Monday, 26 January 2015

Three Amazing Things About You - Jill Mansell

Published 15 January 2015 by Headline Review

From Goodreads:

Jill Mansell's enchanting new novel will drive readers to seize life with both hands and make the most of every minute...

Hallie has a secret. She's in love. He's perfect for her in every way, but he's seriously out of bounds. And her friends aren't going to help her because what they do know is that Hallie doesn't have long to live. Time is running out...

Flo has a dilemma. She really likes Zander. But his scary sister won't be even faintly amused if she thinks Zander and Flo are becoming friends - let alone anything more.

Tasha has a problem. Her new boyfriend is the adventurous type. And she's afraid one of his adventures will go badly wrong.

THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU begins as Hallie goes on a journey. A donor has been found and she's about to be given new lungs. But whose?

* * *

This is the third Jill Mansell book that I have included on this blog and I have made no secret of the fact that she is one of my favourite authors. I love whatever she writes and this, her 26th novel, is one of her best.

It is the story of three young women, all are strangers to each other but the way their lives connect and collide is one of the joys of the book. With the exception of one (and you will soon realise who that is!), all the characters are extremely engaging and likeable and the type of people that you could happily be friends with.

At the very beginning, we meet 28 year old Hallie when she is on her way to the hospital, excited but extremely scared at what is to come. Hallie has had THE phone call from her transplant coordinator. Hallie has cystic fibrosis and despite being confined to a wheelchair with an accompanying oxygen tank most of the time, she is upbeat, funny, kind and … in love, although the object of her desire doesn’t know it. Hallie is well aware that she may not have much time left unless a donor organ can be found. She also runs a website called ‘Three Things About You’, where those writing in for advice first have to list three facts about themselves. The advice that Hallie gave was a good insight to her character – she may have been seriously ill but she didn’t take any prisoners!

Tasha (otherwise known as ‘Bin Girl’ – this scene was just wonderful and had me grimacing and grinning in equal measures) has had that love at first sight experience. However she and her new boyfriend are completely different – he is an adrenaline junkie whilst she has no desire whatsoever to take part in extreme sports. Can their love really last despite their differences?

Flo, has become guardian to Jeremy, a very grumpy cat, who comes with his own accommodation. Flo loves her job in a retirement home and the interaction between her and her residents, particularly Margo, is wonderfully crafted. However, when she meets a new man, she encounters trouble from someone who seriously objects to her romance.

I loved this book. It had me laughing one minute and then almost crying the next. It deals with some difficult subjects – serious illness and the importance of organ donation but it never preaches and although at times it is an emotional read, it is also uplifting and joyous and is written with sensitivity and warmth. Even the friends and supporting characters had their own distinct personalities and were certainly a great addition to the story. Tasha’s best friend Carmel and Rory’s best mate Joe were just wonderful and the sparky dialogue between them worked so well.

At a certain point of the book, I thought I knew where the story was headed but there are little twists to keep you on your toes. By the time I got to the end my emotions had been through the wringer but it was a lovely journey and this book is deservedly another triumph for Jill Mansell.

Don't just take my word for it, do take a look at these other great reviews from my blogger friends at Being Anne and Random Things Through My Letterbox

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

About the author:

Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full time. Actually that's not true; she watches TV, eats fruit gums, admires the rugby players training in the sports field behind her house, and spends hours on the internet Tweeting and marvelling at how many other writers have blogs. Only when she's completely run out of displacement activities does she actually write. 

Follow Jill on Twitter at @JillMansell or find out more via her website.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A Place for Us - Harriet Evans

To be published 15 January 2015 by Headline Review

From Goodreads:

The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day.

When Martha, a wife and mother of three, sits down one late summer’s morning to write out the invitations to her eightieth birthday celebration, she knows that what she is planning to reveal at the party could ruin the idyllic life she and her husband David have spent over fifty years building…

But she has to let her family know what she and David have sacrificed. She can’t live a lie any more.

The invitation goes out far and wide, calling her three children and their families back home to Winterfold, their rambling house in the heart of the English countryside. They are Bill, the doctor; Florence, the eccentric academic; and Daisy, the child who never fit in. As the story unfolds, each character reveals the secrets, joys, and tragedies they are wrestling with through the confines of the family. What will happen when Martha finally tells the truth?

