Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Silversmith's Wife - Sophia Tobin

Published 16 January 2014 by Simon & Schuster UK

From Amazon:

The year is 1792 and it's winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets, and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide. At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith's wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for…? Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets.

My thoughts:

With this debut novel we are transported back to 18th century London, and in particular to Berkeley Square and Bond Street.  This is a dangerous place requiring the presence of a night watchman to protect its people and property.  One night Edward Digby, the night watchman on duty finds the slain body of Pierre Renard, a well-known and a highly regarded silversmith. 

Despite cultivating a superior persona, Renard was not a popular man and he was not mourned by many.  In private he was a cruel sadistic bully and in business, a fraud.  His wife Mary suffered the most at his hands, his diary notes at the beginning of each chapter make clear his disappointment of her and his wish to be free of his marriage.

Without the benefit of modern day forensic examination, there is not much of an investigation into his death. The local doctor is also the coroner and only a cursory inquest is held.  What then follows is a cleverly constructed story encompassing the many people who were in some way involved with Renard, either through business or his personal life.

This is a richly detailed and atmospheric story.  It has clearly been well researched and the historical detail is fascinating.   The characters are superbly drawn, from the widow Mary, who is a shell of her former self after her unhappy marriage to Renard; the night watchman Digby, a man who is not without flaws; a young newlywed upper class couple whose marriage is not all it seems and the silversmiths and engravers who work in poor conditions to produce such beautiful silverware.  There were one or two characters who particularly stood out for me – Mary’s sister Mallory, a no-nonsense widow and businesswomen and Alban Steele, an old acquaintance of Mary’s who comes to London to help his ailing cousin with his silverwork.  

This is very much a slow burner of a story which proceeds throughout at a sedate pace.  I’ve always loved history and thoroughly enjoyed the historical detail and vivid descriptions.  Little by little the life and secrets of the silversmith Renard, are revealed and suspicion is cast upon those closest to him and those who had the most to gain from his death.  Do we ever find out who killed him – you will have to read the book to find out!

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Simon & Schuster for the digital copy to review. 

About the author:

Sophia Tobin worked for a Bond Street antique dealer for six years, specialising in silver and jewellery. Inspired by research she made into a real life eighteenth-century silversmith, Tobin began to write The Silversmith's Wife which was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize, judged by Sophie Hannah. She is currently Library Secretary for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmith's and lives in London with her husband. This is her first novel. 

You can follow the author via her website or Twitter

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ghostwritten - Isabel Wolff

Published on 27 March 2014 by Harper Collins

From Goodreads:

Perfect for fans of Tenko and The Railway Man

A childhood mistake. A lifetime of regrets.

Jenni is a ‘ghost’: she writes the lives of other people. It’s a job that suits her well: still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others rather than dwell on her own.

Jenni has an exciting new commission, and is delighted to start working on the memoirs of a Dutchwoman, Klara. As a child in the Second World War, Klara was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation – she has an extraordinary story of survival to tell.

But as Jenni and Klara begin to get to know each other, Jenni begins to do much more than shed light on a neglected part of history. She is being forced to examine her own devastating memories, too. But with Klara’s help, perhaps this is finally the moment where she will be able to lay the ghosts of her own past to rest?

Gripping, poignant and beautifully researched, Ghostwritten is a story of survival and love, of memory and hope.

My thoughts:

The story begins with a prologue from 1987 before the story starts in the present time, where two small children, Evie and Ted are playing on a beach.  From this, is it is clear that something terrible has happened, although nothing is actually confirmed.

In the present day we meet Jenni, a ghostwriter.  Jenni’s relationship with her boyfriend Rick is in trouble and after a chance introduction at a wedding, Jenni accepts a commission to ghostwrite the memoirs of an elderly lady, Klara.    The only problem is she has to travel to a place that she has tried desperately to avoid all these years, Polvarth in Cornwall.

Once Jenni meets Klara and gains her trust, Klara’s memories of her young life spent in the Japanese internment camps during the war years start to spill out.  These memories are hard for Klara to share, she has never spoken of them before and they are so painful to remember.   However as Jenni becomes more involved in transcribing Klara’s words, it is clear that the two women have more in common than they might at first have thought and it is just possible that they might be able to help each other to come to terms with past events.

