July 2017

Review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

I found this one when it popped up as an advert on my Kindle. I usually zone these out but the title caught my eye. I had the idea it was some kind of paranormal about ghosts - it isn't, not in the traditional sense of the genre anyway. I read a sample, thought 'This is the strangest book I've ever read' but was hooked enough to download the rest.

The first chapter is set in the 16th century and is about Edmund, who is shipwrecked and dies before he can reach the shores of America. The next chunk of book is a thriller set in Chicago in the present day, where a sniper has the inhabitants terrified. Special Agent Will Brody and his boss (and lover) Claire McCoy are desperately trying to find him before he can claim his next victim. The blurb on the back of the book gives the next victim away as Will himself. The clue is also in the title, right? But that doesn't necessarily mean the end of Will ...

This story is a mash up of a crime thriller and horror/fantasy, so I can see why the reviews are mixed. The first chapter you think you're reading a horror/fantasy, the next chunk turns into a thriller, then we're into paranormal/fantasy. It shouldn't work but it does. On the cover it says "Imagine the love story of the movie Ghost dropped into The Matrix" and yes, I can see this book appealing to fans of The Matrix (perhaps not so much Ghost!). Also fans of Stephen King (The Gunslinger), Philip Pullman (The Subtle Knife), TV shows such as Supernatural (the hunt for a monster that's not quite understood) and The Waking Dead (a community fighting against a supernatural enemy) - although there are no zombies; the Eaters (enemy) in this story feed on energy/souls.

There is romance between Brody and Claire, but it doesn't dominate the story. There is a little bit of humour. There are a few sex scenes. There is a bit of violence but not too much gore. It's not science fiction and it's not a ghost story, even though most of the characters are dead. Are you still with me?

The only negative for me was that I felt the author, after setting up these amazing alternative realities, didn't know quite how to wrap it all up. I would have liked a longer story, or maybe a trilogy.

Verdict? Seriously weird, totally brilliant! I would definitely recommend it - but it might be worth downloading a sample first to make sure it's the kind of thing you would like too!

Thank you to Marcus Sakey, Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone is a clever psychological suspense about a mother who has never given up hope of finding her missing daughter.

Ellie Mack disappeared ten years ago and the rest of her family, particularly her mother Laurel, have never recovered from the shock. Laurel's marriage crumbled and her relationship with her other children deteriorated until it was non-existent. Now Laurel finally has the strength to move on. She meets a handsome, funny, clever man and begins to fall in love. And then meets his young daughter, Poppy, who is the spitting image of Ellie ...

I usually avoid books about missing children, but the premise of this one intrigued me. As I read the story I thought I had the end all worked out - and I did, to a point. There were some twists that surprised even me. I got about a third of the way through the book, thought I'd just read another chapter before bedtime - and didn't put it down until I'd finished the story at 1.00 am. And then lay awake for another hour thinking about it! It really is that gripping.

I can't say much more because I don't want to spoil it for you. I can't even say it's like a cross between 'x' and 'y', because then you'll work out where the author is going with the story and it will be more fun for you going in without a clue. So I'll just say that if you love well-written psychological suspense you are in for a treat! Recommended!

Thank you to Lisa Jewell, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Review: The Killings at Badger's Drift (Midsomer Murders Mystery #1) by Caroline Graham

I love the Midsomer Murders TV series (I've probably seen every episode), so I'm not sure why I've never read any of the books that the series was based on. Surprisingly there are only seven of them. This is the first, and I picked it up on Kindle for only 99p. Doing my usual read-a-series-in-the-wrong-order thing, I'd somehow already bought #2 in paperback sometime previously. 

The Killings at Badger's Drift (great title!) is a contemporary cosy crime/murder mystery written in a similar style to Agatha Christie. When I started reading I found it a little old-fashioned, but that is because I hadn't realised it was originally written in 1987. The idea of a Detective Chief Inspector doing door-to-door enquiries (although the reason is explained in the story), and the way everyone happily tramples over a crime scene, made me smile. Having said that, it is darker and funnier than the kind of cosy crime published recently, and once I got into it I couldn't put it down. The mix of characters, who all had plausible motives for murder, were so beautifully drawn - the Rainbirds, in particular, were genius. I hadn't got a clue who the villain was and I was completely in awe at the way the intricate plot strands all came together. It's a masterclass in cosy crime.