* * *

This book has previously been published in 4 instalments during 2014. I was lucky enough to have been sent Part 1 back in the summer but because I prefer to read a book in one go, I resisted reading the other 3 parts until the whole book had been published.

The story begins in the summer of 2012 when the matriarch of the family, Martha Winter, sends out invitations to her family for her 80th birthday celebration, at which an “important announcement” will be made. The family are left wondering what is in store. With each chapter narrated by a different family member, we begin to get to know a little of their background and we learn why some chose to move away. Although necessary, this slowed the story slightly whilst the family were being introduced. Even at this stage, secrets are hinted at and the drama is building.

There are several family members to get to know and I’m actually glad that I read the first part twice because on the second reading, it was easier to understand the relationships. There are children and grandchildren and initially I frequently mixed up the characters.

Martha and her husband David (also known as ‘Southpaw') are both artists and when they first scraped together the money to buy Winterfold, they had a vision of raising their family there and of the house offering happiness and a place of refuge for their extending family. Sadly this dream didn’t quite go to plan and they watched their family fracture and disintegrate.

This is a story of a family life built on secrets and lies. We are taken back in time to WW2 when David was just a boy and living through the war in London and then forwards to different chapters in each character’s life. There were times when I found the jump in timelines a little confusing.

The three children are all very different. Bill, the eldest, is a GP and on his second marriage, to Karen, which is proving to be as unsuccessful a union as his first. Bill has a daughter, Lucy, from his first marriage. Then there is Daisy. Daisy was always the most troubled and problematic of the siblings. She ran away to help with a charity in India but left behind her daughter, Cat. Although Cat was very young when her mother left, she has some memories of Daisy and has felt her absence keenly as she has grown up. Finally, there is Florence. Florence was probably my favourite character; she was an academic/Professor of art and in lived in – Florence! She wasn’t graceful either in manner or looks but there was something endearing about her awkwardness and lack of social skills.

These people and their lives form the main part of this family drama. These are all the people that we get to know and when Martha plans to drop her bombshell, each of them will have to deal with the consequences.

I don’t want to give any spoilers so that is really all I can say about the story. Some of the characters are more likable than others and the house itself, ‘Winterfold’ sounded idyllic. For many years the Winters and Martha in particular, with her parties and gatherings, had presented this perfect image to outsiders of their family life, however in reality, this was far from the truth.

I did enjoy this family saga, even though at times I felt the story could have been a little shorter without losing anything. Harriet Evans has superbly captured the complexities and emotions of her characters and making them face up to the reality of their lives. Like them or not, the Winters will draw you into their world.

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

About the author:

Harriet Evans is the author of seven previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic, The Love of Her Life, I Remember You, Love Always, Happily Ever After and Not Without You. She lives in London with her family.

You can find out more from her website, or follow on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Life I Left Behind - Colette McBeth

Published 1 January 2015 by Headline

From Goodreads:

I'm the only one who knows the secrets her friends have hidden, the mistakes the police have made.

I'm the only one who can warn her she's still in danger.

I know exactly who attacked her.
He's the same man who killed me.

* * * 

"If she had died in the attack she would have died once, but she has been dying every day since then, a slow, painful disintegration of her mind".

I still have Colette’s debut ‘Precious Thing’ waiting on my bookshelf to be read but when given the opportunity to read and review this, her second novel, I wanted it immediately!

It sounded so intriguing, a story narrated by a murder victim. Whilst reading reviews for this, I’ve seen many references made to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I must be one of the few people in the world who really didn’t like that book so I was hoping that this wouldn’t be a disappointment. I needn’t have worried. Eve, the murder victim, who is one of 3 narrators is not a wishy-washy character of the afterworld. Her voice is clear and believable and I felt quite sad that she was dead as she was a character that I would have loved to have known more about.

Eve’s murder has a very similar MO to that of Melody’s attack, 6 years previously. Melody was left in a coma and although she has physically recovered, mentally she is still a mess. A friend and neighbour was found guilty of her attack but has since been released from prison. Has the same person committed another crime?

Investigating Eve’s murder is DI Victoria Rutter. Rutter was a member of the original team investigating Melody’s attack but whilst delving into Eve’s case; she begins to have doubts about the way Melody’s investigation was carried out.