I’ve read and enjoyed books by Isabel Wolff in the past but this dual time frame story was something a little different.  I read it over a few days and was completely engrossed in the story.  Often with time slip novels, I find one era more interesting than another and it was the case here.  Whilst Jenni was a likeable enough character, it was Klara’s story that I found the most compelling.  Klara was a very strong character and the memories of her time in the internment camps in Java made for harrowing reading.  I have read previous books about the Japanese prison camps and of course many years ago there was a TV series called “Tenko” (which means ‘roll-call’ by the way - I didn’t know this) but the needless cruelty shown by the Japanese soldiers still makes for difficult reading.   Klara’s memories of the torture, deprivation and starvation suffered by the women were very powerful – you had to be very strong, both physically and mentally to survive.

Isabel Wolff has written a wonderfully well researched novel which is not only very interesting to read but also extremely moving and poignant.  Excellent characterisation and a sense of place made this a 5* read for me. I loved it and would certainly recommend it.

I received my paperback copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

 Picture from website

Isabel Wolff's nine bestselling novels are published worldwide. 'The Very Picture of You' was published in the UK and the US in October 2011. 'A Vintage Affair', was an 'Best of 2009' title and was shortlisted by the American Library Assocation for their Reading List awards (Women's Fiction. Isabel's 10th novel, 'Ghostwritten', set in present day Cornwall and on wartime Java, is published in March 2014. Isabel lives in west London with her family.

You can follow Isabel via her website, Twitter or Facebook

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keep Your Friends Close - Paula Daly

 Published 13 March 2014 by Bantam Press

From Goodreads:

What do you do when your best friend steals your life?

Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty's oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears - just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France - Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home.

Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty's husband has fallen in love with Eve. He's sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over.

With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself.

And then she receives the note.

Eve has done this before, more than once, and with fatal consequences...

My thoughts:

Having loved Paula Daly’s debut novel Just What Kind of Mother Are You (reviewed here), I was really looking forward to reading her latest book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of -  Natty is married to Sean, she thinks they are happy enough but looking after two teenage girls whilst running a hotel business with her husband takes all her time and energy and she has been too busy to notice that he is not quite as happy.  In fact he is feeling quite unloved and when Eve Dalladay, a very glamorous long-time friend of Natty’s from their university days suddenly arrives and takes advantage of the situation during a family crisis, Natty faces losing everything – her husband, her children, her home and business.  

This was a wonderful gripping story, it took me less than two days to read and I couldn’t go to sleep until I came to the end.  With such superb and realistic characterisation, this could be a family that you know.  Natty wasn’t an easy character to like at first and certainly wouldn’t have been an easy person to live with but all she was doing was trying to provide a secure future for her family.   She doesn’t do herself any favours by some of her actions and really she was asking for trouble but then I guess sense and reason go out of the window if your world had been stolen from you by someone you considered to be your oldest friend.   

There are no words for Sean – apart from weak, spineless, coward – I’m being polite here!  However the real villain is Eve.    She was pure evil.   Manipulative, calculating and a compulsive liar, she knew exactly which buttons to press to get what she wanted.  If this had been a pantomime I would have been booing every time she appeared.  What I particularly loved about the story was the way it was constructed.  From the outset the reader knows what is happening but is just waiting for everyone else to catch up.  All the way through I was willing Natty to find a way to bring Eve down; the transformation of Natty from an absolute wreck to a woman fighting for her family was beautifully written.

It was great to see DC Joanne Aspinall make a return from JWKOMAY; she, together with her “mad Aunt Jackie”, are wonderful characters and with each book their roles become an increasingly important part of the story.

There is everything in this story – it’s a chilling psychological thriller with family secrets, murder and fabulously flawed characters and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  After two tremendous books, I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next …… no pressure Paula!

I will mention here that a short story Kindle ebook No Remorse by Paula Daly is currently available on Amazon for 99p.  I have read and enjoyed this one too. 