When retired school-teacher goes orchid-hunting in the local woods, she sees something she shouldn't - and is murdered for it. Only her best friend Lucy Bellringer (a nod to Miss Marple?) is convinced her death was unnatural, and she persuades Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby to investigate - with the help of his sidekick, Detective Sergeant Troy (who inadvertently provides much of the humour).

I loved this book and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one in the series. Recommended for anyone who likes classic, contemporary murder mysteries, and for fans of authors like Agatha Christie. (And I love the cover!)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

I'm a huge fan of Kathy Reichs. I've read and loved all her books. I couldn't wait to read this one, a standalone featuring reluctant private investigator Sunday Night. Yes, I know, that name! It grated on me at first, then I got used to it, and then at the end of the story it was explained how she came by it and all made sense. I'm not sure whether this will be the start of a new series. I do hope so, because I loved the character of 'Sunnie'!

As Kathy Reichs says in her introduction, Sunnie has a 'dark outlook and an even darker past', and I found that intriguing. Ex-military and ex-police, Sunnie now lives a hermit's life on a 'skinny strip of sand' known as Goat Island with only a squirrel (Bob!) for company. She'd have been perfectly happy to stay that way, but her mentor turns up with a job for her. An extremely wealthy, elderly lady wants Sunnie to locate her granddaughter, missing after a terrorist attack on a school.

Sunnie is a completely different character to that of Tempe Brennan, which I liked. She is awkward and mouthy, and has a wisecrack for every occasion. She also talks in very short, staccato sentences, which makes this a very quick read. It reminded me of the old 1940s 'gumshoe' detective novels. Sunnie has a bad habit of rushing in without a thought for the consequences, so it's lucky she has her far more laid-back brother, Gus, to help out. Is this why the story is called Two Nights? Not quite ...

I wasn't so keen on the plot - rescue the old lady's granddaughter and track down the terrorists before they could strike again. Personal preference here. There have been similar real-life attacks recently, and I prefer the books I read to have more of an element of escapism. Also, the pace was a mix of fast (as they rushed from city to city) and slow (stake-outs), and I think I preferred the steadier mystery-solving approach of the Tempe Brennan books. But there are some excellent twists, some funny one-liners and I did love Sunnie! And there were also tips on how to hack into someone's email, which I'm sure will come in handy one day ...

Thank you to Kathy Reichs, Cornerstone Digital and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase

During the hot summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters are dumped at Applecote Manor by their feckless mother - and into the care of their aunt and uncle, whose own young daughter disappeared five years previously. It is unsettling for them, not least because their cousin Audrey still 'haunts' the house; her bedroom is as she left it, her parents have obviously never got over the shock, and the villagers regard the family with deep suspicion.

In the present day, Jessie and Will are hoping for a new start in the now ramshackle Applecote Manor, along with their young daughter Romy, and Will's rebellious teenage daughter Bella.

I loved everything about this book. It ticked every box for me: family secrets, an old mystery and a spooky house. I found the 1959 timeline authentic and totally absorbing. By contrast, it was the present day part that felt more dreamlike - but in a good way! This concentrated on the increasing tensions between Jessie and Will, and the never-that-great-to-begin-with relationship between Jessie and her step-daughter, whom she can never quite bring herself to trust. When Bella becomes obsessed with the history of the house, and the teenage girl who disappeared sixty years previously, Jessie feels own her grip on reality begin to unravel. Will the sinister atmosphere of the house destroy them? And will the tragic events of sixty years ago start to repeat themselves?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde* is part coming-of-age, part gothic mystery/romance, and part psychological suspense. It's brilliantly written, with memorable characters, and is very cleverly plotted. I loved the relationships between the four sisters, the sibling rivalry over the village boys, and the way they ultimately looked out for each other. For fans of Kate Morton, Daphne du Maurier, and perhaps Shirley Jackson too. One of my favourite reads this year.

Thank you to Eve Chase, Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

*Published as The Wilding Sisters in the USA.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I downloaded How to Stop Time because I follow Matt Haig on Twitter. He's funny and entertaining, but also talks honestly about more serious issues. I'd never read any of his books before but the sound of this one intrigued me. I knew I'd enjoy it but I was surprised by how much, and I started recommending it to my friends before I'd even finished it.