The three narrations of Eve, Melody and DI Rutter worked very well together. With alternating chapters you get to know the main characters well and even the more minor parts are fleshed out enough to enable you to form an opinion about them. I was pretty sure that I had worked it all out but with each chapter, another clue (or red herring) – you will have to make up your own mind, put doubts into my mind.

The two crimes are a significant part of the story but so is Melody’s traumatised mind. She knows that she can’t be a victim forever but doesn’t know to make herself feel safe again. Although I didn’t particularly like her character, I was hoping that she would find the strength to help find Eve’s killer and be able to lay her own ghosts to rest.

This was a fabulously twisty thriller that worked so well, despite the unusual narration.  It had a well written storyline, tension and pace and I really didn't want to put it down. A definite 5* read for me

I received my copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

Colette McBeth was a BBC TV News Correspondent for ten years. She lives in West London with her husband and three young children. She attended the Faber Academy Novel Writing Course in 2011. Her first novel, Precious Thing, was published in 2013.

You can find out more from Colette's website or follow on Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

How I Lost You - Jenny Blackhurst

Kindle edition published 9 October 2014 by Headline

Paperback published 23 April 2015

From Goodreads:

They told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied? I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you? 

My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life. This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back? 

* * * 

The story begins when Susan Webster is released from a psychiatric hospital after serving a three year sentence for killing her 3 month old baby. At the time was she was diagnosed with severe post natal depression; she still has no memory of that tragic event and has spent much of her imprisonment trying to focus on the happy memories of time spent with her son. Upon her release, she changes her name and moves away – she might expect that she would be left alone to pick up the threads of her life but it seems that someone has other ideas…

Nobody, apart from the authorities and her best friend Cassy (a fellow inmate, also now released) was supposed to know where Susan was living. However, whilst alone in her new home, an envelope was pushed through her door; it contained a photograph of a young boy and written on the back was “Dylan – January 2013”. How was this possible, Dylan was dead – Susan killed him. Surely somebody had to be playing a sick joke? However when events escalate and become even more sinister, Susan has to find out the truth. Is her boy still alive and if so, why was she found guilty of his murder?

This story had me gripped from the very first page. The premise of the story was original and certainly kept my interest all the way through. When Susan was first released, she had no–one to turn to, apart from Cassy. Her husband Mark had divorced her whilst she was imprisoned and she had turned away from remaining family and friends. When a journalist, Nick, suddenly arrives on her doorstep, after the delivery of the photograph, alarm bells started ringing for me – how did he know where she lived and why was he there – was it just to get a story?

Despite her initial suspicions, Susan began to rely on Nick just a little too much, too soon. I couldn’t quite understand why she trusted him so much but then maybe I’m a naturally suspicious person!

Running through the story are separate chapters, told in italics and going back in time to 1987, of a group of boys who meet at school and who we follow through to university. At first I couldn’t understand where this fitted it, but the strands do come together and the twists involved here are very well done.

There are quite a few characters to get to grips with but once these are clear in your head, the story does race along and although at times, you do have to suspend belief slightly at events, it never becomes dull. The twists are very clever and I was never sure who to trust; it seems that events of the past have far reaching consequences.

Jenny Blackhurst has written a very enjoyable debut thriller. Although towards the end, it did become a little ‘busy’ and the denouement seemed a little rushed, I didn’t guess the outcome although I did have suspicions about certain people. Secrets and lies carry the story along very well and if you just go with the story, I’m sure that you will enjoy this as much as I did.

I received my copy from the Amazon Vine review programme.

About the author:

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels - writing her own seemed like natural progression. Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son's birth, How I Lost You is Jenny's thrilling debut crime novel.

You can follow on Twitter or Facebook 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

My Top 10 Reads of 2014

This is so very difficult.  I've read so many fabulous books over the last 12 months that to pick just 10 out of the 104 that I've read was almost impossible.  There were so many more that I could have included (and some of these are mentioned below in my highly recommended list).

So, in no particular order, these are all 5* reads for me this year that had something special - (the title will link to my review):

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman 

The book that made me cry!