About the author:

Paula Daly was born in Lancashire. Before beginning her first novel Just What Kind of Mother Are You? she was a self-employed physiotherapist. She lives in the Lake District with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy.

You can follow the author on Twitter

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Best Thing that Never Happened to Me - Laura Tait & Jimmy Rice

ebook published 10 April 2014 by Transworld Digital

Paperback published 3 July 2014 by Corgi

From Goodreads:

Everyone remembers their first love.

Holly has learnt that life isn't about seizing the moment. She might have harboured dreams about travelling the world as a teenager, but she let go of those - just as she let go of Alex.

But what if the feelings never really went away?

Alex wants to make every moment of his new job count. It's a fresh start in a new city, and he knows that moving to London has nothing to do with Holly. Well, probably.

How do you know if it was meant to be. or never meant to happen at all?

A brilliantly funny, feel-good story of first love, second chances and everything inbetween, perfect for fans of romantic comedies like Love Actually, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones

My thoughts:

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that this book had been compared to Bridget Jones.  I’ve never been a Bridget fan and my heart did sink a little.   However, I’m delighted to say that I really enjoyed it.  The writing for both characters was sharp and witty and the storyline was funny without descending into farce.  I loved both main characters but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Alex – he had a dry humour which I loved. All the way through the book I was wondering which writing partner had written Alex and Holly and it was only at the end I discovered that I was right.  Both were just so spot on with their observations and thoughts and Alex was such a bloke!

Alex and Holly were best friends (well first loves really) through their school days until misunderstandings and missed conversations came between them and they went their separate ways. Holly came to London and ended up not travelling the world as she had planned but settled into a PA job and fell in love with her boss.  10 years later, Alex has left their hometown of Mothston in Yorkshire and he too comes to London for a new start to his teaching career.  He wants to inspire and to make a difference to the children he is teaching and some of the funniest and also the most moving parts of the story take place in his classroom. When Alex and Holly meet up again, they initially hedge round each other like strangers but soon their old friendship returns and what follows is a series of yet more misunderstandings and unspoken truths between them.  Can they ever get back to where they were or are they now just too different?

The characters have been expertly drawn, Holly and Alex were great, and even Alex’s old friend Kev, who started off as a bit of a k**b grew up and became quite likeable.  There were times when I wanted to bang their heads together and for them to have a proper conversation about how they really felt but I guess the book would then have been a lot shorter!  The story goes between past and present with chapters narrated alternately by Alex and Holly but it’s never confusing and gives a rounded picture of their past and how they came to separate all those years before.

If you want a light hearted read but one with a bit more depth to it than many rom-coms then I can recommend this debut novel.  I would certainly look out for any further books by these very talented authors.

My thanks to September of Transworld for the paperback copy to review.

About the authors:

Laura Tait is a writer for Shortlist and Stylist magazines and Jimmy Rice is a freelance journalist. They both live in London.

Jimmy and Laura became mates whilst studying journalism at Sheffield University, so sitting in pubs talking about life and love is something they've been doing for the last ten years.

You can follow Laura & Jimmy on Twitter

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Place to Call Home - Carole Matthews

Published 9 January 2014 by Sphere

Paperback release 10 April 2014

From Goodreads:

In the dead of night, Ayesha takes her daughter, Sabina, and slips quietly from her home, leaving behind a life of full of pain.  Boarding a coach to London, all Ayesha wants is a fresh start.

Hayden, a former popstar, has kept himself hidden away for years. He's only opened up his home to two people - Crystal, a professional dancer with a heart of gold, and Joy, an ill-tempered retiree with a soft spot for waifs and strays.

When Crystal asks Hayden if Ayesha and Sabina can stay with them, he reluctantly agrees and, as different as they may be, they quickly form an unlikely bond. So when enemies threaten their peaceful home, they will do all they can to save it and each other.

My thoughts:

I have to admit to being just a little biased here because Carole Matthews is an all-time favourite author.  I’ve read all her books and there isn’t one that I haven’t enjoyed.  A Place to Call Home is a slightly darker read than usual in that it touches on the subject of domestic abuse but it still has her trademark lightness of touch and sense of fun.