For some reason I'd got it into my head it was about time travel - it isn't. It's hard to explain the story without giving away too much of the plot, but basically our hero, Tom, was born in 1581, the son of aristocratic French immigrants. His father was killed in the religious wars, and Tom and his mother are now scraping a living in Suffolk. But Tom has a secret that in those days could get you killed. He ages at about the rate of one year to everyone else's fifteen. When the story continues in the present day, he still appears as though he's only in his early forties.

How to Stop Time reminded me a bit of that old 1980s movie Highlander (only without the beheadings!) as Tom tries to live his life throughout the centuries, forced to be constantly on the move in case he is found out, and trying not to fall in love. And  I loved the way he kept accidentally bumping into famous historical figures!

What I particularly enjoyed was that it read almost like a collection of short stories. We are shown glimpses of Tom's past life mixed in with his present one as a history teacher. It's like that old 'gather around the fireside and I'll tell you a story'.

The writing is fabulous, I loved all the quirky historical facts and pertinent things Tom has to say about how we live our lives in the 21st century. It was one of those books I really didn't want to end and I'd have loved to have heard more of  Tom's stories about the past.


Thank you to Matt Haig, Canongate Books and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

I couldn't resist downloading this one because of the beautiful cover, the clever title, and the fact that it is about time travel! I read so many books it is a joy to find something that's just that little bit different!

Luna has always known she's a bit odd. She's grown used to seeing people that no one else can, and assumes they're either hallucinations or ghosts. Then her mother dies, leaving a cryptic message for Luna to 'find her' in her childhood home - Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Yet when Luna arrives in America her hallucinations grow worse. But what if they're not hallucinations? What if she has the ability to slide through time? What if she can meet her mother, just before the moment that ruined her life? What if Luna can actually go back and change the past?

The Summer of Impossible Things is part The Time Traveller's Wife, part Back to the Future. It's about a daughter's love for her mother and how one moment can change your life - but what if you can change it back? And if you muck that up, can you try again? And what about the consequences?

It's hard to talk about this book without revealing spoilers. So I'll just say that I loved the characters and I loved the setting, and I particularly loved Mrs Finkle and Michael. I even loved the way the author sneakily played the writer's equivalent of the three card trick when I wasn't paying attention! 

The Summer of Impossible Things is a beautiful, magical story that I didn't want to put down and I certainly didn't want to end. There's a romance and a mystery, and just when you think you've worked out how the story is going to end - well, no spoilers, right? 

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended!

Thank you to Rowan Coleman, Ebury Press and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Review: The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean has been incredibly brave writing this story, because the hero has behaved so badly towards the heroine - and not in a villain-we-love-to-hate way either - it is hard to see how he can redeem himself. So, has the author pulled off a satisfying ending? I think so!

The Day of the Duchess is the third in a series called Scandal and Scoundrel - 'scoundrel' being the heroes (obviously!) and 'scandal' being the disaster the heroine has usually embroiled herself in. Now, usually this is the part where I say that the book works well as a stand alone and it doesn't matter if you haven't read the others in the series, but this time it really is of benefit if The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal and Scoundrel #1), is read first. You will get to see exactly what the hero did that was so unforgivably awful, rather than hearing about it second-hand.

Our heroine is Sera, one of the scandalous daughters of the Earl of Wight, who won his title in a card game with the Prince of Wales. Now incredibly wealthy, the Earl started life as a coal miner. No matter how hard they try, his daughters have never been accepted by the aristocracy, so they've given up - and delight in being shocking. When Sera meets the Duke of Haven and falls in love, no one seriously believes he'll marry her. So her mother stages an intervention; the couple have no choice in the matter and their marriage is doomed from the start.

Basically this story is about two people who fall in love, betray each other, hate each other, do their best to destroy each other - and are now at the 'can't live with, can't live without' stage of their relationship. Helping/hindering in a possibly reconciliation are Sera's forthright sisters and her business partner - the incredibly loyal and rather gorgeous Caleb.

I would recommend this to fans of the more modern style of historical romance, who are perhaps looking for something a little bit different from 'rake falls for debutante'. I found it very romantic, particularly the ballroom scene, and was almost in tears by the ending (and I'm usually as hard as nails, so that takes a lot!). I am so looking forward to the next in the series, although it is hard to see how Sarah MacLean will be able to top this one!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Favourite Books of the Year (so far!)