I love Rowan's writing and this story about the effects of early onset Alzheimers on both the sufferer and their family was sad but also uplifting and, where appropriate, humorous too.   This was definitely a WOW book.

The Broken by Tamar Cohen

I've loved every book that I've so far read from Tammy Cohen. This was a fabulous psychological thriller concerning the disintegration of relationships and friendships. 

Keep Your Friends Close - Paula Daly

I could have chosen either one of Paula Daly's psychological thrillers as both are excellent, her debut being Just What Kind of Mother Are You? I finally chose this one for the wonderfully evil, manipulative, deceitful main character that really gets under your skin.  

Who Are You - Elizabeth Forbes

This was a fabulous twisty psychological thriller concerning the effect of PTSD on a couple's relationship. Two troubled people who should never have got together in the first place.   

The Teashop on the Corner - Milly Johnson

I just adore Milly's books and this, I think, was her best so far. The idea of a teashop being a hub for friendship and support was a superb one. I just wish I had a Leni teashop near me!  I'm very proud to be a part of #TeamMilly

Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent

This was a debut novel and such a brilliant one.  The story of Oliver, a deeply disturbed man, as seen by both acquaintances and friends. Why did he put his wife in a coma?  I do so hope there is another book from Liz.  

Before the Fall - Juliet West

Based on a true story, this is a beautifully written and powerful story of a love affair against the backdrop of the Great War.  This was the author's debut novel and a stunner.  

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

This is a debut thriller, to be published in January 2015 and although I'm slightly cheating here because it hasn't yet been released, it is such a fantastic book that I couldn't possibly leave it out. Those who have yet to read it are definitely in a for a treat. 

Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

The author of 'The Husband's Secret' has done it again. Another fabulous read by this Australian author.  The reader is gradually led, over a period of 6 months, to a fatal event at school quiz night.  Brilliant characterisation and I was desperate all the way through to know who, what and why!

Ghostwritten - Isabel Wolff

A very moving and poignant account of life in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.  This was another book that moved me to tears by the brutality shown to innocent people and their sheer will to survive.   

and finally, a few of the reads that only JUST missed out (otherwise my list would have been a top 50!) but were nonetheless really great reads and highly recommended......

My Blogging Year - 2014

This has been a wonderful year of blogging for me.  My blog was only a year old in August but I've received so many great books from ever generous publishers and authors and feel honoured to have been invited to some very exciting book launches and events.   There are some compensations for the long daily commute into London and being able to easily attend evening events is one!   

My first ever book launch event was in January 2014 when I won tickets to a launch of Luca Veste's debut, 'Dead Gone' held at Belgravia Books in London. I was delighted to meet Luca and was ever so slightly star struck at being in the same room as some of my all time favourite authors (- Mark Billingham being just one!).   

In April, I was invited by Tina Seskis and Penguin to the launch of 'One Step Too Far'.  I was fortunate enough to have been an early reviewer of this when Tina self published in 2013.  It really is a fantastic book and if you haven't yet read it, then I can highly recommend it. This launch was held at Penguin's offices at The Strand, London and it was a wonderful evening.  It was an unexpected thrill to be given a copy of the finished book and to find my name mentioned at the back.  My friends, Anne C (who blogs at Random Things through My Letterbox) and Anne W (who blogs at Being Anne) were also invited and as I live in a different part of the country, it was lovely to have the opportunity to meet up again.  

In June, I was invited by Hatty of Cutting Edge Press to the launch of Elizabeth Forbes' amazing new thriller 'Who Are You'.  This was held at the very grand Cavalry and Guards Club in Mayfair.   I met so many lovely authors here, Elizabeth Forbes, Tammy Cohen, Amanda Jennings, Shelan Rodger - one day I promise I will get to all of your books!  Again, I was delighted to meet up again with Anne C and our friend Leah (who blogs at Reflections of a Reader).  It was also very nice to meet Dawn (who blogs at Crooks on Books), we had 'spoken' on Twitter many times but had never yet met.  Another Twitter friend it was lovely to meet for the first time was Nina (@Matineegirl). Nina is actually a friend of Anne C and hopefully we will meet again at a future event. 