It was a real stroke of luck for Ayesha and Sabina Rasheed when they found sanctuary with Hayden and his lodgers after escaping from Ayesha's abusive marriage with Suresh.  Ayesha’s parents arranged her marriage thinking that she would be loved and looked after however life hasn’t worked out well for Ayesha and, Sabina, their young daughter, has become so traumatised by events that she has stopped speaking.

The house where Ayesha and Sabina find themselves is owned by Hayden, an ex-pop star who has suffered tragedy of his own.  He keeps himself shut away from public life but through circumstance has found himself sharing his house with two other people, each damaged in their own way.  Crystal, a lap dancer, has a tough exterior with a larger than life personality but also has a heart of gold whilst Joy, a former neighbour, is an elderly curmudgeon whose main enjoyment in life is the garden.  Ayesha and Sabina have to somehow make a new life for themselves whilst recovering from the torment they have suffered and what follows is an uplifting and emotional read that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you realise the importance of friendship and kindness and the need to feel safe.   The story isn’t all sweetness and light however, there is a little bit of suspense and danger to keep the reader on their toes!

With very different but beautifully crafted characters, I think this is one of Carole’s best books to date.  I could happily have moved into Hayden’s house myself (although my cooking would be no better than Crystal’s!) 

My thanks to Netgalley and Stephanie of Little, Brown for the digital copy to review. 

About the author:

Carole Matthews is the bestselling author of more than 23 hugely successful romantic comedy novels. Her unique sense of humour has won her legions of fans all over the world.

Her latest books, A Cottage by the Sea and Calling Mrs Christmas have both appeared in the top ten of the Sunday Times bestseller list. Her novels Welcome To The Real World and Wrapped Up In You were shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year award. She was also inducted into The Festival of Romance Hall of Fame for her outstanding contribution to romantic fiction.

Carole is a prolific writer of short stories, featuring in several anthologies, and has presented on television. She's also a regular radio guest.

You can follow Carole via her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Accident - C L Taylor

Published on 10 April 2014 by Avon

From Goodreads:

The person you trust most may only be telling you half the story.....

Fast-paced, suspenseful, this is a book with more twists than a helter-skelter that will keep you reading late into the night. Perfect for fans of Before I Go to Sleep and Gone Girl.

Sue Jackson has the perfect family but when her teenage daughter Charlotte deliberately steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma she is forced to face a very dark reality.

Retracing her daughter’s steps she finds a horrifying entry in Charlotte’s diary and is forced to head deep into Charlotte’s private world. In her hunt for evidence, Sue begins to mistrust everyone close to her daughter and she’s forced to look further, into the depths of her own past.

There is a lot that Sue doesn’t know about Charlotte’s life.  But then there’s a lot that Charlotte doesn’t know about Sue’s.

My thoughts:

The story begins with Sue Jackson sitting by her 15 year old daughter Charlotte’s hospital bed.  Charlotte has been in a coma for the previous six weeks and the doctors have no idea if, or when, she will wake up.

Sue however, believes her daughter is too frightened to wake up.  Ever since she discovered an entry in Charlotte’s diary “Keeping this secret is killing me…” she is convinced that her daughter deliberately stepped in front of the bus, unlike her husband Brian who believes it to be an accident.   Was it a deliberate act, or just a tragic accident?  

Sue Jackson seems quite ordinary.  Married to Brian, a Member of Parliament and mother to Charlotte and stepmum to Brian’s son Oli she appears to have a pefect family life. However all is not what it seems, Events from Sue’s past have left her feeling paranoid and scared and her fragile mental state has impacted on her marriage and family.   In order to help Charlotte, Sue must dig deep to find the mental strength needed to involve herself in Charlotte’s life and try to find answers from Charlotte’s friends - someone knows something but is not talking.  What she does discover makes her wonder just how well she knew her daughter.