Way back in September last year my youngest child headed off for university and I wanted a new hobby to fill the time saved by all those school runs, so I started blogging about the books I was reading. I read two or three books a week but had been keeping no records about the ones I'd enjoyed. Sometimes I'd look at a book cover on my Kindle and think 'I know I've read that book, and I know I liked it, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was about!'

I've since realised that writing a book review is bloody hard work and I have a whole new respect for professional book bloggers! Ironically, the hardest reviews to write seem to be the books I've loved the most.

If I reviewed every book I read I'd never have time to write, but I've since rediscovered Goodreads and I've started listing my books over there. If you pay me a visit, be sure to check out my 'favourites' shelf!

In the meantime, here's is a list of my favourite books this year.*

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

I had assumed from the title that the story was going to be something along the lines of Bridget Jones, but it turned out I was completely wrong. Eleanor Oliphant is an unusual and fascinating character, whose past history is revealed a tiny bit at a time. The story is about her best efforts to avoid the world around her until she is forced to reconnect after doing someone else a good turn. It is by turns sweet, funny, sad, quirky, poignant, touching, incredibly lovely and completely wonderful.

The Lie of the Land
by Amanda Craig

The story is about Lottie and Quentin, who are forced to uproot from London and settle in the wilds of Devon because they can't afford to divorce. Most of the humour comes from the shock of exchanging their lovely home in the city for an old farmhouse, which is damp and overrun with mice. And then they find out exactly why the house was so cheap to rent  - and what happened to the previous tenant ...

The joy of this book is in how the characters deal with (or, in some cases, don't deal with) adversity. My favourite characters were Xan, who was the first to realise what a sheltered life he'd been leading, and his step-father Quentin, even though Quentin was so horrible: "Without selfishness, I'll have a life of misery and boredom."

The Weight of Lies
by Emily Carpenter

Do ever feel that a book has been written just for you? This book had all the ingredients I love in a story - an old murder, family secrets, flawed characters - there is even a spooky old house located on a private island. Perfect!

Forty years ago, Meg Ashley's mother Frances became an overnight sensation when she wrote a cult horror novel called Kitten. (Think female Stephen King and the success of 'Carrie'). Since then, Frances Ashley has become an extremely wealthy, much-loved author. Unfortunately, Frances is also a complete megalomaniac and a terrible mother. Offered a huge sum of money to write a tell-all account of growing up with Frances Ashley as her mother, and the true-life murder that inspired Kitten, Meg packs her bags and heads off to the private island of Bonny, intending to solve the decades-old murder. Will her plan go horribly wrong? You bet!

Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is about a group of women who all have young children just starting at the local school. Despite their apparent 'perfect' lives, these women all have very real problems. In theory I should have hated it. I prefer escapism in the books I read and tend to avoid anything with a domestic setting or serious issues. I'd also seen the first episode of the TV series and found it completely boring. However ...

The story starts with a death on school Trivia Night. Was it murder? We don't find out the truth until the end, not even the name of the victim, but to be honest I didn't care who was murdered or why! I was having far too much fun reading about the lives of these fascinating women! The strength of the story is in their horribly realistic characters. I recognised myself, my friends, the mothers at my children's school... All the rivalries, misunderstandings, petty jealousies... In some ways the mothers behaved more like children than their offspring. By turns hilariously funny and desperately sad, the dialogue is full of classic one-liners - but the real skill of the author is her ability to observe and recreate everyday life, and yet make it relatable and entertaining. I was in awe.

All The Missing Girls
by Megan Miranda 

This story is about Nic who left her home town ten years ago and has absolutely no desire to go back. But around the same time Nic left, her best friend went missing - and now her father says he's seen her on the porch of their old home. But her father is senile, surely he's imagining it?

There are several reasons why I loved this book. Firstly, the characters are so well-drawn I felt I knew these people. They weren't entirely lovable, they all had very realistic flaws - for me, that was part of their appeal. Secondly, the story is told backwards! It is brilliantly clever. The story hits the ground running and doesn't let up in tension until the very end. I did have to concentrate though! It's a bit like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, have someone sweep all the pieces back in the box after an hour, and then having to start all over again!

Reading back through these reviews, I can certainly see a trend! It seems I love reading stories about flawed but lovable characters who have a mystery to solve, often in a slightly gothic setting. What does that say about me? I dread to think!

What kind of books do you love to read?

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*This is a selection of the books I've read this year, it doesn't necessarily mean they were published this year.