In November, I bought my ticket and made my annual pilgrimage to see Jodi Picoult in London on her UK promotional tour, this one being for 'Leaving Time'. I'm a huge fan of her books and she is always so interesting and a pleasure to listen to.  Every time I have seen her, somebody ALWAYS asks the question concerning the film ending of My Sister's Keeper and even if she is privately groaning at having to answer this for the millionth time, she never shows it!  Fanny Blake again did the interview and although the venue  St James Church, wasn't quite as comfortable as the usual theatres (nearly two hours of sitting on a hard wooden bench!), I very much enjoyed the event and of course came home with my copy of the book.  

Finally in November and December, I was invited to a couple of Penguin events. Unfortunately I couldn't attend the November Annual Fiction Showcase because of illness but nothing would keep me away from the Women's Fiction Evening in December.  Again, this was held at Penguin's The Strand offices.  Penguin looked after everybody so well and made sure that we were introduced to their authors.  It was a huge pleasure to meet Tina Seskis again, Dinah JefferiesSinéad Moriarty, Lucy Robinson, Kate Riordan and Louise Candlish as well as members of the Penguin/Michael Joseph/Penguin Ireland team. It was a really lovely evening and I also met some book bloggers for the first time that I only previously knew from Twitter and Facebook.  I met up with the lovely Rea (who blogs at Rea Book Review) - we were both on our own and her great company made the event far less daunting for me!  

These beautiful books (including a couple of unbound proofs) came home with me!  Penguin were so very generous, with goody bags prepared and we were told to pick up any books we wanted.

So that's my blog year.  There are so many fabulous books being released early in 2015, some of which I have been lucky enough to have received already from publishers.  I only wish there were more hours in the day to read (and review), all the books I currently have.   

My thanks to authors, publishers, fellow blogger friends, Twitter and Facebook followers for your friendship and support. When I first started my book blog it was only ever intended to be as a hobby and I am constantly amazed (and so thrilled) that people choose to read it and take the time to comment on posts.  

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Dying for Christmas - Tammy Cohen

Published 20 November 2014 by Black Swan/Transworld

From Goodreads:

I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there'll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out .

But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?

* * *

I’ve read and loved two of Tamar Cohen’s previous books (The  War of the Wives and The Broken (both reviewed on this blog)) and was so looking forward to reading this, her first book published under the name of Tammy Cohen.  I took it away on holiday with me to read just before Christmas and I was so engrossed I finished it within a day and a half.

We should all be familiar with the concept of ‘stranger danger’ – would you go back to a flat belonging to a stranger who had followed you to a department store café? – well, silly old Jessica Gold did.

Jessica is taking a breather from Christmas shopping in a café when Dominic asks to share her table.  She is stressed, her relationship with her boyfriend Travis isn’t going too well and when Dominic, a good looking guy, shows her some attention with some flattering words before asking her back to his place for a drink, well there’s no harm in that is there.

Jessica is the misfit in her family – even her brothers think she is weird but it’s her distinctive personality throughout the story that is the most compelling and interesting. The ‘stranger’ in question, Dominic Lacey, is portrayed as a charming but twisted individual.  With each present that Dominic gives to Jessica, a little more is divulged about his background and Jessica’s torment increases, although there were times when I thought we were being led down the Stockholm Syndrome path. 

Jessica’s imprisonment is interrupted by chapters voiced by Kim Harper, a police detective investigating her disappearance.  Kim is eager for promotion and feels she has to put in the hours to stand out from her colleagues – however her husband is unhappy and her desire to pursue her career threatens to tear her family apart. 

The story is told in two parts – Jessica’s narration of her imprisonment in the first half will make your heart race but when you get to the second part of the story, this is when your mind spins and Ms Cohen will have you in twisted knots, trying to make sense of the story, life and the universe.

I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, but then I probably wasn’t meant to.  This didn’t spoil anything for me – I love unreliable narrators and flawed personalities and this book has those in abundance.

Just because this book has the word Christmas in the title, don’t think it’s one that you can’t read at any other time – if you waited until next Christmas before reading it, you would be missing out on a heck of a twisty and disturbing read.  I loved it and Tammy/Tamar Cohen has firstly established herself as one of my favourite authors.

I originally obtained this through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, but I did buy my own reading copy. 