Using Sue’s diary entries going back over 20 years together with present time narration by Sue, C L Taylor has written a cleverly crafted and disturbing psychological thriller with tension, twists and turns and red herrings leading to a dramatic conclusion.   There were times when I was so frustrated with Sue, particularly during the diary years, and in my head I was shouting at her, “no don’t do that”, I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone so won’t give any examples but I’m sure you will see what I mean when you read it.   The main characters were so well written and convincing I had to remind myself I was reading a novel and not about a real life event.   Sue's past life makes for chilling reading and is at times quite scary; once you know the full history it really is no surprise why she has so many mental scars.  There were one or two occasions when I was a little less convinced by the storyline but these certainly didn't spoil this 5* read for me.  I really enjoyed this excellent thriller and look forward to reading more by C L Taylor. 

This is C L Taylor’s debut crime novel, other books in a different genre have been written under the name of Cally Taylor which I have on my bookshelf. 

My thanks to Lydia at Crime Fix/Avon Books for the paperback copy to review. 

The paperback and Kindle version will be released on 10 April however the Kindle version can currently be pre-ordered via for only 99p.  

About the author:

 CL Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son. Born in Worcester, she studied for a degree in Psychology at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle then moved to London to work in medical publishing. After two years she moved to Brighton where she worked as a graphic designer, web developer and instructional designer over the course of 13 years. She currently works as a Distance Learning Design and Development manager for a London university. She credits Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' for her love of a dark, twisted tale.

You can follow C L Taylor via her website or Twitter or Facebook 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent

Published 6 March 2014 by Penguin Ireland

From Goodreads:

'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Liz Nugent's gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the leafy suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and puts her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

My thoughts:

This debut novel from Liz Nugent is a truly gripping and powerful story.  From the very first page I was hooked – we have a main character, Oliver, who has admitted to hitting his wife Alice.  In fact the second time he hit her, he put her in a coma.  What on earth could she have done to receive such a savage beating?

As the story progresses, we hear from former acquaintances and friends of both Oliver and Alice who have encountered them at various times of their lives.  To outsiders they seemed to have a very good marriage.  He was much admired and a successful author of children’s books, with Alice, his devoted wife, doing the illustrations.  However Oliver’s childhood was not a happy one – can the events of his past be responsible for making him into the man he became?

Oliver is a wonderfully unreliable narrator – he can be charismatic and charming but also arrogant, deceitful and manipulative and it is only through the accounts of others when they tell of the impact that he had on their lives that his true character is gradually revealed, with the revelations becoming more shocking as the story continues. 

This was an extremely addictive read and I couldn’t put it down.  I both disliked and felt sorry for Oliver in equal measures. There were times when I felt I could almost forgive him because of his miserable background but then he would say or do something in his arrogant and disdainful way and my sympathy would vanish.   Each chapter consists of someone recounting their memories of Oliver and this works very well to give a rounded view of past events – we hear from Barney, Alice’s first boyfriend, her mentally disabled brother Eugene, and several others, including Oliver himself.   The writing is confident and the story flows seamlessly, always leaving you wanting to read on.  The early years of the story are set against the background of 1970’s Ireland, with all the religious and social restrictions that prevailed at the time, for example, the stigma of being an unmarried mother.    With each layer of Oliver’s life that is gradually revealed, we learn the secrets of his past and more about the man.   Is Oliver really the monster he appears to be – you will have to read the book and decide for yourself!

This is not a fast paced thriller but more of a thought provoking psychological study of human nature, and makes you think of the old question of nature over nurture.  I loved it and can’t wait to see what Liz Nugent comes up with next!

My thanks to Catherine and Patricia of Penguin Ireland for the digital copy to review. 

About the author:

In her early career Liz Nugent worked as a stage manager in theatres in Ireland and toured internationally. More recently, Liz has written extensively for radio and television drama. She has been shortlisted for the prestigious Francis McManus Short Story Award. She lives with her husband in her native Dublin. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel.

You can follow Liz on Facebook and Twitter and via her website

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wake - Anna Hope

Published 16 January 2014 by Doubleday/Transworld

From Goodreads:

A brilliant debut for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which three women must deal with the aftershocks of WWI and its impact on the men in their lives—a son, a brother and a lover. Their tragic connection is slowly revealed as the book unfolds.

Wake: (1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep
(2) Ritual for the dead (3) Consequence or aftermath

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.


My thoughts:

Wake is a story set over 5 days in November 1920. The body of the Unknown Warrior is being bought home from the battlefields of France to London and to his final resting place in Westminster Abbey. A memorial that will symbolise all those killed in the war who have no known grave.

The stories of the three women at first appear random but all are connected by events which took place on the battlefield. Ada, a mother whose son Michael died in France although she has never received any letter notifying of his burial place. Ada has never come to terms with her son’s death and has no body to bury nor a grave to visit. Visions of Michael still haunt her and although she knows he has gone, there is still a tiny part of her who believes that he may one day walk through the door. Her marriage is suffering as she feels unable to talk to her husband, she is so consumed with thoughts of her son.

Hettie, a young woman who dances for sixpence a dance at the Hammersmith Palais. She too has seen at first hand the brutal side of war. Her brother Fred has returned from the front a broken man. She lives at home with her mother and shell shocked brother but has hopes and dreams of a better and happier life.

Finally, there is Evelyn; a young woman with a privileged background who lost her lover. From working at a munitions factory to now helping wounded and broken men at the Pensions Exchange, Evelyn seems to have the hardest heart and to be the most bitter of the three women. Evelyn’s brother Edward Montfort fought as a captain and has his own demons to face.

This was an extremely well written and incredibly moving story, particularly following the journey home of the unknown soldier – although I knew of this I didn’t know the background in any detail and found this really interesting. Although the novel features the brutality of the war and tells the story through minor characters of fighting in the trenches, it is our three women who dominate – we see how they and others like them are struggling to come to terms with how their life has changed both during and after the war - and how the men who returned had their own struggles to survive, so many of whom were terribly damaged, both physically and mentally.

This is an exceptional debut novel which has received so many enthusiastic 5* reviews but although I can appreciate the excellent writing and there was much that I found moving and poignant I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else and I can’t put my finger on exactly why. There were times when I felt disengaged from the story and I frequently mixed up Hettie and Evelyn’s characters and had to re-read sections. Of the three women, I found my sympathy lay mostly with Ada – I’m sorry to say that Evelyn left me cold and Hettie didn’t really make much of a lasting impression. My rating would be 4 out of 5* - it wasn’t a perfect book for me but I‘m very glad to have had the opportunity to read it.

My thanks to my lovely friend Anne (beingannereading.blogspot) who very kindly sent me her proof copy whilst I was awaiting approval from Netgalley for a Kindle version. 

About the author:

Anna Hope was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, RADA, and Birkbeck College, London. She lives in East London. WAKE is her first novel.

You can contact Anna on Twitter

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Hundred Pieces of Me - Lucy Dillon

Published on 27 February 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton

From Goodreads:

Letters from the only man she's ever loved.

A keepsake of the father she never knew.

Or just a beautiful glass vase that catches the light, even on a grey day.

If you had the chance to make a fresh start, what would you keep from your old life?  What would you give away?

Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a difficult few years she'd rather forget.  But the belongings she's treasured for so long just don't seem to fit who she is now.

So Gina makes a resolution. She'll keep just a hundred special items - the rest can go.

But that means coming to terms with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring....

My thoughts:

I feel quite ashamed to admit that I have a few of Lucy's books on my bookshelves still waiting to be read.  However after this lovely read I shall hunt them out and give them the attention they deserve.

Gina Bellamy has been through an awful lot in her life, including the death of her father when she was only a child, surviving a life threatening illness and now a marriage breakdown.  Newly single and having to move into a much smaller flat, she is horrified at the huge amount of boxes of possessions she has and decides to drastically downsize by keeping only 100 items which are precious to her.  Throughout the story we are given insight into Gina's memories by way of flashback, including those of her childhood and first love - right up to her marriage.  This is a very clever way of including Gina's back story whilst keeping the narrative flowing.  There is no particular order to these chapters but it doesn't matter at all as I soon became immersed in Gina's life and her memories.

Gina was wonderfully well drawn with depth and warmth and I took to her immediately.  She was surrounded by a supporting cast of very strong and extremely likeable characters, including Nick the co-owner of the house that she was helping to restore, Rachel who ran the charity shop opposite her flat and, in particular, Naomi who was everything that a best friend should be.  One of the aspects of this story that I found particularly moving was the affirmation of the value and importance of friendship.