About the author:

Tammy Cohen (who was previously published under her formal name Tamar Cohen) is a freelance journalist. A late starter to fiction - and to other things besides - she has now written four novels: The Mistress's Revenge, The War of the Wives, Someone Else's Wedding, and The Broken. Now embarking on psychological suspense, Dying for Christmas is her first Yuletide chiller to be published October 2014. She is a Writer in Residence at Kingston University and lives in North London with her partner and three (nearly) grown children, plus one very badly behaved dog. Follow her on Twitter @MsTamarCohen

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Christmas Party - Carole Matthews

Published October 2014 by Sphere

From Goodreads:

Louise Young is a devoted single mother whose only priority is providing for her daughter, Mia. Louise has a good job in a huge international corporation and she's grateful for it. The only problem is her boss who can't keep his hands to himself, but Louise can handle him. What she really doesn't have time for is romance - until she meets the company's rising star, Josh Wallace. 

Louise usually says no to evenings out but she's decided to let her hair down tonight. It's the office Christmas party, she has a pretty dress to wear and she's looking forward to some champagne and fun. She's completely unaware that others around her are too busy playing dangerous games to enjoy the party - until she's pulled into those games herself . . . 

* * *

It does seem incredible that this is Carole Matthews’ 25th book.  I don’t know how she does it, but she manages to keep the storylines fresh and in recent books, has come up with something a little different – perhaps just a little bit darker than the somewhat lighter reads of old.  I’m not complaining though, I’ve read every one so far and intend to carry on doing so….

Single mother Louise Young is the newest member of staff at Fossil Oil and, after struggling financially after her ex left her in debt, and with a young daughter Mia to look after, she is delighted with her new job as a PA. The only fly in the ointment is her boss Tyler Benson; he can’t keep his hands to himself and Louise constantly has to fend off his unwanted advances.  It’s nearly time for the Fossil Oil Christmas party and although Louise would normally rather stay in with Mia, she decides to dress up and enjoy herself for once.  Her only worry is Tyler - would he ruin her evening and ultimately cost her the job she so desperately wants to keep.

The story of the Christmas Party is set over a period of just a couple of days, the day of the party itself, and Christmas Day.  The book is over 400 pages and unusually most of it is devoted to the night of the party. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this could slow it down - there is so much drama taking place between all the various characters that the story fires along and before you know it, the party is over and you’re at the end getting your coat.

There is a stark lifestyle contrast between Louise and the wives of the Fossil Oil executives Melissa (married to big boss Lance) and Kirsten (married to the lecherous Tyler).  Louise is back living with her parents because money is tight and she has Mia to support but she generally has a positive attitude to life, whereas the corporate wives have more money than they can spend but are so unhappy and discontented.  As with many big corporate companies, Fossil Oil has taken over their lives - and their husbands.  They pay big bucks but in return expect your soul. 

For most of the Fossil staff, the Christmas party, (held in a beautiful manor house), was an excuse for some raucous drunken behaviour at the firm’s expense but for others it was time for reflection and the catalyst for some life changing decisions.  Whether you love or dislike some of the characters, they are all expertly drawn and although I had some sympathy for some, I was so wishing throughout that certain ones would get their comeuppance.  

I’ve always loved Carole’s books and although this isn’t quite the usual warm and cosy Christmas read that I’ve come to expect, it was very enjoyable and entertaining; with a mixture of serious and funny and, of course, a touch of romance.  It does make me thankful that my firm’s office parties are more sedate affairs!  There was only one small thing that could have made this better for me, a couple of components of the ending seemed incomplete and I would have liked these finished off with perhaps an epilogue, just to tie up the endings.  However this didn’t spoil my enjoyment and I now look forward to book number 26. 

My thanks to Victoria at Little, Brown for the copy to review.

At the time of posting, The Christmas Party is available on Kindle from Amazon for just £1.19

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Ice Twins - S K Tremayne

Published 29 January 2015 by Harper Collins

From Goodreads:

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.  But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity--that she, in fact, is Lydia--their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past--what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

* * *

Lydia and Kirstie are identical twins.   Even their parents have difficulty in telling them apart – although each girl has their own mannerisms and quirks which only become apparent as the girls grow older and develop their own personalities. When one of the twins falls from a balcony in a tragic accident, it is believed to be Lydia that has died however when, early in the story, Kirstie chastises her mother by saying “why do you keep calling me Kirstie, Mummy? Kirstie is dead.  It was Kirstie that died, I’m Lydia” – it is clear that it isn’t certain which twin died.  Being identical twins, DNA testing wouldn’t reveal any answers – so HOW would you know – and how well do you know your children?