Lucy Dillon has written a story that is both heartwarming and thought provoking.  With each box of possessions that Gina clears, she has to face the regret and heartbreak of past events - all are memories which she must deal with in order to be able to move forward with her life.  Buzz, the abandoned greyhound was a wonderful addition to the story and I fell in love with him straight away!  There was just the lightest touch of romance which helped to make this a moving but uplifting read and one that I highly recommend.

As a bit of a hoarder myself, I envied Gina's willpower to dispose of unnecessary possessions - I think I should take a leaf out of her book and get myself some boxes!

My thanks to Veronique at Hodder & Stoughton for the paperback copy to review.

About the author:

Lucy Dillon was born in Cumbria, worked for a while in publishing in London and now lives in Herefordshire with her two basset hounds.  She has written five novels for Hodder & Stoughton, all set in the fictional Midlands town of Longhampton.  A Hundred Pieces of Me is Lucy's fifth novel.

Lucy won the Romantic Novelists' Association Novel of the Year Award in 2010 for Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts.

You can contact Lucy on Twitter and on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Someone Else's Skin - Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin

Published 27 February 2014 by Headline

From Amazon:

Some secrets keep you safe, others will destroy you...

Detective Inspector Marnie Rome. Dependable; fierce; brilliant at her job; a rising star in the ranks. Everyone knows how Marnie fought to come back from a tragic event in her past but very few know what is going on below the surface. Because Marnie has secrets she won't share with anyone.

But then so does everyone. Certainly those in the women's shelter Marnie and Detective Sergeant Noah Jake visit on that fateful day. The day when they arrive to interview a resident, only to find one of the women's husbands, who shouldn't have been there, lying stabbed on the floor.

As Marnie and Noah investigate the crime further, events begin to spiral and the violence escalates. Everyone is keeping secrets, some for survival and some, they suspect, to disguise who they really are under their skin.

Now, if Marnie is going to find the truth she will have to face her own demons head on. Because the time has come for secrets to be revealed...

My thoughts:

When DI Marnie Rome and her colleague, DS Noah Jake, are asked to attend a woman’s refuge to try and persuade a victim of domestic abuse to give evidence against her brother - the main suspect in another vicious crime, what they originally believed would be a routine visit turns into something far more complex. They arrive at the scene to find the husband of one of the women lying on the floor, the apparent victim of a stabbing. During their investigation for the truth, they have to work their way through a web of deceit and secrets where nothing can be taken at face value.

This is Sarah Hilary’s debut crime novel, which, after a bit of a shaky start for me, ultimately turned into an excellent read. I must admit it did take me a while to get into the story. For one thing, the text was sometimes a little too descriptive and I was struggling to understand the meaning, for example, “Broken things were like bad mirrors; they gave out a peculiar light, like….catching sight of your face in a pail of milk spoiled by a thunderstorm” - now it could just be that I don’t have any imagination but I didn’t understand that one at all! Secondly, I didn’t take to the character of Marnie straight away and it took me a while to care about her. However, it was well worth sticking with it as I was rewarded by a dark, gripping story with interesting and well-drawn characters that kept me turning the pages into the early hours.

Marnie Rome is a complicated character with a tragic back story. Her own history is referred to throughout the book and is made to feel an integral part of the novel. She has her own secrets and demons to deal with but far from being defined by the events of the past, they have made her stronger with a determination to succeed. Her sidekick, Jake Noah, has to deal with prejudice and discrimination from others, including some of his colleagues, however the two of them, both damaged in their own way, work well together and this is a partnership that I would love to see developed further in future books.

The story is not a pretty one – it is primarily about domestic abuse and control and the desire to inflict pain and yes there is violence, albeit not gratuitous. Sarah Hilary has created a compelling and wholly believable tale about the darker side of human nature and there are plenty of twists and turns throughout to make this a thriller that you will not want to put down. I shall certainly be looking out for the next Marnie Rome story.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Headline for the digital copy to review

About the author:

Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her husband and daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She's also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. NO OTHER DARKNESS is her second novel, after SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN which is being published in 2014

You can follow Sarah on Twitter or via her blog