Sarah and Angus Moorcroft have a fragile relationship and the death of their daughter seems to have torn them further apart instead of bringing them closer. When financial worries hasten a move from London to a remote Scottish island formerly owned by Angus’ grandmother, they up sticks and go even though Angus hasn't been back to the island for 15 years; even though Sarah has never been there.

This is one of those books that draw you in as soon as you start reading.  At first I thought how incredibly stupid it was to move blindly to a remote, dilapidated cottage on an island that could only be reached by walking over mudflats at low tide, or by boat.  But besides solving their money problems, Sarah believed it would be a fresh start for them all and maybe she was right, after all the scenery was stunning and they could leave behind the physical memories of the accident.  

The writing conjures up scenes of atmospheric intensity.  The isolation and the almost uninhabitable state of the cottage, the unpredictability and ferociousness of the Scottish winter – all are described so vividly that this creates a spooky element on its own.  However add in to the mix, guilty secrets, a troubled twin, a fractured marriage and you have a suspense thriller that will keep you wondering as you turn the pages.

This was a truly excellent read that kept me guessing the whole way through.  As events escalate and secrets unfold I certainly didn’t see the ending coming, but it was completely suitable for the story.  

There is of course another mystery to be solved – that of the identity of the author!  

My thanks to Lovereading for the review copy. 

About the author:

S. K. Tremayne is the pseudonym of a journalist and bestselling writer, who lives in London. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Dear Daughter - Elizabeth Little

Published on 14 August 2014 by Harvill Secker

From Goodreads:

'As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I'm not.'

LA It girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she's been released on a technicality she's determined to unravel the mystery of her mother's last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America's media on her tail, convinced she's literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn't like her mother. Could she have killed her?

* * * 

Janie Jenkins had always had a tempestuous relationship with her mother, the murdered socialite Marion Elsinger.  Janie appeared to be a duplicitous and unlikeable person – so much so that at first I didn’t really care whether she had killed her mother.  However reading on, I found myself sucked into the story and my opinion of Janie started to change with her sarcastic and spikey comments even becoming slightly amusing. 

After ten years in jail for a murder that she may (or may not) have committed, Janie Jenkins is released on a technicality although she will not be allowed to continue with her life in peace.  A news reporter/blogger has been hounding her during her time in prison and is continuing to try and track her every move and it’s down to Janie to keep one step ahead.

With snatches of memory returning of that night, and armed with a new identity, Janie sets out to try and find out whether she did actually kill her own mother.  She discovers that her mother had withheld a lifetime of secrets and in fact had accumulated her share of enemies over the years.  

I didn’t really know what to make of this book - the first half of the book was a little too slow to make this a wholly enjoyable read.  Recalling some vague memory from the past, Janie starts her search by heading for an old mining town called Ardelle.  Some of the inhabitants of this small backwater town that Janie encounters seemed rather stereotypical – a few seemed just weird and creepy and I wasn’t sure who could be trusted. Janie’s interactions with them became interesting in that she had to reinvent herself in order to find out the information she needed. Being nice to people was something totally out of character for Janie.

The story did pick up pace in the latter stages and kept my interest all the way through with twists that I didn’t see coming.  Overall this was an interesting and commendable debut thriller with a clever structure and sharp and pithy dialogue and whilst it won’t be a contender for my book of the year, it turned out to be a very good read. 

My copy was received from the Amazon Vine review programme. 

About the author:

Elizabeth Little was born and raised in St. Louis and graduated from Harvard University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and she has appeared on All Things Considered, The World, and Here and Now. She has written two works of nonfiction: Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic (Melville House, 2007) and Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages (Bloomsbury, 2012). Dear Daughter (Viking and Harvill Secker, 2014), her critically acclaimed debut novel, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and is currently being translated into ten languages. Elizabeth lives in Los Angeles with her family.

You can find out more from the author's Website, or by following on